[Note: last August, groom-to-be Brian asked me to paint a portrait of his fiancee Katherine and himself. He planned to give the painting to Katherine as a surprise wedding present, and he managed to keep the entire project under wraps for a year.
The portrait was presented to Katherine at their wedding reception, but while she was getting ready for the ceremony, Brian sent her a book that I put together introducing myself to Katherine and describing the project step-by-step, including reference photos and my pictures of my studio set-up. As she flipped through the pages, she was able to watch the painting evolve slowly, and by the time she reached the end, she had an idea of what her surprise was going to be.
I wish I could have seen her reaction in person, but staying in Los Angeles for another week after the portrait was framed was not in the cards for us. A bubbly Katherine was sweet enough to give me a call after the wedding, and she told me that she loved the portrait and that it was "the jewel of the wedding." So that was incredibly gratifying and (honestly) a major relief for me.
What follows is the text of the book I wrote for Brian and Katherine along with the book's photos. Don't worry, it's not a BOOK book. It's about the length of a children's story. I made it online with Mixbook, which is one of those fun sites where you can self-publish hard- and softcover versions of scrapbooks or other photo collections. They're astonishingly fast--I submitted my book design on a Thursday, and it was in my hands on a Monday. If you're interested, you can buy a copy here. I recommend buying the large sizes; the text will be easier to read. I'm making no money off the books--I just think they're gorgeous. :)
On with the book!]
Kelly, I would like to commission a portrait painting of my fianceé and me. We are getting married next September at a theater and are recreating our first date for the wedding. I took her to the Sky Room for dinner and then surprised her with theater tickets. So I was hoping you could incorporate all of our first date's elements and our Art Deco wedding theme into a painting. Also, I would need a fruit fly and a dragonfly included in the picture. She is a professor of genetics studying fruit flies, and I collect dragonflies. This painting will be given to her while she is getting ready on our wedding day. Anyone can give the bride jewelry, but I wanted to do something special. --Brian
Following this request were...
- 279 emails
- 24,893 words
- 26 Photoshop layers
- 11 figures
- 10 stairs
- 15 Art Deco sculptures
- 107 triangles
- 298 diamonds
- 55 zigzag patterns
- 151 ceiling tiles
- 8.25 gallons of water
- 116 paper towels
- 6 paint brushes
- 1,260 square inches of painting
- 348 hours of work, and
- 1 over-sized watercolor wedding portrait of Brian and Katherine by Kelly Eddington.
My name is Kelly Eddington, and I am a watercolor artist from eastern Illinois. I specialize in highly detailed portraits. Brian discovered my work online last summer, and I was very happy to take on this challenging wedding portrait commission. I set up a makeshift studio in my bedroom, as my regular studio's table was too small for this painting.
The Pantages Theater lobby was to be the painting's setting, and Brian requested that I include nine grandparents as background figures in 1920s garb. Unfortunately, none of the reference photos he provided had arms and legs, and I had to invent those later. I selected an engagement photo of the couple, and through the magic of Photoshop (and my husband Jeff's wizardry), everyone was standing in the lobby, waiting to be painted.
Above is a detail of the complicated preliminary drawing, which took six hours to finish. Excuse the darkness--I draw extremely lightly, and my lines are nearly impossible to photograph.
Knowing that while I had months of work ahead of me, nothing would matter if I couldn't capture a likeness of the bride, I began with Katherine's beautiful face. I wanted to capture the serenity and contentment I saw in her engagement photos.
Brian was next. I liked his heroic pose, and he and Katherine reminded me of a classic movie couple. Their blue eyes would be a contrasting focal point in a painting dominated by gold.
Satisfied with the way the bride and groom were turning out, I began the difficult work of painting the grandparents' faces. Even though the painting was unusually large (35"x36"), the cavernous lobby dictated that figures in the middle distance would have to be very small to make sense in that space.
This meant that I had to be extremely accurate in my painting. When a face is only a couple of centimeters wide, tiny errors can make a huge difference. I worked slowly and used a size 000 brush.
After a couple of days with the grandparents' faces, I was ready to tackle the unbelievably daunting background, beginning with the gold figure on the left side, the first of fifteen Art Deco sculptures that decorate the Pantages' lobby.
As I got to know every nook and cranny of the lobby, I marveled at the artistry it contained. What a treasure!
The sculptures were glorious and a thrill to paint. Once again I used my tiniest brushes.
The reference photo of the lobby was taken with a lens that caused all of the vertical elements to curve into the center slightly, so each one had to be drawn without the aid of a ruler or T-square.
