The Girl in the Mirror: Lace and Painterliness

My painting The Girl in the Mirror is one of the first in which I tried to change course a little bit. I wanted to create a large portrait in an old-master style with its familiar traits of dramatic lighting, dark background and a lace collar, but I also wanted to do things a little differently. After my last series of paintings, I wanted to explore new ways; I wanted to explore the paint itself and the act of painting a little bit more.

Until now I would get an idea for a painting in my mind’s eye, and then try to re-enact it in my studio with props or models. I would then work from life or take photographs and paint from those. The vision for a painting was already thought-out in my head and my goal in painting was to get it onto canvas.

I am now exploring how to change this process. Instead of painting something that is already in my head or in front of me, I want to let the paint do the talking, let it play a part, not just as a means to an end, but as a lead actor. So for me The Girl in the Mirror represents the first baby steps towards a more painterly creative approach to my work.

I often use a stiff brush with fairly dry paint (sometimes out of necessity as the paint on my palette dried up while I was elsewhere) to scumble paint onto the canvas. In this painting I allowed the paint to remain quite crude and visible in places. It has added a texture to the work that does not enhance its realism but adds character and mood. It added painterliness to the work, as well as distance to the model, as she is supposed to be a reflection in an old mirror, set back in time and place.

Golden Lace

My model is wearing an authentic mid 17th century piece of lace. It is a huge cuff, which I draped over her shoulders and neck as if it was a collar. It immediately refers to 17th century portraiture yet it is clearly modern in concept. The rich warm ochre of the lace is contrasted by the deep blue of the dress. I used a gold paint to paint parts of the lace in order to give it that extra little sparkle and candlelight effect. You can only see it at certain angle when the lights hits it just right.

For me, this painting represents the first steps towards new painting worlds which I am keen to explore. The Girl in the Mirror is part of the Portland Series, a series of paintings that I created in answer to the Portland Collection (a large art collection with many 17th century portraits, on show at the Harley Gallery in Nottinghamshire).

With some of the other works in this series I have pushed a different side to my usual painting practice. Works like The Matriarch, where I imagined what Bess of Hardwick might have looked like and where I greatly exaggerated her made-up dress, or The Tapestry where I mix antique tapestry patterns and modern knitting patterns into a whole, purposefully choosing to leave some areas of the painting simplified and stylised while others are more worked into detail.

I am currently working on a new series of paintings where I am trying to push myself into a more creative response to my inspirations.  I am trying to use brushwork or painting techniques wherever it adds to the whole idea. There are no models involved and with very little reference material, I am forcing myself to come up with creative solutions to the blank canvas in front of me.

How the Painting Took Shape

In this short slideshow you can see how The Girl in the Mirror took shape. The effect of an old mirror I only added at a fairly late stage. I wanted to create distance between the girl and the viewer and a sense of times past. The mirror fulfilled that idea. The black spots were  painted in carefully (a bit scary to paint over it all like that!) trying to not distract too much from the figure, but still give a sense of antique randomness.

The Girl in the Mirror was painted on my favourite extra fine French Linen and framed in a beautiful hand-made dark frame with some golden specks here and there. It has been varnished for protection. If you are interesting in seeing or purchasing this work, please do get in touch.

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2 thoughts on “The Girl in the Mirror: Lace and Painterliness”

  1. Thats so exciting, its going to be great seeing where travel to in your creative journey.
    I had switched from oil painting to digital painting to be an illustrator and now i’ve come back to traditional oil paint and one thing I learnt from digital painting is just how much the actual physical paint can make a difference, as of course there is only simulated texture in digital.
    I am too trying to find a route to more expression and move about from pure realism to enhance my work, its daunting but extremely exciting. Its very easy to fall back into the safe pure realism route.
    Love hearing your progress.

    On a separate note, have you heard of painting on acrylic mirrors? I’ve seen David Kassan swears by them now as the reflectivity of light gives a lovely luminosity through the paint.

    1. Hi Neil, thank you so much for commenting, glad you are on board for my journey!
      Can’t say I’ve heard of of painting on mirrors, must have missed that one on Kassan’s news feeds. Interesting….

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