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Case Study: Custom Portrait Gift for a CEO

I was approached by my friend James who works at Intuit. Their beloved CEO, Jeff Cates had just announced that he was leaving for a new position at another company. To honour this man their team was scrambling to get him the perfect gift. Something that would sum up all his accomplishments while at Intuit and the things in his life that were special to him.

This is where I came into the picture.

James contacted me to ask if I could do a collage type portrait in less than a week - in time for Jeff’s going away party. They were going to print it on a 2’ x 3’ canvas and present it to him. They approached me with a budget that was fair and I was fine with the tight timeline, even managing to work in the time needed for printing.

It’s always important to have a written agreement, even with friends. Things can get messy when money is involved and I’ve had some less than pleasant experiences in the past. It’s nothing personal, just business. So we signed a contract and they sent me a bunch of reference photos that they had collected. Kudos to Candice and James at Intuit for being so organized. They had a list of what they wanted to include as well as good clear photos of Jeff and his family.

I tried something a little different for my workflow. Instead of using my Wacom Bamboo tablet while looking at the monitor I decided to hook up my iPad Pro to my computer and use the Astropad app to draw on the iPad directly in Photoshop CC.

I took all the images and lists and started a sketch. I made the design decision to keep Jeff Cates’ portrait in the middle and have everything cascading out around him - since this was a summary of his life.

I delivered the first sketch and James came back with this quick thumbnail sketch detailing the changes they wanted made. He felt that adding some clouds behind everything would help unify the composition.

I edited and sent back this second round.

With a portrait it’s very important to get the likeness of the person correct. I was working off a photo but of course James and Candice saw him every day. They were having issues with his unique smile. I took another stab at editing the inks and nailed it.

Initially I was instructed to keep the portrait in black and white inks - because of the tight deadline. However, I started painting the piece in digital watercolor and was very happy with the results. I showed the team and they liked the look too.

I started painting in colour, but quickly it started to look too cartoony. So I decided to desaturate it all down to a monochrome palette of blue-grey tones. This made the piece look more elegant and sophisticated.

I got the final ok and sent it off to my printer to print and stretch the canvas. James picked it up and delivered it to the happy CEO.

This was a fun project. I love being able to help celebrate someone special and create a cherished gift that will be enjoyed for years to come. If you’re interested in having a special portrait done for someone in your life feel free to contact me for a quote.

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