Portrait Challenge

Every Thursday over on Twitter @StudioTeaBreak posts a painting, sculpture or other artwork from the past featuring people / portraits and invites anyone who wants to take part to create their own interpretation.

Some participants try to reproduce a good likeness in their favourite media, others create caricatures or switch the person for some other famous figure or reinterpret in a different style from the original. I’m probably in the first category – I normally try to create a good likeness of the original using either watercolour, pencil/ink or Procreate.

Studying good paintings from the past is a great way to improve your own artistic skills. I love to dive into the details – how do their simple individual brush strokes create sequins / hair highlights / cheekbone definition when you step back. Seriously studying the colour palettes is also fascinating – the colours you find used in skin and hair can be like rainbows sometimes. Also, when I first started drawing digitally the portrait challenge was a great way to learn my new tools without having to simultaneously make decisions about composition and other design elements.

I don’t do the challenge every week but maybe on average I’ve completed 2 month since my first back in November 2018. I’ve noticed over time that I’m particularly inspired when the portrait is of a woman and is in an impressionist or slightly illustrative style. Luckily, @StudioTeaBreak very often selects female subjects and they are not usually famous paintings or very well known artists and that’s perfect – I’ve seen a lot of amazing art and artists through this challenge that I might never have otherwise discovered.

This page collects together all the challenges I’ve completed and so is ever expanding, with new entries added at the top so you can pop back now and again to see the new pictures. The title of each section is also a link to either the original on which mine is based, or a separate blog post with more information and photos.

A girl wearing Breton costume

This is my Procreate version of an Elisabeth Sonrel portrait that you can see via the link above when it sold at Christie’s for £44,000, double the original estimate! If anyone wants to buy a print of my version then I’m very open to offers :) You can read more about Élisabeth Sonrel and her work here.

Pierre Wautier

Portrait of an Officer, possibly Pierre Wautier, painted by Michaelina Waitier around 1650. Follow the link to read more about the artist.

My version is a watercolour sketch in a new sketchbook – the paper reacts quite crazily to watercolour! but it’s produced some interesting effects in his hair.

Portrait of an Officer, possibly Pierre Wautier, painted by Michaelina Waitier around 1650

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene, originally painted as an altarpiece in 1480 by Carlo Crivelli.

Pandam Paliya thovil mask

20th century, Sri Lanka, artist unknown. The original is Wood, jute fibre & paint. Mine is Procreate on the iPad

Pandam Paliya thovil mask by Nicola Schofield

Medea by Frederick Sandy

Originally painted in 1868, this has a wonderful gold leaf background and her expression is just wonderful. See the original and read all about it at the link.

Medea, painted in 1868 by Frederick Sandy

Moroccan man in green

Originally painted in 1932 by Zinaida Serebriakova. This charcoal drawing could have been done last week – the colours are so vibrant and the style seems very modern. My version was on the iPad and I tried to replicate the sketchy charcoal nature of the lines. I love this loose sketch style of working.

Moroccan man in green Originally painted in 1932 by Zinaida Serebriakova

Joan of Arc by Albert Lynch

I love the muted colour palette and delicate lines of this portrait. Getting into the details of the metal armour was the most absorbing part. A really lovely painting. This has been one of my favourites in terms of both the drawing process and finished portrait.

Hat with Bird: Anne Estelle Rice by JD Fergusson

The original of this was painted in 1907 in oils.

I decided to try and paint it using digital watercolour brushes and techniques. Getting digital art to look like realistic watercolour is a tricky business. I’ve tried a few brushes that claim to be watercolour but they’ve looked nothing like it. Then I came across this tutorial by aaaronorg and after an initial doodle try out I could see some potential.

Hat with bird is the first time I’ve tried to give it a go properly and though it’s still got a way to go, I think I’m moving closer. You can see some wonderful colour bleeding effects aaaronorg achieved in various examples on his blog

Lucky New Year Dream by Isoda Koryusai

My version of ‘Courtesan Dreaming a Lucky New Year Dream’, woodblock print, ink on paper by Isoda Koryusai, about 1775. This version done in Procreate, very simply, just with the standard pencil brushes.

