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child portraits

Detail showing close up of a you girls face. Oils on Canvas

child portraits

This blog shows the painting process behind a Child portrait painted entirely from life. From day 1 to the finished painting. My experience from painting Mathilda at 10yrs old was surprising in many ways.  I not only thoroughly enjoyed it, but learned a great deal.

Finding a good vibe in the studio seemed the most important to start with. engaging my young sitter and involving her in the process keeping the experience interesting meant Mathilda was more eager to pose and wanting to see the painting develop.   So here I wanted to share how my first painting of a 10yr old developed through the stages and what I have learned along the way.



Painting a Child Portrait – Day one:

I start off with a charcoal sketch on the canvas. This is my first attempt at painting a portrait study of a young girl so I needed to see how things would go. This preparatory sketch on the canvas helped me to get some time to study Mathi’s features and see if, and how Mathi would sit. It always helps for your lay in if you have already drawn the model once, committing their features to your memory before painting them again is especially helpful and if they are energetic young sitters it does seem to help me to make less mistakes . I am not saying you should use your long term memory to remember the features but it does help to remember the mistakes from the 1st attempt. Today Mathilda’s mother (Julia) was engaging Mathilda in lots of conversation and they were telling me about some of their family holidays.


Painting a Child Portrait – Day 2:

Today I start off with a thin painting medium (with more turpentine). It keeps the paint loose and quick to work with enabling you to get a good impression with large brushes as quickly as possible. I’m arranging the tones and colour, position etc etc.
Mathi was particularly energetic today so getting the overall impression was my aim, No white canvas left and a rough idea of how the finished painting would balance out. Not painting particularly fast, looking 3 times painting once, but paint with conviction. Mathilda is excited to return for another sitting, which must be a good sign.


Painting a Child Portrait – Day 3:

3rd sitting- a note is left on the fridge door in the kitchen asking if I could paint a portrait of her small teddy ‘Mousy’ on to the miniature canvas she has secretly left in the studio. So I olbiged, and here I present Mousey, oils on canvas. Size, very small!



Painting a Child Portrait – Day 4:

Here I’m basically re painting everything with fresh paint, continually looking for shapes which might need changing in the features, and anything else about the whole composition which bothers me.

Hitting the darks means you develop a larger range of tones between the light and dark making it easier to create more depth in the painting using the half tones. It’s a good idea to do this early on. At this stage I’ve decided I like the way Mathilda holds her head so I’m concentrating on developing the head without giving much concern to the body.

There was lots of story telling today, Julia is an author and you can buy her very enjoyable novel ‘What a Way to Go’ here on Amazon.  It’s clear to see this love for reading and writing has transcended and books are the best way to engage with Mathilda. So Julia spent much time very Kindly reading out loud.  It was all very relaxing.


Painting a Child Portrait – Day 5:

The idea today was to finish the hands but it didn’t quite go as planned. Hands were fidgety and it was a struggle to pin down any real structure. Anyway I then realised the torso needed lengthening. It was slightly out of proportion with the head. So sitting 5 was scraped off and we left it a month or so the next sitting.

Painting a Child Portrait – Day 6:

I decided to take 10cm off the top of the canvas to improve the composition.  I was busy cutting canvas down.  Whilst Mathilda was merrily growing, she seems to be nearly an inch taller than when we started painting!

1st job was Lengthen the torso.
Next I tried a few variations on how Mathilda held her arms and hands. In the end I decided to go for near symmetry.  There are small deviations, like the white of the under tee shirt.   The small amount of hand showing on the the left and the hair lying to one side.  I think that seeing the legs crossed helps convey Mathilda’s youthfulness and better explain her posture. So here is the finished painting on the easel drying and waiting for it’s frame. The child portrait alone is viewable at the gallery

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