Reflections on completing Part 4 – Figures and portraits

Reflection on completing Part 3 – Figures

This has been my favourite part of Painting 1 so far (and I’ve now completed Parts 1 to 4). I feel energised and excited about figure and portrait painting. After completing Figures as part of Drawing 1, I felt exhausted and deflated so I feel my confidence and ability has grown since then.

I now know that two genres are of particular interest to me in terms of my own practice:  landscape painting and figures and portrait, particularly news related figures (e.g. the refugee crisis) and theatrical scenes (actors in costume).

I’m some considerable way from developing my own style and at this stage I’m sure experimenting with lots of different techniques is more important than narrowing down to a preferred way of working. I feel that, on the whole, I’m manipulating the paint more proficiently, applying the paint in a variety of ways ways and achieving better outcomes, at least most of the time.

It is a frustration to me that my assignment piece is not the strongest of the paintings I’ve produced. I’m certain that my Iranian migrants, Othello and Richard II are all better pieces because they are so much more expressive. I had a real emotional engagement with these three pieces and that made a difference. They have also spawned a lot of ideas which I feel excited about.

What have I learnt?

  • Reproducing the infinite variety of an individual’s skin tone can be a nightmare. The only way I could cope (at this stage and level of experience) was by narrowing down to three or 4 tones and working with these.
  • Fussing over detail can take all the vitality out of a painting. Too much detail can detract from  emotional impact rather than contribute to it.
  • Drawing on the canvas in paint or drawing pen works better for me than charcoal or pencil because it forces me to go straight in with more gestural / expressive lines. Put a pencil or charcoal in my hand and I will spend the whole session erasing my work and then it becomes wooden.
  • Using a limited colour palette has worked quite successfully for me. Most of my paintings use rather sombre tones but I’m  keen to experiment with ‘Fauve’ colours.
  • The research projects have been very rewarding. I’m particularly thrilled to have discovered the work of Jonathan Yeo and Marlene Dumas. My Pinterest boards are building up into a valuable resource that it is very easy to return to for inspiration.

What could I have done better?

Despite a late restart after Christmas I have put in the hours but I found myself in catch-up mode and under pressure to get the exercises complete within my personal time frame. I fitted in a few exhibitions and a get together with other OCA students at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts but I would have liked to go  to the National Portrait Gallery in London and some other shows. We are planning to rent out our main home and move to Colchester in the spring so once that mammoth task if out of the way I’m resolving to get out and about more. I’ve already booked myself on the Giacometti study day in June.

I worked mostly from photographs, DVD and You Tube footage and I am conscious that (apart from a self-portrait) I did not do any sketching or painting in front of live models. I made a real effort to do a lot of this during  Drawing 1 but it was so time consuming as I had to work around the schedule of  models and life drawing classes and I simply did not have this flexibility. I know it is important to work from life so I will try to redress this in future.

What next?

I’m looking forward to the opportunity to experiment in Part 5. I will keep an open mind but I’m almost certain that my assignment series of paintings will be of figures – either theatrical in costume or representing the ongoing migrant crisis. I’ve already amassed plenty of ideas and material for both.

Tips from my tutor Olivia Irvine from my last tutor report with my comments in italics

As you will be doing the figure section now, I would urge you to build on what you have learned in this section [Part 4]. Don’t fall into traps of trying to get a likeness or an anatomical accuracy to the detriment of the painting as a whole.

I fear I did fall into this trap from time to time – particularly (and frustratingly) with my assignment piece which was neater and less expressive than I intended. I got hooked up on the process of capturing a quite complex pose.  However, I feel I have also created some expressive and much freer work, particularly the Iranian migrants.

Painting actors in costume is a good idea with lots of potential.

So I have discovered and enjoyed immensely. There is endless potential to be expressive and experiment and I wish to pursue this further.

Keep up the looseness and the variety of ways of applying paint.

When I look back at my work I can see that I have been experimental and tried lots of different techniques and I am pleased about this. Much of my work has been quite loose but not all of it.

Keep up the attention to composition, where every part is important in the whole.

Mixed outcomes here. I could definitely make better use of backgrounds to help tell the story. My skills at composition are improving but I still have much to learn and I’m playing a bit too safe in terms of introducing other objects around the main subject.

Be aware of the emotional potential of colour.

I’ve leaned towards fairly limited colour palettes… these can have plenty of emotional impact, of course. I have not fully explored brighter more vibrant colours in my figure and portrait work and will aim to be more experimental inn this respect as I move forward.




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