It's always with mixed emotions when making a memorial piece. I've made a few of these now and have a pretty good system in place.
Start with some wide poplar, around 13in and cut it to about the same length. Sand to 220 and always finish by hand. Then apply some stain. Varathane has been my go to for awhile now. 1 coat and your normally spot on and dries fairly quick. Only staining the top at this point. Next I'll lay down some oramask813 and burnish it down really well letting it sit for at least 30min. I only apply to the top portion to save masking. DMXcarve takes over from here and carves in the design. Once that's done I'll pop the tabs loose, clean up anything needed, and vac everything off really well to prep for paint. Normally rattle can it so I can keep up inventory of colors and cheaper than wasting quarts. After paint dries, I'll weed the oramask and give the profile a light sanding before staining the edges and back. More vaccuming and 3 or so coats of matte or semi-gloss poly to finish it off. It stands on it's own or a hanger can be added to the back.