How I've Become a Portrait Artist

Updated: Sep 16, 2019

What is portrait art?

Portrait art in its' basics is capturing a personality, a likeness and even the mood of a person (or pet) in a painting, drawing, photograph, sculpture, or any other medium, often choosing the face as the predominant focus.

At its' core the portrait engages the viewer directly with the person (or animal) in the picture frame, and the longer you look at it the mind wanders through to explore who that person is.

While I'm painting a portrait, I spend that time thinking about them, naturally it's very difficult NOT to think about them while you are painting them.

Standing beside the completed portrait of my sister and I

Getting Started - Practice Practice Practice!

Drawing was my first true-love. Some people speculate that it was cats, and yes I very much love cats, dating back to my earliest experiences in Daycare. I digress;

Afternoons, weekends, any time at home as a child was spent drawing, I just loved it more than anything else. Mum and Dad still describe my childhood like that, where "she would just sit down and draw with her pencils and paper".

Nanna and Pop would ALWAYS put the drawing pencils and sheets of scrap paper out for me to draw on when I'd visit - I love that it was scrap paper, such a great way to recycle and I still use it for practising on (when I am not trying to produce a final artwork). In Primary School, I think I was 5 or 6 years old when I was awarded my first prize. I had created a multi-media picture, I think it involved drawing a farm scene, adding in some fluffy chickens, and cellophane.. and I'm not quite sure what else. But what I do remember is how I felt. I remember thinking WOW they chose ME? WHAT? I CAN DO ART??

So that just really encouraged me to draw even more, and spent hours upon hours doing only that. It was and still is my escape from the world where it's just me and the paper. Into high school around age 14-15 I started to learn that my drawings were looking real and life-like. My peers would comment on the details I was producing, which made me feel really important and noticed and extremely encouraged.

Smartphone Facial Recognition

Around this time the invention of smartphones added some more fuel to my ego. I thought that the facial recognition technology on my smartphone camera recognising the face in my drawing correlated to being an excellent drawer. I proved myself wrong when I then drew a stick-figure face (you know, a circle, filled with two dots for eyes and a curved line for a mouth) and the smartphone facial recognition ALSO recognised that. Ego back to earth, thankfully!

After School

After high school, due to a home life that I wasn't coping well with, I wanted to explore the country and move away - so I enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force - as an electronics technician! My choice was (to most people) random, however it felt to me like an empowering opportunity to try something ABSTRACT. Abstract art is not my talent, but I thought if I learn life in different ways that it would make me into a more interesting person. It didn't keep me away from doing drawings though, I did two portraits and some other drawings during my first year of training, and was always tasked with the arts and crafts jobs - you wouldn't believe it, but yes creativity DOES flow into every area of the world.

I did a portrait for my technical drawing teacher during trade school. He was teaching me schematics in class and recognised that I was extra-passionate about drawing, so he asked that of an evening I go back to my room and draw a portrait of his grandson. He paid me in a beautiful bottle of perfume which I loved wearing for a LONG time after!

Moving Towards Painting

During my time serving for the Australian Defence Force, I would technician-by-day and art-by-night. I recognised that drawing was something I had mastered, but what about paint? The education curriculum of my day didn't introduce us to oil paints, and until this time I'd written myself off as a "terrible painter". So I went to the art shop and bought a set of oil paints - in the primary colours (white, black, blue, red and yellow).

Then I started to learn the properties of the paint just through trial and error. At first I thought "wow this paint is THICK".. until I figured out that they sell linseed oil at the art shop for a reason and that yes I probably should buy it.

Painting practice took years, just like drawing practice did. It doesn't happen quickly or overnight, it happens in small increments and by facing those fears. For example, painting GRASS. I was so afraid of it, and (everyone's got a little bit of laziness) the lazy in me decided that it was in the too-hard basket. But I would jump onto YouTube and Google, check out how everyone else was painting grass, and all of a sudden it wasn't so intimidating anymore. So I now quite enjoy painting grass, it has shifted from stressful to relaxing by learning and practice.

Tam's Photorealistic Portraits - est. 2019

I started my business from my passion, plain and simply. It sounds cheesy and like you, I too wonder about people's passions becoming their business. However, after spending over eight years in a career that was the extreme opposite of portraiture (electrical engineering trade) here I am doing what my dream is. And I'm hoping for the best!

Overcoming nervousness

Getting past my self-doubt was a very long and difficult adventure; I never believed that I was worth it as an artist, and filled myself with the belief that I would have no customers, nobody interested in my work, and that the whole thing would be a total waste. Then something smart happened - I realised that I was telling myself all the wrong things!

I quite enjoy listening to mindfulness meditations and reading books about buddhist beliefs, and perhaps one of the most influential books for me was "The Courage to be Disliked" by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga. It talks about 'the Japanese phenomenon that shows you how to free yourself, change your life and achieve real happiness' (this is the quote printed on the cover of the book, and I couldn't have re-written that better myself to be honest).

Website and Social Media Pages

So I sat down, I learned how to make my own website through Wix (it's user-friendly, involves no coding, and I really love it). In many ways my technical background eradicates fear of technology, I was around computers a lot in my career and learned quick and efficient ways to use them. After all, to fix a computer you should know how to use one, first.

Alongside the website I created social media accounts with Facebook and Instagram because that's how I communicate with most of my friends and family and knew they'd be happy to see that finally I'm doing what I've always dreamed of. I love posting my portraits on there, it's exciting and helps customers know what is possible and to grab ideas for things they might like to have in their portrait.

I also regularly research about the laws and requirements of Australian small business, have a great relationship with my accountant, and try to explore every avenue to make sure I'm doing what I should be doing and then adding my spices on top. (look I have no idea why I made a cooking reference, but here we are).


I run my business from the understanding that we don't all have the ability to create realistic portraits - but, the portraiture experience is special and I believe quite ignored in today's mass-production economy. I want to create special pieces for special people, and I've found so far it's been a really rewarding experience both personally and professionally.

Me (Tam) School Art Exhibition - Age 11


Diploma of Business

Diploma of Business Administration

Diploma of Leadership and Management

Diploma of Work Health and Safety

Certificate IV in Human Resources

Studying Bachelor of Education (Secondary) Visual Arts

Where I work

My main studio is set up at home, however I like to venture out into the world and experience the beautiful local cafes, parks and beaches.

Fresh air makes me feel whole again, and it helps create a good feeling when I'm not wanting to be restricted to the indoor environment.

I also go to my university studio sometimes because it's another beautiful space, I enjoy other creatives walking through, overhearing chatter about art, and being part of an inspiring space.

Painting at one of my favourite spots - overlooking Merewether Beach


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