Sometimes I work on paintings which are to be gifted at a later date so all is kept hush hush.  This was one of those pieces, created for a special wedding gift from husband to wife.  It’s always a pleasure to be involved in a commission like this so I hope you enjoy seeing the progression of this piece from a while back.

The finished portrait 24″x19″ soft pastel on velour

This was the photo reference I worked from.  The original photo was larger and I cropped it to this to focus more on their faces.  Instead of making the background plain, my client preferred the idea of keeping it as it is and putting them more in that place from that time which I think can be important in family portraits.

It took me so long to draw this out.  I used a grid method as I really needed them all to be perfectly in scale.  So especially to get the overall layout and their postions I used a 2″ grid over the photo and gave myself those lines lightly over the paper I was drawing on.  I have no problem using this method to ensure accuracy.  I then transfer a nice clean outline from that sketch unto the pastel paper I work on.  The real work begins then!

Starting as always from the background.  I try to keep the background pretty light but realistically give the impression of the window they are sitting in front of.

I make a start on the first face and the lighting in the photo really helps.  If you can have your subjects lit from one side it makes it so much easier to portray their features with light and shade.

Using a lot of lovely vibrant lilacs and oranges in the lower layers.  These will get toned down a little with the next layers but I really want to keep it light and fresh with these colours.

Even on a white top there is so much colour and shade.  The brightest area of the painting is the white fabrics which are being hit by sunlight.  Every other area must be shades of blue violets and warmer tones than white.

Once I add the highlighted areas in white, the top begins to make more sense.  Each sitter also has both hands on show which is always a tricky element to a portrait.  It’s possible to spend as long on a person’s hands as their face.  In this portrait however I really try to focus our attention on the faces and add the most detail to those areas.

I start work on the gent in the middle and just love his expression.  He has a real warmth to his smile and I hope I can capture the kindness in his eyes.

I use a bit of pastel pencil around the eyes for the smallest detail but most of the work is done in smaller pieces of the soft pastel.  I build up thin layers of colour from dark to light.

Both eyes in and I feel like I have caught his likeness.  I spend a long time going back to each of their faces and making minor adjustments.

This stripey shirt looks a lot more complicated than it is.  I first block in all the darkest areas.Many of the white stripes are a light blue and lilac shades.  The small areas of white indicate the sunlit areas on the shirt.

The last face and thankfully I feel like I’m already getting his character a little.  It’s always a relief to get the third face in on a tripple portrait.  The worry is that the first two go smoothly and the third causes problems.  His expression is obviously a little squinty from the sunlight, but I quite liked this relaxed element to the portrait.

Again I work from dark to light, making the dark areas quite exaggerated to begin so that they provide real depth in the portrait when I work the highlights over.

Working my way down the portrait and trying to represent different textures. The jeans are surpisingly fast to do with the sides of the pastels and only blending it lightly so that the texture of the paper is visible.

The central figure’s hands are quite important to the painting, so I come back to these close to the end and work more detail into them.  I really like painting older people sometimes as they have so much character to their features.  Sometimes those wrinkles and signs of age really tell a good story.

Sharing a photo of the piece to give you a sense of scale.  It needed to be quite big to fit all that detail in.  But I’m happy with the outcome and happy to say the piece has now been gifted to a very happy bride.  I hope the family enjoy the piece for many years to come.

Thanks for visiting my blog.  No travel pics along with the piece as there usually are as this time was very busy for me.  Painting deadlines left no time for being out with the camera!

For more information on commissioning your own portrait check out my pricing list at