I never really planned it this way, but a good proportion of the work I do as an illustrator consists of commissioned portrait work. I kind of fell into doing this; I always did it for my own friends and was used to doing similar stuff commercially but when my friend Sophie asked me to do a little drawing of her and her mum for her birthday present, I said I couldn’t do that and it wouldn’t look right. She characteristically insisted (I love that about her) and her mum loved the drawing. From doing this little piece as a favour, (I think she paid me in a delicious lunch made by her at the design studio we worked at together at the time) I got asked to do another and then another. Through good old word of mouth; the main medium that I’d never underestimate, and some sharing online I now do hand painted pencil and watercolour portraits and send them to a range of different types of people all over the world.
I have painted families, groups of friends, lovers, brides and grooms, grooms and grooms, brides and brides! beloved pets, people that have passed, people right at the start of their lives and people towards the end. In short with my pencil I’m lucky enough to be asked to capture something special and meaningful for such a wide range of people. When someone comes to me wanting to trust me with an image that’s special to them and having me paint from it it’s so great, as it’s never going to be the same experience twice. I learnt quite early on the kinds of images that work well with my style, movement, laughter and candid shots work best, and I’ve been sent grainy camera phone images right along to studio professional posed photographs, and made them work.
One type of image I really fall for when commissioned by someone is a vintage printed photograph. This week I just completed a drawing from a regular commissioned client, who sent me a photograph of his parents from their wedding, 40 years ago. There’s something so beautiful about these types of images, from the 70’s and 80’s which I just love so much. I think working from a printed and scanned photograph already gives the image a painterly feeling, which works so well when worked on in paint. Perhaps my love for these types of image is a reaction to the flood of images I see on a daily basis as an instagram…and general internet user. The beauty of these images isn’t supposed to be in highly edited perfection, but in capturing a moment, and as time goes by and fashions and aesthetics change, I as the viewer can appreciate this little capsule even more.
I’m in one of those age brackets who even in my thirty years has seen the way we take photographs change almost year on year. From my dad’s beautiful Canon film camera which he carried around for much of my childhood documenting sunny days in the garden, my family’s swathes of clashing 80’s print and ice creams dripping down mine and my brothers little chins, to my teenage use of disposable cameras; posing withfriends with Spice Girls inspired not-yet-self conscious sass. Through to university days of bringing a cheap digital camera out with me to parties; sending it on a pass the parcel around the room and finally collecting it at the end of the night and posting the results to an unedited album on facebook, for everyone to greedily devour along with their hangover breakfasts the next day. Now to modern day with instagram posts, constant documentation and sometimes false realities, it’s definitely a strange metamorphosis. Perhaps it’s seeing this change that gives me this love for the older, an aesthetic not yet tinged with the need for likes.
I’ve shared some of my favourite vintage image work that I’ve done over the last couple of years or so. There’s something about these images which range from a Wedding in 1970’s Texas, to a very cool 1980’s dad and a family portrait where you can almost feel like you’re in an living room that sits somewhere between Abigail’s party and Mad Men.
Perhaps it’s the domesticity combined with the element of the ‘special occasion’ of these images that draws me to them so much. I love that now we can take ten pictures next to a far flung waterfall on holiday and not think anything of it or document what’s happening every day if we want to, and find some beauty to that, but I think I’ll also always love the singularity of the vintage photograph. To bring me back to that feeling I have when I’m painting; of capturing a moment that’s special.
Shop my commissions HERE