Self Portrait in coloured pencil

Friday, 15 June 2018

Why I Embrace Cultural Diversity





Why I Embrace Cultural Diversity 

"The differences between people need not act as barriers that wound, harm and drive us apart. Rather, these very differences among cultures and civilizations should be valued as manifestations of the richness of our shared creativity" quote by Daisaku Ikeda.


I had some interesting discussions with the visitors to the "Gypsy Portraits, Changing Expectations" exhibition during the Appleby Horse Fair. Many of the visitors were aware of the caring aspect of Gypsy culture and believed that it was because of their close family ties. I told them that it didn’t just apply to family members and I told them what had happened when I was walking down to the church on Saturday morning. 
The short cut down the hill to Appleby town centre is a steep footpath (named LadyGarth) with a number of sloping steps near the top. I am so disabled that I have to use a walking frame with wheels at the front and sliders at the back, so I approach each step very cautiously. 
A lot of people were coming down the hill from the railway station and I was letting them pass me. 
Half way down the footpath is a seat and there was a family group of Gypsies sitting there. The man jumped up and ran to help me, though he had one shoe on. He had the other shoe in his hand. He helped me very efficiently. When we reached the seat I explained to him and his family about the exhibition and its purpose. 

Respect for older people is not confined to Gypsies of course. It is silly to think of a person’s culture as being anything to do with their genetics. I have lived in seven different counties in England and each area has its own attitudes to many aspects of life. As a child, I was aware of the difference in attitudes to certain aspects of life in areas just a few miles apart.
A person who influenced me powerfully was a girl who I met at Southampton University in 1969. Her family were Hindu, lived in Iraq and went to a Christian school. She had a broad understanding of the similarities underlying different cultures. She taught me a lot and I became fascinated, and wanted to learn more.
I lived in North London for 15 years and made friends with people who came from many different nationalities and cultures. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn from them. 

As religion is a major source of cultural attitudes, I was particularly fascinated to learn how different faiths affected people’s way of life. When it came to Buddhism, I knew about priests and monks spending much of their time in meditation to attain enlightenment but I wondered what was in it for ordinary people. That seeking spirit caused me to ask Japanese ladies whom I met in North London about their experience of Buddhism and I was lucky to learn about Nichiren Buddhism and the wise sayings of President Daisaku Ikeda who is the author of the quote above.

Respecting and cherishing people’s lives and experiences has taught me an empathy that gives me the skill to paint portraits that capture the individual’s essential self. It is something more than character but I would never claim that I capture the soul. Capturing a soul must be something like pinning a butterfly. 

To sum up I will quote President Daisaku Ikeda again: "It is the spirit of mutual respect and the willingness to learn from others that bonds hearts together. In the words of a wise person, when you bow respectfully to the mirror, the image in the mirror likewise bows to you."



Friday, 8 June 2018

Gypsy Portraits Changing Expectations Exhibition.



Gypsy Portraits Changing Expectations Exhibition 

Appleby is crowded with visitors to the Appleby Horse Fair, and horses of all shapes and sizes. If you drive this way be very careful. I heard today that a small child running from between caravans got run over, and has a broken leg. We don’t want any more injuries. Children will always get excited and not look where they are going. 

My exhibition is set up and attracting positive attention from locals and visitors. 
This is a visual post. Here are more photos of the portraits. 














Friday, 1 June 2018

Boots


Boots

Boots is a beautiful Deerhound. I am painting him in water mixable oils on canvas using Payne’s Grey and white, warmed with a hint of sepia. 
I am not sure about the shape of Boots’ eye. In my reference photo his eye is bleached out by reflected light. In fact at one time I was wondering if he had a visible eye at all. This is one of those times that I am very glad that I have dogs who often cooperate to help me work out canine anatomy. Bryn is a cross bred Wolfhound so I am going to ask her to hold her head in the right position.

This time next week my exhibition "Gypsy Portraits, Changing Expectations" will be on view at St Lawrence’s Church, Appleby-in-Westmorland during this year’s Appleby Horse Fair.  
I am still busy finishing portraits. So I will get back to the easel now. 




