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Behind the Scenes of a Painted Portrait

In addition to the fine art photography Itsy Bitsy Images is known for, I offer another unique option for memorializing your children while they're so young and perfect: a traditional style painted portrait. Though, of course, I love photographic prints for wall decoration, there's something about an oil painting on canvas that pulls at my heart strings.

So how do I do it? Read on to see a step by step creation of my apple orchard baby. I'd hate for you to be on the edge of your seat as you read, so here's a sneak peek of the final product:

Apple Orchard Digital Oil Painting

Now that we have that behind us, let's start at the start. All of my portraits begin with a photo session and the careful selection of an image that will translate well into painted art.

Some of the things I'm looking for as I cull through a session to find the picture that's begging to be transformed into paint are:

1. A classic feel. I'm looking for a capture that could have been taken today or 100 years ago. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of modern, fun, vibrant photography! Which you'll clearly see as you peruse my photography galleries. But those aren't the images calling to me to be made into paintings.

2. Emotion. As with all art, the more feeling it evokes from you, the more it's doing its job.

3. Rich colors. Though this isn't a strict requirement, I love the way deep, rich colors transition to thick, gushy looking paintings..

So, with all that in mind, here's the image I chose from this session:

Apple orchard old fashioned apple picking photograph

Old Fashioned? - Check. Little girls have been picking apples in velvet pinafore dresses forever! No extraneous modern details here.

Emotion? - Check. Her delight is shining through clearly.

Rich colors? - Check. Deep greens, burgandys, reds, and browns. I should also add that I go through a ton of "normal" photography editing before the picture ever hits the painting software. While the original image from my camera here is great, it's nothing compared to the above.

So, literally, how do I paint these things? It starts with a specialized tablet attachment to my computer with a stylus style paintbrush. The combination is senses 2048 unique pressure levels, which means it can react to the slightest adjustments I make in each brush stroke with my hand. So while there's no literal paint, the artist's discretion and mixing of paints is all there. (And much less messy, I might add!)

Okay, okay, let's get on with it already. Here we go:

Step 1: Background

We'll move on to details later, but the beginning of all paintings is to take a plain white canvas and give the painting something to live on. These aren't much to look at by themselves but they're critical to the final product. It's nearly impossible to cover every single tiny white spot on a canvas as I'm doing the detailed subject painting. The background is there to fill in the tiny gaps and prevent the final product from looking splotchy and having distracting white dots. You can see a progression here of my background layers. Each one is slightly more "detailed" than the one before.

Like I said, nothing to get excited about here. But critical to our success nonetheless. Let's carry on.

Step 2: Supporting Details

These are the inbetweens that fill in the gaps between the ultra blurry / impressionist background and the totally "in-focus" subject. They bridge the gap and ground the subject. For this picture, it's the apple tree and branches at the top of the painting, the stool she's sitting on, and a few apples that fell on the ground.

These are done at a moderate level of clarity. I want your eyes to see and understand what these elements are, but not focus on them. As I say, they're supporting elements.

Kansas City portrait artist painted portrait mid-completion

Step 3: The subject

Thank goodness, we're finally going to paint the sweet little girl! This other stuff is boring.

So the first thing I do is a reasonably faithful representation of the subject with no special embellishments. (Minus her head of course, this comes later).

This is what I call "Subject basic". It's got all the same colors and shapes as the original photograph.

This is what I call "Subject Enhanced"

The difference between the two is subtle, but important for the viewer's experience. What I've done is added additional colors, shades, lights and darks that weren't present in the original photograph. Look closely at her sleeve on the right of the photo. It now has bright splotches of pinks and reds that add a bit of a glow. That's just one example. There are probably a hundred little changes between these two that your eye doesn't pick up on individually, but are an important part of making the whole image "feel" like a real painted portrait.

Left is enhanced. Right is basic.

Step 4: Her face!

The face is the MOST important element. It's the trickiest too. I practically hold my breath for every stroke through this part. It has to be a faithful enough representation of the photograph that the child is instantly recognizable and that it feels like her. However, too faithful and it can be confused in your mind as a photograph rather than a painting.

Here's an example. This is painted. Can you tell?

Painted portrait that is TOO detailed

You probably can, but you're cheating. You knew the answer from the beginning. There are a few tell-tale brush strokes that give me away if you're REALLY looking for them. But how about when we zoom out?

(Ignore her hat and hair. These wouldn't really have existed during the normal course, but it's hard to get that "too real" feel when the kiddo is missing the top of her head.)

Even with the answer key, see how your eyes are confused? Is this a painting? Is it a badly done photograph? What's going on here?

So that's why it's extra necessary to do those enhancements we were talking about before in Step 3. I add all kinds of colors to her face that were never there. Blues, purples, oranges, pinks, reds. Just about everything under the sun except green (no one looks good with green skin).

See what I did there? Now she unquestionably looks painted. But it's more than that. The extra colors also give her extra beauty, extra depth, extra character.

Step 5: Hair and Hat

Compared to the face, this step is smooth sailing. I'm usually excited by the time I get here because it's all coming together to make a real portrait.

It is worth saying that the hair requires the same attention to detail---but not too much detail as the face!

They also go through the same process of adding extra strokes and extra colors to bring the painting to life, but I won't beleaguer the point with more screen shots.

Here is her finished head!

That is! Just 5 easy steps (hahahahaha, easy) that go into creating these one-of-a-kind digitally painted portraits. Each painting takes me between 4-8 hrs to create.

What are you waiting for? Commission one for yourself and your beautiful kiddos!

See the gallery and pricing here.

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