Portrait painting by Carol Arnold
Portrait painting by Carol Arnold

Art is a language and you, the artist, have the power of portrait painting to communicate beautiful messages through your interpretation of your subjects.

What Do You Have To Say


My paintings are about my experiences, a self-portrait. Before I begin a painting I need to know what it is that I want to say about my subject. What attracted me to it? What is it that made me want to paint this?

It could be high contrasting values, soft edges, intricate drawing, vibrant color, etc. Whatever it is, I need to figure it out and keep it in mind throughout the painting process. I want to I send a clear message to my viewers about what I want to say about what I am about to paint.

Portrait painting by Carol Arnold
Portrait painting by Carol Arnold

Inspired by Fellow Artists

I was invited to friend and artist Kathy Anderson’s house to view a group of her new paintings that were being shipped to Texas for a show she knew some of her friends couldn’t attend. I packed the kids in the van and headed for Connecticut.

The studio was filled with artists and friends admiring Kathy’s beautiful work. Florals and landscape paintings fill the walls. I turned the corner and gasped (I honestly did). There was a tiny woman sitting in a chair by the window; she was completely content watching all the people talking and laughing with each other as she was enjoying her tea. She wore a heavy dark blue dress with a matching hat and scarf. There was a big blue belt with a large shiny buckle around her waist and a cross that hung from her neck. Her hands had rings and bracelets that were sure to have great stories. Out of these heavy dark clothes and shiny silver jewelry were the most delicate pink cheeks, squinty eyes and a big bright smile that lit up the room. I had to paint her!

I talked with her daughter, artist and friend Johanne Mangi, and arranged a time when I could paint her. Back to Connecticut I went! Mrs. Tardi needed a little coaxing but finally agreed to my painting her. I set the pose, made sure she was comfortable and started to paint. She was smiling from ear to ear! She kept saying, “I feel like a movie star.”

She was so adorable. I put in my initial wash and points to show where the figure would sit on the canvas, waiting for her to fall into a more natural pose. It didn’t happen. I was afraid that if I started to paint her smiling from ear to ear it would only last a few minutes. She was talking while I painted, about her late husband and her life. Her smile faded after a while and I was able to paint her features.

Portrait painting, in progress
Initial sitting for Beautiful Soul

I knew my painting time was limited; I would only have a couple of hours with her, so I had to make sure I got the important things from life, as I knew I would be finishing from a photo. I took a million photos, most of them with a full smile. When I got home and eventually found the time to finish the portrait, I looked at what I had painted from life. Something wasn’t right. It didn’t look like what I had remembered of her or what I intended to say about her. I took out my photo reference and there it was.

When I met Mrs. Tardi in Kathy’s studio, she was beaming with delight, but I could see that I hadn’t captured that in this painting. I painted her expression when she was talking about how much she missed her husband, thinking I would get a more natural pose. I was wrong! I missed the whole point of why I wanted to paint her (what I wanted to say).

I became excited again, now knowing exactly what I was going to do. I was going to paint that tiny old woman shining her beautiful soul throughout the entire room. Luckily, I painted a small version of her with correct values, colors, and edges and was able to use that as reference for the much larger finished portrait. The photo reference was used for the drawing.

The result was exactly what I saw when I turned the corner at my friend’s studio. The painting was sold to her son and daughter, Joe Tardi and Johanne Mangi.

Mrs. Tardi, seeing her portrait painting
Mrs. Tardi, seeing her portrait painting
Portrait painting by Carol Arnold
Portrait of Mrs. Tardi by Carol Arnold

Painting Portraits of My Children

I have four children and I try to involve them in my art world as much as I can. I often take them on painting journeys and gallery openings. They are great models and we have so much fun together. With the help of artist friend and author Lori Woodward, I wrote an e-book about my process for painting a portrait of my youngest daughter, Grace, in a work titled “Grace Resting.”

I have to first find out what it is that I love about the subject. The answer was the strong design and simple value shapes. In this e-book, I explain how I ask questions to find my way to the next brushstroke; how I find the right value or edge by comparing to already correct values and edges that have been accurately placed on the canvas.

Portrait painting by Carol Arnold
“Grace Resting” by Carol Arnold

This is also a much faster way to paint because you’re slowing down and making sure everything you put down is accurate, which eliminates the need to go back and make time-consuming corrections later. It’s a lot more fun, too!

Learn more about Carol Arnold at: www.carolarnoldfineart.com

Related > Browse RealismToday.com for more articles on portrait and figure painting

> Visit EricRhoads.com (Publisher of Realism Today) to learn about opportunities for artists and art collectors, including:

  • Art retreats
  • International art trips
  • Art conventions
  • Art workshops (in person and online)
  • And more!