Friday, 25 May 2018

Waiting for Varnish


Waiting for Varnish

I have completed another three portraits in the last couple of days. 
I have taken them upstairs for them to dry sufficiently to varnish them. I am using Exhibition Varnish. They can have their permanent coat of varnish after six months on top of the exhibition varnish.
The photo shows the portraits upside down, because I painted the bottoms last and the paint may come off on the shelf. I know that is obvious, but when I was studying at University I was told that if you don’t write the obvious things you lose marks. 
When it is safe to put them in my scanner I will take quality scans of them. 
Meanwhile I have two more portraits that are very nearly finished. In fact I meant to finish the lady in sunglasses today but I was working on her rather late last night and when I saw what I had done, I scraped it off! I had given her a dirty face. 
I am not going to make the mistake of working on any faces tonight but I think it will be safe for me to paint some sky backgrounds. 


Friday, 18 May 2018

360 degree Rotating Canvas Attachment.


360 degree Rotating Canvas Attachment

I have bought a 360 degree rotating attachment for my easel which you can see above. It took me a while to work out how to attach my reference photos close to the portrait. I was looking in all those places that one puts one’s household bits and pieces for hooks and things, and I found some Command Strips for hanging pictures. That inspired me to use them to hold a piece of plywood in place. I can clip my reference photos to it. You can see it works well. 

I think Jet wanted to get into the photo. He likes sitting on my painting table. The challenge is to keep his tail out of the wet paint. 

I knew for some time about this attachment for an easel so a canvas can be rotated. But I didn’t know if it would fit my easel. I have a rotating drawing board cum table easel that I have set up in my bedroom and I have been using it for years for drawing and painting in acrylics. However it won’t hold a canvas and there’s nowhere to set it up downstairs. 
Once my exhibition is over I have an acrylic portrait of a dog to finish. It is particularly useful to have a rotating easel for painting an animal’s fur because of hair being linear. It will be nice to paint Bentley downstairs. 

Brighteyes is nearly finished. His clothes look blotchy because it is the undercoat, and I concentrated on covering the canvas quickly. Now he is going back onto the picture shelves to dry. I have a dehumidifier working to speed it up. 


Friday, 11 May 2018

Girl in Profile Update


Girl in Profile Update 

The Girl in Profile is waiting for another tube of red paint that I have ordered today. 
I went over her hair again today but I think I will want to improve it tomorrow. I am still trying to match the subtle colours in her hair. It changes with the light. 
It is very difficult to be satisfied with a portrait. It reminds me of Maurice Quentin de la Tour, who was a very popular portrait painter at the French Court back in the Eighteenth Century. He worked in pastel and he was my inspiration when I first started painting portraits. 
He would deliver the painting then he would take it back to improve it. That sounds dangerous. It is so easy to overwork pastel.
I used to work in pastel but my latest paintings are oil on canvas. The canvas can be worked over without tearing holes in it. It is nice not having to be afraid of mistakes. 


Friday, 4 May 2018

Pretty Smile



Pretty Smile 

You will have noticed that I rarely give the name of my subjects. I am calling this girl Pretty Smile to protect her privacy and because she reminds me of my daughter-in-law who also has a beautiful smile. 
I was stuck on Pretty Smile’s hairstyle until I asked my hairdresser for help. I promised to give an acknowledgement of Sue’s help. I don’t know what the hairstyle is called but it is plaited right round her head and then tied in a big bow behind.
I have been struggling to match the colour of her hair. There are so many shades of brown. I decided on burnt umber. Now I must get the lighting right, and then I can glaze the light areas with thin strokes of the dark colour until it has the right texture. 
Her face is still monochrome brown ochre (Rembrandt oil paint) and I will add a pink blush over her lips and cheeks soon.
Now while the paint dries on this one, I am going to paint a bit more of Walter.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Walter 2


Walter 2

I did a lot of work on Walter today. I have blended his far eye, undercoated his chin and neck, and started on his scarf. I have made a change from my reference photograph. He had the strap of a bag around his neck. You can still see part of it in the sketch. But I decided it wasn’t doing anything for the portrait so I am painting neck there instead. 
I still haven’t painted his moustache! And his mouth looks odd but I know what I am doing. Don’t worry!
I am sorry this is such a short post. I have been busy with other things this evening.


