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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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City Church Portraits

Sight Size Painting

Oil Painting Portrait of Sola Idowu

Over the last 12 months I have been working on a painting project for City Church Newcastle which meets at the CastleGate, Melbourne Street, Newcastle.

In the summer of 2013 I was approached by Ed Morrow (who manages the CastleGate) asking my advice about what kind of artwork would look good in the new atrium which would reflect the vision of the church.

My wife Susan and I have been members of City Church since it’s beginning. Our vision is that we will be a church of thousands, a community full of people from every nation. My suggestion was that I painted a number of portraits of church members of different ages, races and stages of life that represented the church family.

I started the first one in October 2013 with several sittings of Adrian Smith. The Portraits have been painted in oils on aluminium panels for Health and Safety reasons. They have to be prepared first with emery paper then primed using an Etch Primer. I then paint several coats of an oil paint primer before tinting each panel to a neutral tint. It’s at that point I can begin a series of sittings, painting from life.

I have used photography as an aid to make sure that the proportions are correct. With the exception of the children I’ve painted 90% of the painting work is from life, painting from observation.

Most of my 30 year professional career has been spent painting landscapes, cityscapes and seascapes in watercolour throughout the North East, Scotland, UK, Italy and the Middle East. I’ve learned many years ago when to finish a painting in watercolour, the danger of overworking it being a real possibility. Once you overdo it, there’s no going back with watercolour!

With oil painting, it’s quite different. You can always see little details to fiddle on with to keep trying to improve the portrait. If you make a mistake, you simply correct it. I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to painting so I needed a justifiable reason to stop each portrait. All christians are a work in progress, none of us will achieve perfection until the day we are united with Jesus Christ. I’ve deliberately decided to have some of the portraits “unfinished”. This is a random choice and not any reflection on anyone’s spirituality!

The plan at this point in time is to have a launch later on in the autumn when the portraits will be hung in the atrium to coincide with a “Vision Sunday” for the church.

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City Church Portraits

3rd Sitting of Portrait of Leon Le-Dune

Portrait of Leon Le-Dune

4th Sitting of Portrait of Adrian Smith
Portrait of Adrian Smith

 

Portrait painting from life is a demanding artistic challenge. I’ve recently undertaken a painting project which involves painting a number of portraits of members of City Church Newcastle.

These are to be hung in the new Atrium area of the CastleGate where the church meet. The building itself has an amazing story and is very much a part of the City. Adrian Smith, whose portrait is depicted above was instrumental in bringing the building to the attention of the church.

I’ve currently 4 different portraits currently in progress  and will be starting work on one of the younger members of the church very soon.

 

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Susan in St Mark’s Church

Susan Reed, Portrait in Oils

Susan in St Mark’s Church, Venice

In September 2012 Susan and I travelled to Venice to work on a number of painting projects, one of which was this oil painting of Susan in the Basilica San Marco. On the 7th April 1985 Susan experienced a dramatic conversion to Christianity on her own as she cried out to God in the famous church in St Mark’s Square. The painting depicts Susan quietly giving thanks to God for His goodness towards her since that day in St Mark’s Church.

Susan and I spent time together in St Mark’s Church so that I could do a small sketchbook watercolour to capture the colours and mood of the interior which you can see in a previous blog post. I returned the following day to do some detailed studies of some the architectural elements of the interior so I could refer to them in the finished painting. Back in my studio Susan assumed the same pose so that I could paint her from life in oils.

The original painting can be seen at my Studio and Gallery in Ponteland.

 

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Mother with Child

Pregnant woman

Mother with Child

Life drawing is a discipline that has huge rewards if practised on a regular basis. Unfortunately I don’t  spend anywhere near enough time painting and drawing the human form from life as I would like but I do try to attend an evening life drawing class once a week. It’s only on for two hours (Probably only 90 minutes painting with breaks) and we have a different model with a different pose each week.

If it’s a long pose, I will tackle it in oils so I can work on colour as well as form. The pose of the pregnant young woman Louise titled Mother with Child has been the only time when we actually had her back the following week in the same pose! I had the rare opportunity to refine and correct my efforts from the previous week.

The painting “Mother with Child” is part of my Spring exhibition at my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland which continues until 28th April.

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Painting of Dhows

Arabian Dhows on Gold Leaf

Dhows, Oman – Oil on Gold Leaf

There’s a story on how I ended up doing a Painting of Dhows on Gold Leaf. In 2010 I was involved in a painting of a very large Biblical scene which was to go in a church building. It was a massive project and painting, executed on 5 panels of gold leaf in oil paints. I had several small boards coated with gold leaf to experiment with and decided to do my own paintings on this unusual and expensive surface.

I did two quite different scenes, one of the Grand Mosque in Oman, the other of some Arabian Dhows at low tide in Sur, Oman. I sold the Grand Mosque to a client in Oman, however, this one of the dhows is available to purchase. Other original paintings and prints of the Gulf can be seen on my website.

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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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