Category Archives: Portraiture

Painting a Portrait: Life Sittings or From Photographs?

This is one of the first questions that comes up when someone commissions a portrait. I’d like to share my thoughts on this and illustrate them with the examples of past works.

I especially like painting and drawing from life, but when this is not possible photographs come to my aid.

Portraits from life, in my opinion, carry more immediacy and are very reflective of the experience itself, while working from photographs is invaluable when painting young children or group portraits, or if the subject is unable to come for sittings.

The following are a few examples of past portrait commissions with my brief comments.

I shall start with the portraits painted from life.

Portrait of Sarah Jempson by Marina Kim. Oil on canvas.
Portrait of Sarah Jempson.
Oil on canvas

Painted in 12 sessions of 2 hours each which may sound like a long time to sit still, but it goes quickly. Sarah and I talked about life, children, gardens and lots more… It is never as boring as it sounds to sit for a portrait!

Having as many as 10-12 sessions allows me time to indulge in fine detail and I really appreciate such opportunities.

Mike Eve. Portrait commission by Marina Kim
Portrait of Mike Eve
Oil on canvas

After a long and successful career in Finance Mike Eve now channels his energy into the life of the town of Rye. The 10 sittings for this portrait took place during the building of Rye cinema which is now a huge asset for the local community and area. Mike chaired the committee which made it happen.

Portrait fine art. Commission a portrait by Marina Kim
Portrait study of Bernie Duff
Oil on canvas

More often than not time is a limited resource and this portrait is an example of what can be achieved in as little as four hours.

Bernie Duff is Australian. He stayed in Rye for a few days, visiting extended family. On one of those days we arranged for a single four-hour session to complete this portrait.

Portraits of children. Portraiture artist Marina Kim. Commission a portrait
Portrait of Eva
Oil on canvas

This is my elder daughter at the age of 13.

I portray my two girls every couple of years. Until recently I always worked from photographs, but now they are old enough to be still for a while I insist on life sittings. For them it is an unwelcome chore – note Eva’s expression – but in compensation I had to pay modelling fees for the 5 sessions necessary to complete this portrait!

Now we come to portraits painted from photographs.

Portrait of Christopher Russell in his garden. Acrylic on canvas. Artist Marina Kim
Chris in his Garden
Acrylic on canvas

Suffering from MS, Christopher knew his time was limited and wanted to leave his family with an image of himself as a fun person and an enthusiastic gardener. We had a photo session in Christopher’s garden and, based on the photos, I painted this portrait full of colour and light-heartedness.

Commission corporate style portrait. Retirement gift
Portrait of Nigel Pavey
Oil on canvas

This portrait is a celebration of Nigel’s 35-year career as a structural engineer in a big firm, followed by a successful transition to his own consultancy business. Nigel wanted to illustrate how the tools of his profession have changed over the years, while for his wife Zandra, capturing his warm personality was the priority.

Portraiture fine art. Commission family portrait
Portrait of Neilson Family
Oil on canvas

The Neilsons wanted a large painting depicting the whole family together before the children went their own way. Even at the time of our two photo sessions it was quite a challenge for Fiona, the mother, to get everyone together. Around 350 photos just about suffieced to capture each person in their best light and create a coherent and engaging composition.

The size of the painting was a challenge in itself!

The family didn’t see the portrait until the Big Unveiling and they all loved it when it was finally revealed. Phew! One of the most memorable moments of my career!

When working on a group portrait from photographs, I get the opportunity to play with the composition to create something interesting and different.

Children's Portrait. "Hide and Seek". Acrylic on canvas.
Portrait of Catherine and Rebecca Redmayne
“Hide and Seek”
Acrylic on canvas

Sisters Katherine and Rebecca showed me around their garden during our photo session and of course, being kids, they ran around, played hide-and-seek and clambered on their swings and climbing frame…

I made three mock-up compositions in different settings which we discussed with the family by email. It was not easy to decide which “narrative” to choose. The images went back and forth with comments and small adjustments, until the final decision was reached and I set to work.

Commission a portrait. Boy with a dog. Acrylic painting
Benjie Gurney and Jack in Rye
Acrylic on canvas

Including animals in a portrait is another good reason to resort to photographs, although some of them are good sitters!

This is a portrait of Benjie and Jack. Benjie is the grandchild of John Gurney, a long-standing client and close friend. Last year John and I embarked on a major project: portraying all of his 9 grandchildren – one at a time. So far four portraits have been completed!

Commission portrait portfolio. Watercolour on paper. portraits of children
Arabella at Grandad’s
Watercolour on paper

John and I agreed that the portraits should be different from one another in medium, size or style, but in any case my choices are influenced by the personality of the subject. This makes the task much more exciting and hopefully the family gallery will be more interesting to view when it is completed. This latest portrait is the first watercolour in the series. My aim was to keep the atmosphere of the picture light and fresh.

Portrait commission painting from a photograph
Portrait of John Wenburg
Oil on canvas

This portrait of John Wenburg was commissioned by his friends Mike and Madeline Eve as a surprise present. They provided me with a few photos and a videoclip of John to serve as a reference for the portrait. As John lives in the States, coming for sittings would in any case have been tricky.

The foremost goal in my work is to create an emotional piece. The process leading up to painting helps me to relate to my sitters, to find a narrative for the portrait. When painting someone I have never met personally, I go with the feelings of love and appreciation I sense from their family or friends who commission me.

I hope this tour illuminates a little the process of commissioning a portrait painting. If you have any questions, please contact me and I’ll be very happy to answer them all.

My best wishes,
Marina Kim

The Swing


“The Swing”
Acrylic on canvas painting.
106.6×106.6cm or 42″x42″.

This painting is rather mysterious.

When my girls were younger we spent a lot of time at the playground, and I used to photograph them more than they will let me do now!

One day, when I was taking pictures of my kids on the swings and climbing frames, a little girl came up, smiled at me and posed for a photo. She was about two years old – an age when they love to be photographed. With her mother’s agreement I took a number of photos.

Later on, looking through the shots, I came upon an image which I really liked: something about the eyes – focused beyond the world around, on the unseen…

I imagined her in a Summer forest, swinging, with an intense and dreamy look on her face, and that’s how this painting came to be.

I don’t know the girl’s name, and I doubt she has seen this painting inspired by her – forever a dreamy child on a swing.”

And later…

A visitor to the gallery loved “The Swing” and contemplated buying it. We talked, and the idea developed into commissioning a portrait of her daughter instead, using the same composition and style, with the addition of a fairy, if you look closely…!

Portrait of Lottie-Lou. Commission a child portrait by Marina Kim. Portraiture art.
Portrait of Lottie-Lou
Acrylic on canvas

“I absolutely adore your painting. The more I look at it, the more I see! …It’s really touched me and it will be treasured throughout my life.”
Caroline Smith.

enquire to buy “The Swing”
contact about a portrait commission

John Izod Portrait for Rye Bonfire Auction of Promises

“The Devil You Know?”
Original print. Drypoint
Edition of 100
Image size – 25×20 cm

Among my favourite portraits is one I did of John Izod a few years ago for the Rye Bonfire Society’s Auction of Promises, and which now hangs in the Ypres pub.

Preparing for the portrait, I made an ink sketch of John, which I later turned into this drypoint called “The Devil You Know?”

To mark the very sad news of John’s death, Tim and I (Roche Gallery) are offering a framed print of “The Devil You Know?” for this year’s auction in aid of Rye Bonfire Society, which was a cause very dear to John’s heart.

Rye Bonfire Auction of Promises Antiques and Miscellaneous Items 2016 Thursday 19 May at the Mermaid Inn, Mermaid Street, Rye

Viewing from 7:00pm – sale at 7.30pm. Tickets £5.00 including glass of wine and catalogue.

Jimper Sutton

Every year Rye celebrates Bonfire season with an event which encompasses a bonfire procession, a huge bonfire itself and an impressive fireworks display – all organised by the Rye and District Bonfire Society.

Rye Town Crier on the Bonfire Night. Photo by Marina Kim.
Rye Town Crier on the Bonfire Night

The cost last year was around £10000. The moneys are raised through various events, one of which is an auction of promises. For a few years now we donated an artwork or a framing promise.

This year I decided to paint a person who would be well-known amongst the potential bidders/supporters. The Society suggested Jimper Sutton, and indeed, who else!

We arranged three sittings, two hours each, and I personally thoroughly enjoyed painting this colourful personality, while listening to the amazing stories Jimper had to share.

Portrait of Jimper Sutton by portrait artist Marina Kim
Portrait of Jimper Sutton

Suttons are an old family in Rye and the area going back for many centuries. Jimper himself is a very familiar face around here and a contributor to various aspects of the community. For 16 years he was a District Councillor and is now a Life President of the Rye Bonfire Society, one of the oldest Societies in Britain and a very important part of the Sussex scene.

Farming and fishing have been the basis of his life. The understanding of nature’s way must be in Jimper’s blood and bones through generations and generations of observing, fishing and nurturing of the plants and beasts. Now, after a serious illness, he downsized his holding to a large garden, which produces much more than family requirements and overspills to his brother’s shop, a magnificent retail establishment – Sutton’s Fish Shop on the Sea Road in Winchelsea.

Sutton's Fish Shop. Sea road, Winchelsea.
Sutton’s Fish Shop

On our last sitting, I received a tray of eggs from Jimper’s hens. They were divinely delicious! He told me why: the hens graze all day every day on grass and bugs and worms, snatching butterflies in flight, drinking water from the river Brede, with only a handful of wheat to supplement their Nature’s diet. The yolks were orange and so tasty…

From childhood, Jimper kept a diary never missing a day. These records serve him as a treasure chest in writing novels and short stories which he publishes independently donating the proceeds to the local good causes.

Writing is a huge part of Jimper’s life: “I have a monthly column in a local magazine (Rye’s Own) that I have been published in since 1965. My articles and stories appear in Countryman’s Weekly on a regular basis. For four years I had a page in The Bee Keeper Monthly. Over the years I have had two books published and 800 other articles in various publications. I have appeared on television and radio numerous times and am in the local paper frequently. ITV made a half-hour film of a day in my life and showed it at peak viewing time; this has been repeated many times and gone around the world. I have been on the BBC’s ‘Morning’ programme with Richard & Judy talking on fishing. You can read the article about me written by The Sunday Times by clicking here.”

And so, Jimper’s portrait is going to be auctioned to help fund the annual Rye Bonfire event. The auction is taking place on the 14th of May at 19.00 to start at 19.30, at the Mermaid Hotel in Rye. Hope you can come!