Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Portrait Of Anne 4th Sitting

We put in about four hours yesterday. Started working on Annes left eye, which happens to be her larger one. I've become acutely aware of my own eyes whilst working on this painting. I've become used to working very closely to my painting and looking over the top of my glasses. I am short sighted which means as my eyes age they are actually getting better for close-up work - I have to remove my glasses to read now. So it's been good for the small miniature paintings I've been doing over the last three years or so. However, with a larger painting, and the constant refocussing between observing Anne and working on the painting, I'm finding it quite a strain on my eyes. I've tryed progressive lenses without much success and now I'm tryign the so called mono-vision ie: one lense for long range and another for close range effectively making me one eyed. Everyone has a dominant eye. Just as some people are left handed, some favour the left eye and vice-versa. Supposedly, when you use a camera, you put your dominant eye to the viewfinder. However, I always use my left eye for this. I'm not certain which eye is my doninant one and I suspect it alters dependign on what task I'm performing. So it was difficult to decide which eye I should have as the close range eye and which the long range eye. I think I got it wrong.

When I start a painting, I of course have an idea of the colour scheme I'm aiming for. As I work on a painting over time however, I find that I try all sorts of subtley different hues and tones. It takes a while to work out what key the painting is in. It's very much like the key of a piece of music which can start in one particular key and modulate to another. At the moment, on this painting, I seem to be hovering around the key of cobalt and ochre. Whatever key that is! I'm starting to get a feeling of chromium oxide however.... At present my green is Terre Vert.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Anne Third Sitting

Another day's sitting with Anne's portrait yesterday. It's at the stage where in some sense it seems to go backwards rather than forwards. Readjusting and correcting the relationships between features. Working from life you become acutely aware of how everything changes with the slightest tilt of the subjects head. Anne is a wonderful sitter - probably the best sitter I've worked with! Some people can never relax and squirm around self conciously, however, but with no true self awareness. Anne strikes no poses, in any sense, but she projects an open and honest, natural quality. I want to try and do my utmost to capture some of that quality. Painting from life is all about the dialogue between the sitter and the artist. I regard it as a team effort rather than the cliche artist/model scenario of Picasso's day. This is why I find working from photographs unsatisfying and uninpisiring.

It doesn't show in the photo, but I'm pleased with the warm glowing colour of the chair background. It's a mix of Cadmium Yellow Deep and a natural ochre that I ground up myself. It's going to set off Anne's eyes and blue headband nicely. The brown at the top is an Old Holland colour they call Red Umber. I've never used it before and I quite like it. Quite unlike either Raw or Burnt Umber. It seems more like a synthetic oxide to me but they claim it's natural. I mixed it with ivory black.

I asked Anne to jot down notes of the colours so I could remember for this blog. As with everything she does, she made a very detailed and concientous job of it!

My dog, Fergus, is a jealous dog! He always reclaims the chair after someone leaves. Painting is a lonely activity most times. I enjoy having human company for a change.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Anne - Second Sitting

It was a cold day for our second sitting with a fresh fall of snow on Mt Taranaki. Anne really feels the cold and she was wrapped up in several layers, though I did have a couple of heaters on!

I realised I had positioned the brow and eyes much too high in my initial roughing out so the first thing I did was to remedy this. I deliberately kept that first stage extremely thin and I sanded it down before starting the second sitting. When planning a painting that you know will be worked on in layers it is important to keep the early layers "lean" of oil, otherwise the paint will crack. Especially with paint ground in safflower or poppy oil, which most of it is nowadays.

I was concentrating on the area about Anne's eye's and nose mostly. Anne has a particularly asymetric face which I find interesting. One of her eyes is quite smaller than the other, a fact she finds much amusement in! It's still in it's early stages but I'm happier with the way it's going now.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Portrait of Anne

I did this little study of my friend and fellow painter Anne Holiday a week or so ago and I'm now starting a slightly bigger and more ambitous portrait of her. I prepared my surface by gluing a fine weave linen canvas to 9mm thick MDF. I use a traditional animal hide glue which is put on hot to the MDF board. I then lay the unprimed canvas over this and I iron the canvas with a warm iron to adhere it and smooth out the bumps. When this was dry I trimmed the edges and gave the linen three coats of Liquitex Acrylic Gesso sanding between coats. The dimensions are 400x450mm, for a head and shoulders approximate life size portrait.

Here is the result of the first sitting and it is little more than a very rough idea. I gave the whole canvas a thin stain of yellow ochre and then started drawing with a paintbrush. I initially had the canvas up the other way - it's slightly off square - but I felt it would sit better with it slightly wider, rather than taller. I had made marks on the floor for positioning Anne's chair and my easel to the same arrangement as when I made the small sketch. I want the light to just catch the shadowed side of her face. The direct sunshine was coming in the window and lighting up Anne's bright orange shoes, which was putting me off, so we had to throw a rug over her feet!

Here is my work table/palette. I never seem to have any fixed order with laying out my tints, though it's not quite the chaos it seems! I generally mix up the tints I think I will need with Flake White. I find flake white difficult to get now as it is considered dangerous because of it's lead content, so I grind my own from the powdered pigment. I purchased the last quantity of lead carbonate available in New Zealand, which will last me a while, after that, I will have to find another source. For a portrait I generaly use tints of natural earth colours, raw umber, sienna, ochre, terre vert, etc. I am also fond of the Mars range of pigments, which are synthetic oxides. The Mars Violet and reds, make wonderful violet tones for shadows. I also use cadmium yellows. My blue is either cobalt or ultramarine. I've also started using more black in my palette, both Mars Black and Ivory Black.