This is the finished painting… painted in oils on a 16″ x 12″ wooden panel.
I rarely do commissions these days. It’s a personal choice that I have wrestled with many times over the years. Basically I know enough about myself as an artist now to know how I tick and commissions make me tick alot, they cause me a great deal of stress and basically no pleasure from beginning to end. It is with a great deal of relief when the customer likes and wants the commission and I can finally ship it and get it out of my head.
So why bother? Well every now and then a commission request comes along that grips me, I like it, I want to do it, it excites me and well, this was one of them. So it’s not true to say that I don’t do commissions at all but I’m selective, and I’m ok with that. The right sort of commission can lift an artist out of their comfort zone into at times an uncomfortable place but that’s what challenges feel like, they are hard.
I was commissioned by Jenny Gunn, a previous customer, who wondered if I would be interested in painting this image as a retirement present for Danielle from the England girls. Two things happen when a collaborative is right for you, firstly it excites you and secondly you know deep down that yes you can do that. When those two feelings combine I have learnt to say yes and I did this time…
Open mouths are not the easiest things to draw or paint. Most portrait artists (including myself) stay well away from them. It isn’t our natural state, despite multiple selfies, we don’t actually go around with a permanent smile or pout on our faces, but this was different – this expression was priceless….
So apart from the facial expression which at times looked like Munch’s The Scream until I got it right, the second challenge I had was in the figure itself. She is leaning back, pulled in around the core, which meant that the body was unnaturally smaller than normal and the legs appearing longer than normal. I had to show that the body was bent at the core by exageratting the creases in the middle of her top.
The slideshow shows some of the progress paintings…..
I have to confess that there were tears, there was one day in particular when I wrestled all day with trying to get her likeness. It was a beautiful sunny day, the patio doors were open, the perfect painting day. But I remember two distinct moments, one where I wanted to throw the painting across the studio and the second when I burst into tears and had to take myself off to the bottom of the garden and calm down, I am telling you this because a painting such as this is very hard and one of the main reasons that commissions are so tricky. The likeness is all that matters to everyone who will look at it – it doesn’t matter to me, I’m more interested in the fun parts, playing around with the blues of the trousers, creating the illusion of being on a cricket pitch without needing to actually paint it, getting to paint in bright reds but the initial viewing of the painting is all about the likeness, once that is there then the viewer can enjoy all the other elements of the painting, if it’s not there then it’s like a door is closed and the painting becomes nothing.
But, I have been here many many times before and if there’s one thing that I have come to know about myself it is this. I can get a likeness in a cricket figure painting. I can do it and if I trust my skills I will get there.
How do I get a likeness? I have absolutely no idea… and that is the truth. I may not have achieved it here but I’ve got it as close as I know I can and that satisfies me.
Artists will tell you all sorts of things make up a likeness, the eyes, the nose shape, the face shape etc. but in truth it is none of them and all of them. It is simply one thing and that is a triangle, I’m tellling you this because once that is correct then everything else in the face is irrelevant……
This magic triangle is pretty reliable at getting a likeness. Draw a triangle from the far corner of each eye, then two lines which run from the corner of the eyes across the edges of the nostrils to meet in the middle of the lips. You can add additional lines from the edge of the nostrils up to the eyes to work out where the nose lies.
And that is basically what I spent the day wrestling with.
Ok so portraiture has a lot more to it than that but one thing is for sure, if you don’t get that bit right you will never get a likeness….
Then the finished portrait was shipped off and presented to Danielle…. and my job is done! The artwork is not about me anymore, it’s in it’s new home….