Over the past couple months I have been wanting to bring more of a feeling of confidence and directness that seems to have faded of late. Sometimes it’s good to refresh and work in a different medium and even subject matter for a while, in order to get out of old habits that may have become entrenched in one’s process.
So I decided to go back to drawing with ink pen. Here I am forced to own every mark because I cannot erase it. I felt like focussing on portrait, partly because I just like portraits and enjoy the challenge. The human form is the most challenging thing one can tackle as an artist, and I knew from previous experience that if I can have some success in that realm it can build back any confidence I may feel is lacking in my work.
I grabbed this image from my travel photos, which I had spotted in a Parisian shop window in the 6th arrondissment:
I had always wanted to make something from this, but wasn’t sure if it fit with the other work I was doing. So now was the time:
I liked this one a lot in terms of the colour and texture in the original photo, and wanted to see how I might try combine the ink pen with water-based media. So I made it again:
In this one I am using gouache. At first I worked with very transparent washes, especially in the detailing of the jacket. I was careful not to cover up the liveliness of the ink lines. You can get the most vibrant colour when you use glazing and let the white of the paper show through.
But when it came to the face and hair, I was pushed to work pretty thickly, more like oil-paint in order to achieve the painterly quality of brushwork I like to see.
Gouache dries darker when you use more water– the best way to hit the correct values is to be bold and use just paint. In the background I used a technique whereby instead of just plain grey, I broke it up into warm and cool light value brush strokes. I was influenced by a wonderful portrait artist I have discovered on Instagram named Nicolás Uribe. Check out his work at https://www.ourpaintedlives.com/.
I was also thinking of Manet’s portraits I love so much, especially this one which I think I may have shared before:
I also had my new friend Heather come to my studio and sit for me. There was a kind of failed attempt at painting her from life which was partly because my space at the time was not very suitable for this due to the less than adequate lighting setup. I have just secured a bigger studio so I look forward to sharing more about that soon.
Although I did achieve a likeness in two and a half hours, I found myself bumping up against what I have noticed in the past– I have trouble drawing and painting people I know from life, because I feel compelled to engage with them as friends. This gets in the way of the quiet and for me fragile, vulnerable process of looking and recording, which takes all of my concentration. And I need to put in a lot of time until I am satisfied. Not everyone can give that amount of time, and I would feel like it is too much to ask to do so.
So I decided to try a new tack by arranging a photo shoot. Heather could only give me twenty minutes out of her busy schedule as a graphic designer and her part-time day job, so I wanted to be as efficient as possible.
Here is an ink sketch from that session, enhanced with opaque white gel pen, because I always end up needing to make alterations in portraiture. So you could say that this is inching into the world of painting by adding a bit of white:
And here is an oil-painting of Heather:
Heather wore this fantastic scarf that I admire which added some pattern energy. And I love the sculptural shape of Heather’s hairstyle. Her dark features remind me a little of Manet’s sister-in-law and a talented artist in her own right, Berthe Morisot. She sat for him many times:
In my research I also did a back-to-the-basics online oil painting course with UK artist Alex Tsavaras. He delivers very good, clear instruction at SIMPLIFY Drawing and Painting and on his Patreon channel. This was a very humbling experience. I admire his direct, beautiful brushwork in his portraits and looked closely at his supply list, which introduced me to some wonderful brushes I have added to my arsenal of tools: Rosemary and Co Eclipse Comber long-haired brushes.
They are synthetic but feel like animal hair, with more spring and muscle than softer sables. They can be used for oil, acrylic, or gouache. I made a few pet portraits and discovered they are fantastic for doing detail such as hair and fur.
I’m in the process of testing the comber brushes on other subject matter such as branches, twigs and fern-fronds in landscape.
And now it’s time to plan the move into my new studio. Talk soon!