(Last Updated On: February 4, 2019)

Melbourne Portrait Painter Artist’s- Cynthia Hargraves Painting Demonstration

In this article Melbourne Portrait Artist- Cynthia Hargraves  will cover the following steps in showing how she created this Pastel Painting called “Best Friends” which was featured in the previous blog. This family portrait painting was a prize winning portrait that was published in the Australian Artist Magazine. I hope to share this with you for those that are interested.

Melbourne Portrait Artist - 9 Steps Drawing to Paint

In the content of this blog I will show the Artist’s picture, checklists, design, art materials, and final analysis of painting

  • Picture photographed for painting
  • Checklist of Consideration of painting procedure
  • Discussion of materials used
  • List of final checklist of analysis in final stages
melbourne portrait artist family portrait demonstration
The Picture to Painting

Picture Photographed for Family Portrait Painting

In the previous blog Melbourne Family Portrait Painting I discussed the choice of photo for this painting. I will not continue to cover that again. Simply stated this photo had a strong emotional appeal and great play of light.


The mercurial expressions on children’s faces just would never stand up to a sitting in the studio. With these paintings, they are inspired from candid photos when the subject is unaware of the photographer.
Such a photo was taken of these little girls at a wedding. I was delighted and fascinated with the gleeful joy and companionship that these girls were expressing. I wondered what they were looking at that was so entertaining. I loved the way the light back lit their faces and made their clothes seem so luminous and soft against the shrubs. I couldn’t wait to get to my studio and start painting.
I had taken the photo shot on my digital camera set at 5 megapixels. This way I can zoom into and enlarge any detail I wish to work on.
I printed off the photo and then considered the most important things before painting it.

What painting design♦  What details would my painting include? How much of the scene would I use to convey what I needed to say?
♦  What did I want it to say? The atmosphere, emotions, the feelings of the subjects. I usually like a bit of mystery. In landscapes I usually have a pathway leading off. In portraits, I like the viewer to wonder about the expression or direction the subject is looking at. As the overall emotion of this painting was of joy and companionship I wanted it to be lighthearted so I chose a large high key area. I wanted to darken the background to form a contrast to the light luminous fabric of the dresses.
♦  What materials would I use? I chose Art Spectrum Colourfix paper in Blue Haze because I wanted the hint of blue to show through in their dresses and in the background sky. I used a mixture of harder pastels – Conte, Faber Castell for the undercoat. A selection of softer pastels – Sennelier, Unison, Schminke, Rembrandt, Rowney, Art Spectrum and others for the later coats.

The Photo once cropped. I was then able to concentrate on my main focus.

℘  Decide on Picture
℘  Why am I choosing this picture?
℘  What do I want this to say – mood, statement?
℘  How am I going about it – materials and Design?
℘  Draw many times linear and tonally. Is my design a little off balance?
℘  Experiment with study in different colour schemes
℘  Surface goes on
℘  Direction and Size of surface
℘  Colours
℘  Tonal value range
℘  Shapes & Negative Shapes
℘  Shape cutouts place on paper to check the composition
℘  Check shapes fold horizontally, vertically
℘  Movement, directions, rhythm
℘  Texture
℘  What I eliminate that is not needed to convey the message
℘  Drawing – check in the mirror and upside down. Check composition.
℘  70%- 20%- 10%-
℘  Where’s the focal point? How is it depicted-what is it to say?

Melbourne Portrait Artist Picture to Painting in 9 Painting Steps

Once I have a clear idea in my mind, I then proceed with Step 1.

Step 1. Preliminary sketches

Before any painting, I love to explore the subject using willow charcoal on a large sheet of drawing paper. I gesture the positive and negative shapes to get a feel of size, direction of the tilt of the head, arm, and body angles. It is very relaxing. I get lots of ideas on how I want it to look. This is the time when I eliminate or alter anything in the scene. I never go by rigid rules on measurements. Every person is an individual and if I just do comparative measurements from photo with a protractor then that works fine.

