Saturday, 23 February 2013

Painting from sketches: an experiment

Since I have been doing a lot of work from photographs, or directly from life, I wanted to see if I could produce an oil painting from drawn and painted sketches, rather than photographic reference material. The model was Freya, who is a dancer that holds the most wonderful poses, so it seemed a shame to be only studying her head for this experiment!

I started with the familiar, of making a detailed drawing over about 45 minutes. This was to be my main painting reference.

Drawing from life in charcoal pencil
The drawing does not really look like Freya, but I liked it for the tonality I managed to capture. The lighting was difficult with the face being mainly in shade, and as the light is from skylights, it was altering rapidly with the changing weather outside.

The next stage in gathering information, was to make a colour study. I used to take oil paints to the classes, but I found that transporting the wet paintings back to the studio, or home, ended up with paint all over the car, so I have swtiched to acylics for colour sketches.
I like acrylics in that they dry quickly, but I am still getting used to the fact that when being overlaid, they tend to dry darker than when applied. The heat of the life studio also causes problems with the paint drying too rapidly on the staywet palette, so I will need to remember my extender medium next session.
Acrylic study on canvas board, 30 x 30cm

Back at my own studio in the afternoon, I started a small 30 x 30cm oil painting to be based on the drawing and the acylic study. The main difficulty was that her head had obviously moved a little between sittings, so I had two different viewpoints to work from. I based the main portrait on the drawn element, but tried to make it more like her, as with the painted sketch.

oil painting on canvas board, 30 x 30cm

 At this stage I am not very happy with the result. I have used too much white in what is meant to be an underpainting, and the face looks unnatural as it is half way between the two pieces of source material. It doesn't look like the model I miss my photographic crutch at this stage. I obviously need to choose one of the poses and stick to it!

To help with the next day's painting, I 'messsed' up some of the marks to remind myself to keeep spontaneous with the marks and not to get too stressed and therefore, too fussy with the way the paint will be laid down.
oil painting messed up a bit, ready for more work.
It should be dry enough to work on by Monday, so maybe I will have more success then.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Royal Portrait Society and Me

For years I have been submitting portrait work to the BP portrait painting prize, not realising there was another that might suit me better, namely the RP (Royal Portait Society) Open Exhibition. I managed to catch their show from last year's entrants whilst I was in London and thought I may be in with a small chance of getting hung in their show. In addition, the RP has introduced a new competition called SELF, which, as the title suggests, involves looking at the self portrait. As the prize is £20,000, it would be rude not to at least give it a go!

Well, everyone who knows me, also knows that I don't really find my face that interesting or beautiful and my husband will agree that the worst paintings I have done are of myself. So, determined to succeed, I enlisted his help as a professional photographer, to take a prettier picture of me to work from. Firstly I had a rough idea that I'd like to a Frida Khalo-esque themed portrait. I love her work as I am obsessed by all things Mexican, and like her, I have a damaged spine and a lame leg. I dug out some clothes and hair flowers and set to work. I planned to add my leg milagro (a small talisman representing the body part you want to heal) around my neck.

I really liked this image, but since I don't actually look Mexican at all, I worried the whole thing would end up looking a bit naff. So I went for a simpler look, wearing my favourite new dress I bought in Germany and my straw blonde hair in pigtails. The final image is a kind and flattering view of me, but I find it hard to see any beauty, so I set about painting from the image as if it was someone else, to see if I could flatter myself, rather than paint some hideous caricature.

Photograph by Trevor Wilson of Silver Photography
Once the image was settled on, I selected a 60 x 60 blank canvas, which is one of my favourite sizes for painting on. I usually paint a whole figure at this size, so by doing a portrait head only, my face would be larger than life size. I have posted 4 stages of the painting in a row for comparison.

The first day, I put down the colours and tones as roughly and as thinly as I can with big brushes. I am working with oil paints, so if you don't keep the colour thin, it can cause problems later on. The second day, I sorted out problems with the drawing and  blocked in the background as the textured one was going to fight with the patterned dress.

Days 3 and 4 were spent blocking in the patterned dress and working with smaller brushes on the face to add detail to the skintones. I moved my ear to the right, but realised it needed moved again. My face is not that skinny!

