MAKING FACES 540 781 The Flyer Magazine

Making Faces

They say a picture paints a thousand words and it’s those words that first fascinated award-winning Central Otago portrait artist Dee Copeland, drawing her to the intricacies of the human face.

It all started some 25 years ago after she completed her fine arts studies and began teaching art and photography, travelling and exhibiting around the world.

“I’m generally drawn to the human face,” says Dee. “A lot of the time it’s the face that depicts a person’s character. There are wee stories woven and etched into each face, especially those faces that have been around the planet longer than most. They have a lot of stories to tell,” she says.

“There are infinite possibilities in faces and I often dream up compositions in my head first.” There’s got to be something theatrical going on in her work, whether that be interesting props or the formatting of each piece. She often uses layers of flax and flowers to enhance the faces and add more detail.

Dee pictured with one of her works.


‘South Island Prayer’, sketch.


Those early years led her to London where she worked as ‘artist in residence’ for two years at a plush English estate with a private lake, where she taught art at the private school on the grounds. Dee exhibited on the estate and also in London, along with her students.

During her career she’s captured the faces of many well-known New Zealanders, including Sir Michael Hill, Sir Richard Hadlee, equestrian star Sir Mark Todd, colourful Invercargill mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt and bungy pioneer AJ Hackett.

More recently Dee was asked to illustrate a hidden gem – a book left unpublished by renowned New Zealand author, the late Janet Frame.

Dee took a break from art for a while to assist her partner in their home-build business in Cromwell, however, since she’s redirected her time to painting fulltime, business has been booming. She exhibits all over New Zealand and says galleries that exhibit for her have been selling record amounts of artwork since lockdown.

She’s been surprised at a time like this that quite a number of her more expensive, detailed pieces have sold too. “I think many people have traditionally spent money on overseas holidays and they’re investing in art instead,” says Dee. “They’ve also had a long time to sit at home and look at the walls.”

Dee has just joined the Old Cromwell-based Hullabaloo art collective and is exhibiting as part of that group at Lakes District Museum in Arrowtown early this month.