Portrait in acrylics

Portrait in acrylics

Maybe I should have used oils, but - I didn't.

I hardly ever paint portraits. I paint landscapes in oil, acrylic, and watercolour. I draw with pen and ink (sometimes), conté crayon, and carbon pencils. Sometimes with charcoal. Often with one of those plus water. But a colleague of mine has been our organization's treasurer for 40 years, and we decided he deserved a present. So I asked him what he'd like. And he told me he'd like a portrait of Jeremy Corbyn. Now - imagine my horror. I do not know Mr Corbyn. The likelihood of his posing for me is remote, especially under current circumstances. While I'm a member of the same party, I am not particularly a follower of Mr Corbyn. Far, indeed, from it..... But if that's what you're told is wanted, what are you to do? So I thought, well - I have some photographs; I can't just copy one of them, which might be easy enough (I suppose): but I just hate that.... Copying, tracing a photo, colouring it in, calling it a portrait? Not on your Nelly. Instead, I made a corporate portrait from various photographs - actually, I'm not that clever. I just took a lot of photos from the web, chose the one I thought might work, and used the others to tweak it. But it's perhaps important to know what I did NOT do: I did not map it out. I did not project it onto a screen. I did not measure the features with callipers and attempt to reproduce them. I took those photos - I made a sketch from them - I've worked from that sketch, with occasional peeks at the photos - and I have painted it (so far: we are not finished) freehand, on the canvas, with my brush. Now, I didn't think this would work at all. Surely, portraits call for strictly accurate measurements, carefully transferred to the canvas? Only, I think, if you wish to ensure they're dead on arrival. I cannot boast: my portrait is a long way from being finished; it may yet go horribly wrong. But I'm glad I didn't transfer it to the canvas from a tremendously accurate drawing, because I know I should just have worried and niggled at it. Now then: it may yet go wrong: I take a big risk telling you about it: I may muck it up like nobody's business. But if I do, I can always start again; and I think I would much rather work this way than go in with the measuring tools, rulers, whatever, than trust my eye, and a bit of measuring by brush length held artistically against the image I'm trying to work from. I HOPE my portrait will have life, even if it's at the expense of clinical accuracy. Would I rather have worked from Mr Corbyn sitting in front of with a nice cup of tea for occasional refreshment? Abso-perishing-lutely I would! But if I can't get that, I either work this way or - and perhaps more sensibly - I won't work at all. If you're going to have to work from photos, in short - take from them; take from several of them; tweak and select and manipulate - but the moment you try to copy: you've had it.

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Oh Robert! You should have said who your subject is. I sympathise entirely with your political leanings. He is not someone that I would choose to portray, especially as I don't think he has a particularly distinctive face. He actually looks a lot like David Kelly, martyr of the Labour government/ Iraq war. My current portrait project has ground to a halt as I am reorganising here I keep my art equipment and other things. But the subject is dead, so I can't ask her anything. At least you could contact him and ask him what attire he would like to be seen in. Regarding oils - there is nothing to stop you converting to oils over an acrylic base. I can't wait to see your progress.

Robert, I can't resist commenting, even though there is no way I could ever do a portrait. I love your expression "dead on arrival" as I cannot relate to the older style of portrait which I am fairly certain may have been done with measuring tools, however accurately and skilfully. Prefer the freer modern portraits which at least express the character of the person. Are you putting yours on WIP? Would love to see it in development.