(USA TODAY) WASHINGTON -- Get ready, Tony Blair: George W. Bush captured what he believes is your essence on canvas.
The former president walked through an exhibit of his paintings with daughter Jenna Bush Hager for a story that aired Friday on NBC's Today show.
Bush's portraits of world leaders such as Blair, the former British prime minister, Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Dalai Lama and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai are on display at his presidential library in Dallas.
The exhibit, "The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy," includes photographs and other memorabilia from Bush's visits with these leaders.
The portrait of Blair, in a suit jacket with a blue shirt and red tie, bears a reasonable likeness to the British leader who became a close friend during the early years of the Iraq war. "I like it because it conveys a compassionate person and a strong and reliable friend, " Bush said.
The former president said he wanted his portrait of Putin -- which looks somewhat abstract and captures the Russian's intense gaze -- to reflect what he believed was the Russian leader's world view. He recalled introducing Putin to the family's beloved Scottish terrier, Barney, who was kind of "dissed" by Putin. Later, Putin introduced Bush to his dog, whom the Russian said was "bigger, stronger and faster."
"Vladimir is a person who in many ways views the United States as an enemy," Bush said. "I felt he saw the world as either the U.S. benefits and Russia loses or vice versa."
Bush said he took up painting because he "wanted to make sure the last chapters of my life are full." What began as an exercise on a mobile tablet with the help of an app became a full-fledged endeavor, complete with an art teacher.
His personal favorite is the portrait of his father, former President George H.W. Bush, whose way with befriending world leaders and approach to diplomacy he has long admired.
"It was a joyful experience to paint him," Bush said. "I painted a gentle soul."
The 43rd president said he doesn't want the subjects of his portraits to think that he is a great artist, but to understand that his post-presidential life as a painter is a work in progress.
"I want to get better," Bush said. "A whole new world has opened up."