Yesterday I had absolute painters block. My friend Jaco had volunteered to pose for a full three-hour portrait, which I was very excited about as usually friends don’t pose that long. He turned up bearing gifts of questionable-looking chocolate logs and strawberries and was ready to just sit still and think. I’d set everything up, knew the sort of pose I wanted, and was feeling good about it. But then it happened. I just could not paint him. I kept starting, scrubbing it out, starting again. Different compositions, different colours. It was just not working. Normally I get more relaxed as I paint, here I was just getting stressed out.

Jaco could sense my stress and said not to worry, I could take all the time I wanted, but I just couldn’t get back into it. So after about an hour of toing and froing I had to admit defeat. Jaco left, I had a glass of wine, and felt deflated for the rest of the day.

I had been thinking about cancelling the sitting with Gianfranco after this episode – I couldn’t face another freak-out, but after sleeping on it, I thought best to just get back on the bike. But I decided to mix things up a bit – rather than have a traditional pose, me standing at the easel etc, I decided I wanted the whole thing to be a bit more relaxed. I asked Gianfranco to bring a book with him, and I would paint him while he read.

A couple of months again I bought a pochade box – a type of travel easel which acts as an easel but also has space for paints, brushes etc and a few wet paintings. I hadn’t got round to using it yet as it’s been too cold, but I decided to use it as a table easel. I didn’t have any canvas panels that would fit it, so I cut a piece of cardboard that I’d already primed and gessoed to fit snugly in the lid.

Pochade box

Gianfranco got comfy on my giant armchair and started to read. I limited myself to a few paints, stuck on an hour episode of the Radiolab podcast, and set about a quick portrait of Gianfranco reading Márquez.

What a delight! With my podcast to keep my mind distracted, a tiny cardboard canvas and a relaxed model, I felt much better. I think cardboard is going to be my support of choice for a while – it gives a lovely neutral mid-tone to start with, you don’t feel precious about it, and it’s a great way to recycle all that Amazon packaging!

Phew, I think I’m ready to have another go Jaco!

220318 Portrait of Gianfranco