Inspired by a trend from half a century ago, artists are being commissioned to paint portraits for friends and families. Only this time, instead of posing for hours, you can just send a photograph
Hyderabad-based software developer Ravi Malik celebrates memorable occasions by gifting his friends hand-painted portraits. “Portraits make one feel special, they evoke a sense of royalty,” he says, explaining why.
In Sunil Kumar’s house in Pune, visitors are greeted by a 2×2 feet family portrait. An IT professional, Sunil calls it a ‘wall that exudes positivity during pandemic’. “Looking at positive things during uncertain times fills us with hope,” he adds.
Touch of royalty
Portraits conjure up images of royals holding signature poses for many hours, to be painted by famous artists. Today, all you need is a photograph.
While family portraits executed in oil on canvas may have been popular many decades ago, they were replaced by photographs and selfies in the recent past. But now, after more than a year of battling a pandemic, people seem eager to celebrate their friends and family in a endearingly old-fashioned way: as a result, studios, galleries and artists are seeing a rise in commissioned portrait work.
Over the last few months, Chennai-based Focus Art Gallery, which offers a customised portrait service, has been seeing a rise in enquiries, from single-digit a month to around 15 with requests for portraits of family, parents or elders who passed away. “Customers never commission their own pictures,” says founder Mayur Shah.
Customers send Mayur photographs along with preferences in background colour to suit their home/office decor. “Working via photos works best for us, as our four portrait artists live in and outside Chennai,” he says.
Solo portraits or of couples, parents and pets in realistic and super-realistic mode range from 18×24 inches to 48×72 inches and cost anywhere from ₹ 20,000 to ₹ 2.5 lakh. Portraits with a touch of super-realism look as good as the photograph. “Even the reflection in eyes and hair strands look life like, nd like a photograph,” explains Mayur.
Hyderabad’s renowned portrait artist Abdul Lateef Farooqui believes people prefer a portrait over just a framed photograph because “Portrait art is not the mere likeness of the person but it should be the likeness of the soul.”He turned portrait artist when he was 17 and has more than 3000 portraits — from life and photographs— to his credit. Now the the 68-year-old is guest faculty at Jawaharlal Nehru Architecture and Fine Arts University in Hyderabad, where he teaches the nuances of portrait art. Drawing from a photograph begins from a rough sketch, adding natural elements of light and shadow to enhance the image and filling colours. “Photographs look ‘flat’ without depth and for a portrait one has to estimate the height of a person,” he adds.
Aishwarya Ramachandran has been doing human and pet portraits for five years. A biomedical engineer, she has has been training under eminent artist A V Ilango.
As a pet lover, Aishwarya enjoys meticulously painting animals; her subjects have included a rooster Karuppaiah. A Sri Lankan-based family hadcommissioned its portrait in 2020 when Kuruppiah died “It was the most graceful looking pet and close to the family” she recalls.
Capturing the likeness
She says the greatest challenge is working with older photographs, which are often not clear. Her toughest assignment was painting a woman’s portrait from a black and white passport photograph from the ’80s. “It was worn out; without any other reference, it was quite a challenge to recreate it on canvas; the family was also particular about the jewellery and saree she wore,” she recollects. Aishwarya referred to another group photograph of the woman to understand her skin tone and create a realistic portrait.
Bengaluru-based artist Varun N Rao, who creates portraits predominantly from photographs, seeks multiple pictures of the person from various angles for reference. He explains, “Some photographs of people who wear glasses have a glare that hides the eye. Some capture messy hair which is a challenge to paint. Referring to different photos of the same person helps to add depth and texture.”
Like Aishwarya, he does a ‘little guesswork’ while referring to black and white photographs. “When photographs are not clear, one has to guess the contour lines and paint,” he adds. Varun’s friend once commissioned a portrait of her father-in-law. His reference was a 15-year-old termite-eaten black and white framed photograph that had worn out due to humid Mumbai weather. “She approached me as none of the studios were willing to work on the photograph. She explained about his skin colour, contours and moles and also gave her husband’s photograph to refer and with a bit of guesswork I could finish it,” he recalls.
Creating a 40×25 inches acrylic canvas of a father and a daughter is his cherished memory. He recalls, “The girl’s father was no more and she asked me to create a portrait as if her dad was holding her hands. The girl was in tears when she saw the work.”
The three-year-old Hyderabad-based venture, handpaintedstories.com, established by Karan Bhangay is a platform for artists to showcase their talent. “The craftsmanship was the same but artists in foreign countries earned more than the artists here. I knew many gifted artists and hoped to bridge the disparity by bringing them all on one platform,” says Karan.
Meanwhile, Pune-based PortraitFlip commissions handmade paintings based on photographs from across the globe. Conceptualised in Vellore Institute of Technology’s dormitory in 2018, it was inspired by a friend’s futile attempt to gift a handmade painting to his girlfriend in college, shares PortraitFlip CEO Sunny Kumar.
Having begun with seven artists, the start-up now has 150 artists based in Delhi, Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Assam, Odisha, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, working with oil, colour pencil, watercolour, acrylic, pencil, and charcoal. The paintings are delivered in 12 days.
It has recently started a painting movie service wherein clients sitting at home can watch a time-lapse video of the painting process and also share it with others. Sunny says, “One feels as if one is seated in a gallery and watching the artist work.”
So, next time you want to treasure a memory, try converting its photograph into a portrait. The joy lives on the wall forever, with an artistic touch.