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Category: Oil Paintings

Canvas Stretcher Preparation and Shipping Crate

I’ll be starting a “boardroom portrait” soon. The finished painting — 24″ x 30″ — will hang in the Daniel Library at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s a famous military college, and my client is the Citadel, honoring an alumnus of the Citadel (1963) and a local-to-me business man who personally located me and asked that I create his portrait.

The college has a history going back to before 1850, and many (maybe all) of the past presidents and a few other important alumni have had their portraits hung in the Daniel Library. Since this painting will be around for a very long time, I wanted the canvas to be sturdier than what standard stretchers would provide, and didn’t want to order the beefier stretchers online and wait for them to arrive, so here’s what I did instead.

Standard stretchers backed with 1 x 2 furring pine.

If you look closely, you can see the two layers of wood.

I started with a stock, pre-stretched canvas. The canvas is usually very generic cotton duck on ready-mades, so I removed the staples and set that canvas aside for practice paintings later. I’ll stretch Claessen’s #166 Belgian Linen over it for the final painting. Very high quality, and a wonderful weave for portraits.

Bostitch Nailer

I bought this refurb at Amazon for about $60 and it works great.

I used the existing dimensions to mark my 1 x 2 furring strips. 1 x 2 lumber in the USA is actually 3/4″ x 1.5″ and they call that “nominal.” Whatever. The ready-made canvases often have the benefit of having only one side bevelled, unlike stretcher bars that are user-assembled and have “goof-proof” double-bevelled surfaces. (The bevel is there to lift the canvas off the remaining wood, so that the artist doesn’t keep hitting it while painting, as the canvas flexes downward. It also provides airflow behind the canvas which helps preserve it from environmental problems, like mildew.) Since these pre-mades have a flat, not-bevelled back, they are appropriate for gluing and tacking on furring strips. I use a small compressor and this Bostitch 18-gauge pneumatic nailer I got at Amazon to drive 1-1/4″ brads. It requires 35-60psi pressure and shoots a variety of nail lengths from 5/8″ to 2 1/8″.

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Flipped on its face, I added a cross-bar between and in the middle of the long sides from the same furring material (battens, in the UK) and inset it slightly to reach more toward the middle of the double-thickness. Glued and nailed with a brad. This will add strength to keep the 30″ span from bowing when I tighten the canvas.

Before stretching the linen, or even beginning a painting, I build the shipping crate. Even though the subject of my painting is local, after his approval, it will be shipped some 2500+ miles away. I want it to get there safely.

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I want the crate to be sturdy but light. So I build it from 3/8″ plywood and more furring strips. The painting will sit down into the box, resting on 1 x 2s that act as spacing and a structure to which I can attach the back panel.

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The crate allows for 1/4″–3/8″ “breathing room” around the perimeter of the finished canvas. I do this all now, because I don’t want to be doing trial-fits and measuring with a finished painting! For one thing, there’s a lot of sawdust. Sawdust and fresh oil paint are not friends, in my book.

Not shown — yet — are the item I will use later to secure the painting in place for shipping. This extra breathing room is just enough for some dense, spongy padding, and the painting is held securely down with some mounts I have created for this purpose. Stay tuned, I’ll post another article with those details.

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Since the back is fixed (unlike the lid which must be easily removable), I piece it together from some leftover plywood from previous crates and reinforce the seam inside, glued and nailed with brads. A proper-size full panel would have been better, but I didn’t want to run to the hardware store, and this will do fine. Plenty strong.

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I vacuum out all the sawdust. Then I paint a coat of exterior varnish on the entire interior. I don’t want any sawdust coming loose in shipping and adhering to my finished painting — which will be naked inside this crate.

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I don’t do anything special like sanding. I’m just using it as a sealer. It’s water-based varnish and the brush cleans easily with soap and warm water — and there are no heavy fumes. Nice stuff. About $15 per quart. And no, I would never use it on an oil painting.

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It will be dry in under an hour.

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I painted the finished work over several days at my uStream Channel

You can “subscribe” to my channel on uStream.tv to be notified when I click my camera on. Or watch from the Show page on my other website: Dave the Painting Guy.

