Commission your Family Portrait 

What are your thoughts when you read or hear the words ‘Family Portrait’? A painting in your grandparent’s house? Or a sepia vintage photo? Are you thinking of a window sill of your local photographer showing a family looking their best?


Most of us think of a visit to a photographer when they are asked about a family portrait. But equally many of us never get that done because of the logistics of having all family members at the same moment looking their best and being in front of a camera. Many portraits therefore remain a dream. There is not so much you can do about that other than perhaps reformulating what a family portrait is.

On my work station three koi carp appear. The water in which they happily and dynamically swim needs to be added in blue, green and gold.

What happens when we change the definition of a family portrait? What happens if we take away the physical representation of family members and replace them with animals or flowers carrying a symbolic meaning? I did this because during the pandemic lockdown of 2021, I wished for a family portrait. Going through a pandemic is not every day business, it is a anxious time that we will remember for decades to come. But instead of visiting a photographer (which was closed due to lockdown anyway), I set out to draw our family portrait.  


I chose to paint a Kumamoto Japanese inspired hanging scroll as a way to organize all the symbols that I would use. These Kumamoto hanging scrolls have special designed border areas in which I would add symbolic messages. I chose a Japanese wave pattern for the Tenchi section to show the pandemic because was not the pandemic throwing wave after wave of scary news to us? And wasn’t the pandemic showing us wave after wave gratitude that we were healthy, safe and strong? For the Chumawashi border, I chose flowers. With this I wanted to emphasize that the pandemic lasted several seasons. That despite all scary news, there were many blessed moments too. And for the Tenchi border, I used butterflies. Butterflies symbolize hope and hope is a precious emotion during a pandemic.

Koi Carp symbolize good luck and prosperity. In Japan they symbolize good fortune or luck and are also associated with perseverance in adversity and strength of purpose. In Buddhism they represent courage.

What kind of symbolism do I use? Animals offer symbolism. For instance, Koi carp stand for prosperity; mandarin ducks for love and loyalty. Butterflies symbolize hope. Surnames often offer a reference or a clue. In the borders and in the main painting animals and vegetation will play this symbolic role.

Work done on a traditional wave patterned border.

To portrait our family, I shape-shifted my family in a family of Koi carp. Koi fish symbolize prosperity. If there was one thing during the pandemic that we were acutely aware of, it was that we had each other’s love and that we were able to continue working and studying.


Should you like to have a painting suggesting a hanging scroll that symbolizes your family or your life, I can work with you. We need to discuss symbols, colours and patterns but then you will have your family narrative hanging on your wall. Nobody will know its symbolism; visitors will see a beautiful, highly detailed hanging scroll drawing/painting. You will have a choice to tell or not disclose all hidden symbolism in your hanging scroll. Put in front of it an Ikebana flower arrangement and one corner in your home will look exquisite.

Here is my family portrait. I worked on it during the winter 2021. There were many grey days which made the lockdown harder but there were also beautiful snowy days with clear blue skies that made me so happy looking outside. My husband and daughter wondered who was who in this portrait. I considered giving them the answers but decided to leave the questions open. Don’t we all take centre stage in turns? Do we not all play a big role and the next day a small role? Life is like that and it should be like that to create harmony.

A feast for the eye; the ‘hanging scroll’ in full colour and symbolism.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

The Floating World (ukiyo) was an expression of the new economy and social ambitions of the common townspeople of the Edo period (1615-1868). It was, specifically, a world of play and entertainment in Japan’s three main cities (Edo [now called Tokyo], Osaka, and Kyoto).

Paula at Etsy

Paula at Instagram

At Linktree