Australian artist David Darcy hadn't picked up a paintbrush full-time until two years ago.
Now he's an Archibald Prize winner, taking out the 2019 People's Choice award.
The painting newcomer's striking portrait of WA Aboriginal elder Daisy Tjuparntarri Ward was announced as the leading public vote-getter among 51 finalists at the Art Gallery of NSW on Wednesday.
Darcy, a two-time Archibald finalist, established photographer and author, said the project sprung from an unlikely meeting between the pair last year.
"It was a chance moment that she came to Sydney for some health check-ups, goes to stay with a friend in Murrurundi and happens to walk into my studio," he told AAP.
"She was just looking for some arts supplies."
Darcy soon realised he had a special subject on his hands, with Ms Tjuparntarri Ward a director of the NPY council, advocate against domestic violence and spokeswoman for indigenous deaths in custody.
"She's a treasure, she's got such knowledge of her culture," Darcy said.
"She's born in the bush and she still navigates our western culture with charm and that's why she was such an important person to paint."
The next time their paths crossed - as the Archibald toured through Tamworth - Ms Tjuparntarri Ward invited Darcy to paint her in healing women's colours.
"That was her idea and we went back to the studio and she painted herself up and she sung her songs and it was such a privilege," he said.
Darcy also revealed the hidden double meaning of the reflection painted into her eyes.
"They're the same image but they represent the domestic violence that she is an advocate for and the other side is the education of the younger generation," he said.
The Hunter Valley-based artist labelled the award "surreal", noting many painters often worked for decades before earning an Archibald nod.
"I'm really proud to be here as a white man being given the privilege to paint this indigenous woman and for it to now win the people's choice, it's beyond my dreams," Darcy said.
This year's Archibald winners have had a strong NSW flavour.
Prior to Darcy's win, Sydney artist Tony Costa took out the 98th Archibald Prize for his portrait of fellow Australian artist Lindy Lee, while WA artist Tessa MacKay had earlier secured the Packing Room Prize for her hyper-real portrait of actor David Wenham in a Newtown cafe.