Working methods – composing a painting and looking for a model

the gleaners, work in progress. A painting about social exclusion and inequality
Work in progress – The Gleaners

The Gleaners, a work in progress

I’m having some problems with my painting The Gleaners, and am looking for a suitable life model to help me finish it – someone with a slightly haunted look would be ideal.
The Gleaners is a composition loosely based on Millet’s painting of the same name, and also borrows a lot from Mr and Mrs Andrews by Gainsborough. It is a painting about social exclusion and inequality. It is a painting for our times.

I’m happy with how I’m assembling the cast in the background…..

prince william and kate and liz truss in detail from my painting the Gleaners - a painting about social exclusion and inequality

prince andrew and rees-mog in detail from the gleaners, a work in progress

… but I am having a few problems with the foreground figures –
the “Gleaners”.

the gleaners

I have adapted my working methods for my latest paintings.  In the past I would have a model pose for every single figure in a composition. It was a frustratingly slow and very expensive process – every time I wanted to adjust one of the figures, I would have to find someone to pose for me again.
Because my recent paintings have included a growing cast of public figures, including politicians and royalty, I have obviously been unable to arrange personal sittings with them, and have instead had to search for reference material in the public domain. That has gone surprisingly well. Public figures are clearly fond of having their photos taken, so there is a wealth of material to draw from.
No, the problem has been with my foreground figures.

figures of figures from the gleaners by millet, and film still from the film the shout

I had the idea of using a creepy old film still from the film “The Shout” as the reference for one of the gleaners. I wanted my gleaners to be emaciated figures desperately scavenging for scraps in an arid landscape.  Try as I may, I can’t get it to work. I can’t “glean” enough information from the old B&W shot, and I’m thinking that the emaciated look is unnecessary and a bit clumsy. So I decided to rework the poses, and I am now looking for someone to pose for the front three figures in my painting.
This problem got me thinking about my working methods, and how they have changed over the years, as my studios shrunk along with my savings.
I shudder to think of how many sittings I arranged when I started the Feast of Venus.

preparatory life drawrings for the painting the feast of venus
preparatory drawings for Feast of Venus

That particular painting was an epic fail on my part. It was painted in response to an invite to participate in an exhibition. Sadly I missed the deadline by about six months, and haven’t had any good opportunities to show the painting since. Sadly this experience has discouraged me from developing some of my more ambitious projects.
I learned a lot about the technical challenges in creating a larger composition with multiple figures, but the main lesson was that I have to complete paintings within a reasonable timescale, especially when I have a deadline to meet.

Exercise in Objectification

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.

exercise in objectification

Update: Headless Nudes

preparatory studies for paintings of headless nudes
work in progress – headless nudes

I recently found the photo above showing preliminary work on the four paintings from this series. The completed middle two paintings are shown below.

unnamed portraits, headless nude paintings
Unnamed Portraits, on display at the London Ultra exhibition

I had great ambitions for this series of paintings, but in the end the project did not proceed beyond the four paintings shown above.  I have since thought about why this project petered out in the way it did. I was always uneasy about the idea of objectifying the models, but I suspect the main reason may have just been bad timing – I moved into a studio where it wasn’t easy to arrange sittings with models, and by the time I found somewhere more suitable, I had moved onto the next big project.

Looking for models for collaborations

Although the main focus of my work is now portrait painting, I am always open to collaborating on interesting projects with people who are interested in art and the creative process. I am happy to collaborate with models, artists or photographers. It would be nice to find a long term collaborator – someone interested in exploring themes or ideas over a number of sittings.
I have a portfolio on with references from models I have worked with.
If you are interested in the headless nudes project, or if you have any ideas about projects that you would like to develop, then please get in touch. My email address is on my Contact Page.

New Model

I have been looking for a new model to work with for quite some time, and last week I had a drawing session with the fascinating Dominic Blake. As well as being a professional life model he is also a writer on art and a campaigner for better working conditions for life models. If you are a life model or even an artist who employs models, you should really check out his website:

I am planning 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 and was inspired by Degas’ wonderful pastel nudes.
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.

Update: Painting completed

nude painting of man on floor

It took me a while to get the expression I wanted, but I’m pleased with how it turned out.