Three Child Portrait Paintings — #1 ‘Charly with a Pearl Earring’

child-portrait-paintings-charly-pearl-earringLast month I had an idea for some child portrait paintings of my granddaughter Charly. It involved posing her in the manner of some classic masterpieces. I first imagined her as Mona Lisa, but then gravitated toward more youthful child portrait paintings.

3 Child Portraits — Paintings of Charly

I mentioned this to my daughter-in-law Sarah (Charly’s mom) one day at lunch. She seemed enthusiastic, so I started planning the project. Since I’ve done previous child portrait paintings from photos, I planned to have Charly over for a photography session in my studio. Much easier than painting a live subject – especially a precocious and active girl like Charly!

I got all hung up thinking about the appropriate period clothing, staging the background, and setting up the right lighting. But more importantly, how to ensure Charly would be amenable to an enormous amount of sitting still, prodding, moving and adjusting.

Well, just a couple days after I talked with Sarah, right there in my email were pictures of three famous child portrait paintings. And three amazing photos of Charly — dressed up and posed just like these masterpieces!

winterhalter-child-portrait-paintingchild-portrait-paintings-charly3Franz Winterhalter’s ‘A Young Girl called Princess Charlotte’

youth-portrait-painting-botticellichildren-portrait-paintings-charly-medal
Sandro Botticelli’s ‘Portrait of a Youth with a Medal’

girl-portrait-paintings-vermeerportrait-painting-child-charly-earring
Johannes Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’


My brilliant daughter Sarah had turned this project into a game and totally engaged her six year old with getting EVERYTHING just right.

I chose the Vermeer for the first of these child portrait paintings, since it was so perfect! My plan was to do it in layers of glazes to get the subtle color changes. This would be more like the painting style of Vermeer’s day, rather than the direct method that most artists use today for child portrait paintings. Almost immediately I regretted starting with such a coarse surface. It seemed the colors went right into the texture of the canvas and made a smooth blendy look very difficult. Charly’s skin tone is more golden than Vermeer’s pale-faced model (probably his 13 year old daughter — not the servant girl depicted in the beautiful ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ movie.)

Completing Child Portrait Painting #1

I used 30-40 layers of glazes on her face; and with drying time it really took a while to make progress. After almost every layer I would think “Aha, that’s almost it.” The next day I would come back to it and see half a dozen things to change. This happened every day for weeks! But working on my favorite child’s portrait paintings is such a pleasant task, I hardly noticed that it was taking forever.

Historical Note: Vermeer didn’t gain much notoriety in his lifetime. His ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ was relegated to the class of artwork called “tronies” in which a model is posed in exotic garb with sumptuous fabrics to “whet the appetite” of an art patron in the hope of securing a commission. That explains the unusual turban — certainly not the normal dress of a Dutch girl in 1665.

The beautiful ultramarine blue that Vermeer used for the turban was one of his favorite colors. Made from crushed lapis lazuli, the paint was so costly that art experts hypothesize its purchase must have been funded by a wealthy art patron!

I know I am a lucky artist. I can afford to buy all my own favorite colors. My family won’t starve if I don’t complete my child portrait paintings in a timely manner. I have a terrific model (Charly) and an artistic stage director (Sarah) helping me!

Wow — I have it all! Vermeer should have been so lucky!

About Valerie Rawlings

Austin, Texas oil painter focusing on portraits, landscapes and still life paintings
This entry was posted in Austin oil painter, Paintings of Women, Portrait and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Three Child Portrait Paintings — #1 ‘Charly with a Pearl Earring’

  1. Carrie says:

    Val, you really have a way with eyes. I love Charly’s eyes in the painting. VERY nice!

    • Thank you, Carrie, especially for affirming the eyes. They are one thing I made one million adjustments on. For a while I thought she looked cross eyed! Thanks for making me feel like I finally got it right! Charly’s eyes are the most perfect combination of her moms hazel and her dad’s dark brown eyes. The result is golden brown!

  2. Rosie Russell says:

    This is a beautiful, thoughtful painting. I can almost feel your love emanating from the brush strokes. Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

  3. Karen McDonald says:

    You captured the textures of everything so beautifully – the fabrics, the skin, and the pearl earring! A masterpiece! Can’t wait to see the next one in the series!

    • Thanks Karen!
      The fabrics were very cooperative while I was trying out my glazing techniques. I managed a speedy “aha” after about the third coat (a burnt umber over a yellow ochre over a rusty red) and decided to leave well enough alone. The turban also was much easier than the skin tones. All in all it was a very educational experience!