Glen Ellyn artist Jean Griffin remembers feeling discouraged when an instructor in a life drawing class she was taking admired her work, but told her, "you need to get a concept."
"I had done a lot of different things," Griffin explained. "I needed to focus on one. Finally, I found a focus."
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If you goWhat: Exhibit of artist Jean Griffin's portraits of children
When: Reception from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11; exhibit open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Friday, Feb. 28
Where: Windsor Park retirement community, 124 Windsor Park Drive, Carol Stream
Info: (630) 510-5201
Area residents can see that focus in Griffin's exhibit of pastel portraits of children, displayed through Feb. 28 at Windsor Park, a continuing care retirement community at 124 Windsor Park Drive, Carol Stream.
The gallery show is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. A reception for Griffin will be 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11.
The 13 portraits on display are among the dozens of pictures Griffin has painted on commission over the years as a benefit for Young Men's Educational Network of Chicago, a faith-based leadership development organization in the city's North Lawndale neighborhood.
Griffin said that in doing portraits of children, she found a subject she enjoys and that clients are willing to buy. Buyers give their payments directly to the Young Men's Educational Network, which offers Christian discipleship, academic classes, entrepreneurial training, career planning, mentoring, tutoring and a variety of community service opportunities to more than 100 students annually.
"It's a three-way win," Griffin said. "I love doing art. People like the portraits, and they (the Young Men's Educational Network) get the money."
Kerri Andersen of Glen Ellyn said Griffin painted a portrait of her daughter, Hannah, about 10 years ago. Griffin came to the Andersens' home to take photos of Hannah and asked Hannah about her own artwork.
"It was a lovely experience to have in our home," Andersen said. "Beyond being an artist, she has a heart of compassion. She sees life through loving eyes."
Maurine Hoeppner of Glen Ellyn had Griffin paint portraits of her three grandchildren a few years ago.
"She just does it for the love of painting. She's very altruistic," Hoeppner said. "I've known Jeanie for many years. She's very talented musically and artistically."
Griffin said a portrait takes an average of 12 hours to complete. When not painting, she often can be found playing piano at several area nursing homes and adult day care centers. Her repertoire includes classical, ragtime and popular music.
Children are a primary focus of Griffin's artwork, but the mother of two and grandmother of six does portraits of adults as well. Another favorite subject is the Book of Revelation in the Bible. Griffin said she became interested in Revelation, or the Apocalypse, while doing graduate studies in medieval art history at the University of Chicago.
Written to encourage Christians who were undergoing persecution by Roman Empire, Revelation deals with the end times and is full of symbolism. Griffin said she doesn't try to interpret all the details of what events will occur when, but focuses on the overall message.
"It's encouraging to know that good and love will be victorious," she said.
Heidi McAndrew of Wheaton -- who had Griffin paint portraits of her two sons, now in their 20s, when they were small -- said she has been equally impressed by Griffin's Apocalypse paintings.
"They're remarkable. They'll blow you away," she said.
Griffin's Apocalyptic paintings have been featured in several local churches, three national shows and in Singapore. Her pastel portraits of children have been in two national juried shows.
Griffin said she always has been drawn to the arts since she was a girl growing up in Tampa, Fla. During her brief time as a Girl Scout, two of the badges she chose to earn were in art and music.
"I wasn't a real outdoor person," she said.
Griffin took piano from second grade through college. She graduated with a degree in elementary education and taught one year, but soon was pursuing her more deeply held interests. She studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the American Academy of Art in Chicago, as well as medieval art history at the University of Chicago.
"I love the arts. I love to do art," she said.
Griffin painted in oils and watercolors, but 25 years ago found pastels were the medium that suited her best.
"Pastel is easy to pick up and put down. You don't have to wash brushes," she said. "It's a good medium for people who are interrupted a lot."
Griffin, 74, moved to Glen Ellyn in 1963 with her husband Em, now a retired communications professor at Wheaton College and book author. Active in First Presbyterian Church of Glen Ellyn, she was introduced by the church to Young Men's Education Network of Chicago, where she served as a tutor and a board member for many years.
Her fellow church members have commissioned a number of her portraits, and news of her talents has spread by word-of-mouth. She doesn't advertise, but her portraits hang in homes throughout the United States.
Her work also has been featured in many local shows, including ones at the DuPage Art League, Glen Ellyn Public Library and Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn.
Griffin can be reached at email@example.com.