A Series of Paintings

This is the first assignment in the module of ‘Understanding Painting Media’ with the OCA. It is designed to integrate all of the techniques, observations and lessons learned during the four preceding exercises – Painting Thin and Small, Black and White, Quick and Focused and Look at what you see – not what you imagine.

Inspired by my paintings of Boris Johnson the current man of the hour in the UK in the fight against the coronavirus epidemic, I wanted to work more on my portrait painting skills. I’ve always avoided real life paintings or even attempting them, finding it too difficult to master. However you can only improve with practice, and I think 20 paintings later I definitely felt more at ease at tackling portrait painting, and I think they did start to get better.

I thought about who I would want to paint, and about those influential figures who I admire, are full of passion, who have fought for causes I feel strongly about, or who have been key figures in modern day society. So here are my top 20 most influential people of 2020.

I decided to paint a ground using gouache for each painting before attempting the portrait, as I found it much easier to start painting when this was called for in previous exercises. An existing back ground colour also provided me with something to interact with as I layered the acrylic paint to build tone and shadow.

Rainbows have been a common theme over the past few weeks/months as a sign of honouring our NHS staff and keywords and so I decided that each painting would make up part of that rainbow, and these were the heroes I’d be celebrating and honouring in this piece of work.

Above is the final set of paintings – I have assembled them here to mirror the sequence of arrangement of the original photographs I used to paint from. I quite like the multicoloured arrangement with no particular flow or reasoning. I didn’t attempt to paint the portraits in a particular style, or in response to a particular artist. My main aim was to attempt to produce a likeness to the original photographed individual, to put my realistic painting skills to the test.

Here I have reassembled the images to create more of rainbow like effect from left to right, although as I wanted to create a final entire image which was square/rectangular and even, the images are laid out 5 x 4, which doesn’t quite marry up with the flow of colours. Although there is a warm tone to the left side of the final image and a cool tone to the right.

I tried to push the rainbow colour theme more here by arranging the images by colour/tone from the top left corner to bottom right, which I think has achieved an overall pleasing image, as the warm and cool colours are introduced at an angle, it doesn’t appear as harsh as it did in the previous arrangement.

If the images were displayed in an exhibition or gallery setting I would quite like for them to be hung individually along a long winding corridor, graduating through the rainbow colours one by one. I’m happy with the overall outcome of this project.

Some aspects I found particularly challenging was trying to paint the portraits of those whom I could only find black and white photographs for, and reimagining them in colour. I did consider painting these portraits in black and white to match the style of the photograph but I wanted to learn from experimenting with colour. I did try to search the internet for other examples of the particular persons to give an indication to skin tone and hair colour etc. which was only successful for a few of those persons. Some portraits proved more challenging than others, especially for some which had a great deal of detail. For instance with David Attenborough, this took me quite a while and in the end it still didn’t feel right, but I felt comfortable to stop at the point I had reached, as I had still learned a lot from trial and error. Differences in photographic quality also had quite a large impact, for some of the older images they had quite a soft airbrushed like quality to their skin, in contrast to the newer more advanced photography which could pick up lots of detail.

Two of my favourite paintings are probably Mahatma Gandhi and Malala Yousafzai, these were painted towards the end of the process, and I felt more confident in tackling them. Painting skin tone, and working in lightness and shadow felt very difficult to begin with but this did ease over-time, although I know I still have quite a way to go. I’m pleased I chose the subject matter I did, as each person represents something I hold important.

Both people and societies are an important part of my art work, and I’m heavily influenced by them, I’ve always been interested in these areas studying Sociology and Psychology at University, and I continue to explore these areas through painting and creating.

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