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My Best Mother's Day Gift for Mother

Updated on April 21, 2016

My Best Mother's Day present for Mama

Finding a Mother's Day gift for my mother was always a daunting task. As the decades went by, the gift ideas dwindled to a few mediocre ones. Then I recalled my mother commenting that she always wanted a portrait done of her, except commissioning one would be too expensive. Her older sister did a sitting with a portrait artist, but the finished product bore little resemblance to her. And so I decided to surprise my mother by painting a portrait of her based on one of her many photos from family reunions.

This was my surprise gift to my mother on Mother's Day in 2006, and every year since then, Mother still felt it was the best Mother's Day gift she has ever received.

Mothers hold their children's hands for a short while, but their hearts forever. ~Author Unknown

Selecting my photo

Choosing the right photo was extremely important

There were so many photos to select from, but this particular one of Mama with my older sister was my favorite. Mama is seated, looking beautiful and regal with her infectious smile. The slight angle of her posture, the beaded black blouse and her necklace added to her elegance. Choosing the right photo that my mother will like was of key importance, paying close attention to her hair style, attire, and expression. Of course, these can all be doctored in the actual painting, but I was looking for a photo that will need the least amount of modifications. What is important is capturing the essence of my mother's personality.

Setting up the projector and tracer

Basic and inexpensive Artograph projector - No bells and whistles but does not job

This is the Artograph enlarger projector that I used for most of my art projects. I had enlarged and traced a picture of my cat on the wall as part of a mural in the powder room. I was pretty pleased with the outcome. The only drawback is that it did not have a fan.

Projecting and tracing the image

Keep the room pitch-dark

I used artist's masking tape to tack the four corners of a 11"x 15" Strathmore watercolor paper onto the cabinet door. Setting the Artograph projector on top of its own box was a cinch as it was just the perfect height. This eliminated the need to stack books or magazines to elevate the projector. The photo was placed on top of the box with the projector sitting on it. The room had to be pitch-dark to get the a crisp projected image. There were some minor adjustments to keep the photo centered in the 5"x5" window of the Artograph. The bulb did get hot as it did not have a fan, so the photo warped a bit. I had to turn off the projector after 15 minutes of tracing to let it cool down. This was the only drawback.

The next step was to trace the projected image with a #2 soft graphite pencil, shading some areas for shadows on the face, folds on the blouse, strands of hair, and the like. Every so often, I would turn off the projector to check the traced image to see if I missed anything. I continued to trace the fine details, like the pearl necklace and pendant and the beading on the blouse. It is important to trace all the details in the initial sketch because once the projector is turned off and the watercolor sketch is on the table, there is no turning back. It is a lot of trouble to re-setup the projector with the exact enlargement, distance to the wall, etc. and get the projected image to line up with the traced image. So, this is something I pay attention to closely--- put in as much details as possible before taking the watercolor paper off the wall.

Selecting the watercolor paper- 300lb. cold press, medium-weight.

I prefer the slightly rough texture.

Strathmore acid-free Watercolor paper - Great for watercolor, tempera, gouache, acrylic

Strathmore Watercolor paper has been my choice of watercolor paper for years. The paper holds up without buckling or rippling and the texture gives the painting character. The acid-free paper ensures that a perfectly great painting will not yellow after many years. Of course, there are many other watercolor paper in the market that is just as good or better, but the Strathmore brand is priced right.

Finished watercolor portrait of mother - Ready to be shipped overseas

Photo Credit:jennysh_who

T his is a combination of water-soluble watercolor pencils and watercolor paint. I used watercolor paint for large areas, like the face, blouse, and the background. Details like the eyes, eyelashes, hair, lips, pearl necklace, were helped along with the watercolor pencils. The sharp pointed pencils made the effort more controllable. All artists are entitled to poetic license, so I added some orchids in the background and lengthened mom's hair a bit around her ears.

Portrait shipped overseas - Just in time for Moather's Day

Photo Credit:Eagle Driver Wanted

I connived with my brother who lives in the Philippines to receive the painting and have it framed locally. He decided to frame it himself since the frame shops charged exhorbitant prices and none of the frames were to his liking. The assembled portrait was beautifully put together, wrapped and brought to my mother's house on Mother's Day. She had no idea what the large package was. My brother made sure he took pictures of my mother's reactions as she unwrapped her surprise package.

Mama receives her surprise package

Drum roll.......

It was Mother's Day and Mama had just returned from church still wearing her vibrant red Sunday dress. My brother timed his arrival at her house and brought the package to her bedroom upstairs. She had no idea what was in the wrapped present, although it was not difficult to figure out from the look and feel of it. She gingerly peeled away the taped wrapper around the framed portrait and never once suspected anything.

One thing about our mother is that it was very easy to keep secrets from her. All the more this made it easier to surprise her.


