Thursday, February 27, 2014

An Unusual Medium

Mary Wilson
When a loved one passes away, oftentimes those left behind search for things to help keep the memories alive. Aside from mementos, photographs, a gravesite or an urn, some might look for something a bit more personal. There are a few options on the market today, including jewelry with the ashes of a loved one encased inside. A Grandview artist is offering up something different.

 Adam Brown can make a custom portrait of a loved one, and include cremation remains in the final product. Moving to the Kansas City area roughly six years ago, Brown has been an artist for most of his life. He attended the Missouri Fine Arts Academy in his hometown of Springfield, and gave up painting for a few years after some art supplies were stolen from his space at the Academy before his senior year.

"When I met my wife and we got engaged, I wanted to do something nice for my soon-to-be father-in-law," said Brown. "I painted a lighthouse for him using only five tubes of paint, mixing my own colors. I realized that art was still a part of me, and I hadn’t lost any of it."

Slowly over time, art came back to the forefront of Brown’s life. While his wife was pregnant with their daughter, Brown painted an "under the sea" themed mural in the nursery. 

 "It was really cute and reminded me how much I enjoyed making art," said Brown. "I never got to finish it though, because the walls had mold in them, which sent my daughter to the hospital three times in her first ten weeks of life, with breathing problems."

 Once the family figured out where the health problems were coming from, they moved to a cleaner environment. For his daughter’s first birthday, Brown painted a portrait of her with butterflies that he presented to her at her party. Since her first birthday (she’s now five), Brown has had a space to work on his art. Over the last few years, he has completed dozens of portraits, commissioned mostly by word of mouth from his clients.

"The portraits are what I do the most; it’s what I’m known for," said Brown. "I do other things too, including landscapes. Whatever helps to pay the bills."

He worked as a corporate event planner for several years, but knew it wasn’t something that he could see himself doing long-term. Brown recently opened his own marketing company, providing a wide-range of services that he did previously for his employer, and now is able to set his own hours.

"I’ll be thirty-three next month, and I’m in a position now that I can look ahead into the next thirty years and not get tired of doing what I’m doing. I never really feel like I’m working," said Brown.

 While in high school, Brown was introduced to cremation art and was intrigued. A few years ago, he was put in touch with a woman through a friend who wanted a portrait of her late husband. 
"The cremation remains thing just sort of came up in talking with her," said Brown. "It was pretty much her idea."

The client asked Brown if there was any way he could incorporate some remains into the portrait. Initially, Brown wasn’t sure about the idea, but he came around and jumped at the opportunity to create something different. Due to the popularity of the portraits, he has recently added the option to his list of services. Brown is aware that there may be a little of a creep factor for some folks.

"I think I expected it that first time to be a little weird," said Brown. "Once I got to work, it wasn’t weird at all."

The cremation remains are applied to the surface of the portraits, creating a bit of a texture on the background, or wherever the ashes are incorporated. Brown applies craft glue to the area, and then sprinkles the remains on.

"Kind of like when you sprinkled glitter onto glue as a kid," Brown said. "It’s the same process."

Once it dries, he saves any unused remains for the client, and applies a sealant to protect the portrait. Brown’s charges start at $45 per portrait, and go up from there based on size. He adds the remains at no extra charge. To find more information on Adam Brown and his art, visit

"When I can give a piece to someone and I know it’s going to hang on their wall and every time they look at it they can remember that the person in the portrait was special to them, that means a lot," said Brown. "That’s a big reason I do this."

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