A Portrait of My Veteran Friend

A Portrait of My Veteran Friend

It was November 11, 1919.

A year ago on that same day, Germany and the Central Powers agreed to put a stop to the war, laying down their arms and agreeing to the terms of peace set forth by the Allies. President Woodrow Wilson wrote a message to the people of America on this first commemorative Armistice Day:

“…The war showed us the strength of great nations acting together for high purposes, and the victory of arms foretells the enduring conquests which can be made in peace when nations act justly and in furtherance of the common interests of men. To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with – solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.”

Cafe on the Somme World War I historical painting

“Cafe on the Somme,” 24 x 30, Acrylic on Canvas, 1993, by artist Matt Philleo

Armistice Day was later officially changed to Veteran’s Day in 1954. This is a day that we honor veterans, not just those who have died in service, but the living as well.

Both my grandfather and grandmother served in World War II. My grandfather was a pilot who did bombing missions in the Philippines, and my grandmother was a troop transport pilot, spunky and zealous enough to get in the army at age 16 (beats trying to get in a bar under-aged, right?). They met there during service and later got married upon returning home at the conclusion of the war.

My brother in law is a veteran from the Iraq conflict, having served two tours of duty there. He sacrificed a lot of time to serve our country.

I know we say it so much that it seems cliche, but it’s true…

Our veterans served our country well and kept our freedoms secure–either by paying with their life, braving the ever-present threat of losing their life, or perhaps the worst: enduring the trauma of seeing their best friends dying in horrific ways.

We owe them a debt of gratitude.

A few years ago, I created a portrait for a friend from my church who served in the army. He lost his wife due several health problems, and I wanted to encourage him by giving him something to commemorate the memory of his wife.

This is the photo that he gave me to work from:

1950's wedding photos

Photo of Gerald and Mavis J., on their wedding day

Since it was black and white I didn’t know what the colors were on his uniform. He offered to give the uniform to me, but I thought, “No, I better just take a picture of it instead. I sure don’t want to get paint on it!”

As for the colors of the flowers, I didn’t think he would remember after nearly 60 years, but I asked my mother-in-law. Without any trouble, she advised, “Oh yeah, those must be pinks, and those are carnations, and here’s the colors they would probably be.”

So with that information, I got to work.

Here are some in-progress pics of the painting. I start off with just a sketch, and then build up several translucent layers of acrylic paint using the Renaissance Master’s glazing technique.

Photo to portrait painting

Portrait painting of Gerald and Mavis J, by artist Matt Philleo, in progress

A painting like this can easily take 30+ hours.  But when considering the final goal of the project: encouraging a friend in his loss, every minute is worth it. After he received the painting, my friend wrote:

“Dear Matthew:

RE: Wedding Portrait–

Your loving kindness and genuine concern has deeply touched my heart, and will impact the hearts and minds of other for generations to come……….

God’s anointing on your work is a very special blessing–that reaches beyond the materials and talent–and moves with spiritual brushstrokes to paint love on the canvas of our hearts………….

E.M. Bonds says: God shapes the world by prayer. Prayers are deathless. They live outside the lives of those who utter them.’ Know that I am praying for you!

Like prayer–your work can be deathless, touching the lives of other for God’s plan through the strokes of eternity hidden in them…

Mavis always loved you–and I know she would be pleased and emotionally moved by your work.

Till she sees you again someday–thank you for your kindness and friendship and your Love.



P.S. This small military remembrance is a token of our love.”

With that, he gave me some of his uniform accoutrements–buttons and his insignia. It was a blessing to be able to do that portrait for my friend and encouraging to get a letter like that. And here is the final 16 x 20 acrylic on canvas portrait.


Wedding Portrait painting from photo

Wedding Portrait of Gerald and Mavis J., 16 x 20, Acrylic on Canvas, 2013, by Eau Claire fine artist Matt Philleo

I am hoping I can run into a veteran tomorrow. Many times you will see veterans in front of stores and at the post office on Veterans day. It’s more than worth it to spend a dollar on a “buddy poppy” and shake their hand and thank them for their service. Do you know a veteran who’s shut in? Pay them a visit. Just spending some time with them will encourage them and you may find yourself encouraged too as you listen to them share their stories.

Who are some veterans you know, and would you like to share any of their stories right now?

Share Your Thoughts!

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please leave me your feedback at the bottom of the page! 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!


"I have inscribed you on the palm of my hands."

Inscribed6a 500px

"Inscribed," Pencil on Paper, by Matt Philleo

One day, when I was discouraged I read a verse in the Bible, in Isaiah, 49:15-16, where it says, "Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palm of my hands." This verse brought such encouragement, that I created this original work of art to share the incredible love of God with others, including you!

Get a free 8 x 10 copy of this drawing that you can use to print, share, or as wallpaper!

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  1. Matt, wow that portrait of Jerry and Mavis is spectacular. God has certainly blessed you with a talent for art, your work has touched many people including Diane and me.

    • Matt Philleo

      Thanks, Jerry! The portraits I did for you and Diane are among my favorites, and the way God used you to provide for my needs is a story I share with many people.


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