Friday, 20 April 2018

Girl in Profile


Girl in Profile

I have been enjoying painting this portrait of a girl in profile in oil on canvas. She has a very elegant nose. 
I have a bit of a thing about noses. Blame my mother for that. She had a slender Roman nose and she was proud of it. She would tilt her head and show it off, saying she was glad she didn’t have a snub nose. In case you are wondering, I have a cross between her nose and my father’s and I am very happy with it.
I took a lot of reference photos of the girl, but I had to reject all the full face ones because she had her eyes screwed up against the sun. 
I have finished the girl’s face, and last time I worked on the portrait I started her clothes. I would have liked to paint her hair, but I have to wait for paint to dry because I will need to rest my hand on her face and I don’t want to smudge it. Obviously. That is why I only painted the left side of her jacket. I don’t want a red hand when it is time to work on her portrait again.
I still have to finish her neck and paint her hand, which is resting on the back of a chair. They will wait until after I have finished her hair.



Friday, 13 April 2018

Lady in Sunglasses 2


Lady in Sunglasses 2

The Lady in Sunglasses is beginning to show her lovely friendly character. 
You may be thinking that I have indicated her eyes, but I can’t see her eyes at all in the reference photograph. I can only see myself and my camera reflected on the lenses and I am not going to paint that.
No, she hasn’t got a big earlobe. That will become her earring. 
I am still working on 10 portraits at once. I paint a bit more on three or four paintings a day. I have to rest my hand on the canvas because my arm and hand are weak due to polio. That is why I paint from the top left to the bottom right so I don’t smear the oil paint - except when I do it on purpose of course. If I need to go back over a higher part of the painting, I have to leave it to dry for a day or two. 
Meanwhile, I am ready to set up my next 10 portraits. There is a portrait of a deerhound calling to me ...



Friday, 6 April 2018

Brighteyes


Brighteyes

This portrait of a little boy, in oil on canvas, is coming along nicely. 
I started to paint his blonde hair full of different shades. I was mainly using gold ochre and raw umber. The hair was fairly dry by this morning so I thought I should put in the highlights. Then I had an idea to make the colour more subtle by mixing in transparent white. I had never used transparent white before. It is definitely different from ordinary white oil paint. So I painted transparent white over all his hair and I am leaving it to dry to see what happens.
Talking of hair, after I put him on the picture shelf to dry, I took down the portrait of his girl cousin who has an elaborate plaited hairstyle. I didn’t take a photo of her portrait because it hasn’t yet got sufficient nose or mouth to stop her looking like an alien. I don’t want anyone to see her looking like that. 
I was puzzling about how to paint her hair, when I remembered that my hairdresser was coming today. So I left the girl’s portrait on the easel and my lovely hairdresser, Sue, explained how the hair should look in my painting! I hope to post the finished result next week.
I am so lucky with the technical help I am getting with these portraits.


Friday, 30 March 2018

Walter


Walter

I am enjoying painting Walter’s portrait. It has come along nicely since I started to go over all the oil on canvas portraits using tones of brown ochre and using hints of Venetian red rather than the more orangey light red. 
It won’t be long before I have to paint in his moustache. That will be an interesting challenge.
His clothes are complicated too.
I am continuing to have ten portraits on the go, all sitting on picture shelves. I have two new ones ready to start as soon as I have space to put them. 

I mentioned last week that I had been very interested in the Civilisations episode about religious painting. 
I am a Nichiren Buddhist. Nichiren Daishonin inscribed a scroll with calligraphy of which he wrote: "I, Nichiren, have inscribed my life in sumi ink”. We Nichiren Buddhists enshrine a copy of this scroll in our homes and don’t generally go in for images of Buddhas. 
In another letter, Nichiren Daishonin wrote that he was ”cursed with an ugly appearance”. He had a couple of portraits painted during his lifetime that show he was not a handsome man but they do portray a kind man. 
After his death, statues were erected, and each one is more beautified than the last. 
I have noticed that beautification is common when it comes to painting religious figures.









