I haven’t shown progression on a piece in a while, so I thought I would share it with this small portrait – a drawing of two sisters. Each portrait allows for more learning and honing of my process. Just when I think I’ve got it all down, I hit a snag (and that is a good thing.) It keeps me on my toes.

I’ve found my preferred method on the last few portraits (especially the pencil drawings) to be to develop the background first, and then the figures in the foreground. Maybe it’s psychological, but I feel like that helps to push the background back and bring the figures forward (since I’m creating them on top of the existing background.) Certainly in painting this is the case. With drawings the pencil doesn’t override what’s underneath it like paint does, however I also find this method helpful, because it minimizes unnecessary smudges and smears on the figures. I can fill in the background information, clean up any smudging with an eraser, and then work on the figures.

So, in this case, I went ahead and drew the space around Erin and Bev (that plaid couch!!)


I proceeded by systematically filling in details for the hair and skin for both girls, leaving their light-coloured clothing for last. My reasoning for was that this way, I wouldn’t lose my work on the white shirts to smudging as I worked on the skin around them. However, what happened was that when I got to the lighter coloured fabrics, the skin was too light to contrast with them, and the image looked completely washed-out. I wish I had snapped a photo to show what I mean, but you will have to use your imagination.

To resolve the issue, I had to very carefully darken both girls’ arms, faces and hair, so that there were little to no white highlights on their skin. This was achieved primarily with my handy “H’ pencil and a lot of patience. The end result:


I should add, the reason I did this portrait was because Erin (the sister on the right) had won a gift certificate for a 5×7 drawing that I donated to a Brooke Valley School fundraiser. She generously gave it to her sister Bev, who used to be my neighbour in Perth. Sadly, Bev reecently passed away, before she was able to cash in on her portrait. Both women are/were extraordinarily kind and lovely people, and I wanted to go ahead and honour the donation and also honour Bev’s memory. Rest in peace, Bev.

xo Melody

Framing your portrait

I often have clients inquiring about the best way to frame my drawings. My answer has always been to get a simple frame in black, white or a silver-toned metal (brushed is nice), with a white mat. Because my drawings are typically done in sizes that are standard to frames, such as 5”x7”, 8”x10” or 9”x12”, many people opt to simply buy a pre-fabricated frame for their new artwork.

**Note: unfortunately, my framer in Perth, ON has closed, so I’m not longer able to have items framed for you.** Custom framing can also be a great option. I have not previously offered any framing on my end. However, I’m excited to say that I’ve recently teamed up with Perth Picture Framing to offer very competitive rates on custom frames for my drawings. They have provided me with pricing on all of my standard-sized drawings, in two finishes – a simple black wood frame, and a contemporary brushed nickel frame (both hand-selected by yours truly) – with a 2” white mat. Here are samples of both:



Please feel free to contact me for more information or pricing if you are interested in having your commissioned piece framed. The prices are very reasonable and I love to support my local framing shop.

I recently created a couple of 8×10 portraits as gifts for some of the people I love, and snapped photos of them in their frames. I thought it might be nice to give an idea of what different options may look like. The image of the couple below was custom framed by the good folks at Perth Picture Framing, whereas the portrait of my friend and her sister was framed in a very inexpensive pre-fab frame. I think both look fantastic. I love how a black frame with a white mat really sets off the shadows and highlights in my work. The white frame, however, contrasts so nicely with the darker background in this image and brightens it up. With a professionally-framed piece, you are obviously getting better quality, but both are great options, in my opinion.


I’m hoping that these photos may be helpful for people to visualize how their piece may look once framed-up. That being said, I’m always happy to offer advice on framing for your commissioned piece, so don’t be shy!

xo melody

Darling Nikki

My dear friend was just married in February and I was more than honoured to be a part of the wedding party. I really wanted to give the couple a portrait of the themselves as a wedding gift. I figure, if you are going to be together forever, you should have a portrait of yourselves still young and well-rested and beautiful when you’re old and tired! Amiright?!

I tried to creep her Facebook photos, but Nikki didn’t have a lot of personal photos online. Fair enough; I can respect that. However, this meant I had to ruin the surprise and straight-up ask her for pictures of her and her man. She sent me some really lovely pictures of the two of them that were softly lit and therefore softly focused. As I’ve talked about before, a soft focus isn’t a huge issue for me in creating portraits, but does affect the appearance of the portrait. A fuzzy photo results in a sort-of dreamy portrait. Here’s this dreamy couple, Nikki and Andrew:

Nikki and Andrew, 2016, Wedding Couple Portrait, Graphite Pencil Drawing on Paper, 8"x10"

Congratulations, friends!

xo melody

Go big or go home

In the fall of 2015, I took on a couple of larger portrait commissions, which coincidentally came at the same time. One was a painting of a grandmother with her four grandkids – a 70th birthday gift. We initially agreed to a 16”x20” full-colour acrylic painting with the five figures. However, my client wasn’t able to get photos of them all together, so he decided to go with three figures (his mom and his two children) on a larger canvas, keeping the cost at what he had first planned. The final size we settled on was 26”x30”.

