My mother was a very talented painter, but she didn't pursue art professionally. She had an exhibit in the lobby of her theater, when they moved a whole production into that lobby, but she never intended to sell anything. Her works were mostly copies of paintings of other Ukrainian and Russian artists, often copied of a small post card size reproduction. In every city we’ve been to, we always went to museums.

She had a good eye for photography, and often asked me to pose for a photo. We even had an improvised print studio with the bathroom being the black room. Watching the photos come to life and appear on the white paper was a magical and memorable experience.

My mother did about a dozen paintings in the 1980s, took a long break, and resumed after my years of asking a couple of years before she passed away in 2013. Being poor most of our lives, she couldn’t bring herself to buy canvases, so she painted on pieces of cardboard, and with such a fine layer of paint, that you can even see the under-drawing showing through.  

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When she was young, she had wanted to be an architect, but women were not admitted to study as architects. This was still true even at the time when I attended college, but the walls were already coming down, and I managed to get into the English translation program, while women were traditionally sent on the path of teaching English as a second language.

My mother’s creativity made holidays and birthdays special. My favorite holiday was Easter, because we would pull out her hand-made pens with little funnels for hot wax, and decorate eggs. You melt little pieces of wax to draw on the hard-boiled egg, color it, and then scrape the wax off to reveal white designs on the egg shell.

Although my mother was probably a better artist than I am, she hadn’t produced original artwork, or worked with people’s portraits from scratch like I do – getting people’s buy in to do the photoshoot for paintings, getting the release forms signed, taking photos, producing paintings, and showing them back to people to make sure they approve of the way they were portrayed. Besides, copying someone else’s painting takes a lot of important decisions off your hands. What should be the style of the painting? How much contrast will it have? What non-existing colors or textures shall I add? How much detail and time does it require? When do I walk away before it looks tired and overpainted?  But she set me on an interesting path of self-discovery by inviting me to paint, taking me to museums, talking about paintings, and sitting me down at an easel with oil paints to take the stress of my corporate job away. Even if you believe you can’t draw well – there is a printer and graphite paper for that. Copy your sketch on a piece of watercolor paper or a canvas, pull out some paints, and see what you can do with those paints and brushes.

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