People approach sitting for a portrait in many different ways. Some embrace the almost meditative nature of it and settle in for the long haul. Others are nervous and uncomfortable from the beginning and never quite relax. And others come prepared.
Daniela came to sit for me one afternoon. My flat is on the fourth floor of an apartment block with no lift, so whenever someone comes to visit they always come in a bit flustered having had to deal with the never-ending stairs. Daniela came in with a big smile but slightly panting. I always forget to mention the stairs.
There’s often a mutual nervousness between me and the sitter. I don’t quite know what I’m doing and they have often never sat for a portrait before and don’t know what to expect. I try and put people at ease, but I haven’t really found my stride yet in terms of directing the sitter, making decisions about positions, angles, composition, expression, lighting, where I stand in relation to the sitter. So much is decided for you when you go to organised art classes, you don’t quite appreciate everything that goes into setting up a portrait.
Daniela mentioned she was nervous about sitting and thought she’d probably be quite a fidgety sitter. This didn’t worry me – I was bored of the perfectly still models we had at the art academy in Barcelona. But what I loved is that she had come prepared with a way to counteract her natural tendencies – her DS! I was very happy for her to sit and pose while playing video games (I often take a book to pose) – it reflected her personality and interests and would hopefully help her relax into the pose.
The room I paint in is pretty terrible when it comes to lighting – a narrow window shaded by an overhanging balcony above, giving me a cool strip of lighting. Daniela sat in a fold-out chair angled towards the window so the light fell on the right side of her face. Her beautiful warm skin-tone worked nicely with the cool light, so I chose a palette of Terra Rosa, Raw Sienna, French Ultramarine and Burnt Umber to take advantage of this. The wall behind her is actually quite a garish mint-green, but I liked the idea of unifying the image through the blue running through her shirt, the highlights on her face and hair, so I just extended it into the background.
Daniela was actually a great sitter! Her absorption and concentration provided a calm, thoughtful expression and the shape of her hair provided a beautiful frame and feeling of movement.
I think she might have fallen asleep a few times though….