New Art and How to Stay Together When It’s Tough

New Art and How to Stay Together When It’s Tough

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that I often use my works of art as a conversation piece. The art becomes an avenue of dialogue, and sometimes the conversation diverges off the path of the original idea conveyed in the work, just like you may compliment your friend on their tasteful decor, and then moments later you segue into talking about how you and your best friend met.
I think this is what will happen with today’s post. I hope you don’t mind. 🙂
I recently got back from a wonderful vacation in Michigan visiting friends over in the Detroit area, and then had a beautiful, scenic drive through the U.P. We stayed overnight in Escanaba, and in the morning our kids played at a vacant and refreshing beach.
A scenic beach in Escanaba, MI

A scenic beach in Escanaba, MI

With this time away from the studio, I came back refreshed, but had to stoke the coals a bit to get the productive artist in me going again after a week of inactivity!
Monday afternoon, some classmates from high school made the two-hour drive from Merrill, WI to Eau Claire to pick up this wedding portrait I did for them. I love how it turned out, and as I told them, it all starts with an excellent photo to work from. The pose is natural and the they are a good looking couple.
"Jaeger Wedding Portrait," by portrait artist Matt Philleo, 16 x 20, acrylic on canvas

“Jaeger Wedding Portrait,” by portrait artist Matt Philleo, 16 x 20, acrylic on canvas

This was a candid shot taken right before the grand march, and perfectly captures the overflowing joy of the celebration of their new life together.
Here is a photo of them in front of the painting. Nearly twenty years and still going strong!
Celebrating nearly 20 years of happy marriage.

Celebrating nearly 20 years of happy marriage.

From my recent visit with them at my studio, and prior to that, at the Merrill High Alumni Art Show in February, they seem to be a truly happy couple, and a great match. I believe God has blessed them indeed in many ways.
Now this is where the conversation will veer off the path just a bit. But I think you’ll find I’ll still be driving on the right side of the road as we go along in this discussion!
I can understand how people that are well suited to each other in marriage can have many blissful, stable years together. You know the kind of marriage I’m talking about: Ward and June Cleaver, where everything is tidy, docile, and neatly tucked in behind a white picket fence where a happy nuclear family lives their picture-perfect life.
But what do you do when you and your spouse are two very different people and things aren’t working out the way you want?
What do you do when the flame is an ember nearly snuffed out and sometimes you interact with each other like oil and water, fire and ice, Packers and Vikings fans…you get the point!
As far as this couple I did the portrait for goes, naturally I don’t know entirely what their situation was and is. They were high school sweethearts and probably get along great together, but I’m sure they have had to work at their relationship like the rest of us.
Now to take it a step further, maybe you have struggled severely in your marriage, and you have discovered your spouse is not the person you thought when you married them (and the feeling is mutual!) You have weathered severe financial and health trials, difficulties, personality conflicts, challenging extended family relationships, and destructive arguments with each other, and yet you have still managed to stay together.
To you, I lift my hat. I think this is a miracle.
I know it has been for me and my wife.
We are two very different people and have such different perspectives on so many things. We didn’t really know the full extent of this before getting married. We just liked hanging out with each other and the relationship grew. Oh, we had some hints that we may have “compatibility issues” but we loved each other and thought those things would just work their way out naturally.
Those issues worked their way out, all right. In many an argument, both loud and even worse, in the bitter, seething, silent treatment that often is far more damaging. If it were not for the grace of God, I can honestly say my wife and I would be divorced several times over!
"The Silent Treatment", photo by Matt Philleo

“The Silent Treatment”, photo by Matt Philleo

You’ve heard the sad statistics on today’s marriages–that more than half end in divorce. There are so many things in today’s culture that can drive a couple apart: financial strain, health problems, infidelity exacerbated by the explicit culture, and constraints on family time.

After dealing with divisiveness in your relationship for a while, you can start to have serious doubts.
However, I learned an important truth from a preacher, Paul Washer, I heard on an online sermon one day. This secret has helped me so much when I’ve been tempted to give up:
You didn’t marry the wrong person.
God is sovereign. He created the world, including us, and holds it all together. He gave us free will, but even within the freedom He has given us to make choices, He ultimately calls all the shots. The game is rigged, but in a good way. It’s like the casino where you can play every slot machine in the line, and the house always has the advantage. They know the kind of results you’ll get, even though you choose where and how you’ll play. It’s like this with God, except He is good, kind and benevolent, and not anything like a profiteering casino owner. He has a purpose and a plan. It’s good, and He will carry it out, using everything to His advantage.
God, in His sovereignty, (especially if you are a Christian), has allowed you to be matched up with a person that lacks many of the very things you wanted in a mate.
Why would He do that?
The primary reason is so that you will learn to depend upon the grace of God and be conformed to the image of Christ.
In other words, you will feel so hopeless sometimes that you will cry out to God for help.
Not only that, but the other person’s difficult, abrasive behavior (at least so it feels to you) will sand off your rough edges like sandpaper. You will learn what it is like to love someone you feel is not worthy of your love. In essence, you will experience, at least to a slight degree, what Jesus feels when He loves us–broken, rebellious, and wicked as we are.
And as He loves us, and we receive His love, that’s what brings a change. We respond to that faithful love and say, “If God is that good to me, let me live my life for Him. Let me love Him back!” We can do this same thing for our spouse. We can love them and watch them change as a result. But even if takes years, we can learn patience in the process and grow more like God day by day.
My wife and I in our renaissance-themed wedding attire.

