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World Encephalitis Day

Alan Reed

Behind the Smile

The 22nd February 2017 is World Encephalitis Day, the global awareness day for people who are directly or indirectly affected by encephalitis. I had no idea what encephalitis was until Sarah was diagnosed. I’d watched Sarah grow up from being a little girl for over 20 years so I was deeply shocked to hear of her illness.

Sarah has found painting and writing poetry a way of raising awareness of her illness. I’ve had the privilege of giving Sarah some drawing lessons to help her develop her growing skills in this area. Earlier this year I asked Sarah if she would like to sit for me to have her portrait painted so that I could play my part in helping folk understand more about encephalitis. The portrait was painted in oils over three sittings using a sight size method. I’ve used a very limited palette of only 4 colours using Old Holland Paints. For those wishing to try oil painting here is an excellent independant blog post reviewing many different brands.

We decided together that Sarah would wear her laboratory coat as a reminder of her training as a chemist and that we would keep the background stark and clinical as a reference to her illness and treatment.

I’ve asked Sarah to write a few words about her story so that we can try to understand what it must be like for her. As it’s World Encephalitis Day 22nd, the Millennium Bridge is going to be lit red. I’ll be joining Sarah and her mum at 7pm as they hand out flyers.

Behind the Smile by Sarah Galloway

A picture says a thousand words, though a thousand words may be insufficient to paint the picture of my story. I’ll try sticking to roughly five hundred instead.

I am 26, a chemist by training though dabbling in art myself as a trade. This portrait was painted after four years of serious illness. Four years of psychotic episodes, spontaneous self-harm and memory loss. Four years of utter hell.

So what’s the problem? A portrait seems quite fitting for this as it is quite literally all in my head. My body has been attacking parts of my brain causing it to swell. This is known as encephalitis.

At 22 I found myself lost and utterly undone. It is hard to go into detail about the events of that time, partly because I genuinely don’t remember, and partly because it is simply too shocking to want to think about. Let’s agree on one thing…psychosis sucks. It is a thief that drags away your security, identity and stability and leaves you hollow, confused and empty.

I have spent the last four years battling hallucinations and dramatic emotional outbursts. I have seen and felt spider’s legs on my torso, worms in my mouth and teeth on my neck. My sequencing became so bad that I would shower with my clothes on by accident. Socially I was unable to focus or remember what people were saying. It has been frightening and frustrating.

I was incredibly moved when Alan asked to paint this portrait. Raising awareness about encephalitis has been my main motivation this year and it was amazing to see this shared by a friend.

As I was part way through a relapse and also experiencing nerve pain down one leg I found it very challenging to sit still for the actual painting itself. Holding a smile is also quite difficult!

The smile was deliberate. Encephalitis can be like having an invisible illness. Most of the time, to most people, I can seem perfectly normal. My natural setting is a smile and it has sometimes become like a mask. Encephalitis can be very personal and painful to talk about so it is better to deflect then have to delve into it all with everyone.

Some people however have been complete rocks in my life. My family and my closest friends have been sources of comfort and confidence. My faith has been another stable place in which I can stand against encephalitis. For these I am eternally grateful.

The more people that know about it the easier it will be to find and fight this disease! Encephalitis is happening all the time. I, like many others, was misdiagnosed at first. My recovery is based on a fortunate research trial. The right treatment at the right time can literally save a life.

 

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Time Lapse Portrait Sketches

Alan Reed

Charcoal Pencil Sketch

There are no short cuts to achieving sound drawing skills. Regular practise at drawing from observation will pay off in most visual disciplines in art, whether it’s painting, sculpture, graphic design or even photography. Before working on a commission or a painting for exhibition I will often warm up for 10 to 20 minutes with a charcoal pencil sketch of a John Singer Sargent portrait. I’ve drawn dozens over the last few years, particularly as I’ve been receiving more portrait commissions.

I’ve recently started to make time lapse videos of my portrait sketches so that one can see the process on how I draw a face from the start. If you watch the video which is only 24 seconds long, you will see that I draw a faint outline for the shape of the face.