Friday, 23 March 2018

Lady in Sunglasses


Lady in Sunglasses

This is not going to be the easiest oil on canvas portrait that I am going to do. I can’t see the lady’s eyes behind her sunglasses. But I can see her charming smile.
The sunglasses are making some interesting shadows and reflections on her cheeks (which I haven’t painted yet). Meanwhile, I have been concentrating on blending the highlights. And now she has a mouth and an indication of where her teeth are. Teeth take a lot of blending to get them to sit back in a mouth nicely. There is nothing worse than a portrait with shining white teeth!

I am sorry that this is such a short post. I was going to write about last night’s episode of Civilisations on BBC2. It was very interesting on the subject of religious art. But I fell asleep this afternoon and I can’t write a quick note on such an important topic. It will take a few edits. Look out for it soon.


Friday, 16 March 2018

Baby Has Eyes


Baby Has Eyes

I have been working hard painting this week. I spend about an hour on each portrait then I put them on the shelf to dry. 
I have changed my favourite brand of paint to Talens Rembrandt oil colours. I bought a selection of them and discovered that a very good cool skin tone is brown ochre mixed with lots of white, and a touch of light red oxide for rosy cheeks. My original selection didn’t include raw umber, so I ordered that, and some transparent oxide brown to try out.
Once I had the raw umber I was able to paint the baby’s eyes. They are a hazel brown and the rest of my browns were reddish. No good at all!
His eyes aren’t quite in the right place because I couldn’t rest my hand on the painting to do them - the paint was wet.
I would get more done (maybe) if I didn’t spend a lot of time picking tiny cat hairs out of the paint. I have tried tweezers but I can’t find any precise enough. I sometimes manage to scrape them off with a small palette knife if I find them before they are embedded in the paint.
Does anyone know a good solution? 



Friday, 9 March 2018

Viewing Art


Viewing Art

I watched Civilisations on BBC 2 last night. This episode was relevant to me and my portraits as it was about what the viewer brings to the depiction of the human face. Mary Beard had some pertinent comments to make about how taste in art is influenced by culture. 

When I paint or draw a portrait I am very conscious of the relationship of my client to the subject, and, if my client wants a portrait of themself, I try to be aware of how they want to be viewed by their friends. 
It took me a while to decide which portrait to choose to illustrate this, and finally, I decided that the portrait of Tyla would be a good example. 
I had met Tyla and knew that she was a dog of great character. She had a lot to say in rather growly tones when she greeted me and she was so much loved. As it was a surprise birthday present, she was brought to my house so I could take reference photos. I wanted her to face the window for the good light, but there was a door behind her and my two dogs were snuffling under that door. Fortunately I had some bits of chicken, so I was able to attract her attention, but not fully, as even when she had her nose pointed in my (ie the chicken’s) direction, her gaze was still over her shoulder to check on the snuffles. 
I wanted to capture the look of a dog gazing adoringly at her guardian. I know that look well as I have dogs myself. So I was able to get the look I wanted. 
As Tyla has a wonderful brindled coat it took me much longer to paint than I hoped and I missed the deadline of the birthday. So I scanned the unfinished portrait and made a birthday card of it. It was seriously unfinished but it was still recognised. I was told about it. He exclaimed "That’s my dog!" So I am sure I succeeded.
As I mostly paint or draw family portraits, I aim for an affectionate expression. It isn’t too difficult if they are with their family like children accompanied by their mother. But I remember one occasion when I was struggling to get usable photos of two young sisters until I was inspired to give them the camera and ask them to photograph each other. 
I have been commissioned to do mostly children or pets of recent years. But I have always enjoyed painting adult portraits too. 






Friday, 2 March 2018

Lynx Kitten


Lynx Kitten

It is three years since I drew the lynx kitten, but I am entering it in an exhibition at the Gallery of the Eden Valley Artistic Network 
http://www.edenvalleyartisticnetwork.co.uk/

It is a 4 x 6 inch pen and ink drawing on graphic film, coloured on the reverse with coloured pencils.

