You Are What You Love


“This is the miracle that happens every time to those who really love: the more they give, the more they possess.” Reiner Maria Rilke

In 2008, my apartment in Montreal burned down with everything I have ever owned in it. When people heard the news, many gasped, “your paintings!” I was taken aback by this response because a painting is something that I can make again, whereas my photo albums from childhood are simply gone.

But the fire gave me a precious gift: knowing that I carry painting within me.

I started painting when I was eight. We were living in Manila at the time. A local family had set up an oil-painting studio in a strip mall near our house. I walked by the store-front studio every time I went to the grocery store with my mother. I begged her to please let me have painting lessons. Please, please, pretty please! That Christmas, I got lessons.

I have been painting steadily ever since.

I have always loved painting people. Their faces are landscapes. What I see is each person’s particular hills and valleys, lights and shadows, rich reds, sun-dappled yellows, and crisp blues, all playing a kind of musical chairs that, when the music stops, freeze into unique and lovely expressions of their humanity.

Making paintings is the first thing I did after my fire. I had moved into my father’s house while he was away for the winter. I bought an easel and a few brushes and some basic paint colours. I didn’t know what to paint, so I started with an old picture of my father from the 1970s, as well as a picture of me as a child from the same period, both of which I found in his desk (the child in me snooping for something to play with).

Then I decided to do something I’d never done before – paint a picture from my imagination. This woman emerged. Her sadness was my sadness, but painting her also lifted my sadness.

Since then, I have slowly rebuilt my painting practice, portrait-by-portrait.

Painting children was the most natural path for me because I am surrounded by my brothers’ and friends’ kids. I adore their open expressions, their direct way of gazing into the camera, which mirrors their direct way of gazing at the world – accepting it exactly as it is, engaging with it on its own terms.

When making a portrait commission, I try to recreate the person’s singular expression, or a particularly memorable moment, through a full spectrum of delicious colours and textures that transform the image into something more than itself, something with presence.

I work from photographs, choosing, with the client, the picture that best captures the expression or moment of the person or people I will be painting. But a photograph, no matter how beautiful, will always be flat. An oil painting, on the other hand, has this uncanny ability to recast the material world as a lush emotional, psychological, and dreamlike other world, one with a frosting-like surface that caresses the imagination and lights the heart on fire. A portrait not only reminds us of who we love, and how we love, it also honours and celebrates those we love, the people deeply nestled in our hearts

Recently, I have been thinking about my Montreal apartment fire and what it has meant to my life. It occurred to me that the paintings that did survive the fire were those that I had ether sold or given away as gifts – many to friends, which means I still get to see them. It reconfirmed to me that putting something out into the world is the best way to preserve it. Paintings of children are my way of putting more love into the world because their expressive faces remind me of just how fulfilling it is to lavish love on the precious people in our lives.

Liz works with you to choose the best photograph for your painting commission, translating the image into a lush, one-of-a-kind oil painting that will delight for generations. Liz lives in Toronto with her dog, Shy, who walks Liz at least three times a day.  You can learn more about Liz’s work at her website or contact her at 416.530.0752 or at

Portrait commission prices for 2010 (includes HST for people living in Ontario):

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3 thoughts on “You Are What You Love

  1. Liz is one of my favorite painters, and she lives in Toronto currently so lucky to see some of her work! She also has an amazing sense of humour!

  2. Liz… these are absolutely amazing and beautiful. I loved reading the story of your “Phoenix experience”. It has truly inspired me (although looking at your paintings makes me realize how much work I need to do in my painting experience 😉
    Keep going!

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