Exercise: Conveying character


Adrian Lester in the role of Othello – “Now I do see it, it is true.” Acrylic and drawing pen on paper, 39 x 30 cm

The aim is to convey character through facial expression… decide what aspect of your character you want to convey…

Othello-Adrian Lester

Initial A4 sketchbook pen drawing / watercolour painting

I decided to continue with the Shakespearean theme and develop the pen and watercolour sketchbook painting I did earlier of Adrian Lester playing Othello at the Olivier in 2013.  In my portrait, painted from a DVD, Lester uses strong theatrical hand gestures and facial expressions. Othello has just been duped by lago into believing that his wife Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. “Now I do see it, it is true,” he says. He believes he has been betrayed (he has but not by Desdemona) and is is full of jealous rage and despair and later seeks revenge.


Video still – I changed the camouflage jacket to a striped shirt….

I was pleased with my initial sketchbook painting as it felt alive with  loose lines and so my aim was to try to reproduce this on a larger scale using acrylics and also bringing some visible pen drawing into the picture. My sketchbook picture was created on paper with vertical lines. Rather than paint the camouflage jacket that Othello wears in the scene, I had left the clothing white with just a few drawing lines and the vertical lines visible. I thought this worked and so I reproduced it.

My aim was to create a theatrical, dramatic portrait of Lester as Othello with strong face and hand gestures and I feel I have achieved this. The dark background contrasted with dramatic lighting and the white striped shirt creates a chiaroscuro effect which is striking.

This was an experiment so I wasn’t sure how using drawing pen was going to work… it did even though it went a bit smudgy here and there because of the acrylic gesso ground. I used very dilute acrylic paint in order to recreate the feel of  my  original watercolour… this has worked too with the advantage that I was able to achieve starker tonal contrasts.

I’m pleased with this painting… it’s my most effective portrait so far.. there are faults (the fingers are too long and the foreshortening of the hand not quite right, the lips are a little odd) but I don’t feel they significantly detract from the success of the painting. I’m learning that a few imperfections are often better than a picture in which all the life has been painted out of it.

Feedback from fellow OCA student Stella Davis on this portrait prompted me to look at the work of Jonathan Yeo and I’ve written a separate blog post here.


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