Theme: Shakespeare’s Richard II
For this painting I experimented with the use of lettering. In all honesty I did not have much idea how it was going to turn out. My instincts told me to be cautious about the use of lettering, to not let it dominate and try to find a way of making it merge with the imagery. I was thinking of some kind of palimpsest. Richard II says: “I give this heavy weight from off my head” as he reluctantly relinquishes his crown to Bolingbroke. My aim was to use this quote, or parts of, together with a painted crown.
I studied lots of kings’ crowns including the painting of Richard II in Westminster Abbey – the first known portrait of an English king. I also looked at footage and photos of actors playing Richard II including Fiona Shaw, David Tennant and Ben Whishaw. Their crowns are all different (even within the productions) most of them are highly orrnate and bejewelled but some are much simpler ‘workaday’ crowns. I did a bit of work in my sketchbook looking at the lovely organic features of the crowns which feature stylised lilies (fleur de lys), palms, roses, tree trunks and branches (many of the architectural features we see in cathedrals in a miniaturised form. But even as I was drawing, I knew this was going to be over the top when combined with the lettering.After applying a coat of bright green and then purple acrylic to cover the lettering, I drew and painted a very simple ‘rough hewn’ gold crown using a brush and some slithers of wood. I filled the whole picture plane with these shapes and didn’t worry about creating a round crown.
Then I sanded back to give texture, break up the colour and reveal the lettering. The enamel was durable and lent itself to this technique. I don’t believe it would have worked with acrylic.
I cropped my painting to remove the words ‘I give’ and improve the proportions. I feel the words and image work together. It’s a strange painting but I do believe it might attract a viewer’s attention, that they might stop, read the script and wonder about the connection.
The elements of the crown look to me like tombstones and the script is by accident in the style of tombstone lettering. I don’t mind this, it makes it enigmatic and Richard II is murdered towards the end of the play. The other people I’ve asked (husband David and our dogwalker Francesca) see a crown.
What doesn’t work so well?
It is busy and overwhelming. I could have been braver and let the lettersbe enigmatic by revealing less… or cutting the quote further e.g. “weight from off my head”.
Conclusion in terms of assignment
I decided not to include this with my assignment because it doesn’t really work as a painting. It might work as a poster illustration. The exercise has a taught me a lot about lettering and the use of enamel paint and how it can be used as a durable underpainting, so I’m more than glad to have had a go.
To test whether enamel and acrylic could work together I did a quick painting of a brick wall with some enamel lettering in black beneath. It was enough to show me that the technique works.
Some a4 sketchbook explorations of organic lines drawn (mostly) without looking at the paper. They are quite pleasing in an illustrative way. They became useful for reference for painting 2.