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Commission a Portrait Painting

I’m currently working on a number of portraits for various clients in oil paints and I thought it may be helpful to see the process developing over the sittings, each one over a period of three hours. The model has at least thirty minutes of breaks.

The first sitting is about getting the basic proportions and likeness using a limited palate of Lead White, Yellow Ochre Deep, Light Red and Ivory Black. After laying in the background I lightly skimmed the paint surface with a cloth to soften the colours and to provide a more gentle image to paint into the next day.

A more accurate rendition of the model’s features is needed for the next sitting, ensuring that measurements and distances between the eyes,nose and mouth are correct. Once established, I painted them in with some stronger tones and built up the flesh tones.

In the third sitting I could see that the background needed to be much stronger to make the hair stand out more, so using a touch of Indian Red with Ivory Black I intensified the background to match the same tonal values of the wooden panelling. I also used a glaze to richen the shadow areas on the model’s face.

The glaze from the third sitting was a little too warm, so the following day I toned it down using some cooler colours. Throughout each sitting I made small adjustments to various parts of the painting to help create a better characterisation.

On the fifth afternoon I concentrated on refining some of the brush marks that I had made the previous couple of sittings and added a touch of pink to Isabella’s cheeks.

The Portrait Painting will benefit from at least one more sitting to improve some of the shapes further but at this stage I’m happy with the progress that has been made so far.

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Head of an Arab

Head of an Arab

Head of an Arab

Head of an Arab is my study of John Singer Sargent’s oil sketch which he would have painted around 1890-91 when he toured Egypt, Greece and Turkey. It was probably painted abroad, however, he may well have painted it from a model when he returned to London. Sargent was commissioned by the Trustees of the Boston Public Library to paint a mural. He was planning a frieze depicting Old Testament prophets, so this painting is relevant to his preparation.

Having worked in the Middle East since 2007, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to Arabs on a number of occasions and I’m quite struck by their distinctive, fine looking features which are fascinating to paint. In copying John Singer Sargent’s oil on canvas, I’ve tried to make the same direct, confident brush marks as Sargent, painting directly from observation, without relying on any tracing techniques. Also, I’ve kept to a very limited palate to ensure that the colours are as close to Sargent’s as possible. Of course, I’ve had to work from a photographic copy rather than the original painting, so there will be obvious differences in colouring.

The value in making such studies of the great masters works can be seen when one looks at Sargent’s own studies of the artists he admired such as Diego Velazquez and Frans Hals. This particular study was made on board and can be seen at my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland.

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Oil Painting of Norfolk

Oil Painting of Burnham Overy Staithe, Norfolk

Oil Painting of Burnham Overy Staithe, Norfolk

What’s on the Drawing Board?

I have been asked recently to do an oil painting for a particular client. As I usually work in watercolor paints, I thought it would be prudent to get back into the swing of painting in oils (as it is a completely different painting technique) by doing a quick practise painting.

For the last couple of years, I have spent a week in Norfolk painting on location. The place where we have been staying is Burnham Overy Staithe, a small village on the coast not far from Wells-next-the-sea. I’ve painted several watercolours there, two of which you can see on my drawing board above the unfinished oil Painting of Norfolk. Using the two location studies and some supplementary photographs, I’ve tackled the subject of small sailing boats berthed at low tide, early morning.

The frustrating thing I find about oil painting is the time it takes for the paint to dry, so I’m leaving it for now until early next week when I will be adding detail to the boats. I’m thinking about buying some water based oil paints instead of having to use turps to clean my brushes and the smell, so if any artists out there can recommend any particular brand, please let me know.

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