Tag: Portrait

On Ilkley Moor Baht ‘At

This month has been all about preparing to be an exhibitor at Ilkley Art Show for the first time. I have been holding back some originals from sale for a while, in the hope of this opportunity. I will be displaying two ‘collections’ this August: six paintings from my In Medias Res series and two from a new project, which I am really absorbed by at the moment: a series of palette paintings.

I have described the premise of ‘In Medias Res’ before – these paintings take a section of something long or tall, like a foxglove spire or a tree branch, and depict that section as if it were a chapter of a longer story. To me the meanings of these paintings are clear, but in the exhibition there will be no notes accompanying them, so I will have to see if these ideas come across! I hope that, even in the meaning seems utterly obscure, visitors will still enjoy the rich colours and beautiful flowers. I am adding a couple of new paintings to this group, specially for the Ilkley Show. They are both small, square panels depicting willow. Eventually this will be a set of three, all with a pale pink background but showing the progression from silky grey buds, to green and finally orange leaves. I have painted in the pussy willow panel, though it needs more detail on the buds. I love the simplicity of this composition – it reminds me of Japanese prints in this way. You can see the other Medias Res here.

I think the palette paintings are more self-explanatory. Each painting involves a handful of tiny pictures united by a single colour. So far I have done Amber and Sky Blue. In part I was inspired by an excellent book called The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair, but I also like the idea that an artist’s palette is the world around them, as much as tubes of paint. However, as I’ve been planning and painting different colours, I have been struck by how each colour has a different nature and associations. For example, when I was trying to think of different subjects for the light blue palette, I was surprised by how rare this colour is in nature (apart from the occasional blue sky, of course!). And even where it does exist, it is usually the case that the colour is created by special cells or feathers which refract the sky’s colour. So the colour isn’t really in the bird or butterfly, but an illusion. This maybe has something to do with soft blue’s mystical connotations with distance and memory, which again has a scientific basis, in that the further away something is the bluer it appears. The blue palette is nearly finished, but I will be replacing the forget-me-nots with love-in-the-mist, to create a more solid block of colour:

The colour blocks for the amber palette, meanwhile, all seem to be associated with evening and endings: the crepuscular fox, the autumnal squash and acer leaf, the aged whisky and sunset. The fur of the fox needs some lighter orange tones, but then I can’t wait to mount these up. Each block with be individually mounted and then raised up within a panoramic box mount. I hope it will look like those white artist colour palettes.

I have also just finished another canine commission: this time of a lovely lurcher called Blossom. Apparently she’s quite shy, so I’ve painted her looking to the side, curled up on the sofa. Her mottled fur was such a challenge to paint, but it also helps to convey the shape of her head and body. I originally intended to leave the background plain, but actually the amber and brown hues pick up Blossom’s eye colour, and balance out the composition.

And alongside all that, I have set up a patron scheme and been continuing my miniature work, with a new, ladybird tiny treasure and a new series of 2p animal miniatures in watercolour. I hope to return to these after the Ilkely Art Show. If you can make it to Ilkey on the 10th or 11th of August do come along – I’m told the standard of artwork is very high this year, and it will be an unusual opportunity to see a number of my originals on show together.


In Medias Res

‘In the middle of things’. This phrase is well known to literature students, for when an author dives into the middle of the action, rather than starting at the beginning of the story. Apart from being the title of my latest series of paintings, this phrase also neatly sums up the last few months. I have been lucky enough to have my work on display in two exhibitions for the first time – one Microcosm in London as part of the DRAW exhibition at the Menier Gallery, and then a much larger collection of my work at a local exhibition in Hurworth Village Hall. I was particularly pleased to be able to display my tiny treasures en masse for the first time.

Painting took a knock during August and September, as my health again went downhill. But thanks to a new consultant (a specialist in epi-genetics and chronic illness) I am slowly making improvements again. My first mission, once I was back with brush in hand, was to finish a wedding portrait, commissioned as an anniversary present.

