3 Portraits of my Grandma, for her 80th Birthday

Today, January 19 2015, is my paternal Grandma’s 80th birthday. Or at least, it would have been if she were still alive.

Grandma died in May 2013. I was overseas on holiday at the time – her health hadn’t been great, but it had been a slow decline over many years so her hospitalisation and passing was sudden and (to me at least) unexpected. There’s not a lot in that respect that I can say, which hasn’t already been said with more power by my amazing sister Millie in her blog post on Grief, Loss and Change.

The last photo I took of Grandma was at Easter, a few weeks earlier. It was a spontaneous iPhone snap, and in so many ways the image summed her up: smiling, joking around for her grandkids and great-grandkids, and holding court.

"Expressive Brushstrokes"
“Expressive Brushstrokes”

Last night I  downloaded the free FotoSketcher program. FotoSketcher promises to effortlessly turn photos into cartoons, with a whole range of effects – it’s a promise I’ve heard before and seen with mixed success, so I was keen to test it. The set-up was easy, and in choosing a picture to work with came across this shot of Grandma.

The timing in relation to Grandma’s birthday, was perfect.

"Pencil Sketch B&W"
“Pencil Sketch B&W”

The only issue I had with the FotoSketcher software was that it was too good. All of these are second passes at the various settings, as I tweaked variables (such as increasing minimum brush sizes, or reducing the level of detail) in order to bring out the artistic style.

The measure of a great pencil sketcher or water-colourist may be the realism of their finished picture, but in this instance we are watering down the realism of the photo. As such, enhancing the imperfections of the medium is important – if you can’t immediately tell that it’s a ‘watercolour’ or an ‘oil painting’ then it does just look like some minor software adjustments.


Grandma was exactly the sort of person who would have loved a commissioned portrait as a birthday present. And she wouldn’t have shied away from saying it would have made a better 18th Birthday present than an 80th! Her life, raised in India before the Partition, London where 3 of her children were born before the extended family emigrated to Australia, 3 great loves, and years cleaning hospitals so her children and grandchildren could have a better life, didn’t really allow for that.

Happy birthday Grandma. We miss you. And we hope these make you smile.

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