Not only was this painting bigger than I typically work, but it entailed a number of different challenges. Firstly, the image was largely a landscape (or waterscape, really.) The subjects were seated at the edge of a dock with the lake and horizon featured prominently behind them. Since the photos were taken at the family cottage, it was very important to capture the place as much as it was to capture the people. Secondly, there were three individual full-body portraits grouped together in the scene (as opposed to just heads and shoulders). The client supplied me with supplementary photos of all three. Everyone didn’t look too happy in the original photo. So, the portrait component of the piece wasn’t totally straight-forward – I had to manipulate the expressions of two out of three subjects. It always seems pretty simple to switch out facial expressions like that, but the lighting is different, angles aren’t the same, etc. It presents a significant challenge every time. This portrait took a long time to complete, due to its challenges, the amount of visual information, and the fact that I was limited mostly to working during my daughter’s naps and in the evenings. However, the client and I were both very pleased with the end result!


The other piece I was commissioned to do at about the same time, was a pencil portrait of (again) two siblings. The person who commissioned it in this case, said that price and size were no issue; she just wanted it large enough to make a big impact. This was to be a corporate gift for the head of her company. Now, I’ve typically worked smaller in pencil. The majority of the works I’m commissioned to draw are 5”x7” or 8”x10”. Michelle wanted it as big as I could go! I took a trip to the art store to check out my options in larger paper, and found that the largest size available that would be reasonable for me to take on with pencils, was 18”x24”. The image once again presented some challenges – not just the increased amount of work in creating a pencil drawing on that scale, but also the source image being blurry in areas (specifically the girl’s face!) I had my concerns, but the clients were steadfast in their determination to use that photo, despite my attempts to dissuade them. (I really do understand, as it is one of the stinkin’ cutest pictures I’d seen in a long time.) I told them, as I always do in these situations, that I can do it, but if the information isn’t there in the original photo, the resulting image will not be sharp. We forged ahead. I was thrilled when Michelle sent me this note after receiving my final email proof:

Melody he is so happy with this, he called me a minute after I sent it to say how amazing it is.

Blake and Drew, 2015, Siblings Group Portrait, Graphite Pencil Drawing on Paper, 18"x24"

Although both of these pieces were a lot of work, it was (and always is) so gratifying to see them completed. The best part is hearing from my clients how happy they are with the work. I love to know that my art can make someone else happy, and I don’t mind the ego boost either. For more happy clients, visit my testimonials page, my very favourite page. (I kid, I kid.)

xo melody


I’ve been hard at work, with a little help from my friends, at relaunching my website. I won’t bore you with the details as to why I felt I needed to switch my site over and change things up, but I will say, it’s way better now! So welcome, welcome. Please, have a look around!

I’ve been holding off on updating my galleries on the old site, since I knew these bigger changes were imminent and I was focusing more on achieving those. So, fun bonus! In addition to everything generally being more awesome, the galleries are finally up to date with my most recent work. There are additions to both the Pet and People Galleries, and at least a few more to come in the next few weeks. Here’s one little guy who is finally making it onto the site. Sorry I left you hanging there, Buddy!

Buddy, 2013, Basset Hound Portrait, Graphite Pencil Drawing on Paper, 5"x7"

Thanks so much for poking around. Let me know what you think of the new digs. You can say hello at info (at) melodystarkweather (dot) ca.

Special thanks to Steev at Brooke Media Arts and Lynda at Wild Element Design for all of their hard work and expertise on this project.

My Top Ten Favourite Portrait Paintings

It’s been a long time since I flexed the old Art History muscles, but I do have a degree in the field, and it’s high time I do something with it (even if it’s just a silly blog post!)

In no particular order, here are some of my favourite portrait artists and an example each of their work. All of the works I chose to share in this list I would classify as classical portrait painting. I tend to enjoy naturalistic work (although I have a penchant for Minimalism.) However, I also selected these simply because my own style is naturalistic. I find these works personally relatable and also accessible to people who may not have studied Art History. And without further ado:


Self Portrait, Rembrandt Van Rijn, c. 1628

I love the way Rembrandt handles light and dark. It’s what he is known for, and with good reason. The way his subjects emerge from the shadows into the light is nothing short of magical. He worked very successfully at times as a portrait artist, and was known for his etchings, which also played extensively with light and shadow. Although he experienced much commercial success in parts of his career, he also encountered much hardship later on. Throughout, his style shifted, but his self-portraits were an ongoing reflection of the self throughout his years as a painter – there are more than 90 documented portraits of the artist, spanning from the 1620s until his death in 1669. I can only hope to be so prolific!


