September 16, 2016

Painting children is one of the greatest joys there is. But it is also one of the hardest subjects to paint. They are reluctant to sit still, let alone keep a straight face. But that is part of their charm! Painting a child portrait is special, because I can capture a moment in time that will never come back. Children grow up so fast and life is so busy as parents. No photo can quite give you that special time in theirs and your life. In this blog post I would like to write a little about how I go about painting children.

I have always enjoyed painting children. In fact I took up painting more seriously right after my children were born. They were the direct cause of me becoming an artist. Over the years I have painted my own children and taken many commissions to portray other people’s children.

Sophie Ploeg, In the Rainbow Underpass, pastel, 29x28cm
In the Rainbow Underpass, pastel, 29x28cm




Commissioning a Portrait of your Child

Most commissions start with a chat with the parents about what they have in mind and what we can do. Of course I’d like to meet the children as soon as possible so I can get to know them a little and we can get comfortable around each other. Older kids are often very happy to be painted and quite excited about it. Some are less so however and we try to put them at ease with games and chat or else perhaps a story or a tv program. ​

Sisters, oil on canvas, 50x70cm. 2012. Commissioned.
Sisters, oil on canvas, 50x70cm. 2012. Commissioned.


Playroom or the Park

We then plan a photoshoot in the preferred location. Sometimes this is just in the living room on the sofa, or in the kids’ play room or bedroom. Sometimes it is simply on a chair next to a window to catch some nice light. Sometimes it is outside in the park, or the garden. We try various poses and try to play around with favourite toys, books, clothes etc. I usually ask them to wear something ‘nice’. Something they feel comfortable in and they want to be eternalised in. Some people prefer very dressed up, other keep it very casual. We think about the place in the house where the painting might hang and keep the decor in mind as well.

Sophie Ploeg, Morgan and Brigitte, oil on canvas, 35x45cm. 2011. Commissioned.
Morgan and Brigitte, oil on canvas, 35x45cm. 2011. Commissioned.


Digital Editing

I go back to the studio with hundreds of photos and sometimes some sketches. I will then work my way through these on the computer. I edit them, sometimes extensively but at other times hardly at all. I sketch the faces from different angles to get familiar with the 3 dimensional qualities of the head and face.

Working Together

I then go back to the client to share some of my edited images. Together we choose photos, sometimes multiple ones. Sometimes we only figure out what we are really after by seeing the photos, and we have to redo the photoshoot.

Sophie Ploeg, The Lace Maker, oil on linen, 60x50cm. Sold. 2014 Part of the BP Travel Award series of portraits.
The Lace Maker, oil on linen, 60x50cm. Sold.

Once we are happy with the photos I will start working on the painting. I will refer often to the hundreds of photos even though I’d be painting from only one or two chosen pictures. Sometimes I will work from photos provided by the client if the pictures are good enough to work from and suitable to use for a painting but it is not my preferred way of working.

The Big Reveal

A few months later I will call the family in for the big reveal.
Silence is scary. Tears are good. Smiles are good. Children’s giggles are good as well.
Sometimes there is something not quite right and together we try and find a way to make it work better. Only when sitter and painter and client are all happy can we call it all done.


Sophie Ploeg, Two Brothers, oil on canvas, 50x60cm. 2010. Commissioned.
Two Brothers, oil on canvas, 50x60cm. 2010. Commissioned.
Sophie Ploeg, Josh, pastel, 50x44cm. 2016.
Josh, pastel, 50x44cm. 2016.


​Catching Character

Although painting children can be tricky at times, it is very rewarding to be able to ‘catch’ them being themselves. They are so much more transparent than adults. When they are shy, they will show it, and that is wonderful to put into paint. When they are brave and want to pose, it will show and provides tons of character. When they are too young to be very aware of themselves they will just play and I might be able to catch that innocence if I get lucky.

Not Sentimental

Often people comment that my paintings of children lack sentimentality. I love that comment as I do not want to see chidren as just cute little puppies. They are small people, full of their own character and personality and bursting with promise for the future. I hope to transfer all of that in paint.

Sophie Ploeg, Little Prince, oil on canvas, 40x30cm, 2011.
Little Prince, oil on canvas, 40x30cm, 2011.

Too Old or Too Young

For some artists painting children can be hard as it is difficult to catch the right age. Many painters realise they made them look too old or too young. Getting the right proportions is the trick here. From the large head of babies to the more defined face of adults, the proportions of a face grow and develop with age.

Sophie Ploeg, The Snow Flake Children, oil on canvas, 50x70cm. 2012. Sold.
The Snow Flake Children, oil on canvas, 50x70cm. 2012. Sold.


Pa​int or Pencil

I love painting portraits in a variety of mediums. A simple graphite pencil portrait can look really beautiful. A pastel painting is lively and soft. An oil painting can look timeless and classical. Whatever medium you choose, a portrait can become a true heirloom in the family and something special to be enjoyed for years to come.In this post you can see some examples of my work. Some were commissioned, some are my own kids. They range from very recent to quite a few years ago. For me it is nice to see some of them again! It had been a while since I had looked at Harriet and Antonia! I bet they are so grown up now. Many clients choose to keep their painting private and so I will not share their portrait online. For the ones here I have been given permission.

Sophie Ploeg, Antonia and Harriet, oil on linen, 50x40cm. 2011. Commissioned.
Antonia and Harriet, oil on linen, 50x40cm. 2011. Commissioned.


If you would like to know more about commissioning a portrait, please contact me. I’d be happy to discuss options and budget.

Sophie Ploeg, A small head study in graphite pencil.
A small head study in graphite pencil.


About the author 


Sophie is an art historian, artist, art tutor, and writer. She writes on art history and painting (oils and pastel). The 17th century is probably her favourite era, although the ancient Romans are currently fighting for the lead spot. She is currently researching lace in Tudor portraiture.

More to Read...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}