Taratories Blog

Island in the Sky

This summer I was commissioned to do a 5ft X 5ft Curiosity Portrait but without an actual portrait. My Curiosity Portraits are heirloom paintings, created on commission, and painted specifically for the individual.  I interview my clients to learn about their life and what makes them unique.  I then go back to my studio and find symbols and elements from my interview notes that I will then use in my preliminary sketches.  After brainstorming creative ways to combine the various imagery, I begin.


The first thing that I painted was this whale. I’ve never painted a whale before and, I must say, it was my favorite part to paint! I asked her “what scene of a movie or book would you step into if you could?” She told me that she would step into the movie “Man on Fire” where a bodyguard fought for a little girls life. She loved the relationship he had with the little girl and how he gave his life for her. She talked about the memory of the time where she was on a swim team and didn’t feel like she could make it to the end of the lap. Her dad came to the edge and told her, “it’s ok, you can stop swimming.” She always wanted that kind of male presence to keep her safe. I represented this male presence with one of her favorite animals, a whale. She loves how majestic they are. The whale is rescuing her and will be holding up everything in this painting that represents her.


When I saw the wall in the home where this painting would be hung, I noticed the design on the chairs in the room. Incorporating the design around the whale gave added a graphic element and also added some movement and depth to the painting.


Then I painted a wash of blue over the entire bottom of the painting.


She asked God if she were to be an animal what would she be, and He revealed to her that she would be an owl. I loved painting this great horned owl on top of its own little garden island.


She has always wanted to see a hummingbird nest, and now so do I!


One of her favorite flowers is the hydrangea…


Her friend had a vision of her in a garden as a flower. This flower was no ordinary flower, but one that was larger than life! In her vision, God told the flower “I love you, you are one of my favorites.”


This flower was the most time consuming element in the painting. To give you an idea of size, it’s about 3 times the size as my head. I probably spent about 30 hours on the flower alone! I layered colored pencil, paint, pencil, paint, and so on, until I achieved the desired look that I wanted.

At some points as I worked on it, it was very meditative and soothing as I worked on the repetitive petals, but there were some times that it was really hard to push through and work because it was feeling monotonous. Working on art is a very good discipline and it is a good feeling when you push through the hard parts and stand back to see what you have accomplished in the end.


She requested that I incorporate these butterflies and I let the blue sky peak through the wings since it was the exact color that I needed for the butterflies. I surrounded the flower with the butterflies to give glory to the flower. I represented God’s favor on her with the gold dots falling from the heavens onto the flower.


One of her favorite things to do as a child was to swing on her swing in her garden…


Incorporating this caterpillar was another request…


This is a photo of me and the painting before it was stretched and framed.


Here it is in its new home! It was such an honor to do this painting and I can’t wait to paint more Curiosity Portraits in my lifetime. If you are interested in having me paint your story without words, email me at taratories@gmail.com.


My first "Curiosity Portrait" with Cara Mancari

On my artist residency in Wales back in the fall, I used women's portraits to tell the stories of the Welsh folktales from the area.  Not only did I enjoy painting the portraits, but I loved reading a story and trying to visualize what that might look like in a painting.  One day when I was there I had an idea.  The idea was that when I came back to the States I would tell the stories of as many women as I could.  Right then and there I started formulating a list of questions I would ask the women that I interviewed.  

I decided that I would call these allegorical paintings "Curiosity Portraits" because there is so much mystery and curiosity held in these unique portraits.  One thing I have always been drawn to in art are the questions.  I love trying to figure out what the meaning is behind the paint and what story the artist was trying to tell.  

When I got home from Wales I was so excited to get started on my first "Curiosity Portrait" but I still felt like there was a piece missing.  I wanted something that would be a common thread that would be woven through all of these portraits but I didn't know what that would be.  So I waited, and waited.  Until one day in February I had an "aha" moment!  It all clicked and I was freaking out I was so excited!  

Before I went to Wales I had an idea in mind that I was going to pursue while I was there and it incorporated fashion.  I had brought with me a big envelope stuffed with inspirational images from fashion magazines and some pinterest boards full of great images I could use as inspiration. Although I didn't end up pursuing this theme in Wales, I still had these images lingering in my head.  This particular day in February I started thinking about these images and a lightbulb went off in my brain.  I thought to myself,  "I could tell stories of women through fashion!!"

And so it began.  My first model was the beautiful Cara Mancari...


I went on a little weekend retreat at the end of February which was the perfect time to work on this painting.  Before I left on my retreat I had interviewed Cara asking her a list of questions about her passions, memories, likes, dreams, etc.  I just LOVE this part of the process because I love getting to know people and what things come together to make them who they are.  I have always loved asking people questions because I truly love learning about people!  

At the retreat, I began by looking through my notes from the interview and writing down things that I could use as symbols and visuals to express some of the things she shared about her life.  Next, I searched inspirational images that I could incorporate into the painting.  Here is my messy table where I began a sketch to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.  It was challenging, but for some reason I really love the challenge! I love painting portraits but it has never felt like enough for me in the creativity department.  Having to take these steps of creativity is exhilarating for me and takes portrait painting to a whole new level.

I then worked out a color palette that I was going to use based on her answers in the interview.

One of the questions I asked her was, "what was your favorite memories from growing up?"  She told me that when she was a little girl she loved playing in the woods and she found these curved branches that she used as the top of her "house." She made her house and then found moss that she laid down under the branches to lay and play on.  Cara loved this imaginary play and I thought that would be a beautiful thing to capture in the painting.  

Here is the moss in her headpiece...

Here are the branches...

Her favorite bird is a blue jay so I perched him on top of the branches...

I asked Cara, "What about nature inspires you?  What are you drawn to?"  She told me that she loves asymmetrical patterns in nature.  So I painted a tree bark pattern on her clothing...

I asked her "If you could live in a scene of a book or a movie where would you live?" and she told me that it would be "Lord of the Rings" so I decided to add a hobbit house underneath the moss in her headpiece.  I also incorporated wild flowers in front of it because those are her favorite kinds of flowers.

Another thing we talked about was what dream she had for her future and she told me that she wanted to own her own interior design business.  She told me that Scandinavian design is her favorite kind of design.  I really didn't know what Scandinavian design looked like so I did research.  I just love learning about new things through art processes!  I found that in Scandinavian design a lot of black, white, copper, blush, and hints of blue are used (hence the color scheme).  Considering this, I thought that the copper on her headpiece and black polka dots would be the perfect elements to complete the piece.  Blush is actually her favorite color so that worked out nicely, and also the fact that she loved blue jays worked out well with the color scheme as well. I also hung the blue jay feathers from her head piece to bring more blue to the bottom of the painting. 

My favorite elements in the painting are the polka dots and the way that her face blends in with the blush background.  I love the subtlety of it and it veers from my norm. I would like to play with more subtlety in my future works.  Cara was thrilled with how the painting turned out and was so excited to see all the personal elements of her life story incorporated into the painting.  

When she saw it she said, "It's so cool because I feel like my life is a storybook, that my experiences and the details of my life are more than just subtle memories, but vibrant details and a part of who I am!" This quote really encompasses what I want people to experience through these portraits.  I want every woman to feel like she has a story, a beautiful story.  That her life is valued.  What is your story?  Email me at taratories@gmail.com if you are interested in telling your story without words..