My wife and I in our renaissance-themed wedding attire.

Another wonderful thing is that God, also in His sovereignty, has given you a spouse who is strong in all the areas they must be strong in, because He never gives us more than we can handle. 
The apostle Paul wrote about this idea in his first letter to the Corinthians, recorded in chapter 10, verse 13:
“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”
So if you are tempted to throw in the towel, don’t. There is always more grace to endure, if you’ll ask God for it.
God has given us a spouse that, even though they rub us the wrong way sometimes, together we can create electricity like a balloon on a wool sweater!
For example, my wife is the more logical one in the relationship, whereas I am more of the emotional type. She balances me out. I may see an opportunity and want to dive in, but she will caution me from being too eager, driven by my passion rather than taking a cold look at the facts. Listening to her counsel (need to do more of that) has saved me from many blunders.
The biggest thing that has kept my wife and I together is our commitment to forgive. We have both fired cannons at each other and hurt each other with our words and actions many times, but one thing we do is forgive…and quickly. All I have to do is think about how much the Lord has forgiven me, and how desperately I want to feel His love, embrace and presence after sinning against Him or others, that I can’t afford to hold a grudge against my wife. Not even for a minute.
I have been tempted to punch walls, like I used to do before I was a Christian.
As recently as just this week.
But I took the anger, the blinding rage and dropped it all in front of the Lord as I fell to my knees. And although I’d like to say I had instant, perfect peace, the animosity was at least soothed and I could think clearly again. My wife and I then talked the issue out and forgave each other and that was that.
When I think about the last twelve years of marriage, I can truly say I love my wife more today than I did gazing at her beautiful face at the altar. Because it’s one thing to love when your emotions are soaring, expectations are high, and life up until that point has been mostly pleasant, but it’s another thing entirely to love when your emotions have gone down the drain, your expectations are dashed, and you life has been both unfair and often unpleasant.
Love is not a feeling but a choice.
Love is not a cohabitation, but a commitment.
Love is not clean, but it is cleansing.
How about you? If you are married, what has kept you and your spouse together? Do you have any advice or wisdom to share? Thanks!

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New Artwork and Building Bridges Part 2

New Artwork and Building Bridges Part 2

A few weeks ago, I posted on a new painting I completed recently, a 48″ x 72″ black-and-white portrait of a family from the Twin Cities. It was the largest portrait I have ever been commissioned to do, and arguable the most unique. There’s more about the idea and how the portrait came to be, here.

I’ll jump in where I left off on the last post. The portrait took nearly 200 hours to complete, from the time taken to build the sizable canvas stretcher frame to the last dab of paint.

I underestimated the challenge of painting in monochromatic.


Although it is easier to do a painting this way than full-blown color, it presented a few difficulties that I didn’t foresee, at least to the extent that surfaced in this work.

You would think that to do a black and white painting that you would simply just use black and white paint and mix various amounts to arrive at the grey tones in between.

It didn’t work that way for me.

I typically paint with a translucent glazing technique that allows light to reflect through the canvas and back to your eye through the layers of paint, like the Old Masters, giving the final painting a vibrance that is hard to capture with opaque paint alone.

So, when you mix black with the clear acrylic medium, even mixed with some white, and apply it to the canvas, the resulting color is not slate grey, but a brownish grey, because the light shining through the canvas warms up the color.

Then, when certain areas become more opaque than others, the predominance of white mixed in with layers gives the grey shade a cooler, bluish cast.

Maybe I’m just picky, but I don’t want certain areas of the painting to look brown or blue (at least without my say so) when I’m shooting for black and white. If the client commissions a black and white painting, that’s what he expects to get.

The solution?

My black and white palette

My black and white palette

I included brown, yellow, and blue on my palette and mixed it back into the colors to correct anything that was off. If the shade was too cool, I warmed it up with brown and yellow. If it was too warm, I cooled it down with blue.

