Melodie Cook PS and Penelope Milner explain how a desire to portray compelling emotion led them to select older sitters.


'I want my portraits to possess an emotional potency, and older sitters tend to project a lot of emotion because of the wealth of life experiences they have' says Melodie. 'I love the challenge of portraying those emotions with pastels. I also find it fascinating to map out the wrinkles, understanding how they are all connected and why they are there.'

Maria Vajente by Melodie Cook PS: Pastel, 107 x 107 cm - £2,950

'My two portraits in The Pastel Society Annual Exhibition 2019 were inspired by Maria Vajente, a long-time friend who'd wanted me to do her portrait for quite a while. Maria had seen my portrait of Nancy Trotter Landry and Bobby and absolutely wanted me to portray her with a chicken on her head.'

Nancy Trotter Landry and Bobby by Melodie Cook PS

'When we finally got together there was no chicken to be found, so Maria produced an amazing bandana and wrapped it around her head. Maria was three years into treatment for cancer and was awaiting the results from her latest tests. All of this really showed on her skin and in her expression, and I wanted to capture that, despite the pain of it. I put a lot of my own emotion into that drawing. Maria died just a few months later and so never made it to the exhibition.'

'Rosemary is 70 and a ceramic artist. She’s a lovely positive woman and has had a fantastically varied life, from owning a riding school to breeding and showing dogs, whilst running a French restaurant with her Italian husband. I wanted to portray Rosemary's strength of character and her love of the outdoors, hence the determined expression and the hair blowing away from her face.'

Rosemary Delfino by Melodie Cook PS: Pastel, 107 x 107 cm - £2,950

'Both ladies loved that I had done their portrait but hated to see all the wrinkles! They were both convinced that I had added extra ones, whereas the opposite was true. I am yet to find an older sitter who likes to contemplate the reality of their ageing - myself included. My self portraits are usually brutally honest. They reflect the ageing process rather than attempting any self-flattery or delusion.'


'Older people are physiologically complex and interesting to paint' says Penelope Milner. 'When the sitter is able to be themselves and allow the artist access, it's both a privilege and a fascinating discovery. I am less concerned about documenting the degenerative effects of age on the skin and the blemishes, than in understanding the individual.'

'Unfortunately, older women can be harder to paint than men; they often feel less at ease with their self image. But what happens to the muscles and the lines in the face tells much about the way a life has been lived, and there can be a real beauty in that. While painting the portrait of my mother, Harriet, I saw glimpses of her child self and young woman self as well as the person she now is.  The onset of my mother's dementia has made her less self-conscious about her physical appearance too.' 

Harriet by Penelope Milner; Pastel, 69 x 54 cm - £1,600

'Social media and adverts can feel dominated by perfect images of youth, often airbrushed, edited in photoshop, or filtered. These images seem to be concerned with a very narrow version of exterior beauty. In contrast, the process of painting someone is essentially slow and contemplative.'

'The presence of the individual makes itself known to the artist quietly, through a direct exchange. Perhaps art has a role to play in portraying something deeper about the human condition, something we as viewers can recognise about ourselves as we look into the face of a painted portrait.'