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A portrait of the portrait artist

Daniel Hughes was commissioned to paint the official portrait of outgoing Chancellor David Dodge. The portrait will be displayed in the Peter Lougheed Room in Richardson Hall, alongside portraits of previous chancellors. Communications Officer Andrew Stokes discussed the creative process with Mr. Hughes. 

Andrew Stokes: Can you describe the process you went through to paint Chancellor Dodge’s portrait?

[Daniel Hughes]
Daniel Hughes painted the portrait of Chancellor David Dodge to be unveiled Nov 8. (Supplied)

Daniel Hughes: I didn’t have David sit for the portrait because it took a very long time and he’s a busy man, so instead I worked with a photograph. Together with a photographer, we had him strike a number of poses and we captured a picture of him that would be a good representation. Working from a photo allows me to get the right lighting and contrast that I need for painting. 

AS: What were you trying to capture in the photo?

DH: More than anything, I wanted to get a shot where he looked truly relaxed. I also wanted to find a posture that showed something about his personality. As soon as you meet people, things come out about them, and it was quickly clear to me that he’s a charming and likable person. I had a chance to meet with David and his wife Chris to talk about what they were hoping for, and they wanted something a little more contemporary — they didn’t want a reserved Victorian pose. After sketching out a few of the options I found one where the smile was just right that managed to capture both his likeness and his personality.

AS: How long did the entire process take?

"Lesley" Oil on Canvas. Hughes has been painting portraits for more than 20 years.

DH: Once I started painting, I think it took somewhere between 60 and 80 hours to finish, and then some tweaking at the end as well. I paint portraits through a series of layers, starting dark and then working to a glaze layer. Getting details right like the pinstripes on his clothes takes time.

There’s always a strange effect when working on a portrait. You begin with a very abstract shape until suddenly a face starts to emerge. Once the likeness of the person is developed, they begin to give off their energy and you can feel their personality. While I was working on the painting, my sister came to visit me at my studio and the first thing she said was that he seems like a really pleasant and approachable person. It was great to get that feedback.

AS: What choices did you make to give the portrait a contemporary feel?

DH: Many of the previous chancellor portraits make use of a fairly dark colour palette, so I went for lighter colours. Rather than having him inside, standing by a bookshelf or something like that, he’s seated outside so you can see the sky, and there’s a silhouette of Grant Hall in the background. I typically paint contemporary subjects in modern clothing, but since David was wearing his robes and regalia, it felt a little bit like I was painting Henry VIII.

AS: How did you get this commission?

DH: I owe thanks to Jan Allen (Director, Agnes Etherington Art Centre) for suggesting me to do the painting and to David and Chris for selecting me. It’s been an honour to do a painting of a prominent Canadian that will hang for 100 years.

Chancellor Dodge’s portrait will be unveiled Saturday, Nov. 8 at the University Council Dinner. More of Daniel Hughes’ paintings can be seen on his website.