On the penultimate day, after 3 days of paint drying time, I could work on the dress and hair a bit more. I thought I had just a few touches to make to the neck, but in fact I spent over 4 hours repainting it, until I was happy. I still had the white window from the photo on the background, but worried it was distracting, so I added more black in Photoshop to see how it would wok before doing it for real. I liked it better and on the last day, painted the whole background in various shades of black. The final touch was to sign it and let it dry before bringing it home for it's final photoshoot and entry to the competition.

Day1: Self portrait. Laying down the tones and colours.

Day2 Self portrait: correcting the drawing and finalising tones
Day 3/4: self portrait : adding details and moulding the face.

Day 5: Nearly done. Photoshopped background to try.
The final portrait, dry, signed and photographed by Trevor
Overall, I think the painting is a pleasing image. I have managed to make myself look sadder in the painting than in the photo, which I guess is the skill of the portrait painter, to add a little something. I do worry it is a little overworked as I was thinking of the competition at the back of my mind, while doing it. If I don't get into the competition, at least I have another portrait I am happy to use for marketing myself as a portrait painter.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Update to February's Fire Sale

Well I have been overwhelmed with the response for the sale of My cheeky angel.
There have been a wide range of bids, and every one of them has been gratefully received! I can give you the clue that she will be travelling in her white whistler frame.

There is only on day left before the winning bidder will be announced and this little painting will be winging it's way to it's new home.
So if you fancy your chances, pop a bid in before tomorrow at 5pm.
You can mail me at

Good luck everyone!

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Day 10: February's Fire Sale

Sunday is a good day for clearing stuff.

I have found recently that my studio is becoming more and more crowded with paintings, especially since I moved to a shared space with less wall space for displaying them. So,  I have decided to hold a little February sale of some of my older paintings, as well as some drawings and small study works that might never make it to a gallery show. I am sure that some galleries will not approve of these types of sales, but the only paintings I release this way have been to many shows and have returned to me unsold. I appreciate that this does make a painting a bad one. It only means that the people that love it, just cannot quite afford to pay the gallery price, which includes up to 50% commission.

Storage is becoming an issue in the studio!

I feel that I would rather that some of these works went to the good homes of my friends, rather than gathering dust in my storage unit, or even worse, being painted over for new works.

This week's Fire Sale girl is to be my Cheeky Angel. She's a little risque, so not to everyone's taste, but I think she brings a smile to the face with her naughty behaviour. The painting is oil on canvas, 24 x 30cm and is inspired by the burlesque performer Wild Card Kitty.

Cheeky Angel, oil on canvas, 24 x 30cm
The painting comes with a white painted whistler wood frame with gold insert, for a bit of added glamour. The background is shimmering gold artist's oil colour so it changes with the light.

The idea of the 'Fire Sale' is each painting chosen is offered for a blind bidding auction for one week only. The starting price is always £50, regardless of the size or media of the painting. I have said that this size of painting usually sells in a gallery for £650, so I am accepting bids from £50 for her, unframed, or if the bids exceed £200, I will supply the work framed. Postage, if required, will be extra at cost.

If you'd like to put in a bid before 5pm on 17th February, then feel free to email me directly at, or on my facebook page at
I have 3 bids already, so good luck, if you decide to play!

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Day 9: Edinburgh work trip

I missed yesterday as I only accompanied my husband to Waitrose and Dales Cycles for a bit of domestic shopping. I was dying a death after over-exerting myself at the studio and the opening!
So I skip quickly on to Saturday.

We had planned a trip through to Edinburgh to drop off new work to Bon Papillon and to pick up my piece from the Royal Scottish Academy. At Bon Papillon, I was dropping off some works for the new show, LIGHT - COLOUR - LAND, opening on March 2nd 2013. When I first started painting, I made a series of collaged works based on my travels, particularly to Spain, Italy and the Canary Islands. I have had one, that I have been particularly reluctant to part with, that has been displayed above my fireplace where I can see it everyday. I am sure because, I will miss it, that it will be sure to be sold. I also don't seem to have a reference picture of it which is even worse!

Alongside a smaller collaged piece called Above Nerja, I also submitted one of my new monotype and mixed media pieces on paper called  The Western States. I started producing these printed paintings at The Glasgow Print Studio using the technique of monotype as a basis. Over the initial layers of montoype, I add paint, block print and relief print with found objects such as cut out papers and wallpaper. It gives a really rich effect to the colour and I love the embossing that some of the collaged items give to the paper.

