Evocative Realism Paintings of Youth and Love

Australian artist Vicki Sullivan shares her inspiration for three contemporary realism portrait paintings. The following is part of a series featuring a leader in the art community who has joined us on the faculty of Realism Live.

Vicki Sullivan is an award-winning portrait artist specializing in portraiture and figurative work. Based near Melbourne Victoria, Vicki’s paintings have won awards in Australia, the USA the UK, and China, and are held in private and public collections worldwide.

3 Contemporary Realism Portraits

“Young Love”

Contemporary realism portrait painting
Vicki Sullivan, “Young Love,” 2021, oil on linen, 55 x 45 cm

“Young Love” was an inspiring pose for me to paint. I loved the way the girl was twirling her hair; in a cool way, it gave the pose a little tension. I painted her dress and the boy’s shirt first with an underpainting which I then painted over in color. I rubbed it back a little to expose some of the underpainting.

The background color took me a while to resolve and I changed it several times before I decided on using some of my gorgeous Cobalt Teal, which I was finally happy with.


Contemporary realism portrait painting
Vicki Sullivan, “Kaleidoscope,” oil and gold leaf on linen, 56 x 45.5 cm

“Kaleidoscope” is another double-figure painting. My two models are close friends and I think it shows in the delicate, gentle pose. My models were wearing silk dresses, which I had hand-painted, but I decided to change the dress and use gold and silver leaf on this piece.

I am a huge fan of Gustave Klimpt’s work and, in a way, this piece is an homage to him. I had such fun painting the design in with the gold and silver and then when I was designing the background I had trouble deciding which way to head. This has taught me that I should probably do more studies before I launch into a large painting because I changed the background several times before I settled on a kaleidoscopic background.

The French Girl

Vicki Sullivan, “The French Girl,” 2022, oil on linen, 45 x 33 cm
Vicki Sullivan, “The French Girl,” 2022, oil on linen, 45 x 33 cm

In “The French Girl,” my model posed with a red geranium from my garden and I used the bright red to pull the eye around the piece in a triangle, from the eyes to the flower behind her ear then across to the red flower she holds and then up the hair and back to the eyes.

The background was fun to paint in an expressive way with some of my favorite colors. I liked the way the red sets off the aqua in the background.

More Contemporary Realism Resources

New video workshop featuring Vicki Sullivan: “Painting Realistic Portraits”

Related Article: Contemporary Realism Step-by-Step by Vicki Sullivan > Homage to the Birth of Venus: A Step-by-Step Painting Demonstration

Vicki Sulllivan’s paintings are available through Artsy at https://www.artsy.net/artist/vicki-sullivan.

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