Diving Rock – Thomaston, GA

Diving Rock -- Flint River, GAby David R. Darrow
10" x 8" (25.4cm x 20.3cm)
Oil on Stretched Canvas
This painting is not framed

Unframed
$195 + $8.95 S/H
Click image for larger view.

About This Painting

In Thomaston Georgia, there is a wide, calm, clear river called the Flint River.

The day I was there, the water was easily 85°f and the daytime temperature was about the same. The air had only slightly less water in it than the Flint River, but it still looked inviting — so I took a dip.

From my vantage point, I could see kids, young and old, jumping off this rock sticking about 8 feet out of the warm water, with precarious access from the backside. If I was still a kid, I would have been all over it, non-stop.

They eventually got dragged home by their weary parents, but I stuck around to enjoy the long day and the warming light of the setting sun. It was amazingly quiet, peaceful and beautiful. ◙

Draped in Satin

As a beginning illustrator and very "wet behind the ears" in 1980 when I set out at 22 to make a living right out of art school, all I knew was "fast media" — I had only used oils in a few figure painting classes, and didn’t know the medium well. None of the instructors I had really talked much about the inherent properties of oil, drying time, block-ins, washes, etc., so Oils were a mystery to me until 2000, 20 years later, when I decided to learn them "for reals."

Old Acrylics
Click the picture for a larger view

Acrylics dry fast, so that’s what I used when doing all my time-sensitive commercial work. I did a lot of airbrush work back then, so It was an obvious choice. Still, the darks in acrylic dry a step or 2 lighter, and the lights dry a bit darker by the time the water has "flashed off" — so it was always a wait-and-see game, for me.

I decided to try a small figure painting in acrylic, using washes, glazes and scumbling to achieve an atmospheric effect. It was a bit of a trip down memory lane. For starters, some of the still-good tubes of acrylic I have are older than many of the people on my mailing list. In the picture of some tubes of mine, you can see that I dated them, sometimes, so I would know when I bought them — never thinking I would actually have them nearly 30 years later. The tube in the middle, dated 9/85 is a sure tell. But if you’re a Pasadena local, you know that the tube to the left (Modular Color) was from an old product line that was hue and value-based, sold in metal tubes, and in this case, from "Standard Brands" paint store on Orange Grove in Pasadena — that store long ago having changed hands. (The $1.03 price tag is certainly nostalgic!) That store tag means I bought it during my school years, 1977–1980. Yikes-squared!

And it still flows.

I put the near-full "Portrait Pink" tube in the picture to show how useless therefore largely-unused it is.

But I digress…

Stage 1 – The drawing in pencil and then brownish acrylic

I started with a canvas glued to 1/8" luan mahogany plywood. You can’t see it here, but the canvas has been highly textured with modeling paste, knifed– and bushed–on, coated in gesso, and sanded.

Stage 2 –  A quick, warm/neutral wash of acrylic:
Raw Umber, Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna, greatly thinned with water

Stage 3 (2.5, really)  — I pat it and wipe it down quickly before it dries to get rid of
the drips and brush marks.

Stage 4 – I start re-working the darks before I completely lose my drawing,
then do another 2 or 3 washes over it.

Stage 5 — I alternate between warm and cool washes of color.

Here, a Payne’s Gray wash has been added mostly at the top. By the way, Payne’s Gray is merely a premixed Ultramarine Blue and Ivory Black — it says so right on the label.

Stage 6 — A Yellow Ocher wash has been added, plus some reworking
of the lost highlights using Titanium White Gesso and water.
Burnt Sienna is used in the shadows to keep them from going too dark, for now.

Stage 7 — Creating atmosphere with more thin washes.

Yellow Ocher and Burnt Sienna both have a slight opacity to them — they are not true transparent colors, like Ultramarine is. Therefore, they tend to lighten. This begins to create a "foggy," more unified look to the lights and darks. This also ties the cool highlights back to the color scheme.

Stage 8 — I wash in some local color and re-enforce the highlights.

I want a warm-to-cool graduated background, and I want something light behind the head to bring out the profile, so I start working the cool light on the wall. I also add the red of the drape on the chair, while reinforcing the satin white.

