The artist begins an oil painting by establishing the darkest shadows. He has also begun to apply the background using a technique known as scumbling (a circular stroke and high pressure). Many oil painters want their brushstrokes to be visible, but in this composition Tolmie seeks to apply the paint thickly with a minimum of apparent brushwork. Note the lack of differentiation in this initial stage between the figure on the right and the background.
Although the brushwork is still quite apparent in the background, the two heads already appear highly realistic. The artist achieves a metallic sheen and an extremely subtle gradation from highlight to shadow without overtly visible brushwork. This effect demands a high degree of technicianship to achieve.
Additional work on the background has darkened the tone of the composition considerably, and the brushwork has been smoothed over. Additional work on the heads has darkened their shadows and thus heightened their contrast with the background. The clothing is still in a very preliminary stage; its brushwork is still clearly visible, and its blending of colour still appears abstract and two-dimensional. The early stages of this painting progessed remarkably quickly: the first three steps pictured here were achieved in a mere five days.
Considerable work has gone into this final stage. The artist has developed the heads and hands considerably, adding highlights and deepening the shadows with such refinement that the brushwork is virtually invisible. The clothing of the figure on the right has been darkened, and new highlights have been added. This garment is still somewhat abstract, creating a striking contrast with the highly realistic head; however, its darker tone creates an illusion of three-dimensionality. A bracelet has been added to the figure on the right, and the fur collar has been refined considerably to complete the illusion of realism.