New Artwork and Building Bridges Part 2

New Artwork and Building Bridges Part 2

A few weeks ago, I posted on a new painting I completed recently, a 48″ x 72″ black-and-white portrait of a family from the Twin Cities. It was the largest portrait I have ever been commissioned to do, and arguable the most unique. There’s more about the idea and how the portrait came to be, here.

I’ll jump in where I left off on the last post. The portrait took nearly 200 hours to complete, from the time taken to build the sizable canvas stretcher frame to the last dab of paint.

I underestimated the challenge of painting in monochromatic.


Although it is easier to do a painting this way than full-blown color, it presented a few difficulties that I didn’t foresee, at least to the extent that surfaced in this work.

You would think that to do a black and white painting that you would simply just use black and white paint and mix various amounts to arrive at the grey tones in between.

It didn’t work that way for me.

I typically paint with a translucent glazing technique that allows light to reflect through the canvas and back to your eye through the layers of paint, like the Old Masters, giving the final painting a vibrance that is hard to capture with opaque paint alone.

So, when you mix black with the clear acrylic medium, even mixed with some white, and apply it to the canvas, the resulting color is not slate grey, but a brownish grey, because the light shining through the canvas warms up the color.

Then, when certain areas become more opaque than others, the predominance of white mixed in with layers gives the grey shade a cooler, bluish cast.

Maybe I’m just picky, but I don’t want certain areas of the painting to look brown or blue (at least without my say so) when I’m shooting for black and white. If the client commissions a black and white painting, that’s what he expects to get.

The solution?

My black and white palette

My black and white palette

I included brown, yellow, and blue on my palette and mixed it back into the colors to correct anything that was off. If the shade was too cool, I warmed it up with brown and yellow. If it was too warm, I cooled it down with blue.

So even in a monochromatic painting, I still end up using color!

But that’s OK, because color is fun to use. 🙂

Now I did make the background just a bit cooler in tone, so that it would visually recede. But it’s nice to be able to do that, when you, the artist chooses to, not just letting the paint do whatever it wants to.

After finishing up the background, I really honed in on the people in the foreground. Here are some photos of me working taken by a talented photographer, Tom Gardner, at Artisan Forge Studios, where I work. At this stage I am nearly finished with the portrait. Yes, I can see the finish line from here!

Artist Matt Philleo working on a 48" x 72" commissioned portrait painting at Artisan Forge Studios

Artist Matt Philleo working on a 48″ x 72″ commissioned portrait painting at Artisan Forge Studios

I completed the painting, sent a proof to the client, Jim, and he responded, asking me to make a few minor changes on his son’s face. You don’t always get it right the first time. But I have learned this over the years:

As long as you stick with it, and ask God for help on how to make the necessary changes, it will always turn out all right.

In this case, Jim was extremely specific in the corrections he requested and, from an artist’s perspective, that really helps. That way, you’re not just shooting in the dark. You know what you need to do and how to get there.


Artist Matt Philleo detailing a face within the 48" x 72" portrait.

Artist Matt Philleo detailing a face within the 48″ x 72″ portrait.


After the changes, Jim approved the portrait, and I wrapped it up and made the drive to Minnesota to deliver it. Jim only lives 1 1/2 hours away, so I figured delivering it in person was the best way to go.

He and his wife loved it, and I feel like their home is the perfect environment for this painting both aesthetically and conceptually.

It fits right in, and their decor matches perfectly.



The finished portrait hanging in the client’s home in Minnesota.

Jim just sent me a testimonial on this portrait, which he posted on, the website that brought his idea and my execution of it together. Here’s what he wrote:

“Most art that I have purchased or have been interested in was more abstract. One day, I was looking to do something different that I didn’t even know if it was possible. I thought what if I wanted a portrait painted of my family when we were all the same age? Could that be done, capturing the realism I would want? I was not fully aware of one’s capability in portrait art. You see portraits done and they are hard to measure because you do not know the person that is painted to make a fair judgment on accuracy. I did not know anyone locally so I went out on the Internet to search for an artist. By going this route, I was skeptical that I would find someone who could do the work and someone I could trust.

