Family Home

About a year ago, a friend of mine asked me if I would do a painting of his family home. Sure, I said.

Well, time moved on, we kept talking about it here and there, but finally this summer the stars aligned and the project was done. Here is the story, and it is special to me.

My friend, John, lives in the home where he grew up. It was built more than 100 years ago by his grandparents, lived in by his parents, and now by him. It’s an end-of-row rowhome located in what was a small town about 35 miles from Center City Philadelphia.

The area is now suburbanizing and there have been a lot of changes, but the house is still as it has always been, rising up from the street in a dignified way.

As well as a doing a portrait of the house, John asked me to include his dogs: Ava, Maggie, Nikki, and Winnie. Other than that, well, it was up to me.

Normally I won’t do commissions. I dislike feeling the future owner’s hopes hovering over my shoulder as I work. I extra dislike the idea that I could disappoint the recipient. In this case, I know that John likes my work; he has been a big supporter of me, always.

But I also knew that this house means more than just shelter to him. It is the embodiment of a lifetime of memories for him and the setting for all his family’s history for a century. I felt a lot of responsibility.

But, I figured, I’ll get to work, and if it doesn’t please him, well, I’ll just…just…try again!

I want to show the process of this project, and I will break it down into its parts. Because I decided there would be paintings rather than painting.

Here are my ideas. I would do a small portrait of each dog; I’d do the house; and I’d do a picture of the front door and steps. In this way I could represent all the parts that seemed important. The house, of course. The dogs deserved their own spaces; I felt they would be insignificant inside the larger painting and I didn’t like that idea, since they are so important to John. And I just liked the front steps; that’s the way everyone who’s ever been there goes in and out, all those years!

My husband and I drove out and took pictures of the house in June. John sent me pictures of Ava, Nikki, and Maggie; I took a picture of John and Winnie in July.

Now you know it all. Here are the results.

Let’s start with the dogs.




And John and Winnie. I met Winnie myself; John brought her to the Tinicum Festival of the Arts and I took her picture.

Here is the close up of the steps and front door.

And now. The house!

Here are the finished pieces all together…


37 thoughts on “Family Home

  1. memadtwo

    Oh, these are wonderful! The house looks so welcoming. And the dogs are charming, full of personality. (which I’m sure they are for real). (K)

  2. agnesashe

    What a fabulous project. I think it has worked out really, really well and you have caught the essence of each individual dog superbly. You have also rendered the house into his home with such pleasing results. I hope he was very happy with your work.

  3. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thank you! I am happy with how everything came out. And this kind of house is what I wanted to live in sometime, but never have – and it means a lot to its owner. Both of these factors helped me along here in having a good feeling as I was working. As for the dogs, I have only met Winnie, and she was just adorable.

  4. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thank you. John is a person who has unfailingly supported me and my artwork, plus, I just like him! and I wanted to do an extra good job for him. I also really like doing houses anyway, and this one was interesting to me. Dogs, I am not that excited about, but somehow these girls all caught my interest, maybe because I have heard all about them and feel I know them!

  5. Claudia McGill Post author

    Yes, he was happy, and I was glad I did a good job for him. His house is a very typical one for its time period, you see the style all over Philadelphia area in older neighborhoods or towns, and I have always liked them, so it was a pleasure to spend time with it. The dogs, well, I surprised myself a bit, I was not sure I could do those portraits, and I think they worked out because I stopped myself from getting fussy with them. Which was on the way to happening, I kept thinking…hmmm, should I add this or that?

  6. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thank you. Yes, this is a happy situation for me because I am totally sure John understands, he sent me a touching email about it, and he was pleased with them when he was here to get them, I could see it. I enjoyed doing it, it was a way for me to say thank you to him for all he has meant and done for me. Plus, I love doing houses, and this style has always appealed to me – the tall city-type row-home. The dogs, I was not sure, as I don’t have much interest in dogs, but these girls are all so cute and I have heard so many stories about them!

  7. Dana Doran

    I think you probably captured each personality just right! Cats, dogs…..I’ve had both all my life and still consider myself a cat person! haha

  8. Laura (PA Pict)

    What a wonderful collection! I love that your broke down the big project into individual portraits. I imagine they look terrific all arranged together on a wall. How wonderful that your friend lives in a house so full of his family history and now he has these heirloom paintings to add to its history.

  9. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thank you. I wanted the dogs to be big enough to have personality but that just wasn’t going to work in one big picture – they would be too small. I actually think it was easier to convey their spirit with a little more room, than trying to make a tiny blob of paint do that job! I loved this project. It was an honor for me.

  10. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thank you! This is what I hoped for, a feeling of a good home, and cheerfulness and caring from the artist, me, to the home and its occupant. I really enjoyed doing this set of paintings.

  11. confirmingthought

    What an honor it has been to have such a sensitive nurturing person paint my home. Both of my grand parents had their viewing and both of my parents passed away at home one from brain cancer and another from alszheimers and it’s complications.
    Babies were born and two sets of twins passed away in the second floor front bedroom.
    I didn’t realize how these things affected my feelings about the negatives etc that had occured as o was growing up in our home. When my mountaintop home burnt to the ground i moved home as a temp resident but became a 15 year caretaker for my parents. Needless to say it has had that imagery cloud my feelings toward the home residence without me remembering all the love that I received from two “old fashioned ” parents. Claudia saw the house with a different vision and without knowing it turned the second floor front bedroom into a room of golden light. Sort of cool how she lifted my soul and showed me what she saw through her gift of love by taking on my commission.
    I will be forever grateful for her healing and uplifting artistic abilities.


  12. agnesashe

    Well, the simplicity worked for the dogs without doubt, each easily identifiable and certainly capturing their charming individuality. Lovely.

  13. Claudia McGill Post author

    Hi John, I can’t express what this means to me to hear this. Thank you is all I can say and is it enough?

    It is your house now with your personality and spirit in it, that is what I saw and tried to capture. So what you see is what I see. xxoo

  14. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thank you. It encouraged me, I’ve always thought I was not much able to catch a likeness of living beings. I will keep drawing more people and animals, I think!

  15. ken riddles

    Claudia this is a great job – apart from anything else – so far removed from boring photographs – you have captured and expressed all so well. I see not just animals/objects/ person but true personality in them all… a unique vision of your world.

  16. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thank you. My friend John cares so much about his home and his dogs and I wanted to express that, and also what a good friend he has been to me, and, his interest in art and his curiosity about everything. I really enjoyed this project for so many reasons.

  17. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thank you. I really got a lot of satisfaction out of this project, for John and also for the challenge of figuring out how to represent something with so much emotion attached to it. In the end, the subjects had their say, I think, and I just went along with them!

  18. wonkywizard

    Claudia, good to be in contact again. A lot of my subscribed posts have been terminated for reasons beyond me. I like the contrast between the photographs and painting. The cute, stylised and bold colour and shapes breathe life into the architecture, people and dogs.

  19. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thank you, and glad to see you. I enjoyed doing this project, and my friend was really pleased, which was even more important. I welcomed the chance to say thank you to someone who has been very good to me.

  20. wonkywizard

    At varying stages of life, we need different dwelling. Now we want a condo, no stairs to climb within, not too large to maintain, with modern facilities, and near facilities (banks, restaurants etc)

  21. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thank you. I find it interesting and useful myself, I am always surprised to look back and see the earlier stages. I do meander along in my composing but eventually something emerges, I do like that a lot.

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