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Straight from the Artist’s Heart: A Chat with Phil Taylor

In Brush of Honor, we watch Phil Taylor bring a loving memory, vividly to life with each fluid stroke of paint on canvas. Get to know the man who offers healing and closure to the families and friends of America’s fallen heroes.

What was your most memorable or emotional reveal?

I can truly say from the depth of my heart … there is no one presentation, soldier or family that clearly stands alone as the most emotional or memorable. I’m still amazed after eight  years of painting and presenting these heroes in person “as I do”, that I still feel the same nervousness when presenting the portraits to the families, and at times such an overwhelming love and passion for these heroes and their families, as I did when we first began in 2007. Each hero I get to know, and portrait I paint, from start to finish, feels like the first!

Can you expound on how and why you began this work and about your fallen friend that sparked it all?

I can remember so clearly that day, sitting in the back of the church at Capt. Blake Russell’s funeral in Ft. Worth, TX in 2006, looking upon the family I grew up with (the Russell’s) and seeing, and more importantly, feeling the absolute devastation of losing their dear Blake … truly believing that through my art, hand, and heart I could make a healing impact by restoring him back to life on canvas for the family.

In the show, you often talk to the fallen service member’s painting. Can you explain more about your mental process, and what you’re feeling as you paint? Or can you explain the painting process more? What features do you start with or end with and why?

Talking to the men and women that I paint has come as natural as breathing. It’s as if I can feel, and know without question, they are here with me every brush stroke and hour of the painting process. I have a feeling of absolute (yet humble) confidence that each picture I paint from, and the work that I’m doing on each hero is somehow ordained and purposed by the Lord Himself. Because of that, there is a beautiful flow and rhythm that occurs through the 60 plus hour process of restoring each precious soul on canvas. As for my painting process, I always start with a pencil sketch for each portrait that takes around two hours. From there I rough in the darker areas of their face with acrylic (white and black) paint to give me the beginning steps of building the portrait.

What is your background in art? Were you always artistic, or did you pick it up later in life?

I have been drawing, painting, and producing art in some fashion since I was in second grade. My mom saw I could draw at an early age and took me to art classes when I was very young in Ft. Worth, TX. Although I didn’t do very well in the art classes … they were a little too structured for me … I continued sketching, drawing or painting throughout my childhood and on through high school. I never formally studied art, but apprenticed for a few years with a local Fort Worth artist when I was in my twenties. After that, I continued working and studying on my own through books and just trying different techniques until I found what worked for me.

What are some highlights and difficult parts of doing this work? Is it mentally draining or invigorating?

Without question, one of the most difficult parts of painting and presenting these heroes to their families is not just the many hours it takes to produce each portrait, but deeply connecting personally with each one and then serving the family in such an intimate, emotional and passionate way as I (we) do at each portrait presentation. Lisa and I literally become part of their extended family through this process. To hear almost every family share at some point after they receive their portrait these most precious words, “Thank you for bringing my son home,” … is the motivation and purpose to come back and do it again for another deserving family.