I then make a mark halfway down to indicate where the eyes are to go. I then make another mark in between the eye line and the chin for the tip of the nose. Finally I do one last guideline for the mouth, usually slightly higher than halfway between the tip of the nose and the chin.

Once these are in place, I then start to draw in with greater care the details for the eyes, working my way down the face for all the other features. After that, it’s simply a matter of shading in the hair and drawing in the neck and shoulders. You will see that I’m drawing with a charcoal pencil which gives you a lovely dark, rich tone. I’m  also a big fan of the Moleskine sketchbooks which come in a good range of sizes.

Time lapse videos are quite easy to do and it’s a great way to show folk the drawing process without it taking up too much time.

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Painting Grey Street

Alan Reed

Shoppers, Grey Street

Grey Street in Newcastle has been described by the architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as the finest curved street in Europe. I never tire of sitting down to capture its fine sweeping curve and Georgian columns in all seasons. You can see a number of limited edition prints of Newcastle’s Grey Street including  Grey Street, Saturday Morning which was featured on the BBC’s “Show me the Monet”.

Newcastle is a very busy city so when painting Grey Street I find it great fun to bring life to the scene by adding in people for extra movement and interest. It’s even more fun painting Grey Street in winter because you have the extra challenge of resolving the reflections of the sky, buildings and figures in the wet pavement. Watercolour is the ideal medium for this but you need to know the sequence of washes and how to build up the colour.

You will notice that the gentle yellow colour that you can see just above the distant buildings is actually running throughout the entire painting (apart from the snow lying on the rooftops) and is particularly evident in the pavement in the centre of the foreground. When the wash of yellow dried, I wet the sheet of paper and introduced a very subtle hint of Rose Madder in the sky and foreground before introducing the slate grey for the sky and reflections.

After these washes had dried, it was simply a matter of adding detail to depict the architectural forms before finally painting the various figure. Over the years I’ve developed a “shorthand” painting technique to capture figures moving about. Photography can be a help but it’s also a very useful discipline to observe and sketch from life. That way you can’t get bogged down with detail. You have to pick out the main gesture and gender of the person and make sure that you have them positioned at the correct eye level.

Painting Grey Street outdoors is a real challenge and not for the faint hearted. As I’m writing this blog post, I’m getting tempted to get out there again! In the meantime however, my studio painting “Shoppers, Grey Street” can be seen online and at my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland.

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Time Lapse Sketches

Alan Reed

Charcoal Drawing of a John Singer Sargent Portrait

When I have a painting day ahead of me I like to spend a few moments warming up in my Moleskine Sketchbook. Usually I’ll have a quick flick through my John Singer Sargent books and choose a portrait to draw. I’ll sharpen up a medium to soft charcoal pencil and launch straight into the study.

The idea is simply to warm up, getting my hand to eye coordination  up to speed before tackling a more finished painting. It’s more about the journey than the outcome.

I’ve recently started to do some time lapse videos on my iPhone so folk who are interested can see the process of making a quick outline of the head before adding the details of the eyes, nose, mouth, hair etc. These videos have been uploaded to YouTube so if you click on the link it will take you to their site. The image above is a still from the time lapse video. The actual real time of the sketch is no more than twenty minutes.

 

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Commission a Portrait

Alan Reed

Portrait of Arthur

On our Painting Holiday in Italy in May 2015, one of the guests asked me to paint a portrait of her husband Arthur for his birthday present in August. It was to be a surprise so she asked if I could work from photographs. I said that I could, but if possible I would prefer to try and do a sketch of him and take my own photographs.

I devised a cunning plan. On the last evening of the holiday, I began to sketch various guests in my Moleskine Sketchbook after dinner as we were all relaxing in the living room of Chiesa del Carmine.

Eventually it was Arthur’s turn and he willingly obliged to sit without suspecting that my humble charcoal sketch would develop into a 20″ x 16″ portrait in oils!

I took inspiration from the new John Singer Sargent Book “Portraits of Artists and Friends” which accompanied the stunning exhibition of Sargent’s Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in London earlier this year. In the excellent book are some very fresh, informal portraits of Sargent’s artist friends, singers and writers. I tried to keep Arthur’s portrait very simple and relaxed and was thrilled to receive this lovely testimonial from Arthur himself just after he received his present.

