When local artist John Kettman felt inspired to create a unique painting to honor the late Betty White, he never thought it would become something thousands around the country would be able to see and enjoy.
Kettman, of La Salle, who also has ties in Streator, heard of the late actress’ passing and began working on a one-of-a-kind piece of artwork that draws on White’s history and how much she was beloved by her fans.
“I heard that she had passed on the 31st and I thought maybe I could try Betty White,” Kettman said. “So I started painting it. I drew a sketch of her and I was going to put pictures of her around it, kind of like a time capsule. Then I just started sketching and I thought against that.”
Kettman titled his work of art “Betty White: America’s Golden Girl.”
Kettman’s ideas bounced back and forth as he tried to decide how he wanted to depict White. The delicate facial paint looks almost like a pencil sketch, but was actually created using acrylic paint.
Kettman also struggled to decide if the painting should be done in full color, but elected to only include colors in her clothing and in the background.
“I thought maybe I won’t add any color to it,” Kettman said. “Betty White is Betty White and I wanted to convey that in the painting. I wanted this particular one to be white because of her name.”
Kettman also included subtle swirls of gold paint in her hair that can only be seen when you look at the painting from an angle.
White is surrounded by a gold background Kettman described as a tribute to her Golden Girl status. He also decided to include the writing of White’s former husband Allen Ludden on her shirt and over her heart.
Kettman did extensive research on White, as he does with many of the subjects he portrays. He tried to incorporate parts of White’s personality as well as used many different images that he mixed together to create the expression on her face.
“The personality of the individual has to come out of there,” Kettman said. “You have to convey that.”
Kettman didn’t consider himself a huge fan of White or the Golden Girls before he began creating the work, but as he learned more and more about her life he found many similarities between the beloved star and himself.
“I just remember her on the Golden Girls,” Kettman said. “I’m not a deep, deep fan but I do remember watching her on that show several times when it was in its prime.”
“Everybody watched it. It was older women joking around and it was quite the show. Then I saw on TV that they were having a celebration in her hometown of Oak Park. I thought to myself ‘Can I get this painting done in time to take it up there?’ ”
Kettman then made the trip to a celebration of White’s life with the newly-completed painting in hand. He was joined by hundreds of White’s fans who spent time remembering and honoring her memory.
Kettman was approached by the Chicago Sun-Times and ABC7 Chicago who both featured him and his painting in various news segments and articles. Photos of the painting were shared throughout the country as people enjoyed seeing White memorialized.
“There were probably 20 people that were posing with it in front of the theater and wanted their picture with it,” Kettman said. “It was cool to see.”
Kettman has created numerous pieces of art in his career and enjoys thinking outside-the-box with his creations.
From Vladimir Putin on a Ritz Cracker, to Eminem on an M&M to carving Martin Luther King Jr. into the tip of a pencil, Kettman’s projects are one of a kind.
Kettman’s next planned project will be a painting on the famous case of Emmett Till. Through his research and ability he hopes to bring a unique perspective to Till’s life.
“I’m going to do him like nobody’s seen before,” Kettman said. “I want the innocence in the eyes. I want the eyes to be the main focus with his painting.”
For those looking to follow Kettman’s work and future projects can see his progress on his FaceBook page @RtistikCreationsByJohnKettman.