So, it’s finally here. After toying with the idea, experimenting, hesitating, prevaricating, I have finally committed to commence sittings for my “Who Am I” series.
The idea is simple enough, but the execution of the idea has proved problematic. I’ve struggled to think of a way to convince strangers to pose naked in my studio, in an unflattering direct light,… Paid only a token sum, and portrayed anyway that I see fit.
It’s all about identity. Our sense of who we are, or more specifically, who “you” are. When you take away the fineries, your props, and you strip yourself down to your bare naked self…, is that a more honest account of who you are? Or are our clothes and embellishments just as much about who we are? And what of the viewer? What are they to make of a subject who has been stripped of all those things that would normally hint at social status and personality?
So the idea evolved from a commission (above, painting on left). The commission was for a naked portrait, of a guy about whom I knew nothing. At first I didn’t enjoy it…. saw it as a chore. But slowly I began to feel a strange sense of liberation, a freedom in how I described this stranger. At first I was concerned about how they’d view my “interpretation” of who they are. Then I started to think that maybe my interpretation is just as valid as their own self-image.
So my idea, my project, is to portray a series of “strangers” – a series of paintings of people standing naked in an anonymous space, with no clue as to their identity. I will be as ignorant as the viewer, so as not to taint the experiment.
So what is the point? Is it to ask if we are all the same deep down, beneath the veneer of our attire? Or is the opposite? Will someones personality shine through regardless? What is a more valid interpretation of a person’s personality? Is it how they view themselves, or how others see them?
If you’re interested in participating in this little experiment. do get in touch (email on contact page). Just remember not to tell me anything about yourself.
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 had my first sitting in preparation for my “Feast of Venus” piece. I have ten female figures in total in this painting. I’ve reserved the “erotic” poses on the left of the painting for a model who’s more experienced at glamour work. Today I worked through the poses for the central three figures (with Venus in the middle), and the two figures in the top right, which were the least defined of all the poses.
I’m very happy with how the sitting went, and quickly defined the poses for the top right figures. I’m undecided about whether I need to hire an additional model for any of these poses. I’m happy with how all these poses have turned out, but it might make for a more interesting painting if there was more variety in body-shape.
I recently came across an interesting project by the artist Inga Krymskaya, where she is inviting artists to contribute their own interpretations to her ongoing project: “3045 Variations on The Feast of Venus…..an ongoing project by the Dutch artist involving the adaptation and reinvention of the Flemish Baroque painting by Rubens entitled”. I usually have absolutely no interest in creating pieces specially for themed shows. The pace at which I work normally excludes me from any such activity. The generous deadline for this project, 26th February, 2016 (nearly four months from when I write this), is still a bit tight, and I don’t expect I can get anything worthwhile completed to my satisfaction in that time…, but still I keep thinking about it.
What started as a casual perusal of this particular Rubens painting, turned into a more detailed analysis of the composition, and the treatment by Rubens of this subject. And then I started to consider how I would approach the same subject. Well, the Cherubs would have to go, as would the Satyrs; they just don’t have the same meaning in our modern artistic vocabulary. But the underlying themes of the painting are just as valid today as when Rubens put brush to canvas. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I’d like to arrange the figures in my composition, and spent a few evenings working through endless compositions. Eventually I settled on a layout that borrowed enough from the original, whilst being a continuation of my current work, and able to convey a meaning to a modern audience. By now I realised that I was working on my next painting.
It has been a few days now since I first came across Inga Krymskaya’s project, and I have barely worked on anything else. I have arrived at an initial layout, with alternative poses for most of the figures. The background is rather less defined at present. I believe I can make do with as few as three different models, and have already arranged a sitting with one model for the preparatory work; in order to work through most of the poses, so that I’ll have drawings with which to start arranging the composition on the canvas. It is only then that I can settle on the composition. From there I might have a better idea which models will best suit each figure, and I can only hope that I will finalise the poses for their figures with one sitting each. That 26th of February deadline is beginning to look very close!
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.
With the New Year looming, I’m already planning the composition of some paintings for next year. One of the compositions will have a crucified male figure in background, with a female figure in foreground. I’ve already worked on preliminary poses for the female figure with my regular model, so I’m just in need of a male model for the crucified figure. I will be looking for someone of slim/athletic build under thirty, who is prepared to work for very low artist rates. I may have to avoid mentioning the crucified bit in any advert.
This past couple of weeks I have been working on some old, unfinished or abandoned paintings. One of them dating from 2010. Although I try to be methodical in my approach to work, it’s always a mystery how a painting will evolve. I might labour without success on what I thought was a straightforward composition, while more ambitious works might just emerge on the canvas, seemingly under their own volition.
