I like to think that my years in portrait, beauty and fashion photography trained my eyes to study faces, and this in turn has helped my portrait painting. However, before I began to pursue commercial photography training, I remember taking a portrait painting class in college that was a turning point for me.
Prior to that class, my secondary school art teacher had taken one look at my drawings of people, shaken his head and asked me to focus on subjects like bikes. I spent the subsequent year making drawings of bike spokes and generally being quite unhappy. I suspect somewhere along the way, I decided I would prove him wrong. So when I had the freedom to choose my classes in college, I ignored the ‘advanced’ label on the portrait painting class and signed up. The first semester of the class was disastrous. I didn’t have the drawing/observational skills required and I struggled with the basic concepts of light and shadow and using paint. My final naive portraits, though lacking the formal technical skills, were expressive, exciting and even recognisable!
Fast forward to 2018. I wanted to learned how to use oil paints and decided that I would do so by taking evening classes in portrait painting. This time round, I was interested in accurately depicting people. I found the London Atelier of Representational Art that followed the Charles Bargue Drawing Course and did an intensive week of making exact pencil and charcoal copies of Bargue drawings and eventually culminating in charcoal drawings of plaster casts (mine was a foot). This is about the time I discovered that the normal trajectory of learning to draw would’ve been still life > the figure > portrait. But, again, I impatiently jumped ahead and signed up for an advanced portrait painting one day workshop.
I was pretty nervous the morning of the workshop when we began with painting the figure to “warm up” our eye. I had very limited experience drawing, let alone painting, the figure which was shown clearly in high contrast to my fellow students. However, when we moved on to the portrait, I discovered that I was seeing the model, Tanja, through different eyes. My years of adjusting lighting for and photographing faces somehow felt familiar and I was able to focus my attention in a way that I had found difficult for the full figure. And 7 hours later, I left the school carrying this wet portrait home.
Tanja, 2018 is available for sale through my website.