So even in a monochromatic painting, I still end up using color!

But that’s OK, because color is fun to use. 🙂

Now I did make the background just a bit cooler in tone, so that it would visually recede. But it’s nice to be able to do that, when you, the artist chooses to, not just letting the paint do whatever it wants to.

After finishing up the background, I really honed in on the people in the foreground. Here are some photos of me working taken by a talented photographer, Tom Gardner, at Artisan Forge Studios, where I work. At this stage I am nearly finished with the portrait. Yes, I can see the finish line from here!

Artist Matt Philleo working on a 48" x 72" commissioned portrait painting at Artisan Forge Studios

Artist Matt Philleo working on a 48″ x 72″ commissioned portrait painting at Artisan Forge Studios

I completed the painting, sent a proof to the client, Jim, and he responded, asking me to make a few minor changes on his son’s face. You don’t always get it right the first time. But I have learned this over the years:

As long as you stick with it, and ask God for help on how to make the necessary changes, it will always turn out all right.

In this case, Jim was extremely specific in the corrections he requested and, from an artist’s perspective, that really helps. That way, you’re not just shooting in the dark. You know what you need to do and how to get there.


Artist Matt Philleo detailing a face within the 48" x 72" portrait.

Artist Matt Philleo detailing a face within the 48″ x 72″ portrait.


After the changes, Jim approved the portrait, and I wrapped it up and made the drive to Minnesota to deliver it. Jim only lives 1 1/2 hours away, so I figured delivering it in person was the best way to go.

He and his wife loved it, and I feel like their home is the perfect environment for this painting both aesthetically and conceptually.

It fits right in, and their decor matches perfectly.



The finished portrait hanging in the client’s home in Minnesota.

Jim just sent me a testimonial on this portrait, which he posted on, the website that brought his idea and my execution of it together. Here’s what he wrote:

“Most art that I have purchased or have been interested in was more abstract. One day, I was looking to do something different that I didn’t even know if it was possible. I thought what if I wanted a portrait painted of my family when we were all the same age? Could that be done, capturing the realism I would want? I was not fully aware of one’s capability in portrait art. You see portraits done and they are hard to measure because you do not know the person that is painted to make a fair judgment on accuracy. I did not know anyone locally so I went out on the Internet to search for an artist. By going this route, I was skeptical that I would find someone who could do the work and someone I could trust.

"Jim C. Family Portrait"48 x 72, acrylic on canvas, by artist Matt Philleo, detail

“Jim C. Family Portrait”48 x 72, acrylic on canvas, by artist Matt Philleo, detail


“I must have look at about 2-dozen artists. Once of those artists was Matthew, and after reviewing Matthew’s portfolio, I had to contact him to see if there was any interest. Matthew was very quick to respond. We discussed the project and there was mutual interest, but I wasn’t ready to pull the trigger due to other projects and obligations.

“Once I was ready, I sent an email, and again, Matthew was very prompt with responding to my inquiries. We finally met in person for the initial concept. We provided pictures both as older and digital photos of our kids. Matthew provided the timeline of how long the portrait would take and we agreed to go forward.

Jim C. Family Portrait, detail

Jim C. Family Portrait, detail

“From the initial meeting to the finished product, there was not one glimpse of doubt, or any negativity that surrounded this project. I could not be happier about the entire process and the outcome. This project in my mind was very complex. The work Matthew did was excellent and exceeded expectations.


“Jim C. Family Portrait” 48 x 72, Acrylic on Canvas, by portrait artist Matt Philleo

“The concept of the painting was to have: me, my wife, my daughter, and my son, from left to right, with the New York skyline merging into the Minneapolis skyline. The pictures we provided were not suited for the painting. The portrait was to portray us standing. The picture of my wife and I were of us sitting. My wife was sitting back in the chair and tilted to the side. 

Jim C. Family Portrait-detail

Jim C. Family Portrait-detail



Jim C. Family Portrait- detail

Jim C. Family Portrait- detail


“For my son, we had two pictures, one of him that was used in the portrait and another in a Wild jersey. We wanted to use the one photo but with him wearing the Wild jersey. The end result was amazing where we all look like we were standing and my son’s picture was merged with the Wild jersey.


Jim C. Family Portrait, 48" x 72," Acrylic on Canvas, by portrait artist Matt Philleo, detail

Jim C. Family Portrait, 48″ x 72,” Acrylic on Canvas, by portrait artist Matt Philleo, detail



“There were two types of skill here: one producing the concept with image manipulation and two, painting the portrait to perfection. Once completed, Matthew sent photos of the portrait for any modifications. We had a few minor changes and Matthew was great about them. Once that was completed, he personally delivered the painting to our home. Once we saw the painting in person, I could not believe how awesome the painting looked.


