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Artist Showcase: Anilda Patterson

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Argelia Sierra passed her teenage years in the midst of almost constant uncertainty. While the United States was reeling from the most severe economic disaster in its history, Argelia was dealing with a great depression of her own. When she was 14, her infant brother died in her arms from a blood disorder. He was only nine months old.

Then, at age 17, her father was diagnosed with liver and pancreatic cancers. Argelia was tasked with the job of nursing her ailing father for two years before his passing. To make matters worse, she developed a rare medical condition that required years of painful surgery. She endured through all of this struggle and eventually married. Shortly after, it became apparent that her ultimate dream of having and caring for children of her own was in the balance, due to the inability to conceive.

Eventually Argelia was able to conceive, but during her first pregnancy, complications in delivery nearly took her life. Doctors recommended that she not try for another child, but her stubborn nature and love of children led her and her husband to try for a second. This birth was just as racked with complications as the first, but this time it was the child who nearly died. Fortunately, doctors were able to revive their baby girl, and Anilda Sierra was introduced to the world. 

This chain of events, and the years of fearless leadership and self-sacrifice that Anilda saw demonstrated by her mother, all came flooding back to her as she sat trying to draw a portrait. It was supposed to be a tribute to her mother, but the pain from her recent passing made progress impossible. “I knew I wanted to draw a portrait of her,” says Anilda, “so I tried early on. “However, it was emotionally too difficult, so I waited several years to try again.”

When she did return to the portrait, Anilda found that time had begun to heal the wound. “At first it was emotionally difficult to draw her, even after waiting so many years after her death,” remembers Anilda. “But it was not so bad that I broke out in tears, like in my previous efforts.” 

As she continued to draw, Anilda was surprised at the shift in her emotions. She recalls that “the emotional process became so much better, to the point that especially this last month when I worked on it a little almost everyday, it made me feel like I was spending time with my mom. It would bring back a flood of memories of our times together—her laughter, her crazy humor, etc.—and brought me much peace.”

Finishing the portrait brought mixed emotions for Anilda. “I was glad to see it come to an end so I could move on to a couple of other portrait drawings … but at the same time, I miss the early morning hours and late evening hours I spent with her.” 

The completed drawing has been a big success among her family and friends—especially those who knew her mother personally. Loved ones have been amazed at what Anilda was able to achieve with this drawing. “My nephew (my mom's oldest grandchild) says he wants a copy of it and that it helped him remember what a big influence she was in molding him into the hard-working man he has become,” says Anilda. “Her third cousin, who was very close to my mom, said I captured Mom's spirit in her eyes." 

This handmade heirloom has certainly found its way into the hearts of her family, but more moving still is what the portrait has done in Anilda’s life. Not only did it help her work through the pain of losing her mother, but the creative process encouraged growth—both personal and artistic. From start to finish, the portrait of her mother took Anilda nearly three years of on-and-off work. 

During that time, her drawing skills were stretched repeatedly. From the beginning, she realized that the drawing was going to be enormous, but after so much effort put into laying out the portrait, she decided to move ahead anyway. “After spending that many hours, I decided to bite the bullet and go for it,” shares Anilda. “I figured that, if nothing else, it would be good practice of my very sloppy tapered strokes and gradations.”

On a personal level, drawing a subject she had such a deep emotional connection with forced her to evaluate her relationship with her mother and how that had affected her connection with her own daughter. “She meant the world to me, and she was my role model in molding me into the nurturing wife and mother I became,” says Anilda. “And still, at age 60, I hear my mom's instructive voice and her nurturing example that motivate me.” 

Of this particular portrait, Anilda says: “I see my mom; however, I also see my daughter, who is now about the same age as my mother was in that photo. I never thought there was a resemblance between the two of them, but looking at this drawing is like looking at both … and brings me close to both of them.”

With the portrait of her mother now behind her, Anilda plans to draw her grandson next. The skills she has learned over the past three years will undoubtedly be a big help in the completion of this next project. And thanks to the loving support of her husband and his contribution of new studio equipment and storage, she hopes to make this the most rewarding portrait drawing experience yet.

You can see more of Anilda's work at the 5-Pencil Method Community.

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