Monthly Archives: September 2010

Nick Archer Portrait

First Portrait of the year

I am glad to be back painting at the start of my last year in the Portrait Diploma.  Our first assignment is a traditional portrait set up taught by Nick Archer (, who was commended in the BP Portrait competition (1998) and won the ING Fresh Eyes competition (2008). So far the main areas of focus have been:

Mixing beautiful and clean colours.  He says mix colours needed before starting painting, only with a palette knife, never a brush,  use colour complements rather than black to darken paint.

Focusing on where the large contrasts are, colour and tone.  Especially observe the beauty of the brights in the image.

He is enthusiastic about working with the right colour complements, to which end he recommends the Munsell colour wheel, which shifts the standard colour complements slightly from the more usual pigment colour wheel.

I am particularly relieved that he recommends mixing most of the colours before beginning to paint.  This is the way that I life to work, but many teachers do not like going that way.

I used this session to refine the way that I paint as well as experiment with a cool (green grey) ground.  I started with a structured drawing, transferred it onto the canvas, then focused on building up areas of colour and tone, using the drawing as a positioning guide, but not sticking to it.  Finally, working through areas of the painting bringing up the details and resolving the patches of colour with each other.  In the end I felt comfortable with both the process as well as liking the cooler ground

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The Final Picture at last

Mr Heatherley 5

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Working it up

Mr Heatherley 4

This illustrates the process that I use to work up the overall portrait. Particularly in large and detailed pictures I find it helpful to closely define the picture right at the beginning, even though I often deviate from that as time goes on. While working more impressionistically is wonderful I find it a difficult way to start large or intricate images.

I transfer the detailed pencil drawings onto the larger canvas. Traditionally this would be done by squaring up but technology is a bit more labour saving now. Then I go straight for the darkest darks and lightest lights, across the whole image. Even through these are relatively small parts of the overall image I always find it intriguing how much the picture as a whole comes out.

I also put some colours on spots all over the canvas to act as reference points when working on any particular area. Having made some initial definitions for the overall picture, drawing, colour and tone, I then move to bringing it forward from individual areas. In this case I worked some clothes first, then the heads then completing the bodies, bean bag and floor.

I find that having started with a close definition and detailed under drawing I feel free to change and be spontaneous about the painting of individual parts of the image, and usually the brush work does not conform to the underdrawing at the detail level but is a more immediate reaction to the subject at the time of making the painting.

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Head Sketches

Mr Heatherley 3

I generally do not like having to work with small heads, but in this picture I have no choice. Before committing myself to the smaller heads I like to work on a larger scale as part of the process of getting satisfaction with the smaller scale. Here are 3 larger scale oil sketches that I did to create reference material for the main picture. It is practically impossible to work on all 3 at the same time because it would demand an unfeasible amount of time from the sitters.

I committed myself to a new palette for this picture that I was working my way into. Principally, it is based on Yellow Ochre and Indian Red for the warms and Viridian and Alizarin Crimson for the cooler mixes, greys etc. I also used both Ultramarine and Phylo Blue for specific colours.

I am trying to get a balance between spontaneous brush work and a proper figurative image. Learning as I went along, the third picture of Guy was by far the most successful. I go too much green in Lily’s face and not enough pink in Fiona’s.

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Graft in the Summer

Mr Heatherley 2

This summer has been about hard graft on my Mr Heatherley project, see the earlier note.  In the drawing phase I have refined the composition somewhat.

FIrst, to improve the holding of the space that the group occupies by including the edge of a rug in the foreground.  This increases the juxtaposition between the linear and organic forms, improves the overall balance and creates a series of steps from the front of the image to the back.  Of which the rug is the first in the foreground.

Second, I have reworked the poses a bit.  I want to create a strong sense of the three being firmly ‘together’  but also that they are each in their own world, thus creating some ambiguity and complexity in their relationship.  This is a proper reflection of the relationships that they actually have and the tensions that are inherent in stepmotherhood.

This phase of the process was to create a drawing focusing on the planes of the forms of both the composition overall, as well as for the head and shoulders of each of the 3 individuals.  I use this style of drawing to form the base of the painted image.

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