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The mystery painting finally unveiled

I was first asked to do this particular painting for husband and wife clients about two and a half years ago, and when it was first discussed I was totally caught up in the idea, in the concept and wanted to get working on it as soon as the wife was able to give me the final information to complete it. But, as is sometimes the way with artwork, it had to be put on hold until the time was more appropriate. And whilst I fully understood the clients reasons, I was slightly disappointed that his special painting wasn’t going to be painted straight away.

I put my notes to one side and got on with other paintings for other clients. With a quiet hope that one day, one day in the future, it would be created.

And then, time passed, until about two months ago when the husband contacted me out of the blue by email asking how I was and with an idea of surprising his wife for Christmas with the painting that we had discussed. I was absolutely delighted at that news, and the momentum and great buzzing excitement of first discussing it was back with me again! But, even though I still had my notes, still knew what the image was, what size it was to be on which sized square canvas I knew that I hadn’t got all the information that I needed. As there were some symbols to put in it, and I had never been told which ones they were…..

The subject matter of the acrylic painting was of a beautiful angel with her face in profile and with red flowing hair, and her white wing reaching out of the canvas. The whole image only in black, white and red, with the hair the only red part of the angel. The background was black fading down to pale grey. The white wing was to be very textured, and the symbols half hidden within the image. And the symbols were to be Pagan.

The husband came up with some ideas, as did I regarding researching the symbols that I thought might be appropriate, but I had to be his final decision regarding which ones were the best ones, and the reasons behind each one. Plus he wanted six white stars grouped together within the painting which had a very special meaning for his wife, symbolising various members of her family. And also he found another symbol that I had never seen before that he wanted as a tattoo design on the angels shoulder – and he joked that he didn’t want the angel to look chavvy and I laughed at his description and agreed that it would be elegant, of course. The symbol he had chosen for the tattoo meant “I am free from anxiety” and we agreed that it would look better if the wording was actually below the symbol as a small reminder of those momentous words.

The other symbols he chose were : Magical energy, Spirituality, Love, Marriage, Fire, Air, Water, Earth, Health, Mother, Spell, Broomstick, Protection, Goddess, Child protection, Life and birth, Pentagon protection, 5 elements, Yin/Yang, and Sagittarius (as that is his wife’s zodiac sign).

So, in all, 20 symbols, plus the tattoo design, plus the six stars.

But it was down to me as to where they were placed within the painting, although of course I discussed my thoughts on it with the client, and the reasons behind it to check he was happy with the decisions. He was so then down to the creative part!

I did the working drawing, and a working painting for the design and emailed them to him and he came back with the reply that they were fine, and for me to start work on the painting. But, and this was most crucial, he didn’t want to see the final painting even by an image sent by email, not until his wife unwrapped it on Christmas Day. He asked me to put hints on social media, but not to show the painting in its entirety. That was a massive amount of trust he was putting in me I felt, but as he pointed out, he’d seen the artwork I had done before so knew I would do a good job. And he asked if I would wrap it up in pretty Christmas paper for him with bows and ribbons as he knew I would do a far better job of it than he possibly could he explained and I laughingly agreed to do as he requested.

Ok, canvas ordered, and delivered, and also more black and white and red acrylic paints in with the order, and I was ready to start work on it.

And the thing I loved best about working with this client was that he let me make the design for the placing of the symbols. They were to be seen, but not obvious within the painting. I felt that some of the symbols were better placed together, like the Love and Marriage ones, the Fire Air Water Earth ones, the Spell and Broomstick ones, in particular. And I felt that the six white stars would look better and more dramatic and poignant at the top of the wing, against the black sky, with them nicely interacting with each other as a group. As I started the painting itself, after drawing out the image onto the 35 x 35 inches square canvas, I made a couple of slight adjustments to the placing of some of the symbols as I felt they balanced the painting out better. And I also loved hiding the images a little within the texture and tones of the red hair and wing. So you had to search them out a bit, but once you knew where they were, they were clearly there.

