I did a commission recently for a good friend's wedding anniversary, but rather than paint a conventional - well, conventionally fucking whimsical - portrait, I decided to build a shadowbox.
In one of the reference photos, the family - mom, dad, and their toddler - are walking hand in hand towards the Catalina Mountains, the clear blue sky above them. I started by painting the three figures with no background, and carefully cut them out. This would become the foreground layer in the shadowbox.
For the final step - construction - I used foam core to separate the layers and attach them firmly to one another. It was important to make sure the foreground, middle ground, and background were each separate and rigid on their own, so the shadowbox assembly came together quickly after that.
The shadowbox itself is 11"x14", and about two inches thick. Each layer is separated by 2 to 4 sheets of foam core. It's difficult to photograph, but the end result? Pretty fantastic in person.
Then I painted the middle ground, the largest layer of the shadowbox. I used the figures to set the shadows on the grass, and some other reference photos for the colors on the mountainside and the sky. Because the sun sets in the other direction, there's never a visible sunset above the Catalina foothills, but the sky reflects many of the beautiful colors from the sun onto the mountainside.
I put together a quick mockup, to test the layers before building the shadowbox. I realized the pinks and purples in the sky were pulling focus from the family, so at this point I decided to tone down the background.