Close-up — A bit blurry, sorry!

Stage 9 — Oil Wash or Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue and Raw Umber, Turp and Linseed Oil

What???

You may object to oil paint being used in an acrylic painting since one cannot paint with both. This is mostly true. The astute among you will know that you cannot paint acrylic over oil — ever. But the reverse is not true. You can paint oil over (dried) acrylic. This is completely archival.

The really super-astute among you will realize that this last stage — where I am leaving off for now — is where I became frustrated with the way the acrylic painting was going, seeing the seemingly endless work ahead to get what I wanted, therefore I "changed horses in the middle of this stream."

Goodbye acrylic, for now. This painting has plenty of potential, and it’s only going to be realized if I enjoy painting it, so… I did what I had to do. For now, I like oils better, and I believe I can finish this faster/sooner and with greater artistic freedom in oils.

Paint Smarter™

—Dave

Open Letter to Langnickel Royal Brush Co.

Contact Addresses: customerservice@royalbrush.com & gus@royalbrush.com

Royal Brush Manufacturing
6707 Broadway
Merrillville, Indiana 46410
United States
219-660-4170

Please deliver to the President/CEO of Royal Brush Manufacturing

Dear Langnickel,

I don’t know if you guys realize what a gold mine you are sitting on, and how you are squandering the value of it through manufacturing inconsistencies (handle length, handle color, unavailability, etc.) and quality inconsistencies.

Admittedly, I don’t know if the market for your Royal Sable (series 55xx) is currently big enough to reorganize your manufacturing processes, but I do know that virtually every major portrait artist and influential oil painter I know who uses Langnickel brushes is actively looking for a suitable alternative, citing the same things I experience on a regular basis.

First of all, let me tell you that everyone I know, who I have convinced to give your Royal Sable long-haired, long-handled filberts a try LOVES them. It’s an absolutely BRILLIANT concept… The shape is flawless and the fiber length is unmatched. The springiness is superb, and the strength of the hairs is wonderful. I paint better because of these brushes.

Just a few of the names of influential artists I know who use your brushes: Morgan Weistling, Richard Schmid, Jeremy Lipking, Dan Gerhartz, Casey Baugh and many, many others, including myself. I personally have a live broadcast venue, (Dave the Painting Guy) that reaches over 500 interested viewers (and rapidly growing), many of whom always want to know what brand/series of brushes I use.

I always tell them the brand name and series, but I always add, “You will come to love and hate Langnickel Royal Sable brushes. You will love them because they feel right. They apply paint just right. But you will hate them because you never know what you’re going to get with them, and they do not manufacture enough for the market — they are very difficult to find.”

I tell them plainly that I can receive in the same batch purchased a brush that lasts for months, even years, and a brush that loses half or even all it’s hairs immediately when I pinch out the oil into a rag. Many of my Royal Sables have become useless in an hour or two because of so many lost hairs that the remainder do not stay on the ferrule any more. (Can’t you embed the hairs in an epoxy or glue to keep them inside?)

These brushes shed like no other brush I have owned. This is one of the only frustrating outside influences I experience when painting, interrupting the flow of the usual problem-solving that is the joy of painting.

One of my favorite brushes is virtually always out of stock, everywhere I look: the 5520 #8, blue handle.

By the way, what’s with blue handles and red handles in the same series number? It is my belief that the filberts, 5520-blue have longer hairs than the 5520-red — why don’t you have a different series number if they are going to be that different? If they are not supposed to be different, please note that they are extremely different, and these inconsistencies are hurting your popularity.

And if you’re going to have long-handled brushes or short-handled brushes, PLEASE make them a different series number. When ordering by phone (the only way I will order Langnickel brushes) I always request that the sales person get hold of the brushes personally so I can ask about the length of the hairs, the length of the handles, the color of the handles, etc., BECAUSE there is no consistency.)

Look, some of the most popular in influential artists in the US use Langnickel bushes, and virtually every artist who likes their work always wants to know what kind of brushes the artist uses. You cannot buy honest word-of-mouth advertising, and there is no such advertising more believable, therefore important.

