This is a commissioned work of three sisters, Rena, Mary and Susie. It's oil on 18x24 stretched canvas.
The original photo was taken earlier this year at a family wedding in London. As the three sisters had been living in different parts of the world (Australia and Asia), it was truely a joyous occasion when all three of them were photographed together, relaxed and happy. After looking at some of my previous paintings, Rena asked me to try to capture the essence of that moment.
It took me a while looking at the photograph trying visualize in my head what the end painting might look like. (I have the habit of needing to visualize the end product in my head before I can pick up the brushes.) There were a number of technical difficulties associated with working from a candid photograph.
First of all, because of the flash light, all of the skins in the photo were a bit over exposed and too white and flat. So when I was painting, I had to deepen the shadows, and also make the skin color warmer than those in the photo while keeping the general brightness.
Also, I had to decide how much of the bodies to include. The original photo included almost the full bodies. I had to work backward to determine the amount of body to include on canvas. I wanted to place the heads above the middle line of the canvas and the faces to be big enough to be the main focus of the painting. So as I was sketching it out, the upper torsos were all I could include. Futhermore, I had to squeeze the sisters closer together due to the limited canvas width.
The original background was the banquet hall, with the wedding guests standing around, purplish lighting and round paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling. At first I thought I would just make it simple and keep the background black. However, I thought it would be too serious of a portrait background, especially with the big smiles and relatively relaxed postures. So I decided to keep the party feel, using a toned down purple and faint suggestions of round laterns with fuzzy edges so that the background would not overwhelm the portraits.
To begin painting, I first prepared the canvas with an acrylic black, including the four edges of the canvas. Once dried, I sketched in the rough outline of each person, and I painted the faces first using black and white underpainting. This is the Flemish technique I had also used before (see the Magdalena painting). I thought doing a black and white underpainting for the faces would give me a chance to fix any facial feature inaccuracies in my sketch, and also would enhance the brightness of the faces for the final product.
Getting the facial features right for one person was already hard enough, I had to make sure all three of them were accurate in terms of features and relative porportions of all three sisters. Moreover, I had to make sure also there were enough similarities among the three to convince people these were sisters. This definitely was not easy.
Once the black and white underpainting was done, I put in colors. The skin colors included Rowney flesh tint, viridian, naples yellow, violet grey, permanent rose, madder, and white. Hair included cadmium yellow, yellow orchre, ultramaine blue and violet, burnt sienna, and white. Dresses included colors such as alizarin, verimillion, ultramarine violet, viridian, compose blue, permanent green light, and magenta.
After working on it for about a month and a half, I was at a good stopping point to give the painting to Rena, especially given both of our travel schedules. I was very glad that she was very pleased with the painting. Also, in lieu of paying me anything, Rena is making a generous donation to the UNICEF. This painting is by far one of the most difficult paintings I've done to date, and I'm very glad to have been given the opportunity to do so.