Brushing up on John Humphrys

Stella Tooth in the Today studio painting John Humphrys Stella Tooth does her best to capture an energetic John Humphrys

She spent many years nursing the public images of news broadcasters; now Stella Tooth is painting their portraits.

The former BBC News press and publicity officer returned to the BBC recently to begin a painting of former colleague John Humphrys - the first of the Corporation's journalists to sit for her series of pictures of news presenters and correspondents.

'He was very game,' says Stella, who was invited into the Today studio for half an hour to do an initial study of her subject and to take reference photographs on which she will draw to complete the portrayal.

'John's face is fantastic,' she reflects. 'His life is in his face - he has enormous energy and that shows in his face as well as in his every gesture. And when he's concentrating on an interview you can see that steeliness - in one eye, in particular.'

Energetic subject

So he's the perfect subject? 'Not exactly,' Stella laughs. 'He's very gestural, very energetic, he moves around a great deal - which makes it difficult when you're trying to paint his portrait.'

Close up of Stella Tooth's study of John Humphrys John Humphrys' life is in his face, says Stella

The figurative artist has already painted Jeremy Thompson, presenter at Sky News where she worked in PR for 11 years, and has completed an initial study of ITV News' Julie Etchingham.

She's in talks with Kate Adie, Bridget Kendall and Allan Little about painting their portraits.

'I'd love to do as many of them as I can,' says Stella, who joined the BBC in the nineties as a production assistant on From Our Own Correspondent and left eight years later as the World Service's chief press officer.

Always artistic, she opted to pursue it as a hobby after leaving school, taking regular evening classes in life drawing and painting.

She took a part-time course at Heatherley's School of Fine Art - which specialises in figurative art - while working at Sky, before deciding to study full-time for a two year portraiture diploma. She completed a final year post diploma in July.

Hopes of an exhibition

Stella, who counts Lucien Freud, Tim Benson, Anastasia Pollard and Paula Rego among her influences, has already taken a number of commissions and painted series on street buskers and cosmopolitan London.

Jeremy Thompson with his portrait Stella painted Sky News' Jeremy Thompson

Last year, after her mother died, she inherited a hand held projector and a box of family black and white slides. They evoked memories of a happy sixties childhood, she says, and inspired her to bring them to life as full colour paintings.

Her latest venture bridges her past and present lives. She promises each of her sitters a high quality Giclée print of their portraits as 'a little thank you', while she hopes the originals will one day form an exhibition.

'Perhaps one of the broadcasters might wish to show them?,' wonders Stella. 'I certainly wouldn't say no if the National Portrait Gallery came a-calling.'

Meanwhile, she'll leave others to judge whether or not she has managed to capture the spirit of John Humphrys and co.

But what does the broadcaster make of it all?

'It's rather odd having someone do your portrait while you're working,' the Today presenter admits. 'They say the camera never lies; sadly, neither does the artist. I rather hoped she might iron out the wrinkles.'


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