Since then I have taken a break from commissions in order to experiment a bit. My new series, ‘In Medias Res’, was borne out of the my recent experience of seeing the Rothko room at the Tate Modern. I loved the impact his enormous canvases made through simple shapes and careful control of colour. I wondered if I could take a similarly simple concept of design – in my case just a column/vertical line – but marry this with realism. So each painting in this series is essentially a textural, coloured ground, bisected by a column of contrasting colour. In the first two paintings, this column comprises a spire of flowers. As each painting only captures a small section of each column, almost like a chapter from a longer novel, I decided that the series should be called ‘In Medias Res’.

In practice, calibrating the contrasting colours has been the most challenging aspect, involving colour theory which I can’t go into in detail. However, the basic principle is that if colours are of exactly equal tone, the eye struggles to perceive the image as clearly and so the colours seem more vibrant. In the foxtail lily, these colour contrasts are partly within the  flowers themselves, as the peach is contrasted with cobalt blue shadows. In grey scale, the flowers suddenly look flat, because the contours have been achieved with colour rather than tone.

My next project in this series is a spire of delphinium flowers, but I also have a birch tree, lavender flower, floxglove and stalk of barley ready to go! Another series for which I’m brimming with ideas is my set of microcosms. I was delighted that Microcosm #3: ‘A World of Many Parts’ was accepted by the Society for Graphic Fine Art for their annual London exhibition. For my next microcosm I am torn between a brussel sprout (yes, a brussel sprout), and the iris of an eye! In the meantime, I have been continuing my work in pencil with a floral commission. I was captivated by delicate shadows on this simple Japanese anemone, which I have called ‘Halo’, having spent hours on that intricate ring of stamens!

I will soon be making a return to my canine portraits, as well as working on some paintings inspired by poetry. However, painting is now very much in the middle of many other things, including research, tutoring and script-reading. I just hope my health holds up amidst so many exciting and interesting projects. In the meantime I have started to create a calendar of my work from the past year, which you can see on my rkalbanart facebook page. If you would be interested one for £10, please leave a comment below, as I will only be ordering a small number. As I’m sure you are also ‘in medias res’, I will leave it there!

Portraits in Parts

You know those times where it feels like just one thing after another? Well, over the last few weeks if it hasn’t been newly-discovered health complications, it’s been the expected rigours of treatment, and if it hasn’t been treatment getting me down, it’s been the good old common cold. Amidst this turnstile of illness it’s been hard to squeeze in the art, but where I found a moment or two, it’s been all about portraits.

I love portraits and I never do enough of them because it’s no longer fashionable to commission a portrait. But there are few things as beautiful and engaging as a face to paint. And that face need not be human! Having grown up with dogs, there is a similar kind of connection that can be had from looking into a dog’s eyes as a human’s. Those of you who’ve never owned a dog will not doubt be rolling your own eyes, but I maintain that science backs me up! Dogs look for and perceive emotional cues in human faces which makes it much more meaningful to look at them that at any other animal.

Fortunately I have an almighty commission of five canine portraits coming up over the next year – almighty in terms of number but not, of course, in terms of scale. These are portraits will all be only 5 inches high, but I hope will capture just as much personality as a grand life-size affair. And, true to my predilections, I’ve started with the smallest of the family: a little chap called Jet:

I enjoy working in almost-monochrome, although you might be surprised at the quantities of blue, purple, ochre and sienna that went into this symphony of black and white! With such a limited palette I was able to work quickly, but this portrait will take a thorough revisiting because fine detail just gets swallowed up when dealing which such a dominant and dark colour.

Of course, the most interesting thing about canine portraits is how different the facial shapes can be. I’m well versed in the anatomy of golden retrievers and labradors, but Jet and my next subject, Emrys, are quite different! I’m very much looking forward to tackling the statuesque silhouette of this young lurcher, and it will be interest to paint a short coat with a much more refined texture.

