I have developed a need to create a portrait of a grandmotherly woman whom everybody loves and who exudes “Have-a-cookie”-ness. You see, my newest novel project, Recipes for Gingerbread Children, has as a main character a lovely old Holocaust survivor named Gretel Stein. And she is a talented baker of gingerbread cookies. She has, in fact, a magical ability to create symphonies of joyous triumph over evil in her little oven in her very small house. So I need to do a portrait of that very same old woman. I have to have a picture in my head of the person the story is about, and I have to translate that picture down onto the page by drawing it first.
So I began that process by trying to find the right combination of wrinkle patterns and granny smiles on the internet. I tried a Google image search for “cute German grandmother” which inexplicably yielded numerous photos of internment camp war criminals, who were also old ladies, and cartoons of Adolf Hitler. Talk about the proper context for “What the French-fried Fricka-see-see!” So, I took the word “cute” off the search. I found a wealth of German grandma pictures that ought to fit the bill if I can just tweak the portrait in the right ways to bring to life Grandma Gretel.
I then selected a picture of a German grandma taken in the 70’s because my story is set in the 70’s and the glasses appealed to me as German-grandma appropriate. So, I started drawing.
And, of course, it turned out completely wrong. This granny picture will probably remain forever slightly unfinished, because as I drew it, I found I was transforming the portrait into a picture that was not Gretel Stein. Instead, it was my own Grandma Beyer that it was beginning to look like. Don’t get me wrong. I loved my Grandma B deeply, vastly, eternally… but she is not the same as the grandma in my story. Well, not completely. Therefore I must try and try again until I find the old woman I really want to portray.