How to…Paint the Queen – Initial sketch

How to paint the Queen?! I don’t even know how it happened, but as I just stumbled across a series of progress photos…..

Well, we had just spent a wet weekend in June, waving wet Union Jacks from a wet bridge at lots of wet people as they passed by in, on and around boats of varying degrees of wetness. Then, one minute I’m drawing David Beckham (just for fun, you understand, not personal pleasure) the next I’ve been talked into painting a portrait of HRH Queen Elizabeth II. Caught up in the sentiment of the whole Diamond Jubilee thing I was challenged by my niece to enter (with her) the Daily Mail’s portrait competition. The rest, as they say, was history…though I don’t think my niece quite got round to paint the queen – I guess her portrait is still history in the making!

Queen or just plain commoner (it’s all the same in the end), painting a portrait is quite a difficult thing in my opinion. Whether it’s of a person or an animal, in the end it has to look “right”, especially if someone has commissioned the piece. That’s not to say it has to look exactly like a person or animal in all respects, like a photo would, but this is one area in painting where the end result has to capture the essence of the subject. OK, so it is only my opinion, but if you set out to paint a well known figure like the Queen, most people will know if you’ve got it drastically wrong – I guess Picasso might disagree, or perhaps he just knew some really weird looking people.

So I have already assumed it’s unlikely she will sit for me and picked a favourite from the endless stream of pictures from recent events – it has to be one where she’s smiling for me! I have both a colour and a black and white copy (B&W makes it easier to understand the tonal values of the picture i.e. lights and darks, without letting colour confuse my eyes).

I’m also armed with my mental picture of the general anatomy of the human face and head. You might notice this is my slightly stylised version (I’m not suggesting HRH is a fairy or from the planet Vulcan – I just can’t help but doodle). This age old proportional information is what I was taught at school and I’ve applied it many times since:

image showing the proportions of the human face

1. Head = upside down egg

2. 1/2 way down = eye line

3. 1/2 way again = nose line

4. 1/2 way again = mouth

5. Eyes = 1/5 of width of face & 1 eye width apart

6. Nose = 1 eye width wide


It’s important to bear in mind that this “rule of thumb” information can only provide a starting point for any portrait helping to get things in roughly the right place. After that our observational skills have to pick up the characteristics that reflect the unique differences that make a particular individual i.e.gender, race, age etc.

So, back to my challenge to paint the Queen…..

Step 1 – Outline measurements

Outline pencil sketch of the Queen

I’m normally quite loose in the way I work, but for this exercise I meticulously measure and plot out the various angles in the image (you can make these out in the preliminary sketch) and the comparative dimensions of the face e.g. how many eyes wide is the face, lips etc.

I plot these out on a sheet of cartridge paper, along with an outline of the key features I want to incorporate in the finished picture. I also multiply measurements to increase the scale of the picture to something just about life size on the canvas. In no time at all I have my outline sketch.

Step 2 – Transfer to Canvas

I prefer to make any significant changes to the composition at this stage rather than after I’ve transferred the image to canvas, mainly because it’s much easier to adjust minor errors on paper! The hard work already done to adjust the image and increase the scale I can now simply trace the key elements of my sketch to and transfer the important reference points to my canvas. After marking the key elements I work to join the dots, just like in the puzzles I did as a kid – the key to success is identifying the right points and transferring them across. This time I used       a fine pencil to mark out my subject, ready to accept the first layer of under-painting:

Outline sketch of the Queen on canvas

3. Ready to paint the Queen…..

Next time I’ll outline my approach to under painting, the techniques and colours used to provide the foundation layers for the painting. In the meantime you could have a go at creating your own outline portrait. Any photograph would do for practice or you could try using a mirror and make it a self portrait!

HELP! Take me to Part 2 | Part 3

Am I an artist?

I have often asked myself the question “am I an artist?” You’d think the answer was straightforward really, but what is an artist?

Most definitions suggest an artist is someone who makes “art” to express what they are thinking or feeling. That’s fine, but what about commission work then, interpreting what someone else thinks or feels and translating it into an “art work”?

Some definitions suggest art is something that is functional and generally aesthetically pleasing to the eye (Tracey Emin’s contemporary work “My Bed” might disprove this theory). So perhaps we need to think more about form and content, or the skill and techniques involved to determine whether someone is an artist?

That raises another question…who decides whether I’m an artist? I have already made the decision to use the word on my business card, but to be honest I’m more inclined to think the decision rests with others. I know that my intention is to produce art that is aesthetically pleasing both in my opinion and others’. I also hope my work connects with and provokes a response in others. Most of all though I believe it’s the judgement of my peers that determines the answer to my question “am I an artist”?

Karen's caricature portrait

Karen – caricature

So, I received this wonderful caricature as a gift for my birthday recently. I love the fun, bold colours in the picture and the fantasy fairy image on the easel.  My birth date is cunningly incorporated, along with my web identity (KL Art). Oh, and I really love the virtual weight loss around the thighs and bum!

Most of all though I feel reassured by the affirmation that there are people out there who believe I’m an artist!

Thanks for the confidence boost – Stephen, Andrea & kids!

Now, where to hang it…..