"Jim C. Family Portrait"48 x 72, acrylic on canvas, by artist Matt Philleo, detail

“Jim C. Family Portrait”48 x 72, acrylic on canvas, by artist Matt Philleo, detail


“I must have look at about 2-dozen artists. Once of those artists was Matthew, and after reviewing Matthew’s portfolio, I had to contact him to see if there was any interest. Matthew was very quick to respond. We discussed the project and there was mutual interest, but I wasn’t ready to pull the trigger due to other projects and obligations.

“Once I was ready, I sent an email, and again, Matthew was very prompt with responding to my inquiries. We finally met in person for the initial concept. We provided pictures both as older and digital photos of our kids. Matthew provided the timeline of how long the portrait would take and we agreed to go forward.

Jim C. Family Portrait, detail

Jim C. Family Portrait, detail

“From the initial meeting to the finished product, there was not one glimpse of doubt, or any negativity that surrounded this project. I could not be happier about the entire process and the outcome. This project in my mind was very complex. The work Matthew did was excellent and exceeded expectations.


“Jim C. Family Portrait” 48 x 72, Acrylic on Canvas, by portrait artist Matt Philleo

“The concept of the painting was to have: me, my wife, my daughter, and my son, from left to right, with the New York skyline merging into the Minneapolis skyline. The pictures we provided were not suited for the painting. The portrait was to portray us standing. The picture of my wife and I were of us sitting. My wife was sitting back in the chair and tilted to the side. 

Jim C. Family Portrait-detail

Jim C. Family Portrait-detail



Jim C. Family Portrait- detail

Jim C. Family Portrait- detail


“For my son, we had two pictures, one of him that was used in the portrait and another in a Wild jersey. We wanted to use the one photo but with him wearing the Wild jersey. The end result was amazing where we all look like we were standing and my son’s picture was merged with the Wild jersey.


Jim C. Family Portrait, 48" x 72," Acrylic on Canvas, by portrait artist Matt Philleo, detail

Jim C. Family Portrait, 48″ x 72,” Acrylic on Canvas, by portrait artist Matt Philleo, detail



“There were two types of skill here: one producing the concept with image manipulation and two, painting the portrait to perfection. Once completed, Matthew sent photos of the portrait for any modifications. We had a few minor changes and Matthew was great about them. Once that was completed, he personally delivered the painting to our home. Once we saw the painting in person, I could not believe how awesome the painting looked.


Jim C_Family Portrait, detail of bridge

Jim C_Family Portrait, detail of bridge

“The entire process working with Matthew was great. He is an awesome person and an awesome artist. I would most definitely work with him again. I have a mural that I want painted on an 18’x8′ wall. And time around I am totally confident its going to be great because I know Matthew will do a great job, and personally there is no other artist I’d rather work with.” —Jim C, Lakeville, MN

It was an privilege and blessing to be able to paint this portrait for Jim and his family and bring his compelling idea of bridging two generations together to life.

Would you like to have a unique portrait done? If so, I would love to work with you too!

Share Your Thoughts!

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please leave me your feedback below! I will personally get back to you. Can you help me spread the word? Please share this post with your family and friends by using the social media links on the side or below. Thank you!

"I have inscribed you on the palm of my hands."

Inscribed6a 500px

"Inscribed," Pencil on Paper, by Matt Philleo

One day, when I was discouraged I read a verse in the Bible, in Isaiah, 49:15-16, where it says, "Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palm of my hands." This verse brought such encouragement, that I created this original work of art to share the incredible love of God with others, including you!

Get a free 8 x 10 copy of this drawing that you can use to print, share, or as wallpaper!

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  1. Dear Matt, Again you have clearly explained the mechanics your excellent work. Certainly the “color temperature” played a role in photographic enlarging and choice of emulsions as well, but did not present the problem you explain with your glazing technique. In photography we could choose between bromide or chloride halides and could choose from a variety of complex toners–all in the monochrome. But a lifesize group portrait requested by Jim C. of Lakeville was a challenge, indeed which was well beyond mere photography or photographic manipulations. Certainly Jim C. expressed his satisfaction with your work which fulfilled his concept. The setting being more than fifteen years ago and two generations adjusted to one. Unique indeed. And the use of a simulation of bromide paper monochrome impressed on the viewer the element of time. Well done Matt. Sincerely, Eric Westhagen

    • Matt Philleo

      Thank you Eric! It was a wonderful portrait to be able to do, a truly unique concept that the client came up with. I’m glad I only have to deal with acrylic paint and not the chemicals you describe in the photography process!


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