Thursday, February 03, 2005

Whenever possible I try to avoid using fixative because it can create problems. Too heavy application renders the paper surface hard and smooth which makes further drawing and blending difficult. The problem can be solved when using robust grounds like board by roughing the surface with fine sandpaper. This happened when I applied fixative to the face and hair – fortunately Canson is a heavy robust paper which can take a certain amount of rough treatment so no real harm was done.

For this portrait an intermediate fix was needed to seal the underdrawing and prevent it lifting and soiling the final marks. Faces generally have to be highly worked in order to render the subtle tones created around the eyes, nose and mouth. Even the lightest pastel sticks make strong marks which have to be softened when drawing delicate forms. This detail from the completed portrait shows the degree finish that can be achieved.

My strategy was to treat crown of the hat and nightdress more loosely to focus attention on face. The best laid plans though collapse if you get too engrossed in mark making. I began suggesting the straw weave of the hat and the marks took over – I could have brushed them off of course but I was beguiled by the effect they created so it was too late.

Framing is another aspect of the craft of painting that I agonise over. Victor Ambrus lovely pastel drawings on light tinted Ingres paper look fine in a wide ivory mount inside a narrow frame. A full painterly treatment needs a different form of presentation. I had to hand a wide frame which had a gold finish, a slip made from a length of glass bead was used to separate glass and painting. There was a problem – the painting would need to be cropped.

I believe portrait heads need space within the frame if they are not to look imprisoned. The role model who led me to