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Painting Children

November 11, 2016

John Singer Sargent (1956-1925) was one of the last great portrait painters before the camera replaced paint and canvas as the best way to capture an impression of someone. Sargent was once asked to give a definition of an oil portrait, which he defined as a picture of a person with something not quite right about the mouth. Mouths are hard, and only a few masterpieces, like Sargent’s portrait of Henry James, attempt to show a person in the act of speaking.


Most people like paintings of children, but children aren’t easy to paint. They don’t tolerate sitting still for any period of time, much less multiple sittings, and when they’re coerced into sitting still they often get fidgety and look bored. Sargent resorted to wearing a red rubber clown nose when painting children to hold their attention.


Our son CJ modeled for me many times, usually under duress, but I managed a few decent paintings. Some I’ve already shared with you, but while hunting for a frame for my upcoming giveaway I discovered this portrait of CJ, painted when he was around eight years old.





In this painting, he looks ready to leap up and bolt away. He’s eying me as if to say, “C’mon, Dad, can I go outside and play now? Sitting here while you stare at me is creepy.”


It probably is creepy sitting motionless while someone stares at you, trying to capture elements of personality that aren’t readily visible in photographs. Although I’ve painted scores of portraits, I’ve never experienced the process from the sitter’s point of view; I can only wonder what someone thinks while sitting for a portrait.





The little white rocker belonged to Mrs. Chatterbox when she was a child and it pleased her to see our son painted on the chair she remembered so well. Someday I’ll be gone and poor CJ, or his wife, will be saddled with far too many paintings.


Sorry, son! 




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He does look bored. I like that you painted him looking like a little boy, and not a scrubbed out ready for Sunday School child. I have a post coming up that somewhat addresses that topic.
By: cranky on November 11, 2016
You, of course, have a gift for painting children and capturing their individuality. Adults are much easier to paint because their features become more distinctive as they get older. I had a friend in the late '60s who had a true gift for painting adults. However, they always took their clothes off and she applied the paint directly to their skin. No resemblance required.
By: Mitchell is Moving on November 11, 2016
yes, a tad bit bored and a tad more impatient. :)
By: TexWisGirl on November 11, 2016
Did he get up and look at how the painting was going or just rush outside? I love the fact you spent more time on his face than his body.
By: LL Cool Joe on November 11, 2016
Makes me glad my dad wasn't a painter. I definitely wouldn't have sat for a portrait like that.
By: PT Dilloway on November 11, 2016
It's always bothered me when the old masters painted the infant Jesus as a tiny adult!!
By: fishducky on November 11, 2016
I love that look you captured on CJ but he sure looks like he would have rather been anywhere else. Still that is something his family will cherish. I agree with PT Dilloway. I barely had time for a photo as a child.
By: Arkansas Patti on November 11, 2016
I love those haunting blue eyes! He does look kinda unhappy though. Or maybe it's that you captured his impatience so well. Have a great weekend!
By: Lexa Cain on November 11, 2016
The resemblance is such that it resembles a self-portrait.
By: Catalyst on November 11, 2016
Did you have to dress up as a clown to keep his attention? You are a talented guy, Stephen. Nice job on the painting and thanks for the history lesson.
By: Mr. Shife on November 11, 2016
Remind him that, should he be stuck with paintings he doesn't want, he could use your blog to give them to fans who would love to have them. You are very talented!
By: messymimi on November 11, 2016
CJ was a cutie, and I bet he's a good looking man. I doubt if he'll ever feel saddled with too many of your paintings. He will be grateful to have them and he'll be proud of his talented father. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on November 11, 2016
I get that CJ is more ored than anything else. I think he's trying very hard to sit still and is worried if he's being good enough. Just what I see in this little boy!
By: Kline on November 11, 2016
I've seen that look on my kids' faces!! I think you did a wonderful job.
By: jenny_o on November 11, 2016
Wow! His face looks like a composite of you and Mrs. C! As it should, of course.
By: Val on November 11, 2016
This is a wonderful portrait. Even taking a photograph of kids is hard. I can't imagine trying to paint a child. R
By: Rick Watson on November 11, 2016
I know you hear this all the time... but you're good. Yup... really good!
By: Daniel LaFrance on November 11, 2016
You are so talented!
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mother on November 11, 2016
A wonderful piece, I wonder is it harder painting someone you know so well?
By: John Gibson on November 12, 2016
Wow - the resemblance to you is uncanny in this portrait!
By: Pixel Peeper on November 12, 2016
he's thinking...really, you're making me do this again?
By: ellen abbott on November 12, 2016
I saw the title on my sidebar and immediately thought I should check to see if it was better to paint the children with latex or oil-base paints and if they needed an undercoat. Now I see I had an entirely wrong idea.
By: Uncle Skip on November 13, 2016
painted with loving talented hands-
By: Kathe W. on November 13, 2016
Well, Ray learned something from you today. He knows a lot about artists, especially JSS but he did NOT know about the clown nose. I think that's fascinating. This portrait of your son is priceless.
By: Bee BB Bee on November 14, 2016
It must be a real torture for the kid to sit still like that when they know they can do better things outside. Thats a lovely painting.
By: joe on November 14, 2016
I love this painting of a real boy :)
By: The Bug on November 16, 2016

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