Thursday, January 17, 2008

The best gift I ever gave, and got.

Here’s a gift idea that cannot go wrong. How do you create an heirloom? For you parents, your children, your spouse, your siblings, your best friends? Like this. Find an artist you love, one who includes people somewhere in their art. Then hire that artist to do a portrait -- of your family, of your loved ones, even their pet. It probably won”t be cheap, but it doesn’t have to cost a fortune either. It all depends on the current prices of the artist. Typically the portrait will cost more than the artist’s gallery work, but only a bit. Here’s how you do it.

A couple of years ago, I decided to give a family portrait as a gift to my wife (and me). I showed her the websites of some of my favorite artists, including the amazing Seonna Hong. My wife had seen Seonna’s work before and always loved it. I think she was drawn to the cute, Manga-style little girls who pop up so often in her pieces. I had no idea if Seonna did commissions, but it couldn’t hurt to ask. I emailed her and asked, and she said she didn’t do them often, but she’d consider it. (Full disclosure -- I had met Seonna socially, so this may have made her more likely to accept the commission, but every artist is different. It also didn’t hurt that my wife and oldest son tend to resemble Manga characters in real life). Seonna and I discussed price, and it seemed more than fair. Over the next two months, Seonna and I discussed what should be in the portrait, where the family should be situated, what the style should be. After receiving photos of the family (and the cats) she sent me sketches. She was incredibly collaborative. But be prepared for the artist to be more solitary than this. Remember -- you are hiring someone for their talent and vision -- you will probably have to take a backseat and trust that the final product will be even better than what you expect, which it usually is. Seonna and I decided that a slightly ironic travel poster representing our suburb as an exotic destination would be fun, and Seonna even let me pick out the font for the poster. It was a lot of fun.

And the result? Judge for yourself. The likenesses are very close, but what’s more important is that by asking me a few key questions, Seonna captured a vision of my family that fits how we see ourselves, and now we have a family heirloom that will be passed down to my son and hopefully his children as well. The only problem is that since then we’ve had another baby. So I’m back to finding just the right artist for family portrait number two. I hope we don’t have any more kids -- this could get expensive.

Seonna Hong’s website -


Anonymous said...

this is dope!!! i am so jealous, why have i not seen this at your house. didi i mention that i am jealous?

love your blog. jess and i are learning from it.
love, mer

Teddy Tenenbaum said...

It's the first thing one sees when entering the foyer (say "foyer" with as much snoot as you can muster). And yet somehow no one notices it. Must be because we're so cartoonish in life that the cartoon us on the wall just blends in.

Thanks for the kind words! Now we all have to find that great up and coming artist for some great new family portraits for all of us!