I had some difficulty with the above painting. A few years ago I had a model regularly do life-modelling for me. She posed for me on numerous occasions over many months. During these sittings, we spoke about anything and everything…, but I never once mentioned the scars on her arms. I often wondered about them, but just thought it inappropriate to talk about them. And I never showed them in my paintings.
I recently read “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara. In this book, the main character spends most of his life self-harming, and it was interesting to see how those around him, including his closest friends, although aware of what he did, never spoke about it. Is this the norm?
So I revisited my reference photos and drawings from our various sittings, and thought that this time I would show her scars. I worried about whether it was appropriate to make them the subject of the portrait. But I painted them. And now I’m showing them.
I’ve started work on a series of headless nudes. It’s a development of some figure studies I have been working on. I was interested in seeing to what extent a sense of the sitter’s identity could be conveyed if, first, they were stripped of their clothes, and then, as in the case with this painting, their heads were cropped from the painting.
I had a life drawing session with a new model last weekend. I want to start collecting material for a new series of paintings, where the model is set within a domestic environment, in natural poses; either relaxing, bathing or doing chores. It’s a return to a theme I worked on about ten years ago.
The sitting went well enough. As it turned out, we didn’t move out of the kitchen, as the light was so good in there.
For the past few weeks I have been working almost exclusively on my interpretation of The Feast of Venus. I am getting to the stage where I can define the figures, and set them in space. I’ve made some adjustments along the way, and am happy with all the poses, bar one. The third figure from the left – the figure bending over and looking back over their shoulder – has been a nightmare. My last two sittings ended with the life models getting quite fed up with my instructions to “bend forward and curve your back!” Human anatomy being what it is, their backs just would not bend so, which leaves me with a compositional problem. That curve is essential for the composition, and at the same time the pose has to look mildly erotic. I think I may need to hire a contortionist.
I have just finished a third sitting with life models in preparation for my “Feast of Venus”. It went quite well, and I think I have finalised most of the poses. There’s one pose that has presented some problems, and I may still need to organise another sitting just for this one figure. I imagine it’s a problem that Rubens often had, where actual human anatomy did not conform with his designs. I’m sure he also heard his models complain that their backs wouldn’t bend like that, or they couldn’t twist their bodies so.
I’ve settled on a provisional layout for my Feast of Venus painting. Most of the figures are quite well defined for this early stage, but there are a few unresolved areas. I will have to make some decisions about the background in the top right, and the tree behind the central figure of Venus. So today I went out with my camera, photographing trees. I must confess that I’ve not spent much time looking at trees in the past, and to begin with I was amazed by the huge variety in form and texture….. After four hours, they all started to look pretty much the same.
I now have a selection of poses that I’m happy with, which I can present to the model when she arrives for the first sitting. This first sitting will just enable me to work on the layout to a greater detail, so I can make decisions about how I want each figure to look; then I can start looking for suitable life models.
For various reasons, I’ve ended up having a very difficult nine months, work wise. I’ve barely finished anything, and paintings that I started over a year ago have been stuck in an artistic limbo. A studio move earlier in the year did not turn out as I had hoped, and so I was not exactly full of confidence when I set up a new studio space just over a month ago.
I need not have worried. The new space is large, bright and quiet. It’s taken me a few weeks to get into the right frame of mind and to dispel that sense of gloom that has been hanging over me for so long, but I really do feel that I have found somewhere that I can produce some work. It is a great help that it’s a large and uncluttered space, allowing me the luxury of being able to view my work at a healthy distance.
The drawings above date back quite some months. I had a vague idea for a painting, with my life model Maxine posing with her arms out while in the background stood a male figure, possibly in a crucified pose. The two sketches on the bottom left were from the first sitting, where I tried to develop the ideas. As is usually the case, my original ideas for poses just did not work. The three drawings at top left were from the next sitting, where we worked through alternative poses. I was much happier with these, and put them up on the wall as soon as I moved into my new studio. I was trying to decide which pose to use for my painting, when one day it suddenly struck me that I could use all three poses.
Not satisfied with starting my first new composition for many months, I even managed to make a start on a painting I had originally planned when working with the life model Kaya. She brought along some wonderful masks to the sittings, and so helped me develop an idea for a painting that I have had for a very long time.
When I was looking for a new studio space, I had concentrated my search in London, thinking it better to be closer to the main “art scene”. I viewed a number of places there, but none were quite suitable for my purposes. I was somewhat disappointed when I ended up renting my present place in Westcliff-on-Sea, more out of desperation; my studio had been packed away for months, and I was desperate to find somewhere, anywhere, that I could start working again.
Apart from having the main requirements of a studio – light, space and quiet – I am beginning to appreciate now just how important the location is. Below is the view just twenty yards from my front door. It might be professionally advantageous to be located in East London, but it’s certainly healthier and more enjoyable to have the big skies and sea breezes of the seaside.
I have had a number of life drawing sittings with the same model, Kaya, over the past few weeks. It’s strange how my original plans for what I wanted to achieve from these sittings were abandoned one by one, and new ideas have slowly evolved from the results of each sitting. Here’s Kaya standing next to some of the drawings from these sessions, along with the newly started painting, which will (if ever finished) be the end product of these past four sittings.
The top most drawings in the photo above are preparatory sketches for another composition. I had discussed with Kaya how I wanted to paint figures wearing masks, to explore to what extent the masks affect how we perceive the model’s identity or personality. Having recently studied on a course in physical theatre, Kaya was helpfully able to bring along a wonderful white mask for the past couple of sittings, and so this vague idea for a painting is now taking shape.
I commenced this series of sittings working with Kaya, with what I thought was a very clear idea of my objectives. None of those original goals has been achieved, either because of failures on my part, or by happy accidents occurring in the meantime. Instead, this process has taken me in a completely different, and unexpected direction. And I have no idea yet if the end product will have made it all worthwhile.
This is a pastel drawing I made during yesterday’s sitting with the life model Kaya. It has been years since I have used pastels, and I must admit to finding them quite a challenge, requiring a very different approach. From the drawings I was left with at the end of the session, I was most pleased with this one – probably on account of the lovely pose. I’m considering using the same pose in my next painting; a possible layout is shown in the quick sketch below.
Here are some sketches from this week’s life drawing session. As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been struggling with the flat light in my studio space, as is evident in the top most drawings. I made sure that I had set up my studio lights for the second part of this sitting.
The purpose of this exercise, apart from exploring the lighting in my new studio. was to prepare poses that I can use for future sittings where I shall be painting directly from life. My plans have been brought forward somewhat by the imminent departure of this model to California. Oh well.
This pose looked nice enough, but a bit too linear. So for the next pose (shown below) I chose a more elevated viewpoint and tried to introduce some diagonals into the model’s position.
It was difficult enough trying to do a quick charcoal study while standing on a chair in order to get the right view, so I imagine that it might be quite a challenge spending four or so hours in that position while I’m painting from life.