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Family how-to: photograph, paint or collage a portrait

Published 8 March 2018

Be inspired by a painting of Queen Henrietta Maria and make art about the ladies in your life! Try our two activities: print out and paint a portrait or collage the pieces of a portrait puzzle.

  • Making a portrait

    When an artist creates a portrait they think carefully about the person they are portraying and how they choose to depict them. They might consider their clothes, the background they use and any props they will be holding. When you create your portrait, try to consider these things as well as the colours you choose, the position your subject has in the frame, and the size of your artwork. What effect might these choices have on the finished portrait?

    • Inspiration from 'Charles I: King and Collector'

      Queen Henrietta Maria is 24 years old in this painting from 1633. Her husband, King Charles I, asked his court painter, Anthony van Dyck, to make this painting to show off her wealth, status and power.

      The Queen is dressed to go hunting, with a big black hat (1) with a large feather instead of her crown (2), which is still in the painting on the gold curtain. Her delicate lace collar (3) is very intricate, and would have been painstaking work for someone to make by hand and very expensive to buy. Her shiny blue dress (4) is eye-catching and would have been made from a luxurious fabric.

      Sir Jeffrey Hudson (5), to the Queen’s left, was 14 years old in this painting but would go on to become her trusted advisor and a witty member of the Royal Court. He holds Pug the monkey (6), the Queen’s favourite pet. A monkey would have been a very exotic pet to have at the time this was painted!

      The Queen liked gardening and you can see an orange tree behind her (7), which in the 17th century would have been an unusual plant to have in England. In Greek mythology, the orange is a symbol of generosity and purity. The presence of an orange tree in this painting suggests that Queen Henrietta Maria was wealthy and generous.

      Anthony van Dyck was the court painter for Charles I and was popular because he made his subjects look elegant. Paintings like this took a long time to complete and the Queen wouldn’t have had time to pose for hours and hours. Van Dyck probably had to dress another person in her clothes to finish this portrait.

      This painting was in our recent exhibition, Charles I: King and Collector.

      Anthony van Dyck, Henrietta Maria with Sir Jeffrey Hudson (including notations)

      Anthony van Dyck, Henrietta Maria with Sir Jeffrey Hudson (including notations), 1633.

      Oil on canvas. 219.1 x 134.8 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Samuel H. Kress Collection, inv. 1952.5.39 Photo © Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington Exhibition organised in partnership with Royal Collection Trust.

    • Inspiration from the RA Collection: Orovida Pissarro

      We chose a work in the RA Collection by a woman artist as our inspiration for this activity.

      The painter Orovida Pissarro (1893-1968) came from a family of artists. Her grandfather, Camille Pissarro, and her father, Lucien Pissarro, were both famous artists. Her father was French but she was born in England and lived in London. When she began to paint, she distanced herself from the family name by signing her work simply with “Orovida”. She wanted to break away from the name she shared with her father and grandfather and forge her own path as an artist.

      When an artist creates a portrait they think carefully about the person they are portraying and how they choose to depict them. They might consider their clothes, the background they use and any props they will be holding.

      Take a closer look at this painting by Orovida, Lebeide with Sulin. What would you say about the colours the artist has used? What do her clothes, earring and headscarf say about the girl in the painting? Do you think she is at home or at school? Is it her cat?

      Choose a woman in your life who you admire. Pick someone who you see regularly and can take a photo of on a phone or camera. It could be your mum, your best friend, your sister or your grandmother.

    • Orovida Pissarro, Lebeide with Sulin

      Orovida Pissarro, Lebeide with Sulin, 1943.

      Part of the RA CollectionOil on paper on cardboard. 649 mm x 454 mm x 4 mm. © The Artist's Estate. Photo: John Hammond.

      A girl and her cat

      Orovida painted this portrait of a girl called Lebeide, holding a Siamese cat. She painted many paintings of cats and was inspired by Chinese and Japanese art.

