Following the Tea Party contest, Shari painted the winners' portrait! One brush at a time, we invite you to discover the story and ‘making of’ process behind the painting.

Child portrait gifting with artist


Introduction to Shari and her work :

"I delight in painting family portraits, imagining as I work the emotions the painting will evoke when viewed, whether immediately or years later as a treasured heirloom."

Having trained at the University of Tennessee where she earned a B.F.A. degree and then continued her education with independent studies in Europe of the Old Master's compositions and techniques, Shari is now most known for her portraits of children. They are her favorite subjects! 

She is a mother of four herself and enjoys the flexibility of her career. When possible, her own children like to assist her. This summer, her youngest named Sofi, will work with her and learn about photography along the way.

Oil portrait artist Shari Ford, work in progress

The why behind the contest in Shari’s words:

It was the middle of February. The landscape was gray and everyone seemed blue after the very untraditional holidays that were forced upon us by the necessity of social distancing. I have a print of a tea party painted by Joe Bowler. Admiring it, filled me with longing for Spring beauty and a return to civility which had so much been disrupted by the troubles of our time.⁠⁠

I then decided I would reset my focus through the lens of Philippians 4:8 : “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”. I took a break from all news outlets and from caustic Facebook posts. I listened to Grace Livingston Hill's books and dreamed of new paintings and making life around us lovely.⁠⁠⁠ I wanted to give others the chance to take a moment to escape, laugh and celebrate the coming Spring! I knew my spirits have been lifted!⁠⁠

The Tea Party Portrait contest came from that! What a joy it was to receive such pretty pictures of little girls enjoying tea parties in precious dresses, to see sisters gather and dream together! Selecting a favorite proved very difficult as all participants put their love and creativity into it. Yet a contest would not be a contest without a winner…

 The story and kind hearts of the winners :

Children's tea party

Twice as much love, two blessings from above! Sarah Cate & Callie, sisters, twins and best of friends were selected as winners of the contest.

Two gifts from God, fertility babies - embryos that their parents were told not to freeze because of their poor quality. They were transferred anyway, the family trusted and believed anyway! And today they are blessed with incredibly amazing perfect twin girls. A beautiful example of faith! 

For the contest, the girls wore their handmade Charlotte sy Dimby gowns - we had to make an exception to our one per size rule to allow them to match - and their heirloom antique gold bracelets given on the day of their birth. They drank tea on their grandmother’s antique tea set gifted to her on her wedding day.

And of course they invited their bunnies to join along. These dear friends were gifted to them at birth and sat in their cribs. 

Everything about the picture had a special meaning and was carefully chosen. All the family took part, it was the dad who took the photos of the girls!

Follow the family on Instagram : @amberly2379 et @gcoll3


Studio & Tools

My studio is adjacent to my home in a converted porch surrounded by gardens. I have plans to enlarge. I will add a large outdoor room that will open into my studio through big sliding doors that will remain open when weather permits. Fond of flowers, I enjoy working close to nature!
Artist's studio

My custom mahogany Hughes easel is marvelous! Easily raised, lowered and moving sideways by a system of pulleys, weights and runners, it adapts to all my needs.

I use Belgian linen canvas, triple oil primed for a smooth, even surface. ⁠The twins' canvas was a standard 20” x 24” but I sometimes stretch larger canvases myself on custom frames.

Belgian linen canvas, triple oil primed for a smooth

As for brushes, I use Rosemary ones, handmade to my specifications in Yorkshire, England. I had the pleasure of meeting Rosemary and her daughter Simi at a Portrait Artists of America convention in Reston, VA, which makes it all the more special!


Last but not least, I use several brands of oil paints. I need quite a big variety to achieve delicate skin tones as well as vibrant and subtle ranges in the clothing and backgrounds. Blue Ridge Oil paints are a particular favorite.