I always used to work on paper, until I started to work in acrylics and gouache. I struggled with the problem of the paper buckling. Paper can even buckle using a dry medium like pastel, especially in damp weather, and now I was living in the Eden Valley. I have known it to rain here when the sky was blue and there was no cloud to be seen.
I had to make a change, and I discovered that graphic film is "dimensionally stable". I understand this to mean it stays flat no matter how damp it gets. So I started painting in gouache on graphic film and I had no more problems.
Graphic film is translucent, so I got an idea. I drew on the first side of double-sided graphic film with pen and ink, then I coloured the reverse side with coloured pencils and the colour showed through beautifully though it was muted.
It is an interesting challenge to paint the reverse side. I imagine that it must be like glass painting. When painting on paper you paint the most important details on top of the underpainting. If you do that on the reverse of graphic film you would never see them. So first you paint the important details, then the underpainting on top of that.
You have to keep looking at the right side to see what the finished drawing will look like.
One important thing to know about graphic film is that the pen, pencil or paint sticks to a special film coating on the outside. If you make an error, never scratch it off. That takes off the coating and leaves a shiny surface that nothing will stick to. You can use water to remove mistakes but that will leave white water spots. I haven’t found anything that will clean off the spots.
I can’t think of anything else to help anyone who wants to try this technique but I am happy to answer any questions - if I know the answer!

Friday, 23 February 2018

Lack of Work in Progress


Lack of Work in Progress

I have made progress. Really! But I am expecting visitors and I have been painting ceilings and woodwork when I would rather have been painting this beautiful rosy-cheeked baby boy.
Yesterday I worked on his forehead, outlined his eyes and got his ear nicely established.
I have discovered that ”brown ochre” in Talens Rembrandt oil paints makes a perfect soft rosy colour when mixed with lots of white. I am adding a hint of light oxide red in the rosiest areas. I know I need to blend the cheeks and chin! 
Today was boring. I was back to washing floors and tidying up to get ready for my visitors. But I achieved one useful thing. I had downloaded an iPad app that was supposed to scan photos nicely. I wasn’t happy with it because I discovered that it depended on a subscription service. I have trouble with that kind of thing. I get a long time lag for anything cloud-based. I am not talking about just minutes. I deleted it.
So I searched for another photo scanner iPad/iPhone app and found one that I could test for free. It worked well (see above) so I paid for the unlimited scans version. It is called Unfade. It finds the edges of the painting and squares it up so I can take a quick photo. The full version repairs faded photos which is how it gets its name, but I don’t need that. 

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Latest update on Gypsy Portraits Project.





Portrait of Gucci 

I finished the Portrait of Gucci before Christmas and eventually worked out how to scan the canvas. I cut a piece of thick black paper to prevent the scanner light getting through the gaps in the canvas threads and reflecting off the back of the lid. It worked!
It would have been easier to paint if I'd chosen a different pose for the portrait, but I love this laughing expression. 

Since I finished Gucci, I have decided that, because oil paint takes days to dry (and it sticks to my hands better than it sticks to the canvas) I decided that I have to paint a lot of portraits at once. At the moment I am working on ten paintings. I can’t say portraits because a couple of them have more than one individual.

I have been buying more paints. When I painted in pastel my basic brand was Talens Rembrandt. I added pastels by Schminke and Sennelier, but mainly I relied on the Rembrandt pastels for my pastel portraits. Oil paints are a new medium for me. I was surprised to discover that the colour names are not standard, and when I reach for a tube of Red Oxide to give a small child glowing cheeks, the colour was not what I was expecting! So I have added tubes of Talens Rembrandt oil paints to my palette. The oils don’t match the pastels exactly but I have a better idea of what it will do.
I know that a lot of people mix their colours from a limited number of colours but I am happier to mix a toning earth colour with white then add touches of other colours to get it as close to my subject as possible. 

When I lived in London my main choice for skin colour was gold ochre, but in Appleby it is burnt sienna. Perhaps it was living in London that gave people a yellowish complexion and in Appleby everyone has a much healthier glow!