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Portrait Painting Process of
Renowned Portrait Artist Karen Patton

Follow along to see how this portrait evolved starting with an email from a loving father
who wanted a portrait done of “an event that never happened” except in his heart. 
The email stated that, ”Of course, there is no picture”. 

This is a challenge that touches the heart of an artist with curiosity and the need to meet a client’s desire to immortalize his two children, lost at very tender ages. To further understand the importance of the painting, the little baby touched this earth for a mere 28 hours, whereby his sister remained for 5 more years and was lost in a tragic accident at the age of 18. Kiersti was out of the state when George was born and never got to hold him thus this event did not happen on earth and the painting symbolizes their first meeting.

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We began the journey with the first email and followed with these two photos.

Baby “George”, just hours old.

The father wished to have a painting of the two children together as a gift for his wife.

Kiersti, 18 years old, holding a cousin

These two photos were then followed with 2 discs of photos and a lengthy description of these two wonderful children.  I always require an in-depth description of loved ones whom I cannot meet in order to capture the personality of those I paint.

There was a need to find the perfect pose incorporating
various meaningful elements into the painting.

The following articles were chosen to be included in the painting.

A very special praying bunny

A special blanket made by Kiersti for George

A sweet little outfit

The rocking chair.

The lamp and table.

Now it is time to pull the composition together in a sketch.
The size was to be 24” x 36” oil on canvas.
The first sketch incorporated the two original photos, opening the baby’s eyes and raising his arm toward his sister to convey their love for one another. Client requests a strand of loose hair down Kiersti's cheek to convey a personal trait so I add this touch.

Drawings are emailed to client for suggestions as we are
working toward what he sees in his heart and mind.

First sketch
The first drawing follows hand positions from the photo of Kiersti, placing George in her arms wrapped in the blanket she had lovingly made for him .

Sketch #2
Position of her hand and bunny seem distracting and give the bunny too much importance. 
Connection between the two is not quite there.

Third Sketch – new hand position (flat)

A new position of the hands and now we are getting there.
Time to check the composition, changes needed to finalize
background and refine the hand position.
Client and I are working hard to bring this to the final drawing.

(Close up of eye and hand contact.)
The gaze is set and their hands are positioned.

The hands are refined and the background detailed.
The bunny is discarded as not as important now. 

Final Sketch
The mood is now set with a gentle touch and gaze between the two that tells the story
of a brother and sister loving each other. 
A painting may touch individuals in different ways but there should always be a connection to the viewer to have a successful portrait. As I paint, I always feel the need to connect to the subject matter in such a way that it moves beyond a mere likeness and reaches for the very essence or soul of the individual. As in this case, I found the connection needed through the love of the father for these children.
The client approves this final sketch and I move on to the oil painting.
All the preliminary work has been worthwhile as the painting falls into place.
With the first viewing, the client approves of the painting with one request, a change in the blouse color to purple which was his daughter’s favorite color.

Full Painting

Details are added to the lamp, table and bunny.

Final viewing before client requested adding a touch of purple to the blouse to include Kiersti’s favorite color and complete the painting.

The last detail was to add a touch of purple to the blouse.

Full photo
Kiersti and George
Children of Mr. & Mrs. Derik Zimmel

A portrait such as this is an emotional experience for all involved.  It is a blessing and honor to work for clients who add so much to the experience.  Thanks be to God who sees and supplies our needs in every way and has given me the opportunity to share the talent he has given me with others.


©2006 - Copyright Karen Patton. All rights reserved. No permission to reproduce of any kind.