“La Familia” Watercolor Painting
“An idea is like a virus.”
I’ve always loved that quote. Not because the movie was completely mind-blowing, but because the sentiment has always resonated with me—and happens to be a constant theme throughout my life, both good and bad.
I have tons of ideas. Loads of them, all the time, and they don’t sit still. Every time I think of them they grow and spread. I start getting dangerous thoughts like, “Oh, but what if I did this?” and “Wouldn’t it be cool if I did that?” Simple thoughts grow beyond my control and turn into giant… things. Things that I’m kicking myself for thinking of when I’m halfway through the project and realize that I, once again, bit off more than I could chew.
It’s not that they turn into something I can’t do—like I tell Christina, I can do anything if given enough time. It’s that they turn into something that is just so much more work than I wanted to do. What happened to the cute sketch idea that I could have finished in thirty minutes? Why is it now a multi-layered, utterly complex, one-month-minimum project that in the end is going to be so friggin’ awesome?
See? That’s why it gets me, time and time again. Because the ideas aren’t bad—they’re fantastic, actually. But sometimes I wish at least one of them would stay small.
And that’s what happened with La Familia.
In the summer of 2018, I started feeling guilty for not connecting enough with my family. Not my immediate family, I talk to my parents on the phone almost daily, but my extended family. I’ve been cutting myself some slack over the years, telling myself that I see most of them every few years for the holidays and the occasional phone call was good enough—plus we’re Mexican, so man, there are a lot of us. It’s hard to keep track! But was it really?
That’s when the idea spread.
First, I called my mom to see if we had a spreadsheet with family birthdays (because sending everyone a birthday card every year was a good start, right?). We didn’t have a spreadsheet, but maybe I should create one? Well, to do a proper spreadsheet I might as well have more information than just their birthdays; do we have addresses, birth names, wedding anniversaries? I mean honestly, it seems like we need a family tree.
And what should I do for birthday cards? Maybe instead I’ll start with sending everyone an “I’m Sorry” card saying I’m a jerk and apologizing for the times I never said Happy Birthday, but I’m saying it now. And to make that seem heartfelt, maybe I should paint everyone a little something and put it in the card? I just learned how to paint night skies and it’s pretty fun, so maybe everyone would get a tiny picture? And that way it would seem like we’re all connected, because we all have a piece of a sky. But to be really connected it would need to be the same picture, so maybe a giant family puzzle? No… Obviously I just need to paint a giant painting and then cut it into pieces so that everyone can have a part of it.
And wouldn’t it be awesome if everyone could see me paint it? Since the final painting would never be seen whole again, maybe I needed to record a video of its creation before its destruction? I’ve never done that before but how hard could it be, really?
(See what I mean about my ideas growing beyond my control?)
And that’s how wanting to say Happy Birthday to my family turned into a 4-month project of me researching, designing, and executing a Romero Family Tree (with help from said mother, of course). A family tree, mind you, that was only going to be used to help me count and label the individual pieces of the Mexican sunset watercolor I was going to paint, cut out, frame, and give to each living member of the Romero family. And then every family member would get another heartfelt letter telling them that I recorded the process and here is a copy of the video, a scan of the complete painting, a graph showing which family member has which piece, and a copy of the final family tree… Which I had to update after Christmas because someone decided to get engaged.
(Congratulations again, Tony and Gigi! We are honored to have you both.)
And here we are today.
I had to do multiple drafts of the family tree because typos were everywhere and I couldn’t decide on a color scheme. I finished the painting with barely any time to spare—the weekend before Christmas, I believe. I had a panic attack when I was cutting the painting, convinced I was about to make a huge mistake. (I didn’t.) I finished the process video this morning condensing 8 hours of work into 8 minutes (still waiting for it to export as I’m writing this, actually). I still have half of the paintings sitting on my bookshelf because I haven’t seen all of my family since Christmas… But I did it. I finished the idea.
And it was glorious.
(See for yourself below.)
This is me creating, and eventually destroying, a painting.
Individually, we are each brilliant, bizarre, and beautiful; but together we create something even more wonderful—a family. A family that loves and angers, inspires and argues, hugs and hurts, and everything in between. We are far from perfect, but we are our own and I know that we love each other deeply.
For Christmas 2018, I painted this for my family. When it was done, I took this painting and cut it into 96 separate pieces. Each piece to be signed, framed, and given to a different member of the Romero family. 42 of them are alive, and 54 pieces are waiting.
Let every piece remind each of us that even when we are apart, we are remembered. And we will always be loved.