For all my apprehension at creating a portrait of one of my colleagues, Ben, in a series of short, live and public sittings I have to say I’m really enjoying myself.
Frankly there was always much which might have conspired to derail the process. Not least I expected my decision to try and paint at my workplace to raise a few quizzical eyebrows. From the point of view of our facilities management team mine must have counted as one of the oddest requests they’ve received. And I’d no idea what my managers and colleagues might think…
I have to say that so far my efforts have been met with nothing but interest, and I’ve had some very lovely comments from all quarters. So far, so good. Everyone has been so gracious and accepting of this lunatic who brought his paints and easel to work. Far from being off putting, I’ve found the attention has been very encouraging, spurring me on to give of my best.
Even switching rapidly from my ‘work’ head to my ‘painting’ head hasn’t been as problematic as I thought it might. The shortness of time available to me during breaks is forcing me to make rapid decisions and I’m making sure that every minute available for painting counts.
Our first session was about 40 minutes of painting time (I’m not including any prep and clean up time). I wanted to complete a tonal under-painting as quickly as possible so over an initial red chalk drawing I used a 1″ brush and Burnt Umber darkened with Mars Black or lightened with Titanium White. Ben sat against a neutral coloured blind with a very strong, sunlit, backlight shining through.
The second session was completed in 20 minutes without Ben present. I wanted to establish the under-painting for the background. I chose to work this in a pale violet to act as a compliment for what is likely to be a cool yellow ochre final colour.
Then, darkness… On the third session the clouds and rain rolled in, and the wonderful light we once had was sucked into a growing grey grimness. With a yellowy artificial light coming from many directions, I relied on both observation and memory to inform where I should lay the first colour blocks. I’ve mostly used Liquitex Heavy Body acrylics supplemented with a few Winsor and Newton Artists acrylics. For speed I worked with colour straight from the tube without any added medium other than a wee spot of plain water to increase fluidity.
I particularly relish the cool mixes arising from the cobalt blue and yellow ochre. Lighter tints were made by adding a combination of Mixing White and Titanium White. Titanium White on its own can be very harsh, I like the softer effect of adding Mixing White. A single half inch flat brush was used throughout.
While progress on this session was rapid, about 25 to 30 minutes, I can already see I’m actively avoiding three areas: the eyes, mouth and nose. Got to get a grip on these next time while also working more broadly across the rest of the painting. More sessions are planned for next week when I’ll try and bring the weaker areas up to scratch. Watch this space.