Jim C_Family Portrait, detail of bridge

Jim C_Family Portrait, detail of bridge

“The entire process working with Matthew was great. He is an awesome person and an awesome artist. I would most definitely work with him again. I have a mural that I want painted on an 18’x8′ wall. And time around I am totally confident its going to be great because I know Matthew will do a great job, and personally there is no other artist I’d rather work with.” —Jim C, Lakeville, MN

It was an privilege and blessing to be able to paint this portrait for Jim and his family and bring his compelling idea of bridging two generations together to life.

Would you like to have a unique portrait done? If so, I would love to work with you too!

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If you have any comments or questions about this post, please leave me your feedback below! I will personally get back to you. Can you help me spread the word? Please share this post with your family and friends by using the social media links on the side or below. Thank you!
Experiencing the Joy of Camping

Experiencing the Joy of Camping

The passing of Memorial Day heralds the beginning of summer and with it, the camping season. I love this time of year. The weather is still fairly temperate and the days are long.
I also love camping.
It’s the combination of cooking fire over the open flame, and “roughing it”–leaving many of the conveniences and distractions of home behind that charms me.
More than that, it’s wonderful to be out in nature where you can be calmed by the green, translucent canopy above, the sounds of leaves rustling in the wind and dragonflies buzzing, and to be able to take scenic hikes at leisure.
My wife was hiking on a beautiful sunlit trail at Copper Falls State Park in Northern Wisconsin, carrying our daughter on her shoulders, and I snapped the photo that this painting was based on.
"Waking Up the Woods," Acrylic on Canvas, by Matt Philleo

“Waking Up the Woods,” Acrylic on Canvas, by Matt Philleo

Below is a commissioned portrait sketch I did that celebrates that love of camping. This drawing was made from an older photo, decades old if I remember correctly.
Here we can see the husband and wife just enjoying being out together camping, and they look pretty happy. This freehand drawing took a few hours and, although not at my more photorealistic level of work, I think it captures the feel of the picture without too much fuss.

"Good Old Fashioned Camping," 11 x 14 pencil on paper, by Matt Philleo

“Good Old Fashioned Camping,” 11 x 14 pencil on paper, by Matt Philleo

For folks that camp at the same place every year, their spot can begin to mean a lot to them–a home away from home. Here is a drawing I did for an old friend from high school based off a photo of his parents’ cabin.
"The Johnson Cabin," 11 x 14, pencil on paper, by Matt Philleo

“The Johnson Cabin,” 11 x 14, pencil on paper, by Matt Philleo

After the drawing was done, they gave it to them as a gift. Pretty thoughtful gift!

Ok, I have to admit, I’m kind of big pyro.
For me, the campfire is at least 50% of the fun of camping, and I pride myself on being able to start and keep a campfire going, without buckets of gasoline and scorched fingers. I would rather cook a pizza over an open campfire in an oven any day.
I was never in Boy Scouts, but as an adult, I did learn to create a fire the old-fashioned way: by rubbing two sticks together. Well, actually, I used the “bow drill” method, where you take a curved stick with a taut string tied to either end and use its tension to rapidly drill a wooden dowel into a block of soft wood. That, in turn creates burnt sawdust which eventually ignites a coal that you can blow into a flame.
Starting a fire the old fashioned way.

Starting a fire the old fashioned way.


The seed of a fire: the glowing coal.

The seed of a fire: the glowing coal.

By the way, when God sees a flicker of life within us, a dim spark of hope within possibly shattered dreams and unfulfilled expectations, and even possibly the wreckage left behind a myriad of poor decisions, He won’t cast us off. He’ll take that smoldering ember and breathe life into it, fanning it into a flame.

Fire ready to cook on!

Fire ready to cook on!


It’s wonderful to be warmed and to cook over a fire that you made with your bare hands! And when you top off that meal with a nice toasted marshmallow enjoyed in good company, it doesn’t get much better than that!
Here is a portion of a mural I did for the Merrill School Forest, commemorating some of the folks that volunteered their time and talents to encourage children to appreciate nature.
Portion of the School Forest Mural, 4' x 6' Acrylic on Hardboard, by Matt Philleo

Portion of the School Forest Mural, 4′ x 6′ Acrylic on Hardboard, by Matt Philleo

If you haven’t already, get out there and enjoy God’s creation and spend time with your friends and family with a camping trip! Are there any interesting camping experiences you’d like to share? Let me know!

Share Your Thoughts!

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please leave me your feedback below! I will personally get back to you. Can you help me spread the word? Please share this post with your family and friends by using the social media links on the side or below. Thank you!
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