Portrait in Charcoal

I hope you are all enjoying your 2018 so far!

I have been hard at work in my studio working on my portrait skills and updating materials for those interested in commissioning me for their own projects. I now have a brochure that is available to you for the asking that describes my fees and procedures.

In my last post I showed you the pet portraits I have been doing over the last year and a bit and now I would like to share a finished charcoal portrait on paper. I have not done these as commissioned work before now so I am very happy to add this to my offerings.

Ali complete

This work is 20×16″ on paper and you can see the work in progress on my Instagram gallery where I post frequently here.  I enjoy very much a  physical kind of drawing full of varying textures and methods and this work shows that tendency perfectly. I began by rubbing charcoal dust into the paper to get an overall grey tone. The process is physical and intuitive, very messy and very satisfying. I add layers of different weights of charcoal, buffing and rubbing with fabric, brushes and fingers,  drawing with different types of erasers which I cut into shapes for thin, dull or sharp marks. I add and remove the pigment until the form and description of the subject is perfect to my eye.  It creates a lovely texture and life to the portrait.   At the end of the process I fix the drawing with a spray so that it all stays in tact and won’t shed dust any more.

Ali detail 8

One of the most exciting things about drawing in this way for me as an artist doing representational work is that I can get a variance of descriptive marks. Hair next to fabric next to flesh are all drawn differently but in the same media-charcoal and white chalk. For instance when my attention was on the flesh I was rubbing in a faint layer of charcoal then shaving off a layer of it with a thinly sliced eraser wrapped around my finger. For the shoulder I added a layer of white chalk rubbed into the charcoal ground underneath.

Ali detail 7I save the very sharpened charcoal pencil for adding pigment for detail in the facial features but use an equally sharpened hard plastic eraser removing pigment detail in the hair. I’m showing close up details of the work so you can see what I am talking about.

Ali detail 4

I’ll be back soon with updates from my current project but until then if you are interested in commission a portrait from me of this or any kind please contact me here or through Jarvis Hall Gallery here.  I am very grateful for any projects as it is a major way to support my studio practice.

Ali detail 1

Good bye 2017

I’m finding it a little hard to believe it has been so long since I have written! The last two years have been very busy ones although not the kind of busyness that gets much painting done. I have rearranged my schedule and will be devoting regular time to writing and posting here in 2018.

Commissioned portraits are a major way I support my studio practice and I have been doing various commissions.  Beginning in 2016 I added pet portraits to my skill set. These examples below show the composition I am using always a 20×20″ canvas with a trompe l’oeil mat cut in a circular opening as the setting for the subject.  I enjoy doing these very much and welcome the opportunity to do more.  For these pet portraits I have been using photos provided by my clients. Like photographing babies and toddlers the family often has the best photos that capture the pets at their most relaxed, secure and loving moments.  You can contact me about my fees and procedures here.


Stewie web

Kobber complete

Thanks for reading and check back in January for more or watch for links on my Facebook page and on my Instagram here.

More soon!


My latest work

The project I am currently working on is a pair of portraits of twins. They are part of a larger portrait project of a sibling group and the previous ones have appeared earlier on this blog. All the works share the same dimensions and scale and they all include meaningful items and settings from the family’s home.

Today I have the first twin to show and the next and final portrait in the group will be complete and posted here in May.

The very beginning stages of work on these two I did simultaneously including the initial drawings on paper.twin portraits

I use photographs to paint my portraits from but I never paint from a single photo.  I design the images from many pictures first composing on the computer and then om paper in the form of a drawing on paper. This stage is always very important and there is a good amount of invention and creativity as I get the structure of the design just right.  In these pieces this stage was especially important as we had decided upon doing a mirror image of the girls. They were photographed on either side of a symmetrical buffet cupboard but I did much work to make”mirror” quality of the setting just right which hadn’t appeared so in the photos. The work included tacking string on the wall across the room from my easel to follow the perspective lines.

I stayed working on the two as I began the finished pieces. Here you can see I had both on the easel as I transferred the images by grid onto the boards and began the underpainting.inprogress4

Once inprogress3

Once a fair amount of paint was started and I felt confident they would match enough. I decided to give all of my attention to one until it was done.

So here then are images of the first one in progress.  It follows my usual working process except that this time I used clear gesso.  I have been enjoying working on coloured grounds recently and so began this way.

The initial study on paper…


Then details of the drawing transferred to the board.  I do this all by hand with French curves and rulers with graphite on one coat and then another coast of gesso on top.

first stage4first stage3first stage2

My painting process is one of many layers painted on top of each other with areas of all application of paint from glazed colour through to very opaque scumbled texture. The very first underpainting has some form to it but is quite flat compared to later stages will add form and light.


Here the work develops over a few “layers” of paint…


Eventually over many weeks of work the image arrives at a point where everything is finished. As any painter knows there are hundreds of details to refine and the last stages can go on for some time.  I know a piece is finished when not another mark I could do will truly make a difference, the likeness is perfect, the surface is rich and satisfying with colour and texture and when, finally, when there is a breath of life enters and inhabits the work.

I did go to art school but was not trained to paint portraits or to paint realistically and have learned by looking at other painters, reading books, by trial and error and instinct so there may be faster ways of getting to this end but I haven’t found them.