Fray Hortensio Félix Paravicino, El Greco, 1609

El Greco was a visionary of his time, now widely appreciated, but not entirely understood by his contemporaries. His expressionistic work echoed some of the qualities of Byzantine portraiture – the long pronounced fingers and hands, for example – but also incorporated elements of Italian Renaissance painting and Mannerism. His style, some say, is so unique to him that it defies categorization in any conventional school – and in fact, is seen by many as a precursor to Expressionism and Cubism. I’ve been lucky enough to see some of El Greco’s paintings in the flesh and they are unbelievably rich and moving. It’s no wonder he was such a game-changer in the art scene.


The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, John Singer Sargent, 1882

John Singer Sargent was an American painter, who trained and spent most of his life in Europe. I find his work so appealing – it shows some Impressionist influences with broad and loose brushstrokes, but has almost photographic accuracy. I really love it. I chose this particular painting because I myself do a number of child portraits and I find this to be a really nice example. I enjoy the way in which each girl is separately highlighted and treated as an individual portrait, while the group as a whole works harmoniously.


Kent, Chuck Close, 1970

I cannot tell you how many times I stood in front of this megalith of a painting at the Art Gallery of Ontario during my years in art school in Toronto. Chuck Close’s larger works are completely mesmerizing to me, much in the way that Mark Rothko’s pieces are. I can stand back and view the piece as a whole, but when I stand closer, in its shadow, so to speak, the art consumes me, swallows me. Due to its size, at close range, the work is abstracted, and many of his works are even pixelated into irregular shapes within a grid when viewed up-close. (The grid features prominently in much of his process and resulting work.) His innovative and unusual techniques with colour and layering are even said to have inspired the invention of the first InkJet printer.


Dana Gordon, Alice Neel, 1972

Alice Neel’s portraits of artists, friends and other comrades are ripe with emotion and intensity. Dana Gordon’s is no different. She captures his expression with a seemingly effortless command of the paintbrush. This and Neel’s other subjects make very direct – even piercing – eye contact with the viewer, drawing us into their world and psyche. There is a rawness to these portraits. I find them very compelling.


Georg Gisze, Hans Holbein the Younger, 1532

I was again fortunate enough to view some of Holbein’s work in Europe while traveling over there several years ago, and it is quite enchanting. The technical skill is undeniable, from the absolutely tactile rug draped on the table at which Gisze sits, to the exactness of his face and hair. But what I also find so intriguing is the wealth of objects (and clothing) that represent the subject’s life as a merchant. Many of these objects are also symbolic. The vase sitting precariously close to the edge of the table, for instance, represent the fragility of life, while the carnations therein represent Gisze’s engagement. I could get positively lost in the details.


Self Portrait, Phillipe Auguste Renoir, 1899

This painting isn’t typical of Renoir’s well-known colourful Impressionist works, but I think it is a beautiful and telling self portrait. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but the darker palette to me suggests some sadness, which would make sense, given that the artist developed rheumatoid arthritis around 1892. He eventually moved to warmer climes, but was so debilitated by his arthritis, that he had to bandage his hands and strap a brush to his fingers. He also used a picture roll, due to his very limited mobility, to continue to paint larger pieces. Nonetheless, he continued to make art, right up until his death.


Portrait of Maude Abrantes, Amadeo Modigliani, 1907

I find this painting so beautiful and unusual. It predates the simplified, geometric figures for which Modigliani is more well-known, but hints at what was to come. The figure’s neck is elongated, her expression somber. Although there is some detail in the woman’s clothing, it is still fairly abstract. If I’m totally honest, I much prefer Modigliani’s earlier portraits, but his influence on modern art and Cubism is undeniable.


Girl With a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer, c.1665

This painting is actually a “tronie,” or a depiction of a head that wasn’t intended to be a portrait of a specific person. Perhaps this is why the identity of the sitter remains unknown. However, it is such a beautiful specimen of work, and conveys so much feeling about the girl that I had to include it. Vermeer was a master of light and colour, often depicting his subjects near windows, with natural light pouring in on them. I love how this girl is bathed in light, but shown against a solid, dark background. It is visually striking and irrefutably soft and beautiful.


