When one of my best friends commissioned me to paint their nephew I felt honoured, humbled and exceptionally nervous all rolled in to one! There’s a lot more to painting a portrait than getting a photo and sitting down to paint. For a stunning timeless portrait it has to be a ‘special / not special’ photo. Not a special occasion or special clothes or a special place even, it has to be a special pose with good lighting to show contrast and high quality so I can zoom in to see details. This was a tall order for only a few days notice but fortunately my friend discovered the perfect photo on her phone ( you can get good photos on camera phones as long as their is adequate lighting – by a window or in a conservatory or take the photos outdoors and crucially don’t use the zoom feature).
The photo that we agreed would make the best portrait is not exceptionally good quality but good enough to see important eye details. I use a combination of printed photo for proportions and the digital image on screen to zoom in for detail. Surprisingly the photo didn’t print as well as I thought it would have but I had altered the contrast slightly to give a better lighting effect to one side of his face so this might have been why.
With my initial sketch done and my client was happy, I start with the background so I can build the portrait up in layers. the background is incidental to this portrait. A simple tonal background in keeping with the surroundings of the photo. I’m mostly right handed but when the need arises it is easy to use my left hand – this means I can see the whole portrait as I work.
Now that I have some sense of belonging with the background in place I begin to work on his skin tone working from dark to light. I’ve also started his eye colouring. It’s almost always difficult to see eye colour from photos which is why I ask for lots of photos and also like to show my work in progress to get essential details correct
It’s always the eyes that get me – that choke me and I shed a little tear of joy for this young wee chap and his beautiful family. Children have such beautiful souls – I felt like I could touch his in that moment.
I use buttery soft UNISON Colour Soft Pastels. they are manufactured in the UK (I know!!) They are chunky and have to be broken down in to tiny pieces for the fine details – I hate breaking new pastel sticks but hey ho it must be done! I’ve resisted in this one as it’s a new stick and has a sharp edge I can use for details.
I’ve finished his skin tone here and features and I spend a while studying his features to get his character perfect. In the original photo he is wearing a dark blue top which I felt would over power the portrait. I suggested a lighter shade of blue from another photo I was given of mother and son in similar colour tops.
And here is the finished portrait. For me, photos feel so far away like they are stuck – sometimes behind a fog – a portrait feels fresh and present and immediate – full of life and energy.
And finally a wonderful treat for me to see the proud parents receiving their portrait. The birthday Mummy loves it – music to my ears and the reason why I paint.
I hope you enjoyed the making of this baby portrait, if you’d like to commission a portrait there’s lots of information here and you’re welcome to phone me for an informal chat about your portrait. Tel: 07740 282399
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