Monday, March 14, 2016

Portrait of Sophie Claire - A Step-by-Step Approach

Sophie Claire

Recently I completed a portrait of a beautiful and energetic young girl Sophie Claire. In her family, it's a tradition to have a portrait made around a certain age. The mother and father both had their portraits painted around the same age as Sophie Claire. In a couple of years, I will create a portrait of Sophie Claire's younger sister, Emily. 

When the parents were presented with the portrait, they were extremely pleased. When Sophie saw her portrait she opened her arms wide and wanted to give her portrait a big hug, we let her have a small one. For me, this meant a job well done. Having portraits made is a wonderful way to honor those you love. For me and it's a pleasure to be a part of the process of creating a cherished keepsake for these and other families. 

It's been about a year since I've published a step-by-step article. In this article, I'll share with you a few photos of the Sophie Clair portrait in progress, the materials I used and my overall approach.

Graphite reference portrait

On my initial visit with Sophie Claire, I first took quite a few photographs of her. It's best to take as many pictures of your subject as time and patience allow. The is a primary advantage of the digital camera over film cameras, the ability to take copious photos. With numerous shots, you have a better chance of obtaining and working from good reference material. This is especially true with younger people who are so often full of beautiful energy. It's hard for them to maintain a pose for very long, so having multiple poses is important. 

Typically I will work from life and do an initial drawing. However, with children, I work primarily from photos. One of my first steps is to make many sketches and then do an initial drawing based on the reference photo. The preliminary portrait is drawn with graphite and not intended to be a finished piece. 

Drawing a preliminary portrait allows me the necessary time to study the person's face, compare their features and work through my thought processes. When I analyze the initial drawing, it will serve as a guide and reference. It will help me focus on the areas that might need more attention in the finished portrait. 

Tools of the Trade

As you can see the shelf area of my easel is where I keep my tools handy. For this portrait, I used Conte, Pitt Pastels, and charcoal. I also use many different erasers, a good brush, an Exacto knife, sandpaper and old t-shirts cut up into smaller pieces. This pre-drawing is on 300# drawing paper. After the reference drawing is "complete" I begin the finished portrait. 

The paper used for this finished portrait is BFK Rives - Tan. The paper is mouldmade in France and is 100% cotton and acid-free. This paper doesn't hold up well to overworking or a lot of erasing. Too much erasing will pull away the fibers.

Easel shot
My easel is arranged to allow the 1/2 to 3/4 size reference portrait is on my board and in full view as I work on the finished portrait. By this time I have determined what needs to happen in the finished portrait. So I am using my initial drawing to guide me. 

The newsprint taped in the middle of the two portraits acts as a guard for my hand - a resting place as I work. It also serves to keep the edge of my hand from picking up the material and or smudging the paper.

Because the paper will pick up any lotion or natural oils on your hand it's best to touch the paper only when necessary and only then after checking to ensure your hands are "dry".


During the process of the portrait, I took photos with my cell phone which doesn't quite represent the true color of the paper and drawing materials. The finished portrait was professionally photographed

I hope you have enjoyed this step-by-step description of a portrait painting. 

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Until next time...

Artfully Yours,

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