Blue Ridge Oil paints

Portrait preparation

The first step was to go through all the photos from the shoot. I decided to combine several : I picked one for the gentle smiles and two which best highlighted the dresses and faces. I also chose to paint the bunnies smaller so as to show more of the smocks and not to feature the cupid bowl. An additional picture of the grandmother’s tea set was also provided to see the details better.
Oil portrait preparation - work in progress
With all these pictures put side by side, I began with a small color study for color and composition. The table was made smaller and round and I added impatiens and hydrangeas to the background.
small color study for color and composition

Painting the portrait

I started the final painting with a fairly detailed drawing in pencil. The lines disappear when the painting begins. On a small painting like this, I use an “All Prima” method- quickly painting wet on wet. It allows me to work faster from there and carefully paint the faces.

Oil portrait work on in progress
Oil portrait work on in progress

In the second layer, I made some changes and added details : the smocking has appeared, hydrangeas and impatiens, a tea cup has moved, the table cloth has been shortened and embroidery has been added along with many little refinements. That’s the great thing with paint, you can create and adapt as you go along!


Artist meets winners

The twins and their mother were able to meet Shari in person to receive the final portrait. They enjoyed an afternoon tea in Chattanooga, Tn at the Historic Dent House that has been turned into a tea house called Polly Claire’s. Sofi, Shari’s daughter as well as Amberly’s sister and her niece came along. All children were dressed in their Charlotte sy Dimby dresses and it was quite a party!

Sibling photos smocked dresses

Painting’s final destination

The portrait will be on prominent display in one of the family rooms as a reminder to focus on all things good and pure and true in our world decided Amberly.

In the midst of the Covid, this lovely tea party for the contest allowed us to keep on celebrating childhood and to create beautiful souvenirs! To all who took part from near and far, please be thanked!

Child portrait receival

What next ? - Thoughts from Shari

Painting these two giggling beauties certainly lifted my spirits and becoming better acquainted with Charlotte sy Dimby dresses truly inspired me! The Tea Party Portrait painting was meant to be a small impressionistic painting but as I worked on it, I greatly desired to paint an exquisite full sized portrait of a beautiful girl in a lovely Charlotte sy Dimby dress!  

Working on the portrait of a pretty little girl surrounded by flowers had me dreaming of “ Charlotte sy Dimby Princess and Posies”...

I imagined garden fairytales. Pictures of little princesses standing in a beautiful arbor. Their beautiful eyes are looking directly at me, every detail of  their lovely faces visible... Their Charlotte sy Dimby dresses swirl about them as their hands delicately rests on one of the roses.

Or maybe your princess has just come back to her castle with an armful of lavender. Her lovely dress spreads out around her as she sits regally on a settee with her bouquet beside her,  graceful hands like butterflies on the flowers. Another princess could be dressed in a delicately embroidered Charlotte sy Dimby creation, flowers loosely woven in her hair, smiling gently like Botticelli’s “Primavera”.

I would like to allow you take part in the dream, let your imagination flow!

Portrait and artist

New challenge : Express your creativity and win a portrait

Following the success of the Tea Party portrait and totally sedeuced by Shari's latest dream, we are thus thrilled to announce the launch of a new creative challenge“Charlotte sy Dimby Princess and Posies”. 

Submit a photo of your Charlotte sy Dimby princess surrounded by flowers or simply holding a single rose and get the chance to win a portrait valued between $14,000 - $16,000 painted with a blend of classical realism and impressionism from your photo. The portrait will be 30” x 40” or a comparable size, depending on the composition.

To take part share your best photo with a little text about your enchanted floral word. Tag and follow @sharifordportraits and @charlotte_sy_dimby to take part! Subscriptions are open until the 30th of August. If you are not on Instagram, you can also take part by email. Please send to info@charlottesydimby.com

Details on how to take part (conditions, step by step process and advice)

Visit Shari's website

Follow her Instagram

Discover another talented children's portrait artist : Sally Gates. Visit her website.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published