Future Paralympic teams are set to get a financial boost when the auction of a dozen athlete portraits finishes on Monday night at Auckland's Easter Show.

Kiwi artist Amber Gabrielle Stephens donated her time and resources to paint the "Spirit of Gold" collection across eight months in 2015, before gifting them to Paralympics New Zealand. Each picture took three to five weeks to complete.

The exhibition toured the country across 85 locations and was seen by more than 120,000 people before the Rio Games. The portraits are being auctioned on Trademe.

Youtube.com footage of Stephens shows her working at a frenetic pace, layering a canvas with a brush that looks suited to coating windowsills on a summer's day, before refining her technique with finer bristles as the finished product looms.


Just like an athlete in a pinnacle event, there was no room for error or an "undo" function handy.

"That's part of the excitement and thrill of painting on canvas," Stephens chuckles. "It was touch-and-go at times."

The idea for the series germinated when Stephens met Paralympic swimming champion Sophie Pascoe, who she intended to paint in two self-commissioned series: "New Zealand leaders" and "women of influence".

She decided Paralympians fitted the character and attitude she was after for a separate series.

Portraits up for auction include those of gold medallists Pascoe, Cameron Leslie and Mary Fisher.

"Our Paralympians can be easy-going in person, but fiery in competition. I wanted to portray both sides of their personality," Stephens said​.

"I saw them perform and train, and sketched and photographed them in that process. It took about half a day. I didn't have formal sittings."

Fisher, a five-time Paralympic medallist, has the genetic condition aniridia. She is classified "S11" for totally blind swimmers.

"Artwork for me can often be distant behind glasswork," Fisher said. "But I was able to access Amber's picture by touching it, and feeling the texture."

"She came to the gym where I was training to get a gauge of how I ticked.

"Everyone says it [the picture] captures the emotional centre of what we do, and I'm pleased it shows me leading off in the medley."

"Mary's favourite swim stroke, butterfly, and her favourite colour, purple, feature in her portrait," Stephens added.

"Despite her limited sight, I painted her with a far reaching gaze and the inner joy that I felt in her."

Stephens' background includes getting selected to attend the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna where she studied the master techniques of painting and abstraction.

"I paint up to seven layers on any given painting and because of the time it takes for each layer to dry, I work on two to three paintings at once.

"These portraits were painted with the intention to inspire New Zealanders to achieve anything no matter the challenge. My wish would be that they are purchased and utilised in such a way to inspire emerging talent."

The 2016 New Zealand Paralympic team collected 21 medals (nine gold, five silver and seven bronze) at Rio. That is the second-most medals picked up by a Kiwi team after the 25 of 1984; nine golds equalled the best previous performance from 1996.

Perhaps most significant was New Zealand's rise to 13th on the medal table, beating their 16th in 2004. Twenty-nine of PNZ's 31 athletes made the top eight in at least one event.