What mother always wanted

Imagine the joy Mama felt after seeing the portrait she always wanted. It is apparent in this photo that Mama was elated and thrilled with her present as she beamed from ear to ear. It was something she always wanted and was painted with my heartstrings. Mother knows that I am not a professional artist and only paint as a hobby. There are many schools of thought on how to do watercolor portraits, and this was my way.

What more can I give Mother on Mother's Day but to immortalize her in a portrait?

Mama reading my Mother's Day letter

Tugging at her heartstrings

After Mama contained her excitement, she sat down on the bed, put on her glasses and read the Mother's Day card I had enclosed with her portrait. I am sure she went back several times and read the card over and over again. I don't quite remember what I wrote in the card but I know she felt warm all over and very much loved. It was the happiest Mother's Day for Mama.

A mom's hug lasts long after she lets go. ~Author Unknown

Mama with her best Mother's Day gift

Mama with her best Mother's Day gift
Mama with her best Mother's Day gift

The Best Mother's Day Gift

Mother's Day 2012 will mark 6 years since Mother received her portrait which proudly hangs on the wall of her home. It is a gift that is timeless and will never grow old. It was and still is her best Mother's Day gift ever.

A mom's gift is always the best because it's wrapped in love and tied with heartstrings. ~Anonymous

Watercolor pencils are essential - For fine details

Sanford 4066 Prismacolor Water-Soluble Colored Pencils, 36-Count (Pack of 1)
Sanford 4066 Prismacolor Water-Soluble Colored Pencils, 36-Count (Pack of 1)

Prismacolor watercolor pencils create bold and vivid effects when mixed with water. These high quality water-soluble pencils blend smoothly and are easy to control. I use Prismacolor watercolor pencils for its lightfastness to reduce fading over time.


Watercolor paint I can trust

Winsor and Newton has bold, vibrant pigments that blend superbly without getting grainy. The paint set is easy to take along on journeys and vacations for plein air artwork. A set will last for years and still keep its quality and vivid colors. It is worth every cent to buy a reliable and quality brand to get your money's worth.

Kolinsky sable brushes are excellent - and are more durable

There is a belief amongst artists that the right brushes can make or break a piece of artwork. I have used less expensive brushes and nothing beats the Kolinsky sable brushes. These load up with paint and water, spring back and go a long way with little dabs of paint. Kolinksy sable brushes do not shed their hairs like the cheaper versions. It is worthwhile to invest in good brushes that will give you many years of life.

da Vinci Watercolor Series 5359 Paint Brush Set, Russian Red Sable, Multiple Sizes, 5 Brushes (Series 36)
da Vinci Watercolor Series 5359 Paint Brush Set, Russian Red Sable, Multiple Sizes, 5 Brushes (Series 36)

These Kolinsky sable brushes load up with water, perfect for detailing, and have a snap to them.


Do take this short poll

Do you think a handmade gift is better than a store-bought one?

See results

God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers. ~ Proverb

Do leave a note that you have stopped by. - Thank you for visiting.

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    • GregoryMoore profile image

      Gregory Moore 4 years ago from Louisville, KY

      I'm sure that had to be a special moment when she received it. Well done!

    • LizMac60 profile image

      Liz Mackay 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      What a lovely lens. I love the portrait of your mother. You truly deserve a blessing.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      Wonderful story. And it wasn't easy to get it shipped overseas and framed either! Good thing your brother was there! Hat's off to him too.

    • earthybirthymum profile image

      earthybirthymum 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      What a great Lense, many blessings.

    • KateHonebrink profile image

      KateHonebrink 5 years ago

      Thank you for such a marvelous article! Great job!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      You have me in tears...truly the best Mother's Day gift for your Mom, I can see her heart overflowing with joy! Beautifully presented.

    • iWriteaLot profile image

      iWriteaLot 5 years ago

      Wow! I'd hate to think how this would turn out if I tried it. Can a mother divorce her daughter? Because that's probably what she'd want to do if I tried to paint her portrait! What an incredible gift! And a great lens, too. Love all the pictures.

    • lbrummer profile image

      Loraine Brummer 5 years ago from Hartington, Nebraska

      I love this lens. Beautifully done and shows the love.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 5 years ago from UK

      Gorgeous portrait of a lovely lady. This truly is a one-of-a-kind gift. Lovely story-telling of the process too. Blessed. :)

    • adoptiondesigns profile image

      adoptiondesigns 5 years ago

      Really great job on this lens! Enjoyed reading it!

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 5 years ago from Kansas

      Wish I could paint portraits. What a great gift idea.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      Great lens, angel blessed for your personal efforts, pinned to my board "Arts and Crafts I love"

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thank you for your lens.I am now a celebrity mama

    • profile image

      virginia-sim 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Heartwarming lens especially for mothers

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      Such a lovely gift for your mom.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Awesome lens! Thanks for sharing!