Lancaster Artist Leads the Way with Portraits for Graduates and their Families


29 May 2019 16:50
John Elles, Lancaster Artist
John Elles in his Lancaster Gallery

The traditional graduation photograph is a staple of many homes across the world but now proud parents and grandparents are turning to a new ‘must-have’ item to commemorate that hard-earned (and often expensive) degree. Enter the painted graduation portrait.

And leading the way is Lancaster artist, John Elles. He has teamed up with London-based Churchill Gowns to provide what they believe is the UK’s, and possibly the world’s, only dedicated graduation portraiture service.

John explained how the partnership came about.

“Last year I worked with Lancaster University academic, Dr Sandra Wearden (PhD Educational Research, 2017.) She is one of the world’s foremost experts on the history of degree ceremonies and academic ceremonial dress. I provided artwork and illustrations for her book, A Guide to Degree Ceremonies. When Dr Wearden met Oliver and Ruth from Churchill Gowns she showed them my work and they all realised that there was a gap in the market for custom, hand-painted graduation portraits.”

John, who is renowned as an imaginative cityscape and portrait painter, works from his studio and gallery in the heart of historic Lancaster and he has seen a growing demand for portraiture.

“While graduation photographs certainly have their place they are generic in style. My portraits can include a plain background or a scene from the subject’s university or favourite place. For example, graduation portraits are particularly popular with overseas students for whom attending a British University is a real mark of prestige. They often request that an aspect of historic England, such as an iconic London scene, is featured in the background of their portrait.”

He added: “There can be a strong strong element of imagination in these portraits. Churchill Gown customers can hire the gowns for a couple of days. This means that they can be photographed in them wherever they want and may even ask their other family members to hire gowns to have group photographs taken. Using these photographs, I can incorporate a whole family into the finished portrait!”.

Ruth said: “Parents of overseas students can’t always fly to the UK to attend their child’s degree ceremony. Having a portrait specially created by John makes for a particularly significant commemoration for such an important occasion. A painting like this will last for generations and is a great conversation piece. We are receiving a lot of interest.”

John said: “This slight blurring of reality is something that I bring it to my cityscape paintings as well. I merge the modern with elements of the past. The intention is to present a rich re-imagining of familiar places by manipulating the layers of time.”

For the graduate portraits subjects do not need to sit for John as he can work directly from photographs and they discuss their ideas and vision for the finished product. “Subjects can choose to have any background that they wish,” he said.

His artwork has been shown in exhibitions across the North of England and his paintings are in private collections around the world. Clients include ex-Saatchi and Saatchi CEO, Kevin Roberts, and comedian Jon Richardson.

John, who was born and who still lives in Lancaster, worked for many years with master craftsman and interior designer, James Mackie of Mackie’s of Lancaster, primarily as a specialist painter on upmarket interior projects.

John opened his own gallery in Gage Street five years ago. The Elles Gallery, 4 Gage Street, Lancaster, LA1 1UH. 07930 941 694.

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