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  • Trish Kennedy-Howe

Portrait Painting

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

July 24, 2021

As a lifelong painter and textile designer, I have covered a lot of subject matter but had never tried my hand at portraits. A few years ago, I decided to take a portrait painting class at Dunedin Fine Arts Center in Dunedin, Florida - a really wonderful place to take any kind of creative arts class. I had never had the courage to attempt portraits before. It seemed to me that creating an actual likeness of a face would take a ton of expertise and talent - more than I was capable of. Then I started watching "Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year", a BBC production, shown on the Ovation channel. (If you've never seen that series, and its sister, "Landscape Painter of the Year" I highly recommend both.) After following the process of the competing artists, I was inspired to give portraits a try. There are so many different styles of portrait painting - from totally representational to abstract, and everything in between. I prefer the techniques of traditional artists, such as John Singer Sargent and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, so I humbly try to emulate them. During the class I took at DFAC, I learned that there are many tricks of the trade in creating portraits, techniques I wasn't aware of that are specific to that genre. My first effort in class was a portrait of my son, Timothy. And I was actually pleased with the result!

portrait of a man in front of gray background

For reference, I used a photo of Tim, taken about ten years ago. There was a live model posing in the classroom; some of the students painted her - others used photos. I don't like to use live models as a rule; they can't avoid moving somewhat and I feel uncomfortable with them having to sit still for such a long period of time while I struggle with the paint. And I knew my son, particularly, is too impatient to ever stay still long enough for me to paint him.

My next portrait was a wedding gift for my nephew Andrew and his bride, Lindsay. (Yes, I was brave enough to give a portrait as a gift, even though I was still quite the novice.) I used a photo taken at their wedding reception of the couple sitting in front of a vintage Rolls Royce. I altered the image a little, using one of my wallcovering designs for the background - it gave the portrait a more formal, wedding-like look. Since then, most of my portraits have included a background with a pattern, as sort of my signature.

Here is the original photo of Andrew and Lindsay and the completed portrait.

photo of wedding couple
painting of wedding couple

Next: I'll tell the interesting but complicated story of having a portrait painted of myself and my son by a well-known Russian artist.

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