“We came home last night from Portugal, where we had been celebrating my birthday on Tuesday with the children and grandchildren. Now, I am the ever so proud and thrilled owner of the most marvellous portrait of me. I have felt both ecstatic and overwhelmed. Diana had erected it suitably on her easel.

When she called me up to see my present from her, and I saw my portrait, (actually I was wearing the same jumper), I just started shaking with excitement. Unusually for me, I was struck dumb, and did not know what to say.

Now a little recovered, I can tell you directly how thrilled I am. It seems a bit self centered to say so, but I think it captures the very essence of me. Just perfect. Thank you so much for taking so much effort to capture the very being of me. I am thrilled.

Please give my very best wishes to Sue, too. We both enjoyed both our original Easter visit to your home, and our wonderful week with you in the summer, and hence we are both equally looking forward to next year.

You cannot imagine how happy you have made my celebration week, for my larger birthday number than I really like to think about.

With all very best wishes”.

Arthur

If you would like to discuss having a portrait painted of a family member or friend, please visit my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland without any obligation or watch the Commissions video on my website to find out more.

Some of the links on this post are affiliate links including the book “Sargent, Portraits of Artists and Friends” available from Amazon. If you click on the links and buy the books then I will receive a small percentage of the sale from Amazon at no extra cost to yourself.

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Drawing

Sargent Studies

Charcoal Studies of Sargent Portraits drawn at The National Portrait Gallery

A few weeks ago I was asked to write an article for the website of a new initiative here in the North East called Drawing?

Drawing? is a 6 month long, region wide programme of exhibitions and events which aims to explore drawing in art and culture and also in other areas such as science, design and technology. The project is a partnership between The Customs House, Sunderland University, Newcastle University, Northumbria University and mima (Teesside University) and is being co-curated by Esen Kaya and Mike Collier.

Below is the article which I wrote describing the reasons why I draw but it’s well worth visiting the Drawing? website to find out more from other artists too.

Drawing is and always will be the main foundation of my creative process. Many visual artists and painters do rely heavily on photography to pull together the material from which they paint from. There’s nothing wrong in that, however I do feel that the discipline of drawing and observing from life is a valuable tool that can enrich the flow of creativity.

For me, one of the main uses of drawing is research. If I’m going to an exhibition, I am armed with a moleskine sketchbook and some charcoal pencils. A good recent example would be the John Singer Sargent “Portraits of Artist’s and Friends” at the National Portrait Gallery. I will typically spend several hours sketching the portraits on display as a means of achieving a deeper appreciation of Sargent’s use of tone, lighting and his characterisation of his sitters. The studies and techniques that I record in this kind of research are then translated from charcoal pencil on paper to a brush loaded with oil paint on to canvas when I come to do my own portrait paintings. I strive to keep the brush strokes as lively, free and expressive as those rendered from observation.

Likewise, if I’m painting a landscape or cityscape I will often paint the scene on location “en plein air”. This time however, the drawing element is achieved by using a brush, drawing directly with watercolour paint on to the paper. I rarely pre-draw the scene in pencil. This very spontaneous, direct approach means I can produce a very fluid and loose “drawing” that can prove to be invaluable when it comes to creating a larger studio painting where I may also harness the use of photography for topographical accuracy. The observational studies will help to prevent any slavish copying of the photographs that could result in a more sterile, static painting.

I also draw simply for the “fun of it”. Regular drawing helps my hand to eye co-ordination and enables me to be more visually selective when painting in the studio. It’s much easier to focus on the main point of interest when you’re drawing from life. This “focus” can be realised by using stronger, more direct lines on the areas that are really important. Conversely, the use of less fussy, more simplistic line work on background areas helps to create a composition that has more visual impact. Again, this can translate well when it comes to painting. I’ve been painting professionally for over 30 years and I’m drawing more now than I ever have done, not just to maintain my technical skills as a draughtsman, but to stay connected in a deeper flowing stream of creativity.

One of the links on this post is an affiliate link to a product which I personally use, available from Amazon. If you click on the link and buy the product then I will receive a small percentage of the sale from Amazon at no extra cost to yourself.

