I love working from life, but not everyone wants to sit for three-hours straight! So I also use artists’ models when working on portraits to make sure I can keep up my practice of painting directly from life. It is definitely a different experience than working from photos. You have to make so many more decisions about how to interpret and simplify the form, as well as dealing with the natural movement of the model – we are of course living, breathing human beings, not statues! But rather than inhibiting the process, I find it can often give it more life, if you can be open minded about adapting and moving with the model.
In my mind, always being willing to completely change your picture is a liberating thing! The model moved? No problem! Layer over the top, keep pushing and pulling the paint, and maybe you’ll capture something of the movement and character of the person.
I had been to a number of life drawing classes with Manuel and had been impressed with his professionalism and willingness to try unusual poses. So, I thought, a perfect model to do a three-hour portrait (!) as not everyone, including professional models, can hold the same pose for that long. I do need to be able to concentrate and get into a meditative zone when painting, so having someone comfortable posing is a help!
At this time of year, the light is a bit duller and dips down pretty early in the evening, so I knew the changing light would be a problem over three hours. I chose to embrace the dullness of the external light by using a very warm table lamp as the main light source. We tried a few poses and settled on something contemplative, with Manuel lightly resting on his hand while looking into the middle distance.
Given the warm light source and calm nature of the pose, I wanted to try a palette of exclusively earth colours, nothing too bright. I chose Venetian Red, Yellow Ochre and Ivory Black as my base red, yellow and blue, with Raw Umber for a greenish tint plus Titanium white.
You don’t always know how a portrait is going to turn out, and sometimes a narrative can reveal itself without having anything planned. As I continued to develop the painting and the colours, I had the feeling that Manuel was staring into a flickering fire, lost in his own thoughts, perhaps going over a problem in his mind. I haven’t asked Manuel what he was thinking about…