And now the finished work…

Meyer detail 1Meyer detail 6mdetail2Meyer detail 12finished portrait

Thank you so much for taking the time to read and I will be back next moth with the next one.





Portrait complete

After three months of showing you the progress on this portrait it is finished.
The technique that I have been using on the last stages of painting is one that I have been evolving for a while. Once the under painting is dry I brush onto a passage a layer of medium, a mixture of Gamblin’s cold wax and neomegilp, wipe it down a bit and then into this I work with paint that has no medium added whatsoever. You can see here the medium brushed onto the drying paint and only on the passages where I am painting that moment. The medium needs to be sticky wet to work into.

The most satisfying part of this technique is that the new colour layer seems to melt into the paint below yet keeps a thick and buttery consistency. In the very final layers I work with glazes mostly to shadow certain passages. My technique has changed very much over the years and I’m sure it will continue to evolve as I learn from each painting what is most satisfying and how to get the effects I want.

So before I show the finished image I have a series of images showing how the painting developed.  I think I’ve told you before that I am fascinated by the technical aspects of painting and how illusion is created so this explains my interest in sharing  this sort of thing. The experience of doing the work demands a lot of patience, preparation and foresight. It is all a learning process. My vision for my painting is to be able to cut back on all the stages I go through, take all that I’ve learned from them and have my process be much more direct and efficient… we’ll see.


Showing these groups of images is a little misleading because it takes me a very long time to get from one to another. It isn’t just a single layer between each stage but a process of painting, adjusting, refining and shifting colour. You should be able to see here shifts in values, lights in the shadows, softened edges and refined detail as I was getting the atmosphere right where I wanted it. Looking at representational paintings in photographs and on screens is also misleading as it suggests that paintings and photographs are more similar than they actually are. In my experience paintings have a completely different life to them than photos do because they are, obviously a completely different medium. But for the purposes of sharing work on a blog and on a website these will do.

Also with these full figure portraits in an environment, there is a complicated array of elements that all need to be balanced correctly to have a harmonious result.  I’m sure I make it much more complicated than it needs to be  like I said above, for me it is all a learning process.



progress 3a


So here is the finished work and thank you so much for following the progress! With this piece done I have no more commissions in the queue.  I am very interested in taking on more with special interest in those that are drawings or smaller than full figure. This work takes less time and will let me dedicate more time towards getting some studio work ready for a small exhibition.  If you would like to know more about having portraits done you can read more here  or contact me with any questions or for more details.




Thanks so much again and I’ll be back soon with an update of what is on the easel.

Thanks again!



Latest work

DSC_0156For months now I have been working on this portrait of my oldest son.  Dexter was still 17 in this image and now he is 20.  He is on his (new then) motorcycle and is wearing a leather jacket that belongs to my dad. The work is oil on canvas and 24×30″ making the face pretty much life scale.  I am very happy to have it done and soon it will go to Jarv’s to frame and then on to a wall at my parents house that is full of family portraits-


When I composed the portrait I imagined it a nocturnal one so that the subject glowed on a very deep black ground. We set up outside of my house by the rose bushes to photograph him on his bike. With a spot light on him I was able to get the affect I wanted. It is a strangely theatrical with mixture of both shallow and deep space.


All of the contrasting surfaces were fascinating to describe in paint.


And finally, here is the wall it will hang on with the others.


Thanks for having a look!

New Work on Display in Calgary


I am one of the ten artists asked to do a portrait of a Canadian Athlete for MOCA Calgary. This project is a fundraiser for the Museum of Contemporary Art Calgary and I hope that it is successful and contributes to a healthy future for this important institution in our city. The exhibition is called Olympian Heights and the athlete assigned to me was Alexandre Bilodeau.
The work is oil on canvas and it is 36×48″. The paintings will be on display at MOCA until July 1st 2013: http://shopmocacalgary.org/. My dad-John Hall- also has a portrait of Hayley Wickenheiser there! He is a genius creative and painter: http://mimesisfinearts.com/HTML/paintings-n.htm


Alexandre Bilodeau portrait detail

Portrait of Alexandre Bilodeau-
In my approach to portraiture I like to include subject matter beyond the subject’s body or face. I find simple storytelling elements in the image very satisfying for myself as a painter but also to the owner and others who will eventually view it or live with it. Seems to add richness and fulfills the part of our minds that builds stories.
So when I received the photos of Alexandre Bilodeau I was happy to see not only studio portraits of him but also a couple of him skiing. Right away I set about combining the two. I choose this image of him laughing that spoke of joy, satisfaction and dare devilling paired with a freestyle move for maximum energy and celebration of his accomplishment. Another very important element for me was environment for the subject and with paint I designed layers of snow, sky, mountains and winter air acknowledging that nature and that winter season is the theatre in which the winter games are played.

Happy 2012

I hope all of you are having a wonderful start to a Happy 2012.

Here are some images of the last portrait completed in my studio. The size is 33×37″ and it is oil on canvas. Here also are shots in progress and some of the preliminary drawing which is graphite on paper.

 I’ve begun the next ones and so there will more to share within the month.

Thanks for looking!