Winter 2011/12 Newsletter

 In Newsletters

TRADE SECRETS: What lies beneath?

What lies beneath the making of my first commissioned group portrait?

This is the finished painting. What you’ll see as you continue to look through the newsletter is how this stage was reached.

Working on this has helped me understand the problems inherent in painting a group of individuals and giving each of them equal status without lining them up in a row.

The group needed to be animated; to have a feeling of life and movement. Fortunately the youngsters were all serious musicians so the obvious solution was to have them playing their instruments as a trio.

I also wanted to include something of their heritage. One parent is from Australia and the other from the United States. So Australian Aboriginal art is hidden in the shadow of the piano lid and clearly in the upper right hand corner of the painting. Also, buried in the shadow of the piano lid are versions of New York Abstract Expressionist paintings.

This is the charcoal drawing on the canvas. It follows a number of failed attempts on paper to get the composition right before committing to canvas. This one I think I got right.

I concentrated on the positioning of the bows and their bowing arms because they will carry the viewer’s eye through the painting.

New Year's Eve

The charcoal has been removed leaving a faint outline and then drawn over using a small brush with thin oil paint. The next stage is to establish the tones. I keep the olive-brown under painting (the ground) as a middle tone and begin to work on lighter and darker tones, all in monochrome.

New Year's Eve
The next stage is to establish the warm and cool areas. This is when colour is introduced. I was still not happy with the way in which my eye moved between the musicians.
One of the advantages of having good friends, whose opinions you respect, is that you listen when they see something that you don’t because you are too caught up in the making. In this case he pointed what should have been obvious: the gaze of the pianist was carrying the viewer’s eye to the right, and out of the painting.
New Year's Eve
So I turned her head. It meant a lot of repainting, but proved to be absolutely necessary. Now there was a connection between the three musicians and the viewer is taken on a journey into the imagined three-dimensional space between the figures.
New Year's Eve

Here is where I begin adding more colour and working out the little cubist game I wanted to play in the lower foreground. It had to be kept simple or the potentially confusing shapes and colours would fix the eye in one place.

At the same time I needed to alter the background tones and the foreground colours to discover what would work best.

I can never predict the results; I have to try things first and then decide if they work.

New Year's Eve
Here the heads are established. The Aboriginal images are complete and the under painting of the lower foreground is almost there.
There is still considerable work to do on the cellist’s and violinist’s arms and hands to describe the anatomy, and also work to be done on the instruments, the bows and the strings.
New Year's Eve
The almost finished version.
Portrait painting has an added problem that other genres do not.
Pleasing yourself is vital but not enough, you must also please the sitters, and in this case, the parents. That is as long as it doesn’t compromise the painting. I didn’t think these changes would. So, the tension in the neck of the violinist was reduced and the cellist’s face was given a small refinement. Finally we agreed that the pianist was looking a little too disapprovingly at her brother, so I removed the disapproval and gave her an enigmatic smile.
Here are the almost finished version and the final version next to each other so that you can play spot the difference. You can also go back to the beginning of the newsletter and look at the finished painting.

Dates for your Diary

To all those who came to my open studio, thank you; it was a pleasure talking to you and sharing ideas and a pleasure showing you what I was working on.

FORTHCOMING EXHIBITION54 The Gallery, Shepherd Market, Mayfair, London W1J 7QX

Opens Tuesday 17th April and closes Saturday 28th April. Open from 12 noon to 6pm every day.

The private view will be on Wednesday 18th April from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. I will send you an email invitation around the middle of March.

PLEASE NOTE: If you would like to receive a hard copy invitation to the private view via old-fashioned snail mail please email your postal address to

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