Claire Sanders on Portraiture

We had a chat with painter Claire Sanders about painting portraits.

'I have always been a people person, very gregarious,' Claire says, 'I am interested in people of all ages both in how they appear and in human nature.' 

The fascination with her subjects, clearly, is there, but she is also honest about the difficulties of portraiture. 'Portraits are hard because of the factors involved…the person commissioning you needs to be happy, but so does the subject. They don’t often see the subject in the same way. As the artist you want to paint a good/interesting painting, you also want to be flattering and get a likeness, hopefully they are the same thing!

'But people don’t often realise what they look like or that they have changed. Sometimes a wife still thinks of her husband at the age she married him.'

When working with children, Claire explains the benefits of building up a working relationship with their parents and family members, who 'know their children so much better than I do...The idea that they might not be 100% happy with the result upsets me so I work on until everyone is satisfied it is right.

'Thirty years ago we were more able to sit for portraits, we would look bored but be fairly still. Children struggled to sit still these days and are more wriggly. I really don’t enjoy making my visit an ordeal for a child. I prefer to make it fun, so I work mainly from photographs for anyone under about 10. Older children sit for me more easily.'

'Sometimes really flattering and fun things happen after I have finished a portrait,' Claire explains. 'For example, the family suddenly see a child has a resemblance to a great uncle or aunt they’d never seen before. Someone once recognised a boy amongst 300 hundred at her child's school, having seen a photo example of my portraits and not knowing who the boy was.'

Discussing subjects' facial expressions, Claire tells us 'I prefer my subjects to look a bit more serious and almost enigmatic. Parents always get drawn to the idea of having their children looking really happy and chirpy in portraits, but all my most successful ones are a bit calmer. Even the Laughing Cavalier was only smirking slightly. Smiling and laughing portraits just look like snapshots of a moment - and often look quite odd.'

When it comes to technique and style, Claire is a fan of embracing the present. 'I try to develop all the time, I get very involved in brushstokes and colour and want to be excited by the results of my painting process. As fashion changes so does the appeal of colours, and I get inspired to use different colours by looking at art direction in films, magazine shoots, art, interiors and fashion...just like a designer tries to stay with the groundswell of taste.

'We are in an era where there is a massive variable in what people want in their houses. people are valuing old paintings and new in equal measures. Portraits are a legacy and a traditional concept but I also want to appeal to the tastes of the moment.'

The artist is ultimately refreshingly modest about her craft, saying 'I don’t know that I am capturing some inherent spirit in a subject but if I get a good likeness and a look that their parents love come out of the canvas, that usually makes a good portrait.' 

A good portrait sounds great to us.