This is a photo of my latest work in progress. When I moved to Ramsgate I had the idea of painting a series of portraits of Ramsgate artists. I thought it would be a good way of introducing myself to the local artistic community, I could promote my portrait work, and I might find some interesting subjects. So what happened? I had a run of four commissions which seem to have taken as many months to finish. Good for the bank balance, but not so good for this particular project. And then I got covid, which seemed to linger forever. I lost my studio, and then I sold my boat and moved away from Ramsgate. Oh well.
The sitting took place in November last year. Fingers crossed that I can finish it soon 🙂 The sitter was Ramsgate composer and sound artist Emily Peasgood. She is an amazing artist and I was so pleased that she found the time to sit for me. You can check out her work here: emilypeasgood.com
For the past few weeks I’ve been busy painting scenes around me here in Ramsgate Marina. I brought my boat here earlier this year, but have only recently been able to stay onboard for a spell. Having just finished a couple of commissions, and with other projects being delayed, I started looking around me for something to paint.
I must admit that it has been more of a challenge than I expected. When you specialise in one subject for such a long time (portraits and figures in my case) every step in your work flow will have been optimised for that subject. So when you tackle a novel subject, it is rather like starting over again.
These wonderful red brick arches that loom over the marina, have begun to haunt me, as I struggle with finding a way to describe them. It has led to some soul-searching: why am I painting them; what exactly am I trying to say; what is the point? This self-doubt isn’t that unusual for me. I believe it is healthy to constantly question yourself, and to have a clear objective in mind when you embark on a project. So what am I doing with these paintings? I suppose I’m looking for a story; something to describe my time and personal experience here in Ramsgate. My experience staying on a boat will be different to the typical day tripper. You quickly become aware that it is very much a working port, home to Border Force vessels, an RNLI station and assorted fleet of work boats. Having sailed here, I am ever mindful of the wrecks marked on charts of the harbour approaches. And the latin motto PERFUGIUM MISERIS, carved into the lighthouse at the end of the pier (translates as “refuge for those in need”) seems really quite poignant now.
So, I’m still exploring the area, looking for stories to tell. If you are from this area, and know of any interesting places, characters or stories that need telling, please do get in touch.
If you are interested in buying any of the paintings in my galleries, don’t hesitate to send me an email (address on Contact Page)
New Year’s Eve, 2020. How will I look back on this year, I wonder? It started in the spirit of hope, with a move to a new studio; “A fresh start” and all that. I was looking forward to working in a studio complex where artists actually used their studios, and said hello to their neighbours. Fast forward a few months, and we were all wearing face masks, awkwardly trying to keep our distance from each other.
Just days after I’d got myself set up in my new studio, with paints and easel where I wanted them, lockdown happened. Studios were closed down, and normal life ground to a halt. No longer welcome in the marina, where I had been living on my boat, I had to take refuge in my girlfriend’s flat in London. No paints, no canvases. Just some pencils and a pad of Strathmore toned paper.
Memory is a funny thing. I look back fondly to those lockdown months, where each day I would set myself a drawing challenge. In my fading memory, I imagine that I enjoyed searching my friend’s flat for suitable subjects. The truth was that I was desperately missing my studio.
But there is something special that happens when you spend long enough drawing a subject. After a time, it’s almost as if a veil has been lifted, and you start to see another level of detail in the subject, that somehow evaded you before. So, reluctant as I was, I am now thankful that I had the opportunity to spend those long hours drawing a raggedy teddy bear, kitchen utensils and all my empty wine bottles.
The past year has been a disaster for my art practice. Exhibitions have been cancelled – no sooner have I delivered my paintings to a gallery, another lockdown happens, and I’m asked to collect them before the show even opens. My commissioned work has been even more badly affected. Despite a healthy number of enquiries, potential clients are understandably nervous about posing for hours in a small studio, during these times of social distancing, and have delayed their commissions until next year. A big thank you to the wonderful people who commissioned the above portrait for their friend. It felt so good to be drawing an actual real person, and not that raggedy teddy bear again.
I don’t remember her exact words, but that was the gist of it. She barely knew me, but knew that I was an artist, and had seen my work online. How those words sound to an artist’s ears! Of course I wanted to paint her. She had been through a lot – had fought enough battles, aside from her illness. And now she wanted to present a positive image of herself to the world; not the image of a scarred or damaged person, but instead the picture of a strong and beautiful woman.