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John Singer Sargent

Richard Ormond & Elaine Kilmurray

Portraits of Artists and Friends

One of the “must see” exhibitions of 2015 has to be the John Singer Sargent, Portraits of Artists and Friends show at the National Portrait Gallery, London. It is accompanied by a terrific new book by Richard Ormond who is the co-author (with Elaine Kilmurray) of the Complete Paintings  of his great-uncle, John Singer Sargent.

In many ways, for an artist like myself, this new book is one of the best by Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray as it contains full size plates of many of the paintings featured in the exhibition and a few of Sargent’s more well known works like Lady Agnew. The book is available from the National Portrait Gallery Shop for £35 (extremely good value) or you can buy it online from Amazon. 

The advantage of the larger plates is that you get a closer view of the amazing brush marks and texture that Sargent used to such great effect.

What is apparent in this exhibition is just how Sargent appears to be even more relaxed and confident in the company of those close friends who were celebrities in their own right. Auguste Rodin, Claude Monet and Antonio Manchini are amongst the cast of artists. Also included are the well known writers Robert Louis Stevenson and Henry James together with a number of famous singers, musicians, dancers and actresses.

Although these portraits can be seen as informal on one level, they also show just how creative Sargent was at getting his subject to sit for him. For example, I find his portrait of his mentor Carolus-Duran utterly engaging. I flit between seeing myself as the one being challenged to paint Sargent’s Parisian master. Or being tutored by Sargent himself, with him watching my tentative efforts at the easel. Finally I stand back as a bystander, watching the intimacy of the young Sargent in full concentration, considering each brush stroke, then wiping it away to replace it with a stroke executed with even greater authority.

The poses themselves are very well considered in terms of composition, lighting, movement and mood, helping us to enter into Sargent’s personal world and to connect with his friends.  He woos us with his virtuosity and skill with the brush. His draughtsmanship and use of colour is both breathtaking and full of life. Sargent gives us a privileged insight into his world and creates within us a hunger to discover more.

I went to exhibition in March, armed with my moleskine sketchbook and an array of charcoal pencils. I managed to draw 8 of the portraits on display which was pure fun, particularly later on in the afternoon when the crowds began to thin out and I was able to get much closer to the paintings.

Sargent Portrait

Charcoal drawing of Ernest-Ange Duez after John Singer Sargent

The exhibition continues until 25th May 2015. Go to the National Portrait Gallery website to book your tickets.

Some of the links on this post are affiliate links including the book “Sargent, Portraits of Artists and Friends” available from Amazon. If you click on the links and buy the books then I will receive a small percentage of the sale from Amazon at no extra cost to yourself.

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Portraits

Matthew Tuckey Portrait

Matthew Tuckey Portrait in oils.

At the start of 2011 I was approaching the grand age of 50. It was a period of my life where I began to take a longer, more reflective and honest look at my life on a number of different levels, personally, spiritually, my family life and my career as an artist. One of the outcomes of this time of reflection was the decision that I needed to invest more time in developing and exercising my skills as an artist to ensure that I was making the most of the gifts God has given me.

I felt that to improve as a watercolourist, it would be good to venture into some new subject matter and a different medium which would help me to progress as an artist in terms of both technical skill and creativity.

I had always been an admirer of the paintings of John Singer Sargent who was a highly skilful watercolorist but he was also a brilliant portrait painter. An interest in portraiture was birthed within me and I began to make some serious studies into portrait painting, investing considerable time, energy and resources into finding out how to become how to become an accomplished portrait artist.

Although working from photographs can help you to achieve some good results, there really is no better way to paint a portrait than working from life. As you study the persons features and engage in conversation you begin to develop a unique relationship with the sitter and you try to bring something of the model’s personality, expressions and character into the painting.

In many respects it’s similar to painting a landscape in watercolour. You want to capture the mood and atmosphere of the place you are painting to the point where the viewer feels as though they are actually in the landscape or cityscape, evoking memories about the place or creating in them a desire to visit the place you have painted. With a portrait, you want the viewer to connect in some way with the person captured in paint, whether they know them already or not.

