Monthly Archives: July 2011

Allan Ramsay project

A Study in Black

This was the last portrait project of the Heatherley’s Diploma. Allan Ramsay is an outstanding painter and teacher, previous winner of the BP portrait prize, you can see some of his work at You can see an example of his painting here, bottom right. His main mantra is to focus on the major elements of the image, and not too many of them. The key points of drama, the darkest darks, lightest lights, which are warm and which are cold. Even if using photos, to support the painting, make your own decisions about how you want it to look and do let the photos take that away, again the key points.

For me this was an exercise in the use of black and a very helpful and necessary one. Jennifer was wearing black clothes and was sitting in front of an essentially black piece of fabric. I certainly ended up mixing many different black to make the painting. Using Raw Umber and ultramarine as the base (cool), warming it up with Venitian red ( can use Burnt umber instead of the raw umber to get a warm black), also shading it off to green with yellow ochre. Alternatively, for the clothing I based it on Alizarin Crimson and Viridian that gives a more grey/metallic feel to differentiate the clothing from the background.

Three interesting areas to work on are: 1) using small marks/drawing to make the turning points in the form. 2) Using Small marks to create points of emphasis, drama, bringing the nearest things forward. 3) How to keep the image open and not locked in.

Although this is far from my usual stye and, as a result, I will not use it in the final exhibition, I like this picture, in a way its a modern form of a very traditional type of portrait, with Jennifer emerging from darkness.

A Study in Black 1

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Life Diptych

Life 1 and 2 diptych

This double portrait project is one that I devised in my studio. Fiona is very generous with her time and I enjoy painting her. There are several artists that have painted clothed and unclothed portraits of the same person or couples in essentially the same pose. They appeal to me as much for the psychological impact as well as the challenge. The one that I remember most clearly was by Tai-Shan Schierenberg.

Since the paintings stand side by side and are of the same person in essentially the same pose, the challenge of representation is increased because it becomes very easy to see if there is an error in one of them.

I really enjoyed this pose because of the crossed angles, foreshortening and elegance. The composition is a very simple one so that there is no distraction from the figure.

The question that I hope it poses is this…. Which is real life? dressed as we usually are (psychologically defended by layers of pretence), or naked, not pretending, open to what comes next with nothing to hide. If the later, then why do we let most of lives be defined by the former?

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