Mariel has become a great friend to me in Valencia. I met her through my art group, and although when we first met she was less confident about speaking English and my Spanish was pretty terrible, she exuded such a positive spirit you couldn’t help smiling with her – a perfect example of the power of body language over spoken language. She is one of the most positive, generous people I know and I have loved getting to know her and having the opportunity to paint her.
For the portrait, we met in her flat in the barrio of La Saïdia where she has created a beautiful, artistic space, almost exclusively from found objects which she has refurbished or re-purposed herself. A colourful, expressive space that completely reflects her personality. We spent some time taking photos in different rooms and on the terrace to capture different light effects. We attempted to get some shots with her beloved cat El Doctor but he was a bit too wriggly!
Back in the studio I thought about the composition and colour palette. On the day that I met her, Mariel was wearing the most beautiful green-blue bufanda and her long, thick, dark hair flowed down in almost a perfect triangle over her shoulders. She reminded me of the Renaissance paintings of the Madonna, with their classic triangular composition, serene face and lapis lazuli robes. This was the feeling I wanted to capture in the painting, even though this is in some ways was not the Mariel I knew.
In choosing the palette, I knew I had to start with a blue for the scarf and chose a Cerulean Blue, which has a beautiful turquoise hue, which I would also use as the dark base of the skin colour and purples of the hair and shadows. I love Naples Yellow as a base for skin tones and it seemed to work well with Mariel’s delicate skin, along with Alizarin Crimson as my red, which leans towards purple when lightened and has a nice transparent quality.
For the background I had thought about using some of the objects in her flat as inspiration for the colour and pattern of the background. But I chose to keep it simple, and use a warm, almost gold Raw Sienna for the background as a complement to the purples of the hair and shadows and perhaps as a nod to the rich gold of many religious paintings.
I try and paint fast and loose to give portraits a bit more life – to give the impression the person is there, living and breathing, not just trapped in a moment in time.
I still need to have another go capturing Mariel’s smile.