Authentic essence

Shawn in his studioShawn in his studio

Portrait artist Shawn McGovern, who lived in Wanstead for many years before moving to South Woodford in 2016, talks about capturing the essence of his subjects.

As a child, I went to Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School in Wanstead and later attended Trinity Catholic High School in Woodford Green. I went on to graduate from Wimbledon College of Art in 2013 with a first class honours degree in Fine Art. The following year, I was accepted onto a scholarship to study at the Royal Drawing School. It was at the Royal Drawing School I decided to focus my work largely around the human form.

Whilst studying, I worked as a studio assistant for renowned portrait painter Stuart Pearson Wright. In 2015 I was accepted to exhibit work at the National Portrait Gallery as part of the BP Portrait Award, an annual competition that sees thousands of hopeful painters entering from all over the world and represents the very best in contemporary portrait painting. Since exhibiting in the BP Portrait Award, I have undertaken various commissions. My current projects include painting three Olympic boxers who received medals at last year's Rio Olympics.

With each portrait, my aim is to capture an authentic essence of the sitter. This encompasses two tasks: to create an accurate visual representation of the sitter but also to create an image that communicates something about the subject's character. The latter is perhaps the most challenging, but often the most interesting, aspect. I like to have as many sittings from life as possible. This allows me to get a better understanding of the sitter's facial features but also gives me more time to get to know the person I'm painting. I also take a series of photographs that I use for reference. It's important to me that the portrait does more than just resemble the sitter; I want my paintings to say something about the person.

Shawn's work will be on show at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters exhibition at the Mall Galleries from 4 to 19 May. For more information and to commission a portrait, visit or call 07725 852 475

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