This year I’ve had the pleasure to work on two portrait commissions for the same family. Both were commissioned separately for surprise birthday presents – a wife’s present to her husband and following that, a few months later, a husband’s present to his wife. Both were painted from photos of them as teenagers in the 1970s when they met at school. It’s not always the easiest to paint from old school photos – they’re often discoloured and facial tones have been flattened by the flash – they don’t give you much to work from, as an artist who’s usually looking for colour to accentuate in paint application.

The first piece was delightful, however – having great fun capturing his long locks.

painted portrait of a 1970s teenager by Sheri Gee

I actually painted his face twice – the first time, I got into a really smooth technique, which suited the photo style somewhat, but the client liked some of my looser pieces and wanted to see brush work – so I switched canvas and painted him again in my looser style. I was more than happy to do this, and like to show the client in progress shots and ask them questions along the way – it’s really important that they’ll be happy with the finished piece and it’s nice to involve them in the process.

For the second commission, from husband to wife, I was given a small selection of photos, again from the same period, but this time home snaps rather than from school. Rather than match the two portraits up, with the same tight crop of head and shoulders, the client really liked the pose of the photo so we opted for head and torso, making sure we could fit in her hands and the denim, to give balance to the bright white t-shirt. And we had to get that fab wallpaper in!

Often with portraiture I dive straight in – starting with a sketched head shape and placing the features by eye. Sometimes, particuarly on faces that are less familiar to me, I’ll start with gridding up the photo and the canvas, to make sure everything will be perfect. After that, I worked here to block in the main colours, before diving in with the likeness. Here are a few process shots to see how the piece came together.

If you’re interested in talking about a portrait commission, with no obligation, drop me a line at You can see more of my portraits on my dedicated portrait page.

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