Step 2 Melbourne Family Portrait Painting demonstrationStep 2.  Detailing the Sketch in Charcoal
I decided I wanted to have the overall image size of about 45 X 51 cms.
I chose the blue haze colourfix paper as this sanded thicker textured paper stands up to the methylated spirits and water spray technique.
I quickly gestured in the scene and then worked further on the angles. I am not aware of measuring my scene as I gesture but it just comes about naturally. It is a wonderful type of drawing technique which I learned. The textbook for this is “The Natural Way to Draw” by Kimon Nicolaides ISBN 0-395-53007-5
This technique takes the drudgery out of figure and portraiture and makes it easy to get the correct expressions.

melbourne family portrait in steps

Step 3.  A Tonal wash in the Grey scale.

Here I wanted to establish the main darks and lights early on in the painting. By doing this you really get an early idea where you sharp and soft edges will be. Using the sprayer of methylated spirits and water, I used a bristle brush and spread the charcoal around very thinly letting some of the natural paper to show through using it to provide the tone.

melbourne family portrait painting in stagesStep 4.  Thinking Edges,adding Colour
Still keeping it loose and thinking ‘edges’ as colour is applied. Working with hard and soft edges helps create depth, interest, movement, and direction. I was also fairly certain that my sharper edges would be the back lighting on the left girls face near her hair.
I used a selection of hard pastels for this covering and used the Methylated spirits & Water technique to spread it around quickly. Still trying to match up correct tone with colour and correcting any drawing mistakes along the way.


Step 5.  Build up of Colour in Pastels

Starting to build up the colours and provide some detail. To have some of the rich darks in this I love to use the Sennelier Sapphire blue as an under layer and in the pupils when necessary. You can see the light colours here already look luminous but no white was used.
I jump around at this stage and add detail where I can. This stage expression on faces is worked on more.

melbourne family portrait painted in stepsStep 6.  More Detail
More Details now in the hair, clothes, body, and faces.
The colours on the clothes are sometimes thrown into the background for continuity.
I am now looking to check correct tones, drawing mistakes.
I really use tones, colours to model the 3-dimensional shape of their faces and body.
The painting will look wrong if the drawing, temperature or tone is incorrect in any area.
I must check my edges now. This is really important because the wrong tone and edges will either make you think the drawing is incorrect or lead your eye to the wrong places. Softened edges on the girl’s faces suggest the joyous light nature of the painting along with the choice of colours. Notice how the skirts of their two dresses flow into each other and one arm leads into another suggesting the closeness they share. Their hands and hair need more work.

Melbourne family portrait painting in stepsStep 7.  Correcting Details
Softer pastels again at this stage. Here I notice the bench they are sitting on is crooked and must be corrected. I work more on the hands checking my lengths and taking special note of warm and cool colours. My warmer colours will advance the cooler ones will recede. I am aware of the need to work more on contrasts at this stage to make it more interesting. The darker the background shrubs the more luminous the dresses appear. The stronger values or tones and sharper edges is where the viewer will be drawn to. I want the viewer to really notice the backlighting and soft wispy hair on the girl on the left. Here I lightly sprayed work with Mat Spray.

Step 8.  Refining, Correcting the Details Deeper tonal contrasts were established. I worked on a balance between warmer and cooler colours. An adjustment was made on the long front arm. This still does not look correct. I found out that some of the tones were wrong and the arm’s length was incorrect. One method I use to check my work is to constantly check it in a mirror, leave my work and look it again after a break from it. However, the quickest most effective method is to photo it and print it out and place it beside the original. Your errors really shine here. Yet another method to check errors is to use an L shaped piece of cardboard and section each quarter of the photo off and you painting off.

Step 9.  Final Stage “Best Friends” is now completed. Notice how I softened the edges of the legs as they lead into the picture. I did not want to attract attention to this. In the last stages, only the softest pastels are used. Now, this scene is taken outside shaken and tapped on it’s back and then given the glassine sheet and credit card compressed treatment about 3 times before framing.

This is the time that I leave my painting alone and re-read my checklists.
Now it is time to re-examine my work. See more work from Melbourne Portrait Artist paintings.