Sometimes I just lose my nerve. I might have worked on a painting over a period of a couple of months, which will be the culmination of work started months earlier with a model posing in my studio; so I often feel quite nervous when applying the final glazes to a piece. I am aware that if I get it seriously wrong, I could ruin the painting. That is why I found it so relaxing working on these “abandoned” pieces. I had already given up on them, and had expected to paint over most of them. Although I haven’t finished them, I’m generally pleased with the results.
I had my first sitting with a new model yesterday. The whole process, from finding a suitable model amongst the multitude of faces on various model networking sites; to making first contact, and explaining my work and current projects; to when the model finally arrives in the studio.., well, it can be difficult.
I am quite particular about selecting models to work with. Apart from looking for an interesting face and features, I also expect a professional approach to work, and preferably some experience in life modelling. Probably the most important requirement is a pleasant personality. My life drawing sessions will last between three and four hours, and may be repeated any number of times, as I try to develop poses for my compositions. They will be physically demanding of the model, and will require great concentration on both our parts. Working in a small studio with someone under such conditions would be quite tedious if the model wasn’t good natured and easy to talk to.
Yesterday went very well. The model arrived on time, was extremely professional and excellent at their job, maintaining poses well. This particular model has a fascinating, expressive face, which is what compelled me to contact her in the first place.
I’ve been in the doldrums with my work recently. I’m finishing off paintings that are based on sittings from months ago, but I’ve been bereft of ideas for new compositions. For quite some time I’ve been searching for a new model, with a distinctive, compelling look, that would add something to my compositions. I didn’t know what “look” I was after, and just thought that I’d know when I saw it. This new model had just such a look, and I was absolutely delighted when she agreed to work with me.
The first sitting with a new model is a process of learning how they look under different lighting and in different poses. Each body is different. I prepare beforehand by making small sketches of the poses I want to work through, but until the model is actually lying or standing there in the studio, I don’t know how they will look in each different pose.
During yesterday’s sitting I worked through eight short poses, which are now forming a mood board on my studio wall. They are just the beginning of the process. The next stage will be to develop some of the poses further, doing more detailed drawings. Making changes where the poses aren’t quite working: creating more interesting, dynamic shapes; avoiding boring straight lines. All the time I will leave the “moodboard” there, to offer inspiration for my next compositions. It’s working already, and I’m looking forward to my next sitting. Artistically, I’m in a very different place today than I was yesterday, before I met my new muse.
Since April 2013 I’ve been hiring models on a regular basis. Prior to this I’d been using friends, relatives and reluctant partners as models. Having been seriously let down by a friend, after months of planning for a painting, I decided that I would start working with professional models from now on.
Of course I’ve worked with professional life models in various life drawing groups over the years, but had never hired a model for a one to one sitting. Joining life drawing groups was fine as an exercise, as drawing practice, but was useless for developing poses for my compositions; I would never enjoy much control over the lighting and the model’s pose.
My first attempts to find a model were via Gumtree. Although my first advert for a life model was successful, and I found an excellent model with whom I worked regularly for several months, subsequent attempts to find portrait models via Gumtree were a waste of time. Communications with prospective models were painfully drawn out, and the models who I found (with one exception) were so uncomfortable and self-conscious posing, that it made the sitting a nightmare.
I then discovered that I could have an Artist portfolio account on the popular model networking sites ModelMayhem.com and PurplePort.com which has made it so much easier to find models to work with. The forums on these sites are filled with photographers moaning about being let down by models, but in my experience, every model I have worked with has been completely reliable and professional. When there are so many uncertainties and anxieties involved in creating a painting, it has been such a relief to find that arranging a sitting with a model can be completed in just a couple of emails, and sometimes within a few minutes.
The life models I have worked with via these sites have proved to be completely comfortable with and experienced at posing nude, which makes my life so much easier. One thing that always surprised me about the numerous models I have encountered in various life classes and groups over the years, including my college life drawing lessons years ago, was just how few seemed completely comfortable with what they were doing. Many of them acted like they were doing it for a dare!
I am very selective about who I work with. For any particular painting I may be looking for a specific body type, but I will always look for a face that intrigues me. I consider my nude paintings to be portraits. I am fascinated in the whole process, starting with the model posing – what is their motivation? It’s seldom just about the money. What is the artist’s fascination with depicting the nude figure? It’s not about titillation. And what does the viewer see in the product of this relationship.