The brief (x9 multi-paged Word docs) dropped into my Messenger account on the 28th Dec. Firstly, I'm blown away by the organisational skills of my client. She's kindly laid out every person with their name, photo and connection to the other 70+ people and pets that were to be depicted in time for a big birthday reveal mid-Feb.
Ordinarily, I ask for 4-6 weeks to work on a portrait, and it's at this point I'm slightly panicked that the timescales are going to be too tight. After all, my 14 month old son lovingly likes to remind me (with a hair pull or nostril poke) that he is now my top priority, but this project is a big deal, in fact it is the biggest portrait I have ever been asked to create. At this point my biggest portrait was of a family of twelve - that I thought was my limit!
With each person being connected to one or more other people, it required meticulous planning before I even began sketching.
I started by counting each immediate family 'set'. These would then be grouped loosely within the much larger extended family composition, but the number of people within each set ranged from one or two to six or more. This meant placement of each set would need to be balanced over the left, centre and right thirds of the artboard. This took a few days to perfect as I also had to balance colour (clothes, hair, accessories) across the family sets and even the couples within this.
Alongside composition, I immersed myself in the brief - especially the photographs of each person, so I could get an understanding of the sort of mannerisms and expressions they adopt. I studied themes of identity in my under-grad and post-grad degrees, so this is my absolute favourite part! I love people watching and learning about the type of characters they embody through what they wear and even how they stand or pose for the camera.
Sketching starts with very faint pencil marks of body outlines to ensure I have allowed enough space for each character to be clearly displayed. With a darker pencil, applying a little more pressure, I then start to detail limb placement and the direction that each person would be facing. Features and finer details comes next with a fine tipped pen. I then scan the sketch into Illustrator and begin working up the lines, by drawing around them and changing or omitting areas I am less happy with.
The colour palette had to be complimentary and evenly distributed in order to make the composition flow and have no area that draws the eye more than the other. The addition of shading under arms, below hemlines etc, all help bring the Tinies to life.
If you'd like to get your hands on your own portrait, or have one made for someone you rather like, click that lovely button below.
Here's the final portrait, 'For He's a Jolly Good Fellow'...