Self Portrait, Lucien Freud, 2002

Lucien Freud was certainly a preeminent painter of the 20th century. His work is deeply psychological and often jarring. Not surprisingly, connections have been made between him and his very famous grandfather Sigmund Freud. For instance, his figures often recline on a couch or settee, which has been speculated to be a nod toward his grandfather and the therapist’s couch. He also had an interesting way of working, in which he would start by painting the subject’s head, and work out from there, intentionally leaving a section of the canvas blank until the end, as a reminder that the piece was in progress. Toward the end of the portrait, he would return to the head, as his knowledge and understanding of the sitter at that point would be deeper. So, a psychological connection with important in his working process. The results are often uncomfortably intimate.

This was an interesting exercise for me and a bit of a walk down Memory Lane. Thanks for reading. I’ll give some thought to putting together a list of pet portraits too. Might be fun!

xo melody

Leeloo, through the looking glass


Back in the summer, an old friend contacted me to inquire about having her cat painted. She had several photos she was looking at, but really loved this one:

leeloo (1)

I believe I mentioned in my last post, this photo is an old cell phone photo. They don’t even have the phone anymore. Here’s a close-up, to give you an idea of what I was working with:

leeloo closeup

Grainy! Now, I’ve talked before about how it’s totally possible to work with a crummy photo for a portrait, but it results in a different aesthetic than working with crisp photos. This one had me pretty concerned though, especially since Dallyce wanted a 12×12 in painting. You know what, though? Once again, it totally worked out! Painting the view through the window was an exercise in articulating the abstract. It was sort of like trying to paint without my glasses on. In the end, however, it was really fun and I was happy with the result. She was too. 🙂

I gave my hubby the painting today for his birthday. He loved it!! Thanks again for all the hard and beautiful work you did.

Here is the final image. I hope you like it as well!



Happy Hollydays

From the mouths of babes: “Santa was a little bit scary, but he’s a really nice guy.”

holly santa 2015

Our wee Holly just turned TWO! Wow! Time sure does fly. I have actually been back to work on art, and I’m here to blog about it. Coming soon, a process post on a cat painting I worked on over the summer. It was another work made from a very poor quality photograph – off of an old flip phone. A flip phone!!

We are expecting our second baby this spring, so I’ve been hard at work getting new work done, revamping my website, and napping as much as possible (not a lot with a toddler.)

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season. Ours was a lot of fun with our big girl, who is big on presents. Above photo by Serreh Burritt, taken in beautiful Perth, Ontario.

Can I use a crummy photo?

In short, yes!

I have had a few commissions as of late, that have been drawn from, well, terrible photos. When a loved one has passed, sometimes all we have left is a couple of grainy snapshots. Or if the work is a surprise for someone, access to good photos may be limited. I draw and paint my portraits directly from these photos. Without the actual subject, that’s all I have to go on. I reproduce what I have in front of me (with, of course, a dash of magic.) When a picture is blurry, my portrait ends up with a much softer quality. Here are a couple of examples of portraits created from very sharp hi-res images:


And here are a few created from lower quality source images:


Do you see the difference? The less detail in the photo, the less I can put in the artwork. I wouldn’t say that’s a bad thing, but it certainly results in a different aesthetic quality.

One more – Mulan. I was actually a little concerned going in to this one. The photo was so grainy and small, and my client wanted it blown up to an 8×10. She and I were both pleased with the end result. Again, it is softer and may not show each hair, but still represents the subject well.


For more on this client’s reaction, have a look at my testimonials section, as I’ll be posting her kind words there shortly. When I hear back form clients on how much they enjoy the final work, or how well their gift went over, it warms my heart each time. It really does. So bring on the compliments! (Ha ha!)

xoxo melody



Plugging my pals

Since I’m on a work hiatus of sorts, I thought I should give a shout-out to some talented and (currently) hard-working babes back in Toronto, April and Michele of Field Day Design. The three of us used to make collaborative large-scale installation art, showing at the Gladstone Hotel, YYZ and XPACE, to name a few. They both went on to continue making large scale displays and installations for Canada’s  very first Anthropologie stores in Toronto. I was also honoured to be a bridesmaid in both of their weddings, so I can say from first-hand experience that their attention to detail, their clear vision, their stylish aesthetics and their undeniable talent and skill is all on-point. These girls make gorgeous spaces and gorgeous weddings happen. (And since my partner and I were married this past August and I planned and made all of the decorations on my own, with a little bit of help from my friends, I can say that some help in this arena would have been really useful…especially for someone who isn’t already an obsessive maker of things like I am.)

Without further ado – go here!


Trust me, they are the real deal. 100% geniuses.

Oh! And for a recap on Michele’s wedding, go here!