Is there anything you can do to improve the quality, consistency, series numbering and availability of Your Royal Sables in the 5520, 5525, 5590 series and others?

I sincerely want to promote your brushes with no “buts”…

David R. Darrow
<address and phone number omitted here>

Update #1
I just received (less than 2 hours later) a phone call from ‘George’ who owns Royal/Langnickel who apologized for the inconsistency in the brushes, and promised he will see what he can do to introduce better consistency, check the cement inside the ferrules, etc. — I dunno. But he did say to send them any brushes I am dissatisfied with and they will replace them.

Please, if you read all this and agree, leave comments to this blog post below, and also write to Langnickel yourself. If they are doing their job right, they will be searching the web to find out what people think of their product. Be kind and be to the point. Be encouraging. Let them know how you as a painter would prefer their brushes could be improved. Everyone is having a harder-than-usual time of things these days.

Update #2
Following George’s call to send them any of my brushes which have been poorly manufactured, I mailed 3 of my brushes which had either become poorly shaped because of loose hairs/fiber or brushes the ferrule of which I had to crimp with a pliers.

(I mailed them by sandwiching them in a folded piece of corrugated cardboard 1.5″ loner at each end than the brushes; included a letter explaining that the fibers were coming out too easily; sealed it, addressed it, stamped it.)

Within a reasonable amount of time, I was shipped free replacement brushes, along with a letter explaining that they understood the handle/series confusion, and explained that they are aware of an issue with the glue or cement they are using, and are switching over to a newer one. Some of the brushes previously manufactured with the older cement are still in “circulation” in various inventories, so they cannot guarantee that won’t happen again in the short term, but the letter reiterated that “Langnickel stands behind all its brushes. You may return any that are unsatisfactory and we will replace them.”

Update #3
2014, October 7 — Langenickel has stopped manufacturing these, but the good news is you can get a far superior version from Rosemary & Co., a handmade brush company in the UK. The Rosemary & Co. Master’s Choice Series brushes, which solve all the problems of the Langenickels and match the specifications of leading portrait painters who worked with her to develop these fine brushes can be purchased from a USA distributor, Claudia Williams, from her website.

Corpsman Meeks Back in the Studio Tonight

Broadcast Screen Shot 

Kyle Meeks in studio for live portrait, last night.

I had an unexpectedly great time painting my friend Kyle last night, formally Corpsman Kyle Brock Meeks, U.S. Navy; Senior Line Corpsman for Alpha 3rd Platoon, 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division. 

Despite some technical challenges, and arranging the studio, cameras and computer monitor so Kyle could participate in the chat, the painting session was one of my all-time favorites.

I have never painted someone who, though present to pose, was also actively communicating. Of course, I asked him to, and I accepted the challenge of painting him while he was sharing so many fascinating stories of his military tour. (Tonight, however, I am going to have him pose with his mouth closed while I finish his mouth, which, subsequently to the frame shown above, I wiped off the canvas.)

Technical difficulties at the uStream.tv end of this broadcast caused a Broadcast FAIL and my show abruptly ended mid-sentence as Kyle was laying out a great story of the time spent alone in a Jordanian hospital while waiting for his ‘boy’ (an injured Marine in his care) was attended to. I attempted for some time to re-connect, but it was impossible for unknown reasons. I am so sorry!

The painting will continue tonight with Kyle in-studio one more time, tonight, starting at 5pm, Pacific time.

Click here to go to the show URL at the proper time.

Emily

As promised, below is a sharper photo of the painting of Emily, created last week for her mother. (if you want to see it a bit larger, click the image)

Emily

Captain Nick

Captian Nickby David R. Darrow
14" x 11" (35.6cm x 27.9cm)
Oil on Canvas Panel
SOLD
Collection of Simon Wickstrom,
Alameda, CA – USA

About This Painting

I first met Nick at North Coast Calvary Chapel in Carlsbad, CA. He was a ‘morning greeter,’ welcoming people as they walked in the front door, greeting them with a big smile, friendly eyes… and something you just could not help but notice: the biggest hands you’ve ever felt giving you a handshake.

My own hands are large; Nick’s are massive.

