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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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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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Sargent – A Daily sketch

Charcoal Sketches

Studies of John Singer Sargent Drawings

Every so often I like to set some kind of painting/drawing discipline to keep on top of my game. Good habits are hard to form and easy to break and sadly the converse of that statement is also true!

I tend to find that my regular sketching habit falls by the wayside, particularly if I’m busy with commissions or working towards an exhibition. However, despite being very busy at the moment working on a series of portraits in oils of City Church, Newcastle members, I’ve decide to set myself the goal of doing some kind of sketchbook study every day for about 10-30 minutes.

The two charcoal sketches above were drawn in my Moleskine Sketchbook and are studies of John Singer Sargent’s Portrait drawings. Making studies of this kind is a great way to develop your own drawing technique, particularly if you are unable to find a willing model to sit for you.

To see my daily (hopefully) sketches, you can follow my twitter accounts @artistalanreed and @adailysketch

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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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Rijksmuseum

Self Portrait by Rembrandt

Charcoal Study of Self Portrait by Rembrandt

On a recent trip to Amsterdam I decided to visit the newly re-opened Rijksmuseum dedicated to Dutch Art and the history of the Netherlands. I’d read a very  positive review of the museum by art critic and TV presenter Waldemar Januszczak which encouraged me to brave the crowds and queues to pay homage to Rembrandt, Vermeer and Frans Hals.

I was not disappointed. It was difficult to spend huge amounts of time studying some of the more well known paintings, however I managed to make a couple of charcoal studies of one of Rembrandt’s later self portraits and a section of his “The Denial of St Peter” in my moleskine sketchbook . If you’re visiting Amsterdam then put the Rijksmuseum on your radar but buy your ticket beforehand and get there early!

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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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Rodin’s The Kiss

Charcoal Studies of Rodin's "The Kiss"

Rodin’s The Kiss

Rodin’s stunning marble sculpture The Kiss is currently on view at the National Gallery, Edinburgh on a year long loan from Tate Britain. Last week I decided to pay homage to one of Rodin’s most famous works.

I find that one of the best ways to really appreciate art is to draw it so I embarked on a couple of charcoal studies in my moleskine sketchbook. I then did a small A6 watercolour study which I have since used in conjunction with the charcoal works to produce a larger studio painting in watercolour. This will be one of the paintings on view at my Spring Exhibition starting 13th April.

Almost two hours passed whilst I worked away in the gallery so I barely had time to have a quick glance at John Singer Sargent’s Lady Agnew before it was time to leave.

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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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Moleskine Sketchbooks & Journals

John Singer Sargent Studies

John Singer Sargent Studies in Charcoal

Yesterday I finished yet another Moleskine sketchbook by making some further studies of the portrait work by John Singer Sargent. I’m a great fan of the Moleskine brand and have a growing collection of notebooks, sketchbooks and journals filled with important notes, studies, ideas and thoughts that are documenting my humble career.

The drawing on the left page of the Moleskine sketchbook of the male model was made using a Royal Charcoal Stick whilst the study of Vernon Lee, a close family friend of Mr Sargent, was drawn with a Royal Charcoal pencil, part of a drawing set from Ryman Stationery.

You may notice a very small watercolour of three attractive young ladies above the tin of charcoal pencils. This is a my study of a stunning oil painting by John Singer Sargent painted in 1884 titled The Misses Vickers which is currently on view at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne.

The painting forms part of the Family Matters Exhibition which runs until 2nd September and was commissioned by their father Colonel Tom Vickers as a 21st birthday present for the middle daughter Mabel Francis. Her two sisters Florence and Clara sit to her left and right respectively. The exhibition is well worth seeing not only for the John Singer Sargent as there are lots of other great paintings to see.

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