The western states, mixed media on monotype

The Western States was inspired by a trip across Arizona to find as much of Route 66 as we could. This view was from the North East area of the state, where the rocks are red and the landscape dry and dusty. As we visited in July, it was also very, very hot.

I love all these landscapes dearly and it makes we wonder why I don't make more. Perhaps I worry about the fact they are so different from my figure works, but in some ways, that makes them more special to make. Sometimes it is also difficult to change track with artworks and still seem coherent in what you are producing as an artist, something I may explore more, perhaps through producing figurative studies in mixed media as well as just in classical oils.


Have No Regrets, Monotype print 1/1

On a less fun note, I also had to pick up my unsold work from the Royal Scottish Academy show. I was so honoured to have the piece in the show as I had never really felt 'accepted' as an artist. It was a great show to be part of and when we went to pick up the work there were these signs to greet us.

What a difference to The Royal Glasgow Institute (RGI) where the majority of their show is from their accredited members rather from new, open entrant artists. Perhaps that is why I enjoyed the RSA show so much, as there was so much new work there to inspire, rather than a parade of the same old stuff. Take note Glasgow!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Day 7: Oggling Andy Warhol

I am way behind with my blog posts, due to having the flu, so I am popping up a few at once, but linking the happenings back to the right day. I won't cover every day as I am sure you don't need to read about me kicking about my house coughing like I'm on my last legs. I am finding the blog post a day a challenge also because sometimes, after a day's work straining my eyes, I simply can't think straight or face sitting looking at a computer screen. Even my facebook folks have noticed my absence!

So onto the art...
Each first Thursday of the month, in Glasgow, the Trongate 103 set of galleries has a 'first Thursday' opening night. Usually each organisation has a different show but this month's openings were under the umbrella theme of 'blueprint', which is a collaboration between a number of Glasgow galleries, archives and museums taking place in February 2013 and was initially conceived as an exploration of the links between alternative photographic processes and fine art photographic printmaking (printing with ink), in making artworks.

The Glasgow Print Studio's show was about photographic techniques in printmaking and covered everything from digital prints (also known as Giclees and Digital Archive prints) to photo etching and photo screenprinting. My particular favourite was a photo-etching by my good friend Fiona Watson, portraying an old typewriter, with some typing on it's paper saying "Everyday I love you more and more. Well  not every day... yesterday you were a bit annoying".

Just Little Words by Fiona Watson, photo etching with chine colle
I am a big fan of her work and you can check out her recent work on her flickr stream. She deservedly sold two on the opening night.

Aside from the work of friends, there were also famous names showing, such as another favourite of mine, Peter Blake with his screenprinted portrait of Doris Day (which looked unervingly like the burlesque performer Wild Card Kitty). The coloured spots featured a substance called Diamond Dust which I, as a lover of glitter, must get for some of my prints!

Peter Blake, Screenprint with diamond dust
The big daddy of the show was a screenprint by Andy Warhol himself. I can't say it was my favourite image of his, but I was certainly impressed by the price tag, especially as it wasn't actually printed by his own fair hand!

the hefty price of fame in the art world

Trevor nearly drops his Ancnoc whisky cocktail in fright!
My favourite Warhols are his portraits and I was happy to say that the GPS was showing one of his most iconic works, Pink Marylin.

Pink Marylin bu Andy Warhol, screenprint
I love how Warhol iconised the people he portrayed by the simple effect of using super contrasty images for the basis of each likeness. This strengthened the graphic effect of the features, but was also very flattering for the sitter. I would love something as strong and bright as this in my home to cheer me up on the grey weather days.

Claire Forsyth, Loudon Castle, screenprint, 56 x 76 cm
I was also taken with Clare Forsyth's melancholic portrait of the roller coaster at Loudon Castle. I have a thing for old decaying monuments to entertainment and glamour, and this reminded me so much of Route 66 and Coney Island that I visited, and enjoyed photographing, in the states. Clare is our studio manager and she created these images by making colour separations onto film, then printing them on individual screens. The registration of each colour is ever so slightly out, so the final image has that great feeling of an old postard, but on a grander scale.