When I moved my studio to Oceanside in 2007, I discovered Nick was my new neighbor, and we chatted from time to time. He’d had to retire due to a heart condition, the treatment of which seemed to be barely tolerable. His weight increased rapidly over a few months, and this once grizzly, hulk of a human was reduced — by increased size — to a man at the mercy of distances, stopping to catch his breath every 15 feet or so when merely walking. He was always kind, generous and jovial, with endless stories of days in Hollywood as a stunt-double, or other bit parts.

A few months before I moved to Encinitas, Nick told that me a good friend in Costa Rica had invited him to come down there and help him out with his new Club for mostly American tourists, right on the beach, free grub and free rent and a small paycheck.

I asked him if I could come, too.

One day, in those last weeks, I dropped by with my camera and asked him if I could shoot some pictures of him for a painting.

“Me?” he gasped. “I thought you wanted to be a successful painter,” he winked. A moment later he was up scrounging around in some of his packed boxes for his hat collection, and pulled out this delightful captain’s hat. I suggested that he’d look official if he had a pipe. “Oh, I have one right over here, he said, turning around to get one out of his china hutch.

I snapped about 10 shots and left him alone, thanking him for the inspiration. A week later his apartment was empty, and Nick was on his way to Costa Rica.

I have not heard from him since.

Nick left me several hats as costume props, and several Hawaiian shirts, most of which I wear on my broadcast, my favorite being the one I was wearing in last night’s broadcast — the parrot one. Thanks Nick!

* * *

This is the painting I completed January 2nd — my first painting of 2009. I began it on the Dave the Painting Guy broadcast on January 1, 2009, and finished it the next evening. Most of it was recorded as a public clip at the uStream location. ◙

Samuel Gompers

Samuel Gompersby David R. Darrow
8" x 10" (20.3cm x 25.4cm)
Oil on Canvas Panel
This painting is not framed
Click here to see it larger

About This Painting

Next Dave The Painting Guy show:
Today, Wednesday, 5pm Pacific Time (GMT -8)

This past Monday, I relaunched my Dave the Painting Guy streaming internet show (website link) after over a month off the air, a month off from any painting (other than walls), and a month of packing and relocating.

Somehow Labor Day seemed like an appropriate day top get back to work. So I announced my intentions to go on the air again to subscribers to my notification list… and then set about trying to figure out what I would paint fro the show.

As always, careful planning and meticulous forethought are not my strongest gifts.

So it seemed Labor Day might have some interesting faces associated with its history, and sure enough, this interesting man, whom I painted as a demo on the show.

Samuel Gompers, according to Wikipedia “…helped found the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions in 1881 as a coalition of like-minded unions. In 1886 it was reorganized into the American Federation of Labor, with Gompers as its president. He would remain president of the organization until his death (with the exception of one year, 1895).”

And he had a pretty nice face for a painting demo. ◙

Black Dress

Black Dressby David R. Darrow
11" x 14" (27.9cm x 35.6cm)
Oil on Panel
SOLD
Collection of Bob Camp,
Cincinnati, OH – USA

About This Painting

I’ve just moved and am very excited about my new studio… it’s the perfect setting to reintroduce my Internet Video Show Dave the Painting Guy which I will have on the air again this week.

From the new studio in Encinitas, CA!

One of the last paintings I did on the air from my old studio in Oceanside, CA was this one I have titled Black Dress.

I liked this woman’s face and curly hair, so I asked her if I might pain her sometime, noting that I would kind of like to direct the lighting… she agreed, asked her daughter to photograph her — following my instructions — and sent me several to choose from. I liked this composition best.

I decided to paint this one live on my show, keeping it heavy and painterly, and also decided to experiment a little with the start: I started the painting with my reference photo upside down as a means of forcing my mind to see abstractly, to get the shapes right. (Watch the first in the video clip series)

The result was very pleasing to me, and the painting sold immediately…

…to her husband. ◙

Signed, Framed, Delivered: It’s Yours!

David and Mariam, the portrait's subjectI delivered my commissioned portrait of Mariam directly to her place of work yesterday. Rather than having me bring the painting to her office, which she felt would certainly lead to unwanted ribbing from her already tease-prone coworkers, she met us in the lobby, complimented the portrait, asked for a little stack of my business cards and walked directly out to the parking garage to sequester the painting from prying eyes.

