April 20, 2015

The Epic Reveal

"Something Tells Me" Vive Collage

Happy Monday everyone!  I have a little story to share with you about a recent client (turned friend) who commissioned a Vive Collage from me for his wife's 40th birthday. This is one of my favorite experiences as an artist, and a happy reminder for us all to remember how it's the little things that score biggest points with those you love.

Thoughtful Husband
I met Kris Georges because of my need for help installing my new lights.  Yes, because of lights.  He owns an electric company (Western Electric) and came highly recommended from the company down the street I bought the lights from.  The recommendation sounded far better than turning to a random Google search, but now I believe there was one other cosmic reason I was supposed to meet Kris... his wife, Michelle, had a very big and important birthday coming up, and Kris is not the kind of guy who get her a generic gift. I just so happen to specialize in giving highly personalized gifts!

I have several pieces of my art hanging at home. One of the pieces is a Vive Collage- my signature artwork that tells a true story through blending personal items such as tickets, boarding passes, postcards and wine labels with paint to serve as a visual reminder of life's defining moments.   Kris asked me about the painting on one of his visits, and as soon as he heard me describe the meaning of the painting, I could see a lightbulb go off over his head.  He knew Michelle would love one.

Tickets from K&M's first date recreated in Photoshop.
The Process
And so, Kris and I started work on a surprise Vive Collage for Michelle, with an epic "reveal" just before her birthday.  These collages take me a few months to do, mostly because of the amount of thought, detail and planning involved to tell another persons' story just right.   The first month is what I call the "intake".  I really got to know Kris, stories of his wife, the details of how they met, what is important to them, where they got married, their favorite music, his nicknames for her, even the phone number he called her on for the very first time.  Kris secretly dug through shoeboxes,  closets and the basement of their home, collecting all of the important little memories of their life together.

Some memories no longer had tangible proof.  For those, I used a little photoshop to bring them back to life.   For example, the two tickets to see "My Girl" in November of '91 were from Kris and Michelle's first date.

Once Kris found everything he could, he brought it all to me in a tin box.  Then, I got to work cutting, arranging and collaging the elements into the background of a big canvas.  As I work, I imagine the story of Kris, Michelle, their two kids, how they met, and how Michelle will react when we she sees it for the first time!  Every brush stroke is literally infused with their story which helps bring it to life.
This process took months of planning and work, and the best part is, Michelle had NO idea.

 Once the painting was finished, Kris and I planned a proper "reveal" night in my studio just before her birthday.  I am a huge believer that part of the experience in owning original artwork that should not be overlooked is how that artwork is received.  The moment of the "unveiling" will be remembered every time the new owners look at their painting!  When I (we) have put so much effort into creating such a highly personalized and special piece of art, the experience has to match.  It just has to, or I didn't do my job!

Tickets, boarding passes and love notes.
Process photo of items being collaged onto canvas.


This is my absolute favorite part.  Let me share the best "reveal" I've ever done, and why the experience is so important to me!  It's so fun to create a reaction in others that I know they can't get any other way.

Kris and his wife had a Birthday dinner at the restaurant next door to my studio.  As they pay up and are about to leave, Kris tells his wife he has one more surprise for her.  He excuses himself and texts me: "I excused myself to the restroom.  My heart is pounding out of my chest!  Michelle is so curious.  We just paid, be there in about 10 mins".

Notes to add to the fun!
Back at my studio, a bottle of Malbec (her favorite) is open.  A playlist is made, with a song meaningful to both of them timed to play at just the right moment of the "reveal". I've posted notes with arrows all over the studio building to guide them from the front entrance, up the elevator and to my studio.  Although Kris has been there before, she hasn't.  He lets her find her way.

They enter my studio.  Michelle, of course, looks extremely confused! I introduce myself, tell her I am an artist and welcome them in. I tell her that Kris had commissioned me to do a painting for her and she begins to look around my studio at the kind of work I do.  I pour the wine.  And then...

I hand her the the worlds' worst painting:  

It's small, cartoonish, awful painting that took longer to mix the colors than to actually paint.  I couldn't reveal the real thing just yet!   I tell Michelle that Kris and I worked very hard planning it, and I hoped I got her hair right.  Kris was fighting back his urge to laugh.  I think he was also fighting back tears of how sweet her response to me was, too.  Being the good-hearted Minnesotan she is, she complimented the painting and actually said she liked it!!!  

She enjoyed her little painting it for a few more moments, and then I took it from her hands and confessed the truth. "Sorry, Michelle.  I see how much you like that painting, but that is not really your gift!"  That moment, their "song" came on (Something Tells Me, by Herman's Hermits).  She knows something special is about to happen, because Kris tells me that particular song always happens to come on during big moments in their life.  A happy tear or two in her eye.  Kris hugs her.  I tell her to keep her eyes closed and no peaking until I am ready!  He has his arm around her,  she is happy, excited and I am sure nervous all at the same time. 

I turn their real painting around on my easel.  All of the work and planning in months before comes down to this moment.  Michelle will see and feel just how much her husband loves her.

"Ok!  You can look now!" I stand back and let Kris take the lead from there.

"Something Tells Me"
Finished artwork is titled after a special song to Kris and Michelle.

She turns.  She sees something that can only be felt.  I felt it.  Kris felt it.  It hits her right away that this painting is a story of them. They walk up to it, together, and Kris starts to explain the chronological order of the items collaged into the painting. She said she was so impressed that Kris remembered all of the little details of their life together, because they had special meaning to her as well. The painting was more than just art, it recognizes Michelle's efforts as a mom, a wife and the love and appreciation that Kris has for her.  It recognizes all of the little things in their life (that are actually the best things!) that shouldn't be forgotten. From the tickets, to text representing to the day they were married, to the songs that have meaning in their life, to hand-written love notes, the painting preserves their story and the things important to them.

Detail of finished artwork.
As they looked closely at the details painting and reminisced over the events of their past,  I stepped back and let them have their moment.   I was fighting back tears of happiness just watching their happiness!  It was so beautiful to see these two hold each other while remembering who they are and how far they've come.  All of the nervousness Kris had felt turned to pride.  He'd given quite the special gift to quite the special lady.  He said she held his hand on the whole drive home.

In the end, this was one of the most memorable paintings that gave me such joy to create.  The "reveal" night was certainly the most special I've ever done!

Kris and Michelle- thank you for allowing me to tell your story on canvas.  You both serve as an inspiration for the kind of unconditional love, admiration and the deeply caring thoughtfulness two people can have for one another.  I am glad to call you both friends in my life.  I hope the painting brings years of happiness to you every time you walk by it! 


If you are interested in having your own personalized Vive collage done as a gift or for yourself, shoot me an email!  I'd be happy to discuss.  val@valcarpender.com.

To see more Vive Collages and understand how commissioned artwork pricing works, check out the Vive Collage portfolio page on my website.