Some subjects almost seem to paint themselves, their image is so distinctive and their presence so imposing. Krishna fell into that category for me, and I felt no hesitation in painting his portrait in one headlong rush, maybe two hours from start to finish. A larger than life character, his calm dignity suggests an inner melancholy, and it somehow came as no surprise to learn of his Tibetan ancestry. Here he tells his own story.
“After the death of my parents I went through a really depressing time, moving from hostel to hostel without much sense of purpose. I had an interview with St. Mungo’s and I was asked what I wanted to do, what I wanted to get to get out of St. Mungo’s. This made me think a lot, and I realised that I needed to gain in confidence and self-esteem. I was sceptical at first, but I agreed to become involved. There were meetings and my confidence grew, then more meetings and I enrolled in the Recovery College. I took courses in assertiveness and self-esteem, and from there I became an enroller myself, visiting hostels and encouraging other people to get involved in the College. I am trying to improve my CV through volunteering so that I can seek employment. Budgeting is my real Achilles heel, and I am working to address that. I’m in semi-independent accommodation now, and my target is full independence. I am more confident about my own future now.”
Back to work after a long break, and I’m tackling a subject that has given me some problems. I did a photo session with Tracy early in the project and I was convinced that I would be able to produce something really interesting. However, the raw material I had just didn’t seem to be adequate. I reviewed the images over and over, doing a number of initial drawings based on them, but at no stage did I feel that I was getting close to what I needed to convey. Worse, I couldn’t decide what was wrong. Eventually I abandoned the portrait and waited until I could set up a second photo session, hoping that I could get some new material that would prove to be more productive, triggering a solution. At this second attempt, Tracy had changed her hair, both style and colour, and for whatever reason seemed to have grown in confidence. Reviewing the material, I felt that her personality seemed to come across much more strongly. There was a real attitude in evidence, one that revealed a complexity and depth of character.
The initial drawing in Tracy 01 is sketchy and not anatomically correct (the ear is too small!), but it is sufficient for me to work with. The painting moves along surprisingly quickly, not quite alla prima, but certainly much faster than some of the early ones in the project. In order to harmonise the piece I have used the Prussian blue of the background to create shadows, while allowing the pink underpainting to show through for the mid-tones to give the flesh-tones a glow. The result is one of exaggerated naturalism, something I need to tone down in the final stages. The important thing at this stage is that I have retained and developed that distinctive gaze that Tracy returns to the viewer.
The portrait is completed with the addition of a series of glazes to correct the flesh-tones, together with some further definition of the hair. I have also added in the tattoo, the faded blue of which had originally given me the idea for the background. The difficulties that I experienced with this piece are indicative of a core issue when working from photographs: it is never enough to rely on one’s ability to recreate what a photograph shows, translating the reference onto canvas with paint. The photographic references themselves have to be sufficiently good, conveying attitude and character, to support and inspire the artist’s efforts.
The finished canvas measures 24 inches by 30 inches.