When the Baron of North Cadbury commissioned me to paint his portrait, he gave me a great vote of confidence. A portrait commission is a delicate enterprise. Trust plays a fundamental role. The patron buys a promise of something he has never seen and must trust that the painter will interpret and produce something appealing.
When we discussed the methodology for this painting it became clear that we were not going to let distance become an obstacle between us. My client was in Germany, near Cologne, I was in Scotland and travelling was not practical at the time so we had to look for an alternative.
We agreed to use a combination of photographic references supplemented with life sittings by means of a video conferencing system. I worked on some compositions from my imagination and submitted some sketches. The chosen one was further developed into a colour study in oils. In turn, this became the blueprint for the final painting.
As the painting process progressed, we realised that using the video conferencing system was not practical. Of course, painting only from photographs may reduce the need for travelling and the time required from the sitter, but portraits painted simply by copying a photograph can be static and lose the freshness that is evident when a portrait has been painted from life.
In order to lessen the drawbacks of relying on a single image, one should have a varied number of high quality pictures showing different poses and expressions for the subject, as well as an understanding of his or her personality. This, coupled with a clear visual concept and a robust composition, contributes to a successful painting. For this commission I received a good number of photographs which were carefully taken following my specifications.
The best images were selected to give me the information I needed to complete this work successfully. This painting was executed with a Sight-Size approach. This means placing my subject next to the canvas and painting the image the same size I see it from a fixed point.
I did not want the painting to become the photo-copy of one single image so I used a series of photographs taken from different angles and printed exactly the same size. The images were attached to a board next to my canvas and changed regularly. In this way, I achieved a similar effect as if I had been painting from life, with a subject who moves. This forces me to keep re-checking and adjusting what I paint. I feel that the result of this approach is fresher and more alike to a portrait which has been painted from life.
The amount of details present in this composition also required careful balance and a skilful execution. When many details are included, there is a risk of turning the work into a painted photograph in which every aspect is completed hyper-realistically, burying the gesture and artistic energy.
We worked to produce a contemporary painting which evokes a historical period. The variations in the flow of the brush strokes and paint effects allowed for a degree of irregularity, while remaining true to the rules of realism. The result of this process is not a copy of a single image, but the amalgamation of my impressions interpreted aesthetically.
I would like to extend my special thanks to the Baron for his confidence and support throughout this project.
The image below shows the painting as it hangs in its new home in Germany.