s o p h i e a r t i s t n e w n h a m l o n d o n
 M O N T H L Y B L O G ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ MARCH 2018 INTIMACY OF A SELF-PORTRAIT Over the years I have done three or four terms of both life drawing and portrait painting classes at The Royal Drawing School, drop-in classes at the Heatherley and at the famous Royal Academy's Life Room. In all of them I have come away afterwards ready to collapse with exhaustion but at the same time buzzing, feeling very fortunate to have taken part. One of my favourite parts of these classes is working in a group. There is an incredible sense of the group being united, fully focused, and all working side by side towards a common goal. The worst part is when you're running out of time and you're a step away from finishing. For each of the life-drawing and portrait classes we tended to begin by setting up an easel in a circle around a model and together the tutor and model would come up with a series of poses. A chat from the tutor on technique or a look at some books by other artists would focus our minds and give us ideas on a way of setting out a canvas or perhaps guide us to try a full length drawing or focus on something more detailed such as the head. We were offered bits of charcoal and chalk to use with different size sheets of paper for the life-drawing class and for the portrait classes, we painted on prepared board with muted oil paints on palettes using between 4 or 5 colours. The tutor would walk around and give you a nudge in the right direction if you became stuck on a particular part, tell you how much a part you are doing has worked well or perhaps suggest you take a step back to look at it to avoid becoming too tight and stop seeing parts correctly. In each of them we would start with short poses of five or ten minutes to limber up followed by a slightly longer fifteen minute pose and then the final pose would last the remainder of the session. The short poses would help me to get my eye in and to get a feel for the paper and exercise my eye to hand coordination. One tutor I had would talk to the model while we painted which always helped to bring them alive. As they chatted, I began to notice the model's true personality would come out, a dimple in their cheek if they smiled or an eye shape formed into a half moon. The chatting would also help to capture something of the inner essence of the sitter and would help give life to our portraits. At the end of last month I was watching Sky Portrait Artist of the year and decided on a whim to enter next year's competition. I have painted some portraits since those classes but I have only once attempted a self-portrait which was a pencil drawing of my head and shoulders. This time I decided I wanted to get fully immersed in painting. With my experience of painting flowers and other commissions over the years I had discovered new ways to work and now I wanted to spend some time really studying and painting myself to see what I could come up with and this seemed like a great opportunity. So, I bought some primed gesso board, set up a mirror on an easel, marked my chair and the position of the mirror with masking tape and then got started. Whatever I'm painting, as a first stage, I always like to get some colour straight onto the canvas and note down a few points of reference with the brush, so thats how I began. I then started to paint swathes of colour to fill parts in. Using a cloth I flicked loosely across the canvas to lift parts away and then painted over it and did the same again and again. I find this helps me to avoid becoming too precious about parts I'm putting down and it means I can adapt and change parts as I go. I painted for a few hours over a couple of days leaving some drying time in between. I hit blocks but tried to push through them. I saw a face I recognise appear and then disappear. The next time I was at the canvas I started to notice for the first time that I began to see beyond the lines and shapes of my face in the mirror and it was as if I could really see the whole me. There was a sense that my inner essence was shining through. I felt quite overwhelmed as it's not something people tend to do, stare at themselves for a long period of time. I felt as if I was laid bare with no capacity for hiding. I had a rollercoaster year last year with six months in hospital followed by a long recovery period and I found the act of looking at myself so intimate and intense that it brought to the surface all kinds of feelings and memories. At the same time I hoped this connection would come through onto the canvas and that others could see it too. After a couple of hours painting I decided to put down the paintbrush and come back the next day with a fresh pair of eyes. The last session I sat in front of the mirror, I seemed to be getting nearer to where I wanted to be in the painting and soon- luckily because I was right up to the deadline- felt myself come to a natural finish. It was a fascinating practice and made me think that portrait painting is something I would like to explore further. Strangely, the day after finishing my self-portrait, I was commissioned to paint a young girl, so maybe this is where my art is leading. In the meantime I have some particularly beautiful Hellebores to finish. THIS MONTH I V I S I T E D....... Kew Gardens to see the hanging dried flower installation by Rebecca Louise Law at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery. It was a magical experience. ‘Life in Death’ is an installation of 375,000 preserved flowers hung as garlands, inspired by the ancient Egyptian funeral garlands of Ramesses II. click on image below to see a video and more of my images from the exhibition. Picture taken by me at Kew Gardens. Art by Rebecca Louise Law I J O I N E D....... Life-Drawing Live at the Royal academy hosted by Jonathan Yeo. 'Looking to the past, present and future of one of the cornerstones of artistic process, this exhibition asks what it means to make art from life, and how the practice is evolving as technology opens up new ways of making and seeing. Drawing from casts and life models was long considered essential training for any aspiring artist, and was once a staple of the Royal Academy’s own art school. Now, on the cusp of the RA’s 250th anniversary, this special exhibition project takes an inquisitive look at the tradition and its ongoing relationship with artists today.' The event took place in the RA Life Room and was broadcast live across social media platforms, so everyone was able to tune in and join the class. It was a fun experience and I was in full concentration the whole way through. I look forward to another one. Click on the photo below and you can follow the class and try some drawing yourself. Picture taken by me while taking part in Life Drawing LIve with Jonathan Yeo. ﷯ ﷯
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