In terms of human portraits, I haven’t been able to work up any finished paintings but instead have been working on a new concept with the aim of capturing the multi-faceted nature of the individual – not a single view but a “Portrait in Parts”. I was first inspired by reading an interview with David Hockney, where he explains how important it is to him that his portraits include the sitter’s feet, because so much can be implied by their choice of footwear. This struck a chord. When you paint a person’s face, you are largely painting something over which they have had relatively little control. Their sense of style, the objects the collect and use, their preferences and opinions – these are indicative of their chosen self, rather than simple physiognomy. Of course, I have no intention to abandon facial depiction, and indeed, other parts of the body, such as the hands, can be very individual and distinctive. Instead, my portrait in parts is an attempt to glimpse all these elements at once:

My guinea pig was my lucky husband, who got very little say in the ‘parts’ that I chose! (One would hope I know him well enough to make a decent stab at his style and preferences…) Here I enjoyed the contrast between areas of detail and the clean, simple square of blue. The main portrait element would almost always be done in oil, but for the sake of a mock up I have done a simple sketch.

The most fun I have had so far with this idea was with a close friend visiting us a few weekends ago:

Of course, in a traditional portrait, the sitter is completely at the mercy of the artist, who is in a much better place to decide how to commit their appearance to paper than their subject! However, what was so enjoyable about this form of portraiture was the collaborative nature of the process – it felt like doing a private ‘Desert Island Discs’ interview to find out what colours, objects, garments, symbols and quotations most captured their total personality. I loved the resulting mock up too because it had so much in it that could only have been contributed by the sitter herself, and for her the resonances behind the objects are so powerful – full of memories and significances which the casual observer cannot guess. As another bonus, I think I may have discovered an fruitful outlet for my recent attachment to drawing wooden spoons: why not progress onto antique coffee spoons?!

At the other end of the spectrum, both in terms of my affection for the ‘sitter’ and the extent of their participation (i.e. None!), I then turned to the notorious new president of the United States:

While the process was much less enjoyable, I still found the possibilities of this format interesting, this time in highlighting political issues rather than personal reflections (though, as the bottom-right square indicates, I doubt there would be much of a soul to portray anyway). From an artist’s point of view, the different parts still offer diverse artistic challenges, such as the golden ingots and brick wall, no matter how distasteful the person may be!

I would love to work on more of these. Usually mock-ups will be £15, (which would then be deducted from the cost of a fully worked up, painted portrait) but for the first three people to get in touch I will make up one for free! The mock-up would involve a ‘consultation’ with me, by phone or facebook messenger or email, and of course a little hand-drawn sketch for you to keep. So have a think – what would the parts of your portrait be?

Quick Quick Slow

A quick announcement before we begin – SALE!! A BIG sale of my small cards, plus two special editions:  packs of large cards featuring my recent paintings Pied Beauty and Bonnie Smile. I’m sorry say it, but summer is on its way out, so maybe you know some people receiving exam results or making new starts in the autumn, who might appreciate a card of congratulations, good luck or simple good wishes.

And so from one quick diversion to another – my hen weekend! I promise this is not about sharing drunken stories of being handcuffed to railings. After all, what would an artist do on her hen? Why, art of course! So my maid of honour organised a session of life drawing. Perhaps it is unprofessional that at my first ever life drawing class I was wearing a ‘Bride to Be’ badge and wearing a comic beret, but aside from the jovial context this was a seriously useful artistic exercise and challenge:

image-1-e1471760066972For starters this was an exercise in quick drawing. As I’ve written previously, with my treatment allowing me only limited time for painting, I usually feel like of every brush stroke counts and my work is always directed towards a finished piece to sell or for commission. As such, my art of the past few years has been thorough and slow.

