Thursday, 11 July 2013

When my naughty little sister was a portrait.

Some of my work

When I first started this painting malarky again I was almost too emabarrassed to call myself an artist.  I might tell friends and neighbours, 'oh, I'm doing a bit of painting.' but it was in a very off-hand, low key sort of way.  There are plenty of people who didn't know me when I used to paint - everything from portraits and landscapes to plant-pots and loo seats (yes I really did, there are still some loo-seat originals knocking about in various far flung bit of the Highlands),  I expect those people thought I was talking about decorating, cos I did do a bit of that too.

When I used to paint, I had no problems telling people about it, because I had things I could show them if they demanded I support my claim (not that anyone ever did of course.) It was easier in a way to pop pictures of my work up on Facebook, which I did, and share my progress, because I got useful feedback and I had to post images to help with my Facebook stats.  And, of course, I didn't know those people and if they hated my work I didn't have to see them next time I popped in to buy a chicken at the butcher's.  (mind you, since I started my Facebook page I've made some very lovely friends online, but that's another story)

Then, bit by bit, I got back into painting and did a lot of different things, tried different mediums and utilised my very rusty skills, and gradually those skills began to come back and I began to regain my confidence. I remembered techniques and little tricks that I used to use, and I did a few portraits as well as landscapes.   But what I really wanted to try was a portrait of children, because that is really hard. 

As an artist, you need to aim for a good likeness when painting a portrait and if possible you need to try and get at least something of the person's character onto the canvas.  Painting a portrait of children is a real challenge, you have to try and get the proportions right, the composition mustn't dominate and children are so very rarely still. But I really wanted to try

I had done some portraits of my own children, and did manage to achieve a resemblance.  When I showed them my paintings they didn't hate them on sight - which I counted as a plus. wasn't enough, I wanted more.  This is easier said than done, if you no-longer have young children of your own. How do you even start that conversation?



Luckily, I got my chance.  I was chatting one day on Facebook to a friend of mine, Lindsay, and she said that she liked my work, Lindsey has the two most lovely little girls, children that I have known since they were babies, so I asked Lindsay if I could paint them.

Lindsay was great, she sent me a selection of lovely photos of the girls to work from and then basically just left me in peace to get on with it.

I scrapped my first attempt pretty early on.  Lindsay had sent me a photo of the girls laughing, in the sunshine.  But they were wearing hats, which meant their faces were obscured and in shadow, and they were also in a woodland that meant the background was far too 'busy' for a portrait. 

The background was far too 'busy'

The second photo that I used had been taken when the girls were playing in a large concrete pipe.  The background was pretty plain, with a nice wee landscape as part of the composition and that's the one I finally went for.

I did the background first, blocking it in quickly and then I started on the older girl, H.   H is an enchanting child.  She is sweet and funny, but also gentle and somewhat shy.  I made several attempts, but couldn't quite get her essence.  She disappeared into the background or stood out far too starkly, i couldn't catch her sweetness or her fragile prettiness. So I prevaricated and Lindsay  must have thought the painting would never be finished. 

Then last week the weather was awful, wet, cold and stormy.  My children were away and one morning I just decided that enough was enough and I had put off working on the painting for far too long.  So I shut myself in the studio with the omnibus edition of the Archers and Verdi's operatic choruses and got to work.

H was very tricky to paint

I left H as she was, though I was far from satisfied with her and started work on R.  If H is a somewhat reserved child until she gets to know you, then R is a force of nature. 

R, is a force of nature and appeared quite quickly

 She was so easy to paint in comparison with her sister it felt like she arrived on the canvas and wouldn't be ignored and once she had arrived H was far easier to coax into completion.  Once her sister arrived everything seemed to fit into place and I finished the portrait within a couple of days.

H, is very sweet and more reserved than her sister

I was very lucky that Lindsay had supplied me with such a good photo as I had to do very little work on the composition and could concentrate on the images of the girls as can be seen from the photograph below

It was good to have a very clear photo to work from

Thankfully Lindsay and the girls were delighted with the portrait as can be seen from the lovely pic that they sent me and I've managed to get a nice shot or two to share. 

The finished painting

I now have a long list of paintings that I want to complete, this time totally without guilt, as H is no-longer watching me reproachfully from a corner of the studio, but is part of a completed painting which is with its new owners.

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