It has made me wonder about the different reasons people have for commissioning a portrait. Most of the enquiries I receive about commissions are someone wanting a portrait of their wife, child or husband, in that order. Although I receive fewer enquiries from people who want their own portrait painted, they are far more likely to turn into actual commissions. It seems they already know what they want before they contact me. But their reasons are not always the same. There was the ballet teacher. Dance was her life. As she began to look ahead to retirement, she wanted a record of herself as “the dancer”.., before she hung up her ballet shoes for good.
The poet wanted a stark, bare portrait to take on stage, for his act. I think it turned out too stark and bare. He didn’t take it on stage.
A woman wanted a nude portrait of herself, as a gift for her husband. A man wanted a nude portrait of himself for his husband. I wondered why I had a growing number of enquiries for nude portraits. I’ve tried to promote my conventional portrait work just as much, and didn’t understand this trend.. It turns out that my website ranks highly for “commission a nude portrait” and barely appears in a Google search for “commission a portrait”.
So anyway, if you know any poets, dancers, husbands or wives, or whoever, who wants that special portrait painted, whatever their reasons…, please point them towards my contact page.
I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. I can onlyspeak from the perspective of an artist. When I look at the portraits I have painted, I consider them as a record of the time spent with the sitter – whether it was just a single session, or a number of repeat sittings. During that time I was able to familiarise myself with not just the appearance of the sitter, but their overall demeanour and personality. I believe that contributes towards the final artwork being far more than just a record of the sitter in a static pose, frozen in time. The whole process of producing the portrait, from the initial enquiry, through the various stages, is very much a cooperative exercise between artist and sitter.
How to commission a portrait.
Find an artist.It is important to find an artist where you feel a connection with their work. I would have said that art fairs and open studios are a great way to check out lots of artists, but I’m afraid they might not properly resume for quite a while. Thankfully, it is a lot easier now to peruse the work of various artists than it ever was, with most artists having an online presence – whether it’s a website or an Instagram account. Try to find examples of their previous commissions.
Contact the artist. Unless an artist specifies that messages should be directed to their gallery, they will probably welcome enquiries about a prospective commission. Sadly, artists with online presences will attract more than their share of bogus messages and scams, so it might reassure them to give your phone number, or at least your full name, so they can try to verify your identity.
Discuss the brief. An artist cannot provide you with a price unless certain parameters have been decided. The most important will be the size of the finished portrait, and then the type of pose – head and shoulders, half body, full body, two figures. Each adds a level of complexity to the painting, and will incur an additional cost. Even a complicated background, compared to a blocked out colour, will cost a bit more. So it’s a good idea to decide on these things at an early stage. The artist should be able to guide you through the decision making process, and then he will be able to give you a price.
The contract. Some artists will require you to sign a contract and pay a deposit. Others, including myself, may only require that expenses and materials are paid for in advance. However you agree, whether by phone conversation, zoom call or email correspondence, it is important to have that final agreement in writing, to avoid any future misunderstandings. If there’s is completion date, you should make that clear with the initial discussions. Oil paints take time to dry between layers, and some working methods take longer than others.
The sitting. Some artists will work exclusively from life, whereas others will work only from photos. This is something you should consider when first approaching artists (they should make their working methods clear on their website). Can you get to their studio? Is the artist prepared to travel to you? I personally insist on at least one sitting for a portrait painting. I am not happy with painting from supplied photos. I find the initial drawings are an essential element in the process. Apart from getting to know the sitter, the process of looking at the sitter reveals far more about them than a photo can tell me.
So, we’ve arrived at the stage where the artist will commence painting. This is the exciting bit. I find the initial sitting is like preparing the stage for a play. Decisions are made about the background (the setting), and how the performer willpresent themselves to the audience (the artist, and eventually viewers of the painting). This is the most collaborative stage in the whole process. Sometimes ideas present themselves straight away, and other times it can take take some effort to work them out.
So there are a few tips on the first steps in commissioning a portrait. I can’t pretend that it won’t require an investment of time, but it doesn’t necessarily require a huge investment in money. Of course, the first step is find that artist, and get in touch with them.