A lot of my work is figurative, especially the illustration, but it has been a long time since I have been challenged to create portraits. I count the onsite sketches I have done over the years as useful exercises in hand/eye coordination.

Just before Christmas I was contacted by my friend, Ken who now lives in Australia. He asked if I could paint two portraits. One of each of his children. He wanted them as a Christmas present for his wife. No pressure, you understand! Portraits of two young people I have not seen in the flesh since 2003. Ken sent me a selection of photos and I did some judicious facebook stalking as well (for research!) just to get an idea of face structure from different angles. Also, his son has very funky coloured eyes which I only really appreciated once I found a photo with better lighting that the ones sent.

I have to admit that I was pretty much quaking in my boots. If I messed up I was going to be messing up big time! I’d be messaging my friend to say “Please get your wife something else for Christmas because I suck at this.” Then I would be hiding under a rock for the rest of my life.

Practice and research are things I do a lot. I watched a few You Tube videos on portrait painting. The best piece of information I came away with is that flesh tones for white skin can be mixed using orange and purple with a bit of blue thrown into it if necessary. Try it out.  For practice, I several pencil sketches of each victim. In one drawing, Ken’s daughter came out looking uncannily like her mother. I don’t see her as resembling her mother at all, but Ken was more positive about that portrait than the one where she didn’t look like her mother. Amazing how perceptions differ. Anyway, as Ken is the expert, that’s the one I went with.

The stalking was useful in that I found out that the son was a very good rugby player and the daughter is mad about animals and has an oriental cat who rules the roost. Cue my moment to add an illustrative feature to both paintings so they weren’t just heads on a piece of paper. They were finished and ready to go on the weekend before Christmas. Now I ask you, how did I manage to get them to Ken on time? Well thankfully, they were back in Cape Town visiting family for the holidays, so the paintings were packed and sent by courier and arrived on Christmas Eve.

My special Christmas present was the lovely phone call I got from Ken’s wife, Aishlin, on Christmas Day. She was over the moon with her surprise and Ken got extra brownie points for a thoughtful and unexpected gift. Sure beats a handbag! So dear friends, thank you for an opportunity to scare myself to death. I learned a lot and stressed out my courier company to the point they actually called me on Christmas Eve to tell me the package had been delivered.

Portraits – my pre-Christmas challenge
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