She later wrote that she took a few trusted friends to the garage gallery and showed them, which garnered the artwork still more compliments.

Jessi

Jessiby David R. Darrow
9" x 9" (22.9cm x 22.9cm)
Oil on Canvas Panel
SOLD
Collection of Dean E. Bailiff,
Palm Harbor, FL – USA

About This Painting

After I placed the order at the counter at Pizza Port I wandered outside to find a spot in the warm summer evening air. I could see it would be a challenge — with summer in a beach town off to its official start, it seemed everyone in town had gone from the beach to Pizza Port to wind down before heading home.

I plopped my superfluous jacket down across the mostly-crowded picnic-style table, at the same time asking the guests to my left if there was room for me. As the head of household gave me a murky response along the lines of “we’re expecting a few more” a couple to the right of where I was trying to squeeze in suddenly scooted further down, making more room and said definitively, “Sure! Have a seat.”

I looked back at the gentleman who had attempted to decline our presence and said with a smile, “I like their answer better.”

Jessi, as I learned was out on a date. We would learn that they had just recently met and were out getting to know each other better.

The two of them were just plain fun folks. We talked easily, joked and laughed together like old friends that had just met. Unusually friendly, I thought. A breath of fresh air.

Eventually the conversation got around the the traditional so-what-do-you-dos and Jessi, a pretty mid-twenties brunette dipped into her purse quickly pulling out two business cards announcing that she is a massage therapist working her day job at what is arguably the finest five-star spa and resort in San Diego County, and at the top of many lists worldwide. We were impressed.

She went on to tell us she trained at Lauterstein-Conway School of Massage in Austin, TX, and was recruited from school directly to this prestigious position in San Diego. “That credential will never be any lower than first position on my resume,” she beamed.

Eventually, the conversation got around to what I do. “I’m an artist. I paint portraits and stuff,” I nonchalaunted. Turning to Jessi, I added, “You have great eyes. Can I paint you?”

“Sure! That’d be great,” she shot back. And so, just like that, it was settled.

She’s as fascinating to paint as to know.

And the whole thing has been a confirmation that it is often serendipitous to talk to complete strangers. ◙

Angel Unaware

Angel Unawareby David R. Darrow
5" x 7" Oil on Panel
SOLD
Collection of Patricia Harris,
Ragley, LA – USA

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unaware. —Hebrews 13:2

I recently ate dinner at a popular Carlsbad restaurant with outdoor seating — which I was quite grateful for during California’s record heat wave. The seating outdoors is casual: picnic benches.

Sometimes when I eat out there aren’t enough tables for everyone. Sometimes people are just standing off to the side with a very discouraged look on their faces. We usually break the unwritten American Federal Law against such a thing and invite strangers to join us at our table. [gasp] No, really, it’s true.

This sweet little 3-year-old “angel” graced my table as a guest. Her family, not wanting to impose on me, apparently, sat on the opposite bench of my table, facing the other direction.

I suppose the parents were more attentive than most I see. They attended to her often, conversed with her, made sure she was fed. But a lot of the time the adults only engaged the other adults at the table, and this little angel just entertained herself. Sometimes she went off into a long stare, seeing nothing but what was playing in her mind, and I wondered what she was thinking.

As I snapped a few candid pictures of her (which I later based this painting on) I thought of my own daughter Lauren, now 14 and how I have often thought of her as an angel… my personal princess… a gift from God. At 14 now — though quite beautiful — she no longer looks like the tiny little angel I remember so vividly as if it were only a month or two ago.

I wondered if this little girl’s parents had any idea how fast their daughter was really going to grow up.

Someone once said, “I’ve never heard of a man on his deathbed saying he wished he’d put more time into his business.”

As with many of my paintings, I like to give them titles that have more than one meaning.

It occurs to me that this little angel is still so innocent, and unaware of the world she must grow up into, which along with its blessings can bestow deep pain, too.

God bless the little ones. ◘


This painting is one in my Everyday Paintings Series
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