portrait process

My First Commissioned Official Portrait

Rauli Svento portrait and reveal Friday September 16th, 2011, was a very exciting day for me. That afternoon was the reveal of Professor Rauli Svento's portrait, which was my very first commissioned official portrait. Or how I slipped up and described it to the Dean of the Business School as 'my first official commissioned portrait', which sounds like it was my very first commission, officially, ever. To makes things clear: it is an official, public portrait of Professor Rauli Svento, commissioned to celebrate his 60th birthday and his distinguished career at Oulu University (and he's not done yet!). It will hang in the Oulu Business School (Oulu University Linnanmaa campus, here is a link to the university posting about the event).

Professor Rauli Svento has worn many hats during his career at Oulu University: researcher, professor, Dean of Economics and Business Administration and Vice-President of Oulu University. He played a central role in building the Business School program from the ground up and as a co-creator of the Matti Ahtisaari Institute.

Professor Rauli Svento was a brilliant sitter to paint, and that superlative works in two ways: he has a very amiable and easygoing character that brought a calm focus to the painting process, and his intelligence and perceptive nature made for very interesting topics of conversation. It's not every day that I get the chance to pick the brain of a top-notch economist, what with all the global market explosions going on these days.

The portrait was composed in shades of blue, blue being Professor Rauli Svento's suggestion and preference. I  see it as a direct challenge to all those brown and muddy-grey toned portraits that can be found lurking the halls of universities and hospitals, remnants of a pseudo-cubism episode of portraiture here in Finland that just won't die.

The portrait was completed over a course of six sittings in the spring of this year. I tried to keep the light consistent by scheduling each sitting for the same time in the mid-morning. The painting was started in semi-defuse sunlight conditions, so I was thrown off one morning, near the completion of the portrait, when the sun came out from behind the clouds and light popped through two windows at once. It was a surprise (I had forgotten how spring sunlight came in the room, due to the long, miserably dark winter) and I was excited to put down new colors and highlights, but I had to stop and control the impulse to capture that specific moment of light because it would have upset the balance of the composition. Plus, people would probably have wondered at the strange light situation and ignored the subject.

Six sittings seemed like a lot of time (average 2-3 hours each) when I initially scheduled it, but it was just sufficient for painting the face. I used photographs taken at a few sessions (under different weather conditions) as references for modelling the suit, tie and backdrop in between sittings. As I couldn't step back from the portrait during the sittings (I still need a studio, surprise!), I also referred to the photographs to correct any blunders in the drawing/likeness.

Finished Portrait: Kalervo

portrait of Kalervo

The final sitting was on Sunday. I put my brushes down after a couple of hours in conversation and observation, and invited Kalervo to inspect the portrait. He looked like he had to steel himself before walking around the side of the easel. He took a minute to take it all in, and then commented on the fact that he had a bit of a stern look. We discussed this for a while, my mother and husband included (the baby just grinned, he didn't throw in his normal commentary on my work "Babababa! Rrrrrrrrrrr!"). Rather than be concerned about the stern look, Kalervo was satisfied that I had captured the expression other people usually associate with his character.


Kalervo portrait after sitting 5

Last Sunday I had my mother over to babysit while Kalervo sat for his portrait. What really happened was that my husband watched the baby while my mother had a spirited conversation with Kalervo in the studio and I painted. I had to play a game of musical chairs with them to get the arrangement and Kalervo's line of sight just so. As the baby chose not to sleep the night before I suffered some serious eye-and-brain fatigue during the session, so I didn't get a good look in. There will be one more sitting this coming Sunday, and maybe Kalervo will dare to peek at the painting at the end of it.

A note on his shirt - he wore it to the first sitting (and all subsequent sittings have been in some sort of black t-shirt), and I was intrigued by the witty tag line from the Finnish Red Cross (Punainen Risti): "GIVERIGHTNOW". "Veri" is the Finnish word for blood, and I think it's a pretty clever combination of English-Finnish, plus eye-catching. It also speaks about Kalervo, as he has been a steadfast blood donor all his life and is committed to the cause.