When learning to paint portraits from life, one of the biggest challenges is finding willing models to sit for you and of course the time to paint them. So when I was approached by City Church, Newcastle in 2013  to produce a series of portraits of some of the church members which would reflect  the vision of the church, I realised that this would be a win win situation for all concerned.

The vision of City Church is to be a church of thousands, expressing God’s heart and love for everyone on Tyneside. The artwork that I have been working on since October 2013 is a number of portraits showing the diversity and life of City Church, Newcastle, ranging from small children, teenagers, young adults to older members. Also, the church is made of people from different ethnic backgrounds, so again, the portraits reflect that cultural diversity.

I learnt early on in my career as a watercolourist when to actually stop working on a watercolour painting. If you overwork a watercolour, you run a very real risk of spoiling it and there’s no going back to making it better. Oil painting is quite different. You have the luxury of painting over mistakes and re-working brush marks to make corrections or improvements.

After painting the first 10 portraits, almost exclusively from life, I came to a realisation that I had to find a creative reason to finish each one. Because of my own high standards and desire for perfection (which I’m never going to achieve!) I kept seeing aspects of everyone’s portrait that I wanted to change to try to improve it. I came to the conclusion that I would leave some of the portraits deliberately “unfinished”. The idea behind that decision is that all of us who are Christians are a work in progress. We are growing in maturity to being like Jesus but non of us will be like Him until we see Him face to face. My choice of who is “unfinished” is not any judgement on that particular person’s spirituality, but much more of a random choice. The unfinished look is also an acknowledgement on my part that I’m not the “finished” artist that God intends me to be, I’m still learning all the time.

I now have 22 portraits painted in oils on aluminium panels that will hang collectively in the atrium of the CastleGate, accompanied by testimonials of City Church members. It’s been a genuine privilege for me to spend time with the folk I have painted. What is also interesting is that several members have moved on which also reflects the transient nature of a thriving church community. God is also on the move, leading people to fulfil their destiny, which is not always going to be in Newcastle. This project has been a significant part of my development as an artist and as a member of City Church, Newcastle. I’m hoping that the paintings will be hung sometime late May, early June with an official launch later on in the year.

The photograph above is of Matthew Tuckey after his first 2 hour sitting.

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Portraits in Charcoal

Charcoal Portrait of Emanuela

Portrait of Emanuela

Drawing Portraits in Charcoal can be a very rewarding experience, especially when you are working from life. When I have a portrait commission, especially if it’s a child, I find it helpful to do a quick study in one of my moleskine sketchbooks.

Usually children these days don’t like to sit still for even just a few minutes so it’s nigh on impossible to do an oil painting from life of a child. One has to rely on photographs but there is a real benefit in having a couple of sketches to refer to as well.

This study in charcoal pencil of Emanuela is based on a much longer drawing made from life over three short afternoon sittings. It is currently on view as part of my 30th Anniversary Christmas exhibition at my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland.

One of the links on this post is an affiliate link to a Moleskine sketchbook, a product which I personally use, available from Amazon. Another is for some charcoal pencils. If you click on the links and buy any of these products then I will receive a small percentage of the sale from Amazon at no extra cost to yourself.

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Sargent Studies – A Daily Sketch

Gouache Sketch

Gouache Sketch of “Old Man with a Dark Mantle”

For the last few weeks I have been continuing with my daily discipline of a sketch a day. I try to do this for 20 minutes to an hour, 5 or 6 days a week, usually in my Moleskine Sketchbook. 

Most of my studies have been made with a charcoal pencil, however today I decided to do a gouache rendition of John Singer Sargent’s oil sketch of “Old Man with a Dark Mantle”. Although I would prefer to paint this in oils, the advantage of using gouache paint is that it’s quick drying.

I’ve photographed the palate, brushes and Winsor and Newton paints, together with the reference book I’ve used, John Singer Sargent Figures and Landscapes, 1883-1899 by Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray.

Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray have written some brilliant books on Sargent’s paintings which give a fascinating insight into his work.

To follow my daily sketches on twitter, go to @adailysketch

The links on this post are affiliate links to products which I personally use. If you click on the links and buy any of these products then I will receive a small percentage of the sale from Amazon at no extra cost to yourself.

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