Commission: three sisters, three portraits

I was thrilled when I received a commission from a friend to paint her three daughters - Florence, Phoebe and Eleanor Gibson - in oils. 

Blonde, brunette and redhead

It was a gift to any artist in that each had different colour hair - blonde, brunette and redhead - as well as different characters.  And they were all at that stage in life when they were transitioning, or had transitioned, from study into work and were on the brink of stepping out into the world.  It’s a very special time of life to be asked to capture. 

Eleanor Gibson commissioned portrait in oils on canvas artwork by Stella Tooth.

Single portraits to hang together

Their mother, Hils, and I discussed whether she would like them painted in a single painting or in three separate portraits.  And she decided she would like them painted head and shoulders individually so that they could all take their portraits with them, when the time was right. 

She and her husband had a clear idea of where the portraits - all same size - would hang in a bright conservatory.  And I had to check that where they were planning to put them would not be in direct sunlight. 

The three young women didn’t have time to ‘sit’ formally for me.  So instead, they came with their mother for photographic sessions where I sat them in the soft light of our south facing sitting room, with sunlight illuminating one side of their faces, which helps with getting the sense of 3D. 

What to wear?

I had asked each to think about what they wanted to wear and, to some extent, to coordinate with each other as, for a time at least, the portraits would hang side-by-side.  I asked if they would think of wearing simple tops, so as not to detract from their faces,  with necklines that might be round, or scooped, as this can add an elegance to the pose.  They all had long hair. Florence arrived with a beautiful scarf that she wasn’t sure whether to keep on or take off and we decided that it would be a feature showing her taste that would also be a joy to paint. 

A photo session

I took lots of photographs, showing them them in between each set.  They are from the photographic age and so had a clear idea of what they wanted to look like.  We selected around five shots of each of them that I emailed to them so they could consider the one they’d like me to work from. 

Florence and Phoebe Gibson portraits in oils on canvas artworks by Stella Tooth.

Collaboration: key to my art

I then painted each in turn, against the same backdrop to unify the set.  I sent photos of the work as it progressed, and invited comment via Hils along the way. Then when all were finished and dry, and ready for varnishing and framing, I contacted Hils.  As Florence was free she came to collect her portrait in person, and those of her sisters.  It was a joy to see that they were so happy with the portraits.

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