I have written about the importance of reflecting Nichola’s personality in this portrait, and completing the painting involved a tricky combination of accomplishing this rather ill-defined task while carrying out some more routine work. The easy part was the clothing, getting a more three dimensional effect and toning down the scarf with some more convincing shadows. I decided to change the flesh tones a little while doing the final modelling of Nichola’s facial features, working to get more of a ‘glow’ into her appearance. This contributed to the atmospheric effect I was looking for, but still something seemed wrong. It took over a week for me to identify the problem, keeping the work nearby while I worked on other canvases, returning frequently to glance at it briefly, as though trying to catch my subject unawares and reveal a hidden secret. This is typical of the sort of psychological game the portrait artist sometimes has to play in order to get at an idea or approach that remains buried beneath the surface of analytical thought. Eventually this off-beat approach bore fruit: in focusing on the subject’s direct gaze I realised that it implied that her attention would be on the viewer – this worked against my desire to convey the atmosphere around her. I wanted, needed, her to be thinking of something else, something slightly intangible. Working exclusively on the eyes, and on the positioning of the irises, I moved Nichola’s gaze into an indeterminate space that suggests, perhaps, an air of wistfulness, an inner world of her own. We can’t tell what she is thinking about, but we know it’s not us.
The completed canvas measures 30 inches by 48 inches.