Capturing the magic of childhood with Sally Gates, child pastel portrait artist

If there is one person who knows how to capture childhood, it is definitely Sally Gates. The premier pastel portrait painter holds a very special place as we have had the honor of welcoming her to our Parisian boutique and dressing her granddaughter several times. We are absolutely stunned by her outstanding skill and wished to share about her passion and work.

Sally Gates pastel portrait artist for children

Can you tell us a little about yourself and describe your way of working?

I am a portrait artist of little children. Specializing in pastel, I am known for capturing the innocence of my subjects in exquisite detail. I strive to make each one of my commissions a masterpiece to be treasured for generations to come.

It all begins with photography. Gone are the days when children had to sit still for hours as an artist painted their portraits. The digital format of today’s cameras lets me take an unlimited amount of photos. 

After the family and I have chosen the perfect photo as reference for the hand painted pastel, I simply attach the 8”x10” photograph to the side of my easel and start to sketch in a hard pastel to get the outline. It then becomes a matter of time as I follow the mantra of “dark, medium , light, redraw” over and over until the paper is filled up and the natural glow of the pastel is achieved.

Capturing the serenity and dignity of each subject, with just a hint of a smile and wide open eyes, will create the perfect classic pastel portrait.

Pastel portrait of a child by Sally Gates dresses by Charlotte sy Dimby

Sally Gates' granddaughter Freya wearing one of our smocked dresses

How did your passion for children's portraits start?

It all began with The Beatles and the British invasion! At the age of nine I couldn’t wait to go out and buy the “Meet the Beatles” album. The black and white photograph of all the musicians was gorgeous and I immediately got out my pencil and copied the front cover...and it was a excellent rendition. I knew at that moment I could draw a face with a perfect likeness.

I was fortunate to have the complete support and encouragement of my parents and the opportunity to attend the finest schools, both private and public. When I began pursuing portraiture as a business I learned that the market was oversaturated with artists who painted in oils. I chose to then concentrate on becoming an expert in pastels for what is the preferred method to capture a child.

(In a very interesting side note, the pastel portrait of seven year old Marie-Antoinette of Austria, along with her siblings circa 1762 , by the artist Jean-Etienne Liotard, hangs perfectly preserved in its full rich color in the Musée d'Art et d’Histoire of Geneva.)

Pastel art child portrait in traditional clothing painted Sally Gates - Capturing the magic of childhood with Charlotte sy Dimby

Can you share some of your most precious memories during a portrait session?

One of the sweetest memories was of a little four year old girl in Dallas, telling me about her plans for the day, in little girl chatter...“Oh Miss Sally, today I am so excited. My mommy is taking me to see my grand mommy and my great mommy!” That child should be starting her first year in college about now!

I also have fun memories painting during my travels too. Indeed my husband is quite laid back and loves to go on cruises, whereas I always need to have a daily project. So we have come to a compromise : I take my commissions on the ship and work on my pieces in the cabin while he reads books by the pool. My trusty steel lined portfolio, that I have had since college ( and that I'm pretty sure is longer made) has made it easy for me to paint anywhere in the world!

Heirloom child in traditional clothing pastel portrait by Sally Gates, celebrating the magic of childhood with Charlotte sy Dimby

Can you give us your advice on how to make the portrait session successful?

It’s best to schedule your little child early in the day for photography with as few distractions as possible. Please make arrangements for child care for the other siblings.

Please bring their outfit and dress your child just before the photo session begins. I ask mothers to stand behind me as I snap away for a child will always follow its mom's with its eyes.

Please also bring clear lip gloss for little girls. It adds such a lovely touch. Don’t forget the bows and make sure they are not flat.

Children grow up so quickly. Consider the time honored tradition of capturing those young years in a pastel portrait. You will treasure it forever.

As for future pastellists, my biggest piece of advice is to never touch the surface of the pastel with your finger to blend, for you will immediately lose the glow!

Traditional child portrait painted by Sally Gates - Capturing the magic of childhood with Charlotte sy Dimby

Can you share several Instagram accounts which capture the beauty of childhood?

@bornandraisedstudio : A photographer who specializes in classic vignette black and white classic photography of children.

@lindanicholsphotography : A wonderful Atlanta photographer that I use to photograph my subjects when I can’t be there myself.

@rastawhiteshepherd : Just for fun, the account of a beautiful white dog as he meanders through Switzerland.

Elle Hertz, daughter of Emily Hertz Born on Fifth painted by Sally Gates

Elle Hertz, daughter of Emily Hertz from Born on Fifth wearing one of our smocked dresses

Follow Sally Gates on Instagram

Visit her website to book your portrait

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