    • Lucien Pissarro, Portrait of Orovida Pissarro

      Lucien Pissarro, Portrait of Orovida Pissarro, 1918.

      Part of the RA CollectionOil on canvas. 534 mm x 433 mm x 19 mm. © The Artist's Estate. Photo: John Hammond.

      A portrait of Orovida

      Orovida’s father, Lucien Pissarro painted this portrait of his daughter when she was 25 years old. Lucien’s father was Camille Pissarro, a famous painter who painted in the Impressionist style in the 19th century.

    • Family how-to portraits materials


      3 printed copies of your portrait photo to paint on, to collage with and to look at for inspiration. You could print on A3 or A4.

      Coloured paper or card to cut for collage

      Thick paper for your collage base

      Paint that matches the colour of your portrait photo. Any type will work (we used acrylics)

      Paint brushes to mix and paint

      Mixing tray to hold and mix paint on, we used a small kitchen cutting board

      Pastels are great for making heavy lines on top of your painting or collage. Soft pastels can be used to add highlights as well. Both are optional for this activity

      Scissors to cut your photo and collage paper

      Glue stick for sticking your collage pieces down

      Masking tape to stick down your photos and your base paper

  • Activity 1: cut and collage a portrait

    • Family how-to portraits Avni photo for source

      Take a photograph portrait of your subject

      When you take your photo, think about the background behind the subject you have chosen, the clothes they are wearing and the objects or pets that they might want to hold. Is the background a contrasting colour to their outfit? Could they wear something that says a lot about them?

      Try to choose an outfit, background and objects that say something about their personality or what they like doing. We chose our friend and her pet lobster!

    • Family how-to portraits choose your paper colours

      Pick a coloured paper to match your portrait

      Have a good look at your photo. What colours stand out? Think about all aspects of the portrait, the background, the face and their clothes.

      Match up pieces of your coloured paper to the colours you can see in your photo and put these papers aside.

    • Family how-to portraits cut up photograph

      Cut out the shapes in your photo

      Using your scissors (or an adult if you need help), cut out sections of the photo into blocks of colour. We cut out the shirt as one piece, the hair as another, the background, the parts of her face like mouth and eyebrows, and her glasses as well.

    • Family how-to portraits cut your coloured paper

      Cut matching shapes out of coloured paper

      Hold (or tape) your photo piece on to the matching coloured paper. Cut around the shape (or ask an adult to help). It may be helpful to put each shape you cut out on top of one of your printed photos to remind you which shape goes where!

    • Family how-to portraits stick shapes on paper

      Collage your shapes onto your card

      This part is a bit like putting a puzzle together! Starting with the biggest shapes, glue and stick them onto your card, matching up and stacking all the pieces.

      You can mix the coloured paper pieces with some of the photo pieces, or just use the coloured paper.

    • Family how-to portraits gif of collage

      Here's how our collage portrait came together...

      How did yours turn out? Share it with us on Instagram or Twitter using #familyhowto

  • Activity 2: use paint and pastel over a photo

    • Family how-to portraits painting on photograph

      Paint on your photo printout using large block shapes

      Using one of your photo printouts, mix some paint to match the colours in your photo.

      If you want to know more about how colours mix together, check out our colour wheel family how-to activity and you’ll be mixing paint like a pro!

      You can cover the whole photo with paint or leave some parts as photo. See what you think works. Try to focus on the big blocks of colour. If you already used the image to make a collage, it might help you choose your colours.

    • Family how-to portraits using pastels

      Use pastels to add lines

      Once the paint is dry, you can use oil pastels on top of paint to add thick, heavy outlines or to add accents on parts of your painting.

    • Family how-to portraits finished painting square crop

      Our finished portrait

      Don’t forget to share your finished portrait with us using #familyhowto!

    • Banner Family how to adapt your brush

      Adapt your paintbrush

      Need to make this Family how-to more accessible? Learn how to adapt your paintbrush to make it longer or easier to grip.


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