Overall it was a great night, where many new and old friends were met and much Ancnoc whisky was enjoyed, before heading home, a little shakily, on my little folding bike.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Day 6 : Battling with the Self

This morning the sun was streaming through the winter branches and it felt good to be out on my little folding bike, speeding towards the station to get the train to Glasgow and into my studio whilst it was still sunny.

I had started a second self portrait for the impending competition 'self', from a photo taken by Trevor, before I got felled with the flu and I was keen to make good progress on it today. This is the underpainting that awaited it's new layers.

Self portrait Day 1, 60 x 60cm, oil on canvas

As the weather, and hence the light, was fantastic, I got onto painting right away. It struck me how easy it was to be productive when the weather was nice, and how difficult I find getting myself going when the light is drab and the temperatures cold.

Self portrait in progress

By late lunchtime, I had repainted most of the face, but quite carefully for some reason, and when I stepped back, I realise the overall effect had become too tight and lifeless, so I attacked the wet paint with a rag to add some life back into the modelling of the face.

Self Portrait at the end of day 2

After lunch, I got all the main tones down in the background and on the dress as well as darkening the hair on the right. I've still got a fair amount of work to do on the neck and the top of the hair, before I let myself fiddle with the face again. The portrait is a fair likeness but in some ways it lacks the life of the one done from life (shown below).

This portrait, painted from life, is a little less flattering but has so many more colours and lively brushtrokes. Perhaps a consequence of not copying a photograph is that I am able to introduce my own feelings into my work. I don't see myself as a beauty. Even though the one painted from a photograph is perhaps more realistic, I think painting from life results in a portrait that is more real and lively, but less pretty.

This post is rather short as I am exhausted after working so hard, for once, so excuse me if I go and put my feet up!


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

DAY 5: Taking a sickie

OK, so the title of this post is not quite exact, in that I did have the flu, which has now degraded to a hacking cough, but when I saw the weather this morning, and I thought of me on my wee folding bike battling to the station, I opted to stay home in the name of getting better.

Luckily it turned out that my husband, Trevor, had some time on his hands so offered to sit for me for a painting, as long as he could watch Top Gear. This is in fact the only way to get him to sit still for more than 10 minutes, unless he is asleep.

My handsome sitter!
I started off the painting by trying to draw the head neatly on the canvas which at 30 x 30cm, is quite small for me, but it kept getting larger. This is typical of the way I work. With all the best planning in the world, my paintings always eveolve more like sculptures in paint, where the layers over each other, tease out the illusion of a 3 dimensional object.

Portrait of Trevor,  in acrylics after 1 hour session.
 This is how the painting looked after about 1 hour of continuous painting with no breaks.
After lunch, we returned to the session. This time, Trevor was watching a Brian Cox programme and I could tell there was a lot of information needing processed as he'd started frowning.

Acrylic Painting of Trevor after 2 x 1 hour sessions
He managed to stay awake for the rest of the programme (just) and this is the final result. There are still a few bits and pieces that could be improved, but overall I am pretty happy with the likeness. I always find the glasses difficult, particularly they way they defract the face to be much smaller in the lenses. I think this is why his forehead is not right. Another challenge with working over dried acrylic, is that the colours dry darker than when they are applied, so it is a challenge to paint a touch lighter than the true colours, something I never have to battle with when painting with oils.

Now tomorrow, I do battle with my own face!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Day3/4 : Who am I?

OK, So I missed day 3. My excuse is that the flu got the better of me, but really I just got too busy doing other stuff and ran out of steam to write coherently at night. So I will write for yesterday today.

On the 21st of this month, I will be submitting a self portrait painting to the Royal Portrait Society's Annual exhibition. I am finding the task particularly difficult as I don't really find my face that interesting. It is kind of round with eyes that are a little small and a mouth that is thin and uneven. My hair is like straw and my complexion pale. I do not see myself as beautiful or interesting. This may seem harsh, but it is my view of myself.

So with the challenge of a self portrait, I set off thinking about what I wanted to portray without scaring the children. I decided on something simple to get me started. A front on face and shoulders with my hair in the pigtails I wear for cycling to the studio.

trying to look normal (image reversed to show what I see)
 I started by trying a painting directly while holding a mirror above the canvas with my left hand. The photo above was taken for reference but not used int he painting. When you paint this way, you get really into examining the subject, but since that subject is your own face, you can forget to not look like some crazed, starey monster.

