While the Summer lasts...

We had three most beautiful days of warm sunshine in Fife. Going to the beach was in order. We spent a lovely Tuesday at East Sands Beach in St Andrews with a nice crowd of friends. The children loved it.

There was always time to take the paints out and record the glorious vista... of course, an artist needs energy to paint and couldn't refuse the kind offer of a tasty burger!

Photographs courtesy of Michael Ross, 2016, All rights reserved.

Photographs courtesy of Michael Ross, 2016, All rights reserved.

Painting Jane Paisley of Westerlea, The Lady Westerlea

Yesterday, after the Annual General Meeting of The Paisley Family Society, the portrait of Jane Paisley of Westerlea was unveiled in a brief and emotive ceremony. The painting was commissioned by Lady Westerlea's husband, The Much Hon. D. W. Paisley of Westerlea, 6th Baron of Westerlea, Chief of the Name and Arms of Westerlea and Chieftain of the Paisley Family Worldwide.

The first time I met Lady Westerlea there was an affable air about her. Naturally, she was also a little bit apprehensive. However, when she saw the painting almost complete I felt she began to breathe again. She smiled and embraced me spontaneously. That was the best reward for all the hours, days and months of toiling with my brush.

This project was most interesting. The amount of details in the composition required careful balance and a skilful execution.  Following a planning meeting with Lady Westerlea, she sat for me twice in Ardtalla, their charming Victorian home. Of course, I spent hundreds of hours in my studio working on this painting.

For the first sitting, I had suggested a light coloured dress with a silk tartan sash. Instead, Lady Westerlea preferred a brown embroidered dress that had belonged to her mother-in-law and a Westerlea Tartan woollen shawl. Both items made a statement about her role: a loving wife who had embraced the family she married into and all that this family stands for. The juxtaposition of a delicate garment with a more serviceable material produced a fascinating effect. It was city and country life combined, perhaps revealing a facet of Lady Westerlea's delicate personality.

Lady Westerlea sat for me in a handsomely carved chair in her teal room, by the window and close to the fireplace, her favourite spot where she often does sewing. Her glance contained a mixture of Scotland, womanhood and determination; a triad that fascinated me. She resembled a monarch on her throne.

I was captivated by Lady Westerlea's serene gaze and I loved the way in which her beautiful brooch sparkled in the light.


Painting a portrait alla prima in one sitting

If it was my choice I would always paint from life, because the tapestry of life offers a range of experiences that cannot be perceived by other means. The sense of dimension and environmental factors like sound, air and the human interaction must be experienced by the artist to be properly interpreted and conveyed  in the painting. The process of sitting also helps to establish a bridge between the souls of the sitter and the artist. 

Of course, sitting for a portrait is not always possible. For example, when painting a posthumous portrait, reliance on photographs is almost always the only option available. People also lead busy lives so often they simply do not have the time to sit for many sessions to have their portrait painted entirely from life. Therefore, one needs to know when and how to use photographs to supplement the information gathered during the sitting. I feel this is very important: supplement what life offers when life is unavailable, but never replace life itself.

These considerations also force the portrait painter, or at least me, to paint rapidly and make the most of every single minute I am with my sitter. Under these circumstances, it always amazes me the amount of information one can gather in two or three hours of concentrated effort. 

The illustrations below show a portrait painting demonstration I carried out yesterday at Balgonie Castle. The sitter is none the less than the Laird of Balgonie and Eddergoll, who has sat for me a few times. In that respect, I had an advantage; it was a familiar face and a face that I consider most painterly.

The images also show what can be achieved in a couple of hours of painting alla prima (directly, in one go; as opposed to the traditional way in which I paint larger pieces, working in stages and with multiple layers). Painting alla prima is a wonderful way to learn about the subject, to gather information about colour, mood and, quite simply, to achieve a fresh and painterly impression of the sitter. 

In this last photograph I have made sure that on my screen the colours appear as closely as they do in the final painting. Of course this will vary according to the calibration of your screen, that is why nothing can compare with seeing my paintings "face to face".