In this life drawing class, however, we were given only 5-10 minutes for each pose and provided with only charcoal as a drawing medium, which lends itself to bold and fluid mark-making. And it was actually really liberating to draw in an absorbed but carefree manner, with nothing riding on the finished product.

image-e1471698871205I also requested a more contorted, seated position (right), which I particularly enjoyed, I suppose because I find anything compact and intricate aesthetically engaging. It was also very good practice to work from life, where there is no camera lens to frame your composition or interpret the foreshortened areas.

I think we worked on six different poses, and my absorption and dedication to the artistic task narrowly saved me from becoming a model myself in some unseemly combination with our nude model, in what I now understand is normally the pièce de résistance of hen life drawing parties. In fact, the enormous concentration of moving focus and beginning a whole new chapter of observation for every new pose meant that by the end, we were all exhausted!

So, that was the first ‘quick’. The second ‘quick’ piece of art I have to share is, perhaps unexpectedly, a finished commission. For some types of commission the time devoted to preparation far outstrips the actual time of execution. In an oil painting of a flower, for example, little drawing is required, the drawing need not be forensically exact, but the centrality of colour and texture means that the application of paint takes hours and hours. By contrast, in a portrait, I find the preparation and drawing is key. If you draw an extra petal or two in a rose, or make one leaf slightly larger than your subject, no one will ever know and it may even be necessary to improve the composition and balance of the piece. In a portrait, the slightest deviation from the model can ruin a likeness.

As such, in a portrait I’m calling ‘Felicitas’ (because of the baby’s expression of unadulterated joy), I spent a long time on preparatory sketches and then equally long experimenting with materials. You may remember that I was considering using toned paper, which has the advantage of allowing the artist to actively draw in highlights, rather than only contributing shadow to the page. However, when working on the tinted paper with pastel pencils, they felt to me frustratingly blunt instruments, and rendered a very course texture which would have been inappropriate for the silk-smooth skin of a baby’s face. (I realise this is probably a reflection on the artist rather than the materials, as I have seen many beautifully smooth and detailed portraits in pastels by artists more expert in that medium). So, I turned to my trusty box of coloured pencils, which do not smudge and seemed to produce the kind of lightness and finesse I was after.

imageWith all this preparation under my belt, I settled down for a final sketch of the right size on the right paper with the right pencils. And, quite quickly, it became clear to me that the portrait was flowing really nicely. The likeness was appearing and I decided to continue with it as the final work – therefore rendering the shading and detail with much more care, depth and precision. I still wanted the finish to be delicate and minimal: babies do not have the hard, structural facial features which can distinguish adult portraits or the intricacy of wrinkles. Instead my focus was the eyes – literally popping with excitement – and capturing the smooth and pillowy contours of the smiling cheeks. I may do one or two final adjustments in the coming week before it is dispatched, but thanks to weeks of preparation a practically completed portrait had materialised in the course of a single day!

Now, for the final step of ‘quick, quick, slow’. Worried that my pen and ink work of St Mary’s Battersea was too detailed and traditional in character for my client, I experimented with simplifying the shapes by transferring the image onto acetate, and overlaying this on a modern, cubist design:

image-2-e1471700600225In fact, at this stage it is impossible to say which will end up being most appropriate to the finished work; as you might remember this is part of a trilogy of pictures in watercolour, oil and pen. While the watercolour and pen are nearly finished, I have not been able to begin painting the picture in oils because of the time restraints of treatment. To start an oil painting I need two or three consecutive days to get into the rhythm and put down a coherent underlying layer of painting. Adjustments after this initial stage can be more fragmented, but the start is slow. So, a little patience is necessary until I have a finished oil painting to complete the set and work out which incarnation of the pen and ink will work best.

Quick quick slow – in art some things have to happen in a moment, some things take hours of labour and sometimes just a bit of time is needed to mull over the options and direction of the work. More to come before the wedding I hope, including some more upcoming commissions. In the meantime, be quick: SALE!!