Underpainting: Day 1
This is the first day's attempt at painting alla prima (from life). I was pleased with the vibrant quality of the marks but I'd made my eyes a touch too piggy and lop sided. The painting is done over another painting so I get all those lovely textures showing through.

Self Portrait: Day 2
After another day at this I realised that I was best limiting the time I spent on this due to the changing light and opted for the later afternoon with overhead lights to add colour. I think the portrait is looking a little kinder, but I still have the eyes of a mad woman.
I am in danger of overworking this so day 3 will be the make or break for this painting. I plan to do some gentle glazes of colour to lift the flatness, then alter the parts that are not quite right.

To be continued...

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Day 2 of 28: Miniature artworks

I have a little secret to tell.....I have two identities.
One part of me is Fiona Wilson, the painter and printmaker. Another part goes by the name of Fifilatrixabel and she paints tiny paintings and customises dolls, particularly Japanese collectables like Blythe. During the week I work on Fine Art projects but at the weekends (like today) I get out my tiny brushes, pastels, acrylics and acrylic spray and get to work in my doll lab.

my doll carving tools: let the surgery begin!

Most of you will have no interest in dolls and may think me a little weird for being involved, but I know of stranger hobbies. Blythe dolls have a cult following. They were first made in 1972 by Kenner but were quickly shelved because children found them too scarey, with their big heads and colour changing eyes.They were, however noticed and loveld by photographer Gina Garan, who escalated their popularity amongst adult collectors through her book This Is Blythe.

Now the dolls are made in Japan by Takara, and there are three different sizes, Neos, Middies and Petites. The larger sized ones cost between £80 and £500 to buy. There are many different face molds, hair colours and personalities to choose from. There are also factory version, fakes and clones, as well as similar types such as Icy and Jecci5 dolls. They are also really fun to customise, and some customisers like Gbaby and Melacacia sell their art dolls for over £1000.

Working on a doll commission is more akin to creating a piece of design. You work with the client, who will often have wonderful theme ideas, and you hope for some artistic freedom as well. My speciality is painting tiny pictures on eyelids, and the doll I'll show you first is a Phoebe Maybe Blythe, transformed into Karen Gillan the actress who plays Amy Pond in the Dr Who TV series.

Fashion is a big part of Blythe too.

Gillan with her lips carved as near to the real thing as possible.

Gillan's tiny tardis eyelid art. Smaller than a 5p coin.

OK, so I have outed myself as an adult dolly collector/ customiser. I hope you don't think ill of me, as I love being part of this world, as much as I love making oil painted portraits. Maybe one day I will branch out and try miniature portrait painting to combine the best of both worlds!

Friday, 1 February 2013

Day 1 blog challenge: My big hied by Rouge One

OK, so last year there was a great challenge for February, 28 Drawings Later, based on doing a drawing every day for the 28 days of the month. As I have been slacking a bit on my blog posts, I am going to use February as the month to get me into the habit of writing more, and during this month, every day!

So to start, I'd like to introduce you to myself via the 'Faces of Glasgow' project concocted by ArtPistol online gallery and group. The idea was for people to send in a picture of themselves, from which a variety would be selected to be reproduced at a large scale on hoardings on Argyle Street, Glasgow. The artist is Rouge One, a Glasgow based grafitti artist.

There is more and more of this type of art popping up all over the city and I personally love it. I'd much prefer to have this injection of colour and humour onto our streets, than scabby hoardings with random posters stuck to them.

This shot gives an idea of the size of these heads. There are famous people like Lulu and Limmy, as well as everyday Glaswegians like myself, but all pulling strange faces! I am not sure mine is a real likeness, although many people I know have recognised me. And before you get the wrong idea about me, I am far from being a vain person (as anyone that has heard me bemoaning painting myself this month will testify) and it was in fact my artist friend, Moe Rocksmoore, that submitted the pic from my facebook profile.

And finally, here is me against the artwork. I am wearing a helmet as I cycle from the station to my studio. It's not that I'm into strange headgear or anything like that!

So keep and eye on this space. I'll be chatting about all kinds of events in February as well as covering my alla prima portrait project, finishing a self portrait for a competition, new printmaking techniques, openings and general day to day happenings.