Posted on December 12, 2019
I can’t take too much credit for the composition of this one which was originally photographed on the Cornish coast, one of my favourite places! I like the dribble of seawater coming off the net on the left. Its a good dribble. This was another painting that I began in acrylics and finished in oil paint, and its a method I am going to return to. My dilemma is that there is nothing more pleasurable than pushing oil paint around a painting surface and acrylics lack this quality as they dry so quickly. I learned how to paint using oil paints and still feel acrylics are not the most natural method for me. They are dry before you know it and I have always found this difficult to manage. But then building them up slowly in layers has other advantages. When I was younger I wanted to draw like Giacometti and used biros and gouache paint to build up meshes of lines and daubs, and that is echoed in how I have been glazing acrylic paint when I use it. Because I don’t want to commit too much as the paint won’t let me manipulate it before it dries, I use thin layers of acrylic to slowly render the form.
I have mentioned I find this similar to carving. Inverted carving, as it is adding and not taking away. But each line or glaze of paint serves to refine and tighten the drawing, but unlike carving the mistakes add to the whole effect and in the end strengthen the drawing. When I carve stone every ‘mark’ with the chisel has to count. Every cut moves the sculpture closer to completion.
Posted on May 26, 2018
Here is a portrait of my daughter at ballet class that I painted before attending Louis Smith’s glazing workshop. To begin I painted the whole thing in a ‘dead layer’ or monochrome using Burnt Umber, Ivory Black and Titanium White. Then I did some very thin coloured oil glazes and some ‘half-pastes’ where you’ve got a bit of white mixed with the glazes, which are more opaque and not completely transparent. See my videos page for examples of this. Working in glazes is very methodical, and is sometimes called ‘indirect painting’. Initially I found working in this way too removed from earlier observational painting I had done in the past and at first I found I couldn’t get my early schooling out of my head.
The most crucial point in painting anything is the drawing, and drawing is paramount to painting a portrait. Without correct drawing, drawing that conjures a likeness of the sitter, the painting can fail as a portrait. It might still be a good painting though, but here we are concerned with painting a portrait. And if it has been commissioned the person who commissions the portrait expects a likeness above all. Surely a good likeness is the sine qua non of a portrait painting. The reason I developed an interest in indirect painting and working first in the grisaille is so that I could finish the drawing. Everything follows from there.
Generally in the past I would prefer trying to paint all the colours directly, drawing as I went, but occasionally this method is a bit hit and miss. If I got the drawing wrong initially there was always so much back tracking, and in this painting I saved myself a lot of messing about by getting the drawing right first. Rushing ahead without completely resolving the drawing is like building a house with a wobbly foundation.
In the long run there is no wasted effort in art, as we are always growing and developing as artists, and we grow through work and effort. But my project has also been an attempt not to waste any effort! Hence a focus on drawing first and foremost.
As well as painting is a grisaille, there is also a lot to be said for diving straight in and drawing with colour directly onto the canvas, which is what I did here:
Looking back at the above portrait, it is one of the occasions I got both the drawing and the colour right at the same time. There were a few further glazes to refine the drawing but its all finalised in this first glaze. Its a case of taking the time to get it right and not rushing or guessing in any way. Its like sudoku. You can never guess what number should go in a particular square, and when you do you are doomed to failure. Drawing a portrait requires an extremely high degree of concentration which I am better at maintaining now. In the past I might have just let myself slip, guessed the line or the proportion, and continued in a shallow self-satisfied way. You can never assume you’ve got it right until you’ve checked and checked again. Of course you can go back over it but why not get it right first time? Its much harder to go back over it, and for some reason if I’ve committed to having an eye in a particular place for example, its hard to admit to myself its wrong and change it. This is something I did here when I realised I had been happily going along with eyes which were wrongly spaced:
On the left the eyes were too far apart so I had to take a deep breath and repaint her left eye, moving it over by about 1cm. It was the ‘full stop’ on this painting. It wasn’t a nice thought having to repaint it but it only took around 30 minutes in all. This is what I mean by not settling for a shallow version of the painting, and oneself, complacently self satisfied or just plain avoiding the discipline required. I think the problem arose because much of the drawing was incorrect in the first sitting and everything had to be adjusted. In the end I was happy though and could draw a line under it as finished.