Resuming work on this after an extended break I decide that I was closer to finishing than I thought. The main issue is the hands. There is a complex arrangement of the fingers, and the third finger of his left hand appears bent in a counter-intuitive fashion – a fancy way of saying that it just doesn’t look right. After some re-modelling I also have to adjust the flesh tones, they are too yellow. The process is a fairly painstaking one (hands are never particularly easy) and I can’t fudge the execution because that would be out of character with the rest of the piece. Instead, I have to work through a series of small-scale iterations with a precarious balancing act between what I ‘know’ anatomically, and what actually looks convincing. This is the point in portraiture where the artist engages in a private psychological battle with himself, struggling to ignore the voice that says ‘it’s OK now’, and listen instead to the one that says ‘I’m not convinced – you’ve got to fix this.’ Richard #8 is a step in the right direction but there is more to be done.
A couple of days spent reflecting on the piece (I spend a lot of time watching paint dry!) and I decide that the question of the hands has a dimension that goes beyond mere accuracy. It is essential that I get them right because they represent an important psychological key to the whole piece. There is an inherent tension between the relaxed pose and the knotted tension of the hands, one that offers a clue to the personality behind the slightly enigmatic facial expression. My first step is to work on the face, adjusting the skin tones and reaching for a smoother finish. With that finalised, I am able to decide on the right, less florid, tones for the hands. My further re-modelling has to combine tonal balance and anatomical conviction. The adjustments are small, and get smaller (and slower!) as I go along, but after several hours I am satisfied with the results. The acid test comes on the following day when I return to the studio and have to decide whether I now find the overall effect to be convincing. To my relief, I do.
The final piece measures 70cm x 100cm.