At the risk of waffling a bit - as an artist I believe it’s important to have an area of focus for ones work. For me part of that process is a continued exploration in the subject. For a good number of years now I’ve found myself continually energized by Still Life subjects and I’m always finding a new method to dissect the subject or a new color plan; thus re-exploring the same subject never gets dull. I do however paint a lot of Still Lifes, and it raises another point. To often a singular focus on the same subject for too long can ultimately lead to the works losing their edge and they become less than they should be. To that end, I believe it’s crucial for artists to dabble and explore other artistic endeavors, (to move out of their comfort zone). For it is through this journey that we often grow and develop, bringing new, fresh ideas and even skills back to the original concept/focus.
So to cut a long story short, from time to time I tackle something dramatically different that challenges myself artistically and so here is my most recent challenge –
Painting a portrait is pretty much as far removed from my normal day-to-day painting as I can get. Additionally because of this dramatic departure from the norm it always proves to be a great but rewarding challenge.
The brief I set myself was simply to paint my two children as a double portrait. I’d previously painted them together in May 2005 and I felt it was time to tackle this subject again, before they became too old and I missed a beautiful phase in their growth.
Above shows the painting from May 2005.
I set out to attempt to paint in a different style to the method I had used previously. This was achieved by borrowing from one of my heroes. Joan Eardley’s work has continued to resonate with me through the years and I love her portrait works of Glasgow’s impoverished children. I particularly remember visiting the portrait “brother and sister’ in Aberdeen Art Gallery as I grew up. I chose to borrow this composition for my portrait, knowing that this would immediately set me off in a different direction from my previous portrait. My original intension was to paint in an equally loose and free style as Eardley; but as I worked I found myself unable to keep things as loose as she was able. Over time I had to rework and move away from my original concept, but ultimately produce something that was very different from 2005 rendition.
I consciously gave the portrait a flatter appearance and kept the colors fairly close in relationships as a color/mood contrast to much of the ‘Still Life’ paintings I currently produce. I may not have been able to produce as loose a painting as I may have liked (sheer cowardice to blame I suspect). However, I’m fairly happy with the end result. There’s pretty good continuity across the painting and it captured them both reasonably. I feel this time I slightly missed the mark with my youngest child Luke, though it’s still him. I partly blame this on the expression I chose, in retrospect it perhaps wasn’t a characteristic one?
It took me a full year to complete this painting so already the children have grown and changed from this point. Various delays and many weeks at a time when I would let the painting sit in my studio, semi-finished; has probably flied in the face of my originally argument of ‘tackling different subject’. Certainly, I feel for challenges such as this to have their greatest impact one should always really focus and explore the new direction, not dabble slowly as I have done here - Oh well, there’s always next time… :-)