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Kelly Carmody’s miniature portraits blend history, nostalgia, and charm.

Once upon a time, painters of the 16th century introduced a new idea in portraiture: miniatures. Typically rendered in gouache, watercolor, or enamel, they were often used as a means of introduction. Whether commissioned by noblemen to entice potential suitors for their daughters; tucked into sailors’ pockets to keep sweethearts close while at sea; or used to adorn jewelry boxes and snuff cases-the tiny treasures served then as photos do today.

One of the tradition’s contemporary aficionados is Topsfield native Kelly Carmody. In her space at Mad Oyster Studios in Somerville, Carmody pursues her unusual interest, which stems from a long-standing passion for oils, the human figure, and a “New England” aesthetic. A former antiques dealer, she has cultivated a taste for the beautifully old, which is clearly visible in her work.

A long-time student of Classical Realism, Carmody once sought private workshops to broaden her traditional education. Her path brought her to the studio of Numael and Shirley Pulido. Of her time spent under their tutelage, she says, “[Numael] pulled out of me my interest in shapes and colors…I latch on to shapes in a way other people [find hard].” This latching on has led to a masterful technique. Serendipity may have led the way to the instrumental teacher team, but concentrated drive lies at the root of her success.

Over the years, Carmody’s creative process has evolved to include taking 50 to 100 photographs of clients in outfits of their choosing. Always up for a challenge, Carmody says, “I like when people throw me a curveball, like hot pink.” She then looks for a backdrop that will “make the person pop.” All of this is done in advance of her time spent painting.

When speaking of her vision to cover walls of traditional East Coast homes with seemingly helter-skelter arrangements of her portraits, Carmody describes her work as a meaningful way to pay tribute to generations of families; she feels her paintings are a natural complement for classic New England decor.

Though soft-spoken and reserved, Kelly Carmody states with an artist’s conviction: “I just want to make good paintings that catch your eye…my whole heart and soul goes into making good paintings. It’s that simple.”; -Kiley Jacques