Early life and training
The Royal Academy at Burlington House
, where Stokes studied in the 1930s, and in the galleries of which her works were exhibited in 1953
Constance Parkin was born in 1906 in the hamlet of Miram, near Nhill in western Victoria. The family moved to Melbourne in 1920, where she completed her schooling at Genazzano convent in the suburb of Kew. Constance was short, just under five feet tall, and had dark hair. She trained between 1925 and 1929 at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School in Melbourne. Over the summer of 1925–1926 the Gallery held a competition for its students, who were asked to paint "holiday subjects"; Constance won the prize for a landscape. The competition was judged by artist George Bell, who would have a continuing influence over her artistic career.
In 1930, Stokes was among artists who exhibited at a Melbourne gallery, the Athenaeum. Her painting, Portrait of Mrs. W. Mortill, was one of only two to draw praise from prominent member of the Heidelberg School, Arthur Streeton, who described the work as a "rare attraction" that was "liquid and luminous". At the end of her studies, Stokes won the National Gallery of Victoria Art School's prestigious National Gallery Travelling Scholarship, which allowed her to continue her training at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. In addition to her education at the Royal Academy, she studied under the French cubist painter and sculptor André Lhote in Paris in 1932. The following year she returned to Australia, where she married businessman Eric Stokes. The family settled in Collins Street, Melbourne, and Stokes had three children between 1937 and 1942. In later years, Stokes had a studio in the family home in Toorak, a modernist house designed by architect Edward Billson.