I have a stone that I picked up off a beach. It is not a stone, it's a whole stretch of stony beach on a misty morning. And it's the people I was staying with, and the memories of the laughs and food we shared, and their children's funny sayings, and the soft Dublin accent and the beer we tried, and the moonlight over Skerries harbour from the pub window and ... everything. In one stone.
I was recently commissioned to make a painting of someone's favourite things.
So I went to the house (while she was out - it was commissioned by her partner and it was a secret!) and took photos of all the things that had special meaning for her.
There was a favourite chair with a knitted rug over it, a stone feature wall, and a soft toy and a blue patterned teacup. There was a little table of ceramic birds and a low table with a collection of shells and binoculars. There was a painting, a view from a window, and books, and a sweet violets on a never-used tea-set ...
|I decided to paint everything on this table and use it |
as an 'anchor' along the base of the composition.
I was nervous of those binoculars! They looked complicated!
|A sweet mini-composition. They are tied together|
with the ellipse of the table.
|The chair would look plain without the afghan rug|
|I wondered if I might do the reflection of this cup too.|
|Big Ted needs to be near the centre because he will draw attention where-ever he is.|
|I thought this pillow's pattern might look good in the background|
|This view I felt would be best at the top of the painting|
|I had no idea how I would use this wall.|
|Should this owl go with the other birds or have its own space somewhere?|
I loved the green eyes, but had to be careful they didn't stand out too much.
I printed out the images and cut the objects out and arranged them on my piece of paper and rearranged and rearranged again and again until I was happy with the composition. This stage took a long time and at one point I despaired of it ever coming together.
In the end I realised I didn't have to keep to the right sizes. So I blew some things up much larger than others, as I needed some bold shapes here or there. Some very brightly coloured things I shrunk in size because they would have overwhelmed the composition too much. I tried to link detail and subject sometimes, and other times I spread them around (like the tea-set violets) so the painting wouldn't look too disjointed, with too many disparate bits. The huge teddy bear had to be in the centre, because it was so bold, looking out at the viewer with his direct gaze.
I had a brain-wave: I would put the lady's previous husband (sadly deceased) inside one of the knights, and her new partner (who was commissioning me) in the other. (He was a bit shy about this idea, but I crossed my fingers and did it anyway, hoping he would like it when it was done.)
In the end the drawing looked like this:
|Close-up of the binoculars|
|The blue 'Birthday' teddy|
Blue Ted went on the new partner knight's shoulders, because this painting is a birthday gift from him to her.
Nearly time to pick up the brushes!
When I began thinking about the colours, I realised that there weren't very many brights at all. Most of the things were rather grey or brown. Only the chair and rug was pink, Birthday Ted was cobalt blue, and there was a soft toy clown with red stripes. I decided each of the knights needed a pink rose as a sign of his affection. No roses in the garden but plenty of pink abutilon. They will do. Photographed them at different angles and drew them on. Two was wrong so added a third. Odd numbers are better.
Off we go with the watercolours:
|The lumps on the armour and shield have no shape nor shadows yet ... they are just paper showing through.|
|Three teddies nearly finished, and the dark knight's armour |
is looking much more realistic now.
|The violets are just spaces still.|
|detail of the collections table|
|No 'Happy Birthday' writing on Blue Ted's shirt yet. |
Black won't show well, so I'll do it in white.
|With side lighting, you can see the paper is quite textured. |
This made fine detail a little more challenging to paint.
About to do Ted's eyes.
|Shine on eyes = patches of white left. Left-hand one is darker as it's in the shadow of the nose.|
|Nearly there. All that's left to do is the twining |
cushion pattern and a final check.
A cornucopia of personal and meaningful items.
Then a light spray of matt fixative and it's done.
This one has taken four weeks, about 40 hours total.
And has given me great pleasure.
Sincere thanks to the couple for whom this was painted, for giving me permission to share these processes and images.