The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists is having its bi-annual Portrait Prize exhibition on right now. The exhibition is on until 19 August and includes my pastel portrait of my son. I am delighted it was selected for this great exhibition which also features works by Steve Caldwell, Simon Davis, Robert Neil, Gabrielle Roberts Dalton, Mark Sheeky, Ruth Swain and many others.
I love pastel. Although my main medium is oils these days I still love my favourite medium from my teenage years. My mother gave me an old cigar box of pastels when I was a child. The pastels had belonged to my grandmother. They became my favourite medium for many years to come. I always want to paint more in pastel than I currently do. There are just never enough hours in the day.
One way of spurring me on was to visit the Jean-Etienne Liotard exhibition at the Royal Academy last year. I never knew much about this artist but am delighted a pastelist got such a major show at a major art gallery. Liotard’s work is just beautiful. He is a true master in depicting textiles such as lace, silk and velvet and shows a true love of people in his friendly and modest portraits. Whether they are royal or common, children or adults, Liotard’s portraits show the human side of the sitter. A friendly smile, a favourite doll, a cheeky wink or a daring look; these people couldn’t be more human. The portraits lack a grandiose distance and loftiness so often found in official portraiture. Dress and props are depicted into great detail and with great flair. Colours are lively and vibrant. The exhibition at the Royal Academy was a real treat.
Inspired, I decided to create a portrait based on what I had seen at the Royal Academy. Most of my portraits were head and shoulders portraits and I wanted to create a more lively pose which included a gesture and a prop. After choosing my youngest son as the most suitable victim, a prop was easily found. At the time he was devouring a series of books and so a book it had to be. I asked him questions about the story and although he felt a bit awkward at first, soon started telling me about the characters and the plot. I managed to capture some of his gestures and movements during this chat and incorporated them into the portrait.
In the portrait I aimed for realism and a distinction between fabric, skin and all the other materials and textures. At the same time I was keen to keep some painterliness and interest in my mark making. I had to make sure that my son was not looking too young or the portrait too sentimental or else my son would hate it forever (nor would I like it much). I aim to portray children as young little humans, full of their own developing character and not just cute or pretty.
I painted this portrait on a full sheet of Colourfix pastel card with Rembrandt pastels. These pastels are a slightly harder soft pastel and come in a huge range of colours. They are my favourite brand as they are soft enough for painterliness yet hard enough to create detail.
My son has already changed quite a bit since I created the portrait last year and it really captures a moment in time that will never come back. He is now ten and not too embarrassed about his portrait, I think.
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