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  • Gav Munro

5 Top Tips for painting portraits for friends

If you're a portrait painter then you'll have probably been asked by a friend to paint them, maybe you've worked out a deal and they're going to pay you for it?

Here's some portraits I've produced before for friends...

Most recently I was asked by a friend of mine from Australia who asked me to paint her and her sister for a wedding gift for her sister....Arghhhhh!!!!!

Arghh#1- 2 people in one portrait? Twice the chance to f@#k it up

Arghh#2- A sister's wedding gift? This better be good...

So it can be quite a daunting task to paint friends, but it is one of the most rewarding thing you can do. The feeling of creating something special which is personal to someone else is an amazing kick.

So don't be afraid of it, here's my 5-step coping mechanism for painting portraits of friends for friends:

1- Lower their expectations!

Really! It sounds silly but if it's for a gift, ask them to keep a plan B in mind, incase you just can't get it. This takes loads of pressure off you and let's you relax enough to get some good ideas together for the composition

2- Plan it really carefully

What's the message of the portrait, anyone can paint a straight painting of a subject, fewer people can convey a message. When you're planning the message/composition think about what this should say. With Fay's painting she wanted soimething to show her love for her sister and their bond.

The selfie that she sent me was lo-res, but it showed their closeness. I printed it out and hung it around the apartment for a few days, glancing at it occasionally until I noticed that their 2 heads together gave the shape of a heart:

This was a breakthrough and i thought 'If I don't overplay that and keep it subtle it'll tei-in well.' That made me feel better.

3- Do your research

What style works best with the message you want to create? Print out some visual references of other artist's work that you think would suit the message.

4- Ask for as many photo refs as possible

I got a low-res selfie from Fay which I improved in Photoshop, but I also asked her for her favourite photos of her and her sister to use as reference. Not only is this good for visual cues, but you also get the feel of their dynamic which help to the final piece.

5- Get your initial sketch/underpainting right

I know a lot of artists that will produce a really basic sketch/underpaint and say to themselves 'OK, it's not perfect, but I'll fix it when I start painting. In my experience, feature accuracy only gets worse when you paint it. get the sketch right, get the underpainting right, then start painting. You'll know when you've got it righht cos you'll see part of their personality coming threough the cansvas. Once you have the essence of the subject down...go for it!

Look at the images below to see the sketching/underpainting stages:

6- Build it up slowly

This video shows you a timelapse of most of the process, take a look underneath for the end result and the happy customer!

7- Remember 'The Magic Triangle'

When painting a portrait you need to draw the attension of the viewers eyes to the most important areas of the canvas, In a portrait you can visualise this area as an upside-down triangle from the top of thje eyebrows to the bottom of the mouth.

As you're painting you should spend more time on detail on these areas and give the other areas a 'blur' effect, simply by spending less time on the detail.

And finally, enjoy the handover.... it feels great!

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