                                                                                   CHECKLIST – PAINTING IN PROGRESS
♦  Mood, is it correctly represented?
  Value Patterns – is more contrast in and around a focal point. Do I need to minimize the value contrast in other areas
  Colours – do they harmonize? Is there a colour mass that needs adjusting because its too bright, dull or wrong colour temperature? Have deep reds been placed in the dark areas for intensity?
  Colour Balance – warm or cool temperature balances? If too much of one colour is it balanced by the complementary colour.
  Edges – check all of them. Is there free flowing movement and direction in this piece which has been made available through use of tone, repeated colours, a variety of edges etc?
♦  The accuracy of Drawing – is it in perspective. Are the silhouettes reflecting the character of objects?
  The accuracy of Edges – Too hard edges detracting from a focal point that should be softened? Sharp edges at focal point?
  Textures – a balanced variety of textures to add interest, particularly near the focal point?
  Focal Area – have I broken up my focal area into smaller, more interesting varied shapes. Is there enough detail to add interest?
♦  Value Contrast – do I need light-lights or dark darks to contrast focal point and lead viewer’s eye into it? Are edges of these highlights and accents appropriate for placement.
♦  Divide picture half, four ways to check shapes horizontally, diagonally, Check in the mirror, upside down.
♦  Check light and shadow effects. Are they correct?
  Check my aims – did I attract viewer’s attention? Does the viewer’s eye go to the important areas of the painting? Does it want to stay there?
  Make sure there is no confusion with conflicting points of interest
♦  Are all things just a little off balance, nothing boring
  Have you modified your values, exaggerated colours, textures?
♦  Is the subject more exciting
  Are the secondary elements and backgrounds dissolved into abstract shapes and random strokes to create mystery

What The Family Portrait Artist Used


  • Easel
  • Waist high narrow pastel table to provide a convenient ledge to place the immediate materials on while I work
  • Board –size to suit painting-10 layers of newspaper covered with brown paper + clips
  • Mahl Stick
  • Eraser – kneadable eraser, bristle brush
  • A spray of a mixture of methylated spirits and water with another bristle brush
  • Dermex or barrier cream
  • Masking tape, scissors, ruler
  • Clean rags, one damp rag to wipe fingers
  • Apron
  • L’s to framework
  •  Sketch paper
  •  Protractor, string ( for comparative measurements when required)
  •  Viewfinder
  •  Mirror
  •  Tonal gauge, tonal tags
  •  Pastels – a selection of hard and soft pastels as mentioned earlier. Carbothello pastel pencils, choices of canson or colourfix paper
  •  Willow charcoal, or sketch and peel
  •  Photo of the subject, magnifying glass
  • White tissue or glassine paper to store work
  • Styrofoam tray to place selected pastels on
  •  Newspaper folded over and taped at edges to collect pastel dust falling from painting
  •  Small container to store pastel dust
  • Small container to collect pastel chips
  • Plate, sieve, a box of rice flour – to clean pastels or just a rag to wipe pastels.
  • Credit card to seal work and glassine paper or use steam iron method
  • Fixative or Mat spray
  • Digital cameras 5 megapixel and 8 megapixel, computer with photo editing material and printer
  • In my studio, the light that I work with is from the South. I also have fluorescent lights that have a warm and soft light tube in each one to simulate natural daylight.
  •  I also have framing equipment to one end.

Well this concludes how I created my pastel family portrait taken from a wedding venue. Please let me know any questions you may have. If there is anything else you would like me to cover in my portrait post please let me know.

I notice that artists are interested in studio equipment and especially how they can best access these materials while they work. In my next post I will be providing a series of articles on how I set out my art materials for charcoals, pastels, coloured pencils and pencils, oil paints and paper storage units that I use in my studio.

View more of my work from Melbourne Portrait Artist paintings.


Portrait Artist Painter - Summary Article
Melbourne Portrait Artist - 9 Steps Drawing to Paint
Article Name
Melbourne Portrait Artist - 9 Steps Drawing to Paint
Melbourne Portrait Artist Family Portrait Demonstration of Portrait Drawing to Pastel Art. Part 2. Published article on prize winning family portrait painting.
Cynthia Hargraves
Portrait Artist: Cynthia Hargraves
Cynthia Hargraves
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