This is a third portrait of Ray I have been working on recently. I began making oil paintings of him about two years ago. He is a partially sighted pensioner and enjoys coming to my studio for the crack. Conversation is a skill you must have for portraiture, it reveals more about sitters than just painting and drawing – which is why working entirely from photo’s, cannot equate with ‘the real McCoy’. However, doing this with everyone who attends my studio would be impractical so in the past few months I have set out to make A6 size studies of sitters within a four hour time bracket. With this portrait I worked for two hours at a time, detailed studies take around 100 hours – so fifty sittings.
Use of colour and method
As a rule I don’t use photo reference, so all the work here is done from direct observation. In this series of portraits I made a point of posing my sitter to get the maximum depth of view across his skull. I first studied his head from the left, centrally and then from the right. So I have a thorough awareness of the topography of Ray’s form. In each case I used Roberson’s Oil Colours bought from Cornellisens at Great Russell Street in London. These colours are strong and pure; they allow you to generate chromatic intensity; I like to use fully saturated colour as much as possible. In making a detailed study of my sitters it becomes necessary to apply similar treatment to the whole picture surface – so there is a lot of work involved painting the texture of clothing and studio furniture. I used broken colour and glazes to get the right feel to the sofa covering. It went through stages of being bright orange and lurid pink, with the background cloth set as vibrant blue. I may do some further work with glazes on the jacket and scarf over the coming weeks. All this is part of ‘the journey’ in making a painting.
Unlike the slivers of light photographers sip at, the process of figurative painting requires long contemplation. By repeated meditation on a subject you get a consistent perception through the process of change which you initiate. I feel I have accomplished what I want with this portrait – which was to picture Ray mid conversation. Setting his mouth with a wry twist which turns to a smile was a challenge. In my opinion the stillness and fixity in traditional painting requires an artist to charge works with a suggestion of movement.
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