The vaulted ceiling was a riot of gold and brown arches, ceiling tiles, and funnel-like structures that took a month to complete.
Painting them was repetitive and sometimes boring, but I knew my patience would pay off with a background more complex than any I have ever painted.
As the painting grew, I covered already-completed portions with pieces of plastic and watercolor paper to protect them from spills and our three cats.
I paint on a flat surface and was physically unable to reach the top of the painting from a seated position, so I had to turn it upside down and sideways to paint the ceiling comfortably.
The various squares, rectangles, diamonds, and zigzags were tedious to say the least, and I kept myself amused by listening to dozens (hundreds?) of podcasts.
A massive chandelier dominates the center of the painting and is attached to a fixture shaped like an eight-pointed star.
As I painted it over the course of three days, I thought, Watercolor isn't supposed to do this.
Similarly stupefying: the niches, red columns, and dozens of hexagonal shapes on the back wall.
I complained about the background section to my Internet pen pal, film critic Roger Ebert, who was familiar with the Pantages Theater, and he said, "Architects from that era were inflamed."
This staircase was relatively easy to paint--I used an assembly-line approach and kept a steady hand.
I was nearly finished with the background and didn't want to make any fatal mistakes!
I thought the gold movie-making sculptures at the top of the stairs were amusing, and I finished the background with the dark diamond shapes on either side (along with a charming garbage can).
Finally I was ready to give the grandparents, who had existed as floating heads for weeks, some bodies.
Once again I have my husband to thank: Jeff did an exhaustive image search for period clothing and used Photoshop to create costumes for everyone. Nearly all of the clothes were taken from Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men screen shots. Several times a set of feet or hands were taken from other photos. It was not easy, but eventually he created full length figures out of head-and-shoulders shots. Painting the clothing took about a week, during which time I became extremely fond of these nine grandparents.
The lace and pinstripe details were so tiny I couldn't quite believe it.
Some of the grandparents hold copies of the Playbill Brian designed for the wedding. This really pushed the limits of how small I could paint.
The background and grandparents finished, it was time for me to paint Katherine's wedding gown! I had asked Brian for feedback regarding the style of the actual gown. Did he have any ideas or any way for me to find out about what it looked like? He did not, and he didn't want to tempt fate and/or Katherine's wrath by digging around for information. So I searched for something suitably ornate. I came up with an Art Deco-like gown by Jenny Packham, a designer whose creations I coveted when I was looking for my own wedding dress.
The gown contained many sparkling elements that I wanted to stay pure white. In watercolor, all white areas are simply the paper showing through. There is no white paint. I coated all white areas with masking fluid (it's a rubbery yellow liquid) to protect them.
Then I painted the dress with warm, creamy colors created by the reflected light of the lobby.
Once it was dry, I brushed off the masking fluid with an eraser and revealed the white areas.
Finally I added decorative details with darker paint. I would eventually paint an Art Deco fruit fly pin and further refine and add details to the jeweled bodice.
In contrast, Brian's suit was much easier and took a couple of hours to paint. I added a period-appropriate dragonfly pin to his lapel. It paired nicely with Katherine's fruit fly pin.
I wanted the hands to be in a slightly different position from the way they were in the engagement photo. So the hands you see here are in fact Jeff's and mine. I wore a large turquoise ring for the reference photo--it served as a place-holder for Katherine's stunning engagement ring.
I painted Katherine's hair using four or five layers of dark paint and created a simple headpiece based on the blurry one from the Jenny Packham photo.
I eventually turned the dangling elements near Katherine's ear into an abstract lowercase B and K. Finally, channeling Vermeer, I painted Katherine's lovely pearl earrings. And then...I was finished!
[Click the pictures to see lots of details.--K]
Katherine and Brian, I want to thank you for allowing me to be part of your special day. Katherine, you are about to marry a true romantic, and I hope you love this painting. Brian, if Katherine is half as wonderful as you described her to me, you are a lucky man indeed. I wish you many happy years together. --Kelly
And that was my book!
Thanks for reading and wading through these pictures. It looks a lot better in book form. If you'd like to look at and order prints of this painting, please click here. I'm also offering prints of the grandparents and a close-up of Brian and Katherine.
Please feel free to contact me if you'd like me to paint something special for you.
Give my art page a *like* on Facebook!
Finally, these are the brushes I used for the painting, including my workhorse, the one on the far right. I've used it for years, and after this project...well, it died. R.I.P., little Cotman round brush!