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.

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