Portrait of Hitchens as a dying man

One of the great writers left us last week - Christopher Hitchens.  A regular columnist with Vanity Fair, Hitch lived out his final chapter and finally succumbed to esophageal cancer after 18 grueling months.

A man of words, often irascible, commonly curmudgeonly, he was as revered as he was reviled.

Neil Wagner

My father-in-law gave Ben and I a lesson in water colours yesterday.  Neil spent the bulk of his working life as a high school art teacher and effortlessly shed some light on a form of painting that has, till now, eluded me.

I started playing around with the colours, watching them blend together on the surface of the paper.  Eventually this picture started to take shape.


Neil could tell I was getting into it and dug into his backpack full of supplies and pulled out a large piece of water colour paper - the real deal, almost stiff, very substantial.

"How much does something like this cost?" I asked.

"This is handmade," he said.  "It's been awhile since I bought it, but it wouldn't surprise me if that sheet is eighteen dollars or so."

Wow!  I thought to myself.  He wanted me to dig right in and paint something right then and there.  But I couldn't bear the thought of potentially ruining this very expensive piece of paper.

But as we waved goodbye to Neil and his wife Susan this morning, an idea of what to paint started to form in my mind.

Photo by Chris Bolin

I was reading a recent edition of Maclean's and discovered the Bad Portraits Project (www.badportraitsproject.com).  The brainchild of Mandy Strobo of Calgary, the series of works involves the artist painting large neo-expressionist paintings.  In the past six months she has created more than 800 Bad Portraits which I think are pretty awesome.  If you want to read the article click here.

Looking at those incredible creations provided the spark for my interpretation of the following picture of Christopher Hitchens:

Christopher Hitchens by Michael Stravato/The New York Times/Redux

I probably spent longer than the average 45 minutes that Strobo spends on her masterpieces, but here is the result.


It's kind of creepy, but evocative and interesting.  I liked it so much that I popped it into an extra frame we had lying around and put it up in my study, my man-cave where I do all my writing.

Having Mr. Hitchens on my wall is comforting in a way, a close reminder that life, and words well-written, are precious; we should never take either for granted.

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