I also wanted a slight difference in the changes in the tones of the background around the angels face and mouth, as if she was breathing or there was some movement in the wing.

I did the first underpainting with two medium sized brushes, just to block out the colours and seal the canvas so that the next layer of paint would flow better within the painting. The joy of acrylics is they dry so quickly so I didn’t have to wait for bits to dry before I could move on like with oil paints. Then I worked on the easy part of the sky merging down from black to grey. The next part was the angels face since she had to look so beautiful with fine features using a small brush. Once her face and shoulder were done, I could start on the fun parts of hiding the images, I had decided on four within her hair and the rest in the wing, and worked on building up the tones and symbols and when that was done, and I was happy with the whole painting which stood out clearly but the symbols hidden slightly, I then put the textured white paint in the wing using a palette knife and hinting at the feathered textures.

When the painting was done, and fully dry, I wrapped it up in the cardboard packaging to protect it and found some really appropriate golden paper with the perfectly apt festive slogan”Believe in the magic” as part of the design, some bows and a name card, and arranged a time and place for me to hand it over to the client. It was great to meet him and chat over the logistics of doing the painting and then with the final request for me to know the outcome of the response to it… that was it, my part was done.

And then, the wait until Christmas a few days later…

And on Christmas Day I got the text from him which put a massive smile on my face “Thank you Soooo much Jackie. We were both speechless with tears in our eyes when she opened it. Amazing is an understatement and wouldn’t do it justice. Just unbelievable” ….

I replied to him that I was delighted at that response and that it was exactly the one I was hoping for! It was always going to be a special painting!

And he replied… “We just stood there in silence for a moment with tears in our eyes. Amazing…officially the best present she’s ever had. Thankyou. It’s perfect”.

Well! Yay! Happy news indeed..


And then when I got home after the Christmas rush I had a lovely email from the wife herself saying:

“Jackie, What can I say. My painting is amazing. Better than I could have ever imagined. We are clearing a wall (and painting it) today so we can hang it. I had to keep getting it out and looking at it yesterday as I couldn’t quite believe it. Jackie, thank you so much. It is so beautiful I’m blown away. The hours of work and care that has gone into this painting, I don’t know how you ever let them go. If I could paint like you, I’d keep them all. Thank you so much again.”

And today the husband messaged me and asked if I had had the email as his wife was going to ring me to speak to me and would I like a testimonial from him for the blog and I thanked him for the consideration….so he sent it straight away and wrote..

“Dear Jackie, now Xmas has passed and we’re heading into a new year I just wanted to let you know how happy we both are with ‘the mystery painting’. You were fantastic and so easy to work with from the initial early design phase right through to the end when you even wrapped the painting up for me in specially purchased wrapping paper. The way you have translated the ideas we had to subtly personalise the painting is a remarkable skill. I had every confidence that the painting would be good but we were honestly both left totally speechless when Tracy opened it on Xmas day. I have to admit it bought a tear to my eye seeing her face when she first opened it bearing in mind the personal meaning the painting has. It is officially the best Xmas present she has ever had will take pride and place situated in our kitchen/dining room. On top of all that it has gained me a massive amount of brownie points that I intend to use up. Anyway thank you again so much.”

And later on when I spoke to the wife herself who told me again how amazing the picture was, and how personal to her it was, and how much her husband had obviously been listening to what was important to her in her life regarding her family and friends to have this painting created especially for her. She said that they were going to have the dining room specially painted just for this painting to have the best setting where everyone could see it, and that they were going to move the furniture around so that no one could touch the painting so it could be properly protected.  She really loved the texture of the feathers in the paint and didn’t want anyone touching it! I smiled and said it was acrylic paint so it would be very durable, but I could hear in her voice how special that painting was for her, and knew that she wanted it looked after, and protected. It was too personal. And she told me that her friends had wanted her to take a photo of the picture to send to them, and she had told them they would have to wait until it was on the wall to take a photo to do it justice!


Someone else is redecorating their room for one of my paintings. That makes me VERY happy to know how right it was for them. Worth the wait I think!