Now that I’m using velour paper for all my portraitsI wanted to transform another photo to painting.  I love the ethereal / soft effect that I can achieve with velour.  This is 2 years on from the previous portrait of my son and in a way, much more difficult to get a photo of him because he’s aware of the camera and wants to do a terrific smile!  He has a gorgeous smile that he does when he’s done something naughty (not often!) – I tell him I’m sad so he tries to get me to smile but smiling at me in a way that is so serene and beautiful that i love it and can’t help but smile back.  It took me about 6 months to get the photo!  In the end I asked him to do the smile that he does when he wants me to smile.  And he did!  So I snapped away and got a lovely shot.  He was able to do this because he had to sit for a passport photo and I had taught him that he mustn’t smile.


The middle shot is the photo I used – he’s got his mouth closed here – well almost and his eyes sparkle.  it’s exactly what I’d been waiting for for 6 months!  It’s good advice to set your camera to continuous shooting.  Even some smart phone cameras have this ability now.

On with transforming the photo to painting. I had a small gap in commissions so I started his line drawing and transferred it onto my velour paper.  Velour paper isn’t great when you want to sketch something to get a likeness.  I prefer to draw it out on paper and then transfer it.  I forgot to take a photo of just the sketch.  In this photo I’ve stated with some of the darker skin tones.

I’m gradually building up the skin  tones here.  I don’t always approach a child portrait in the same way.  Sometimes I do all the skin first, other times, like with this one I go with what feels right and it felt right to get some of his features in so I could see the likeness of him appearing before my eyes.

In this photograph you can see I’m working on his darker skin tones to create the form of his face and then adding the mid tones afterwards.  Without these dark tones there would be no definition and you wouldn’t see his face or achieve a likeness.  Sometimes the darks seem to dark in isolation so it’s important to keep the whole portrait in mind.

With his skin tones almost complete, including the blue reflection of the dark blue band around the neck of his top, I finish his eyes and eyelashes.  He has such beautiful long lashes! His eyes are very dark blue and brown/green so i keep reinforcing these colours to give them a very deep strong quality.

At this point I had to stop painting and start working on Christmas commissions as they were coming in thick and fast.

Back on the easel just before Christmas I have a few hours to complete this portrait.  It looks really scary now as I have to get the dark roots of his sun bleached hair down first then I can lay lighter, golden, gingery colours over the top.  You would think hair should take a long time – and it used to take me a long time as I would over think what i was seeing compared to what hair is.  Painting hair as individual strands just isn’t my style even though I tried to in the early days.  Blocking in colour and blurring your eyes to see the blocks of colour is a much better way to achieve realistic hair.
After the dark tones I add the mid tones.  His hair colour is very difficult to achieve as it is gold in places and such a colour in pastel doesn’t really exist so I have to balane the mid tones with the light tones that will be placed over the top.
Now that the mid tones are down I start adding some strands of hair to add detail and realism and to shape his hair – it’s still not light enough though.
And finally the highlights which brings everything together and it looks like his real hair.  Once the highlights are on I use some gorgeously soft Caran D’Ache pastel pencils to indicate strands of hair and some fly-away strands too.

The background I have added a darker blue grey colour to help him stand out and enhance his position in the painting.

The finishing highlights are done with this delicious whiter than white pastel from Henri Roche – they are the finest pastels in the world so I’m lead to believe – they are certainly the most expensive at around £17 each hence why I only own 2 and use them sparingly.
From photo to painting, here we are all finished and framed up to give to his Dycu (Grandfather in Welsh) at Christmas time.  Although I am hoping that he will let me hold on to it for a few weeks because I will be painting him again for a local art group and I only have 2 hours for the demo so I need to firstly do a little practice to get faster and also I can show them the finished piece.  There is no chance I will finish it during the demo as a portrait like this takes anywhere between 8 and 12 hours.  The demo painting will go to Nana on her birthday in January.

The original photo was a beautiful shot of my son but the background had a lot to be desired – we were on a ferry heading back from France so I had great lighting from the windows but terrible background information (apart from his dad in the photo of course!) Being able to remove the background noise of the photo is what transforming a  photo to painting is all about.

Sue is a Soft Pastel Artist and International Tutor from England UK
She's passionate about soft pastel art and teaching her students from around the globe.

"Art makes my heart sing and my soul smile"