Paintings

Memories of Mary in all her Finery

In December 2011 I had three small super 8 films transferred to DVD. I wasn’t sure what I was going to find on them but I did know they were taken by my parents in the 60s. Actually I had hoped I would find a reel with my sister’s wedding filmed in 1969 as I had a funny (guilty!) feeling that it was  rather foolishly put in my care. What did emerge, however, was, firstly, a trip my folks made to Canada to visit an aunt who had emigrated to Winnipeg many years before from dad’s “aul country” of Armagh Brague. The next contained some odd bits and pieces obviously filmed to record every day life in the McClelland household the quality of which had so badly degraded it was frustrating and almost painful to watch through the snowstorm and weird colours which had replaced the old familiar faces of yore. The third was filmed at my sister’s graduation in 1964 outside Queen’s Whitla Hall in Belfast.

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There she was – my sister – a young, newly qualified teacher, fashionable in her navy chiffon shift dress with her hair piled high in a black bouffant – stunning (as she still is) walking towards the camera and beside her Mary, my mum, dressed to the nines in the outfit she had worn to my brother’s wedding the year before! She was always stylish.

Inspired by the Gerhard Richter exhibition I had visited in Tate Modern shortly before I had had the films transferred, I decided to paint my mother  from the archive and this is the result:       (with apologies to Gerhard Richter!)

Mary in her Finery

 “Mary in her Finery” oil on canvas

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Latest Portrait (Dr Ivan Pollock)

Just finished another commissioned portrait.

I took a few photos of the process and am sharing them here.

The first sitting is always scary –  exchanging a few awkward niceties with someone you have never met before and then starting to sketch them.

As if it isn’t bad enough sketching in front of people let alone someone who doesn’t know you!

At this stage it’s sometimes more about interacting with your subject and  the drawing is an analytical study more than creating a “likeness”. (just as well!)

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15 min charcoal line sketch

At the end of the sitting, a couple of nervous sketches and a batch of photos later I get to work on the next stage – tonal sketches and layouts for the final composition.

This is a head and shoulders commission so I worked to the same dimensions as the canvas itself.

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Looking at this now after several weeks more of studying the subject, I can’t believe how unobserved it was.

Below is a reworked study – much more satisfying!

Study for Dr Ivan Pollock Portrait 2

Willow charcoal on hot-pressed watercolour paper

However next stage is transferring the image to the canvas. I prefer to work on stretched linen for these portraits and I often start with a terre verte underpainting.

This is when I request a second sitting and, using raw umber and white , I start a tonal painting.

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Time for dabbing on some colour. Now the terre verte underpainting comes into play. The skin tones resonate immediately with the green contrast:-

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The subject was to be painted in his academic gown and hood and I felt these would work best with a dark background:-

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In the course of painting – studying the planes, lines and characteristics of the face I tend sometimes to over emphasise them creating an image which looks older than the subject really is so this is the point where another sitting is necessary to reduce this effect and check skin tones, hair and costume colours  – also realised I had major corrections to do around the mouth area :-

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Final stage – waiting for approval from the person who commissioned the painting – another scary moment but thankfully they liked it!

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Portrait of Dr Ivan Pollock

Headmaster of Campbell College Belfast 1987 – 2005