Based on Lucky New Year Dream by Isoda Koryusai

Portuguese Soldier

A stylised, graphical interpretation of the detail on a salt and pepper cellar carved around 1600 featuring Portuguese soldiers. Four identical pieces exist, carved from ivory and might have originally been part of a set. One is currently found in the Louvre in Abu Dhabi.

Portuguese soldier

Leon Bakst by Amedeo Modigliani

My version of a modernist portrait of Leon Bakst by Amedeo Modigliani, originally painted in oils in 1917. Leon Bakst was himself an artist and art teacher in Russia around 1900.

Lev Bakst by Nicola Scofield

Dr Albert Barnes by Giorgio De Chirico

painted in 1926. The original is quite sketchy and I went for an extreme version of that here.

Dr Albert Barnes

Self portrait in blue by Marguerite Vallet-Gilliard

This one was fun. The original is a self portrait by the artist and I found myself wondering what they would think about all these random people creating their own versions and then displaying and commenting as a group all on one day. Would they think it was a wonderful idea to get people to be more creative? be flattered by the attention? be insulted by the comedy versions? so weird to think about what might become of all our artistic content in a hundred years when we’re not around to object or have any input. I was going for a definite illustrative style with this one – trying out some new digital brushes – and I’m very happy with the result.

Marguerite Vallet-Gilliard

Ethel Bartlett by Laura Knight

originally painted in oils in 1926.

Ethel Bartlett

Corporal J. M. Robins by Laura Knight

Corporal J. M. Robins, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, painted by Laura Knight in oils on canvas in 1941

Corporal J. M. Robins
Corporal J. M. Robins WIP

Maud Wagner

Maud Wagner was a circus performer and tattoo artist. I love the photo this is based on – she has such a defiant expression. I had a few goes at this – I wasn’t quite sure what I was aiming at to start with. I’m super happy with this two colour version.

Maud Wagner

Ellen Mary in a White Coat by Mary Cassatt

The original of this is an oil painting oil from 1896.

Continuing with my Procreate and iPad endeavours here I tried a more painterly approach – starting by blocking in the big shapes and then working down to the details. Towards the end I was very engrossed and it felt very similar to the home stretch of a few watercolour paintings I’ve done in the past.

Ellen Mary in a White Coat
Ellen Mary in a White Coat

Selika Lazevski

Based on a photograph taken in 1891 at the studio of Paul Nader in Paris. Not much is known about her but what little there is you can read in the Paris Review article linked in the title

Selika Lazevski

Young Lady in a Boat by James Tissot

The original of this was painted in 1870, in oils on canvas. The little dog in the background is just perfect.

This was my first try out drawing digitally with the iPad and apple pencil. Here I’ve used just a single layer and the default pencil tool in Procreate to get a feel for drawing on the screen. Other than that though the process was exactly as I would sketch on paper.

Young Lady in a Boat

Léon Spilliaert

pencil sketch based on a Self Portrait of Leon Spilliaert from around 1907, who was a Belgian symbolist painter and graphic artist.

Leon Spilliaert

Only hope holds my heart

This is a plate from the Wallace Museum with an inscription of ‘Only hope holds my heart’. It shows a profile bust of a woman and was made by an unknown artist in Deruta, Italy, some time between 1515-1540. It was maybe made to mark a betrothal. I have a separate post on the drawing of this so if you follow the link in the title you can read more about it, see the original and lots of in progress photos

Only Hope Holds My Heart

Mrs Mounter by Harold Gilman

The original of this was painted in oils. My version is fairly thick watercolour. I painted this in many layers and took plenty of photos as I waited for each to dry so I have a whole separate post about this painting. follow the link in the title to read and see more.

Mrs mounter watercolour by Nicola Schofield
mrs mounter watercolour

Lucius Verus by Carlo Albascini

This was my very first portrait challenge, back in November 2018. The original is a bust sculpted in the 18th century. My version is a monotone watercolour.

painting of an 18th century bust of Lucius Verus by Carlo Albascini

4 thoughts on “Portrait Challenge

  1. I love all of these! (And I love Sarah McIntyre, she’s up there with illustrators I’d love to meet) My favourites out of these are definitely the two-tone Maud Wagner and the characterful Mrs Mounter 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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