A Portrait in Five Objects

There are many ways of portraying a person. I’m sure everyone can conjure an image from any period in history that will make you smile and acknowledge the humanity – they were alive.

Dr Pozzi at Home, by John Singer Sargent is a fine portrait. Beyond his face we learn about the doctor from the choice of extraordinary ‘house coat’ (dressing gown), and his expressive hands with a contrived pose.

Novels, poetry or music can describe without a visual image. Peter and The Wolf describes creatures and people with different instruments (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Va8Uz6MoKLg ) – irresistible.

This exercise is about creating a portrait using objects that relate to a person. It may be that you are the only person that understands the references – I don’t think that matters.

This is a collection of items that remind me of my mother. Her silver ashtray that she used at breakfast for her first cigarette of the day – the smoking killed her, an orchid because she loved them, a box of cooks matches for the endless bonfires and because she was a fantastic cook. A pack of cards is included for the family racing demon, bridge, pelmanism, and canasta. Finally, a pair of secateurs for everything to do with her garden.

The limit of five items meant some things were left out. These decisions, editing, are purposeful. I left out Mum’s love of fishing because it was not something we did together. She was very elegant and had beautiful clothes – this is not really one of my thrills…bonfires, on the other hand, I totally relate to.


Materials

  • Gather bits and pieces that you associate with someone you know well. get together more than five things and think about what they say about the person, and possibly about your relationship with them.
  • I will draw and paint my collection of items but initially, as you can see above, I have taken a photograph – I use a mobile phone.
  • Materials for drawing and painting.

Method

I find the composition of this sort of portrait quite interesting. Play around with different ideas. The objects form a narrative and have an importance above shape, size colour. Do you want to add to this narrative? You could put things in date order, size order, colour order or random, attractive and inviting. I like to put the items in a line, almost as though you are reading about the person.

Photo, paint, draw? Collage? Any and all.

  • Compositional drawings – quick thumbnail sketches to work out what the final picture will look like. Think about portrait .v. landscape, close-up or at a distance, layout, size.
  • Do a full size drawing working through any potential problems
  • Colour study – do you want to use a palette that reminds you of the person, or evokes a certain mood.
  • Paint.


We would love to see your work. It you use Instagram please add #hampshirteartstudio to your post.


More Information

I googled ‘a portrait using objects’ and found this from The Mail online in 2013.


A life in objects: Family ‘portraits’ capture the essence of a loved one by picturing their most treasured possessions

  • How much can one tell about a person by the things they own?
  • Camilla Catrambone’s project ‘Portraits of My Family’ builds a family tree using the objects owned by people she grew up with
  • Through their belongings we receive an image of who these people are

By JAMES GORDON

You can tell a lot by looking at someones possessions – personality, interests, likes and passions.

One Italian photographer has decided to paint a portrait of her family, but instead of using actual photographs of her relatives, we are left to imagine how they might appear based on what they own.

From leather satchels and handkerchiefs to blocks of cheese and cookware, Florence-based artist Camilla Catrambone’s family album is curiously captivating.Nanny Renata: A life lived and a tasty one at that with delicious breads, cheeses and salami

Nanny Renata: A life lived and a tasty one at that with delicious breads, cheeses and salami

The series is simply titled ‘Portraits of my Family,’ and displays a whole host of everyday treasures.

‘I‘ve always been fascinated by objects, and I think somehow every person is represented by their personal objects, the objects they choose, the ones they are attached to, and the way they use them tells you a story,’ Ms Catrambone states on her website.

‘When I started doing this project, I felt that the objects belonged to my relatives, starting from the ones of my beloved grandparents, were still full of energy and were capable of reminding me moments I shared with them. I started to feel the need to use them to go back to a precise memory. In order to do that I started to reorganize these objects, to recall a specific image I had of that person.Grandpa Mario: Catrambone reveals an old telephone, eyeglasses, cigarette papers, a stapler, and more to represent her memory of this particular family member

Grandpa Mario: Catrambone reveals an old telephone, eyeglasses, cigarette papers, a stapler, and more to represent her memory of this particular family memberGrandma Ilva: The tea at Grandma Ilva's house must have been legendary

Grandma Ilva: The tea at Grandma Ilva’s house must have been legendaryGrandpa Antonio: If something needed fixing, Grandpa Antonio would be the one to do it

Grandpa Antonio: If something needed fixing, Grandpa Antonio would be the one to do it

If I look for example at the image of my grandpa Mario, I can go back in time when we sat at his writing table and fully feel the mood of that moment.

The objects represented in every picture don’t talk about the entire life of my grandpa, but the portray deeply describes a moment I shared with him.My mom: Camilla Catrambone's project 'Portraits of My Family' builds a family tree using the objects owned by people she grew up with

My mom: Camilla Catrambone’s project ‘Portraits of My Family’ builds a family tree using the objects owned by people she grew up withGrandma Ilva - Mario's wife: While some of the shots signal traditional gender roles in a family, other items present unique interests and personal memories

Grandma Ilva – Mario’s wife: While some of the shots signal traditional gender roles in a family, other items present unique interests and personal memoriesGrandma Ilva - Mario's wife: While some of the shots signal traditional gender roles in a family, other items present unique interests and personal memories

My mom no.2: It might be something of an Italian stereotype but one gets the feeling from these portraits that this is a family who loves their food and are pretty cook and cooking it too…

The aim of the project is to portray the people I’ve grown up with to build my family tree using the objects owned by them, giving the portray a very deep and intimate touch.’

The series explores how people are remembered and what we can tell of a person through their possessions.


Miriam Escofet

Although there is clearly an image of the artist’s mother in this prize winning portrait, the character of the sitter is further illuminated b y the objects she has around her.

The winner of the BP Portrait Award 2018  was won by London based artist, Miriam Escofet for An Angel at my Table, a portrait of her mother drinking tea.

The judges were particularly struck by the constraint and intimacy of Escofet’s composition, evoking both the inner stillness of her subject and the idea of the Universal Mother. Commenting on the portrait, Rosie Millard said ‘The crisp tablecloth and china are rendered so beautifully – and then you see that one of the plates and a winged sculpture on the table appear to be moving which adds a surreal quality to the portrait. It is also a very sensitive depiction of an elderly sitter.’

Note how the the judge, Rosie Millard comments on the objects on the table.