Happy Birthday, Mama! Today you would have turned 90, right? My late mother passed away in 2012, just short of her 80th birthday. I miss her and think of her every day. Since my parents split up when I was 12, we only had each other as I was an only child. It must have been tough being a single mom especially in 1970s Japan where divorce was not as common as it is today. Like most mother-daughter relationships, we of course had our differences. I became a rather difficult teenager, and even when I became an adult our relationship was still not an easy one. But at the end of the day, she meant the world to me. We still shared a lot of fun and laughter together, travelling the world, enjoying our shopping tours in Europe and dining in Japan. I could talk to her about almost anything. and she gave me sound advice although I didn’t always agree with her. What total respect to her for beating all odds to be the best mother she could! If only I got to tell her how much I loved her. Hopefully she is watching over me and realizes how much I love her, appreciate her and miss her loads. I therefore wanted to dedicate a beautiful birthday painting to her on this special day.
My intention was to display the painting visibly on top of our Butsudan which is a Buddha altar to pay respects to my ancestors, including Mama. Hence I needed a sturdy substrate that was neither too bulky nor large. An A4 size canvas board was perfect for this purpose. And now time to begin! Feeling rather emotional, this painting began with some intuitive layers of oil pastel doodles, acrylic ink splashes and collages. First came “Happy Birthday Mama” scribbled with neon orange oil pastels by OMY followed by three shades of blue and turquoise acrylic inks covering the board. Letting that dry, I went and wrote the Japanese translation of “Happy Birthday Mama”. This was followed by some strawberry collages that came from a wrapping paper. Strawberries were both our favorite fruit, and it was good timing I came across the paper. Then came some more random collages of wrapping tissue and a splash of emerald green ink. Great start!
And There We Are!
And I think I was more or less ready to add the characters: Us! I very much wanted to relive my happy childhood memories and thus went for me and mama holding hands. Young beautiful mama in her 60s bouffant hairdo and elegant outfit. And me as a cute little girl, about 2 years old. Prior to this painting, I had a brainstorming session in my small sketchbook as to how to sketch us about which I wrote a blog (A Doodle for Mama). That certainly helped as I now had a clear idea as to what I wanted. Stealing this idea from painter Juliette Crane, I cut out an oval shape from some Japanese-language newspaper (she uses pages from old books or music notes) to use for the faces. They were then coloured in with a blend of Quinacridone Azo Nickel Gold and Titan Buff before proceeding with sketching the bodies. First black charcoal pencil was used to facilitate erasing if needed, then once happy with the sketch, traced over with black marking pencil (also an idea I stole from Juliette Crane). And so far looks promising!
And here comes the exciting part. Painting us! I started with the background with a Teal sky mixed with Titan Buff and made room for the sun whilst creating negative spaces for the house, tree and small butterfly between us. The sun was then colored in by carefully spreading with a palette knife some fluorescent yellow paint mixed with Clear Tar Gel for some ultra gloss. And now I jumped onto the hair before going for painting the ground. For the hair I firstly scribbled a bit with some light brown and dark brown oil pastel to make the hair “strandy”, enhancing that further with adding some Antelope Brown and Payne’s Grey ink with the dropper. Modelling paste was then spread with a palette knife to give texture. I was not quite sure how the frontal area of my mother’s hairline would turn out and hence improvised and introduced a headband which was still quite a 60s trend, using Light Magenta Heavy Body acrylic and Quinacridone Magenta Fluid acrylic. Then I went ahead and painted the ground with a thin coat of Permanent Green Light as I already liked the bottom layer to show through. Before that though, I doodled some flowers with a marking pencil to make some negative space when the green is painted. And now our outfits! They were filled in with the two magenta shades mentioned, with mine just in Iridescent Pink ink by Daler-Rowney. Just to further enhance the 60’s look, I glued to Mama’s dress the flower part of a paper napkin, and how cool is that!
And nearly there! All it needs is some embellishments and further texture. And where shall we start? I went for the eyes first by firstly lining them with a black glitter marker then going over them with Ranger’s Stickles glitter glue in Black. Mine though was lined with black Relief Paint by Amsterdam as I wanted my mother’s eyes to stand out more. Then to balance out the colour scheme on the whole painting, fluorescent yellow Acryla Gouache was dotted on the centers of two flowers on the bottom left, followed by the Iridescent Pink on the remaining flower. Izink glitter paint in silver was then spread onto the rooftop of the house, the bark of the tree and the collar of my dress. Another butterfly collage from a paper napkin was added as well along with some Teddy Bear shaped cut-outs. I then carefully applied some Sennelier 3D Liner in fluorescent yellow for the sun rays. Finally, though not very visible in the photo, glitter was scattered about in pink for Mama’s headband and green for bottom area of the grass with Ranger’s Stickles Gel. And I kept the big strawberry as a loving memory of her favorite fruit. Et voila!!
I hope you like this painting I made for you, Mama! You always admired how creative and talented I was although I never got to develop it further when you were still around. During the past few days, I had so much fun painting this that I lost track of time when it was getting past midnight and I began neglecting my daily chores. It was all worth it in the end, though, and I am happy that I can create and present this special gift to celebrate your 90th Birthday. Hope you are enjoying this big day and watching over me. Happy Birthday, Mama! Wish I could see your smile from Heaven. RIP.