I was asked to produce a very special portrait marking a milestone birthday occasion.  The painting was to be a surprise so I went to the party as a family friend / someone there to take some family photos on a special occasion.  We chatted and she sat so naturally on the side of this chair while I photographed her.  I think being a true busy woman she didn’t often waste time sitting in chairs.  I know someone just like that so I can relate!

I liked the backdrop with a sense of distance and the lighting from the window seemed soft.  If I were a proper photographer I would have lit her nicely from the other side too, but did not think to do that at the time nor do I own the equipment to bring along.  However, I really like the shot I got of her and I hope she likes what I have done with it.

I hope you enjoy the progression of the painting along with some of my travels from where I was while I painted it.  At that time it was the height of our summer in Germany and we were on an island on lake Konstanz called Reichenau.

finishedportrait‘Mrs Donnelly’ 22.5 x 16″ soft pastel on velour

prog1My first stage as always is to sketch out the initial outline for the portrait.  I then transfer this onto the velour so I have a clean line to start with faintly on the velour board. I always work from the background forward and there’s a lot of background in this.

prog2I liked the fact that we could see a little of the room behind her in the shot.  This is the area I have worked with not much detail as things in the distance blur.

prog3Starting to work some more interior items.  There is a lot of different light on the walls making the creams seem different colours.  I make use of nearly all my light toned pastels.

prog4Some more of the background in and starting to work on the chair.

Where we were in Germany is very beautiful.  Lake Konstanz at the South West of Germany is where we reached after a summer in the Schwartzwald.  We were on a small island you can drive onto called Reichenau.  The island is populated with many small farms growing nothing but fruit and vegetables.  If you are veggie like us, this must be some kind of paradise!

picYou could cycle right around the island on lovely little cycle lanes that took you from farm to farm and all around the lovely watery edges.


pic4In the evenings the sunsets were lovely over the mainland as the sun dipped below the hills.

pic5prog5Building up the tones on the chair and trousers.  So many shades of light creams!

prog6There are so many stages to creating a portrait of a person for me.  My first task is to find where the strongest light is hitting and start to block in some areas.  I use deep colours as I will add many thin layers on top of this getting lighter and lighter.  Once enough layers are on the velour, it can be worked and moved very precisely if that’s what you need.

prog7Starting on the left side as we look and adding those lighter layers, blending them as I go.  I also have worked one eye which I will want to do more to when I get the second one in.

prog8Although it’s quite a dark photo of this step you can see I’ve added a lot more light tones across the face.  I’m trying to push the contrast down on the shadow side so that it can still appear light.  Too much contrast is not great for a portrait.

pic6Once we left the island of Reichenau we headed East on round the lake.  Some of the beaches there around the lake were lovely with lots of Germans enjoying the good weather.  Brocci enjoys a dip when it’s hot but this is the best way to cool off on the move!


prog10When we stop overnight I often set up the easel for work.  Especially if the weather is hot during the day.

I feel I have caught the sitter’s expression but will go back and tweak small things.  It often helps to get the hairline in to frame the face.  Again I’m trying to figure out the lights and darks.

prog10aprog11After I leave the face I jump down to the hands while I still have all the flesh tones around me.  Hands tell such a story.  The way they’re held, the jewellery they bear, and the wisdom that comes from a long life.  I completely forgot to take any progress photos while working on the hands…too concentrated!

pic8This piece has taken me quite a while to do so by now we had made it all the way round to Nesselwang at the foot of the Alps.  We travelled down through Austria into Italy from here.

pic9Our camping spot at the bottom of the ski lifts.

prog12Definitely on the home stretch now.  I loved her cardigan and the patterned leaves.  I have simplified the shapes quite a lot in the painting as I often do with fabrics, but hope it gives the idea.  I’ve put down an underlayer showing the shadow and form and now I’m working the leaves on that windowlit side which appear more washed out.

prog13  As the pattern comes round into the shadow areas I use darker shades of the greens.

hands-closeShowing you a little close up of her hands.  The portrait is quite big so on screen viewing doesn’t really do it justice.

This piece was definitely a challenge with so many different textures but I quite like painting fabric and interior scenes.  I just hope I did justice to a very beautiful lady who is absolutely amazing for her age.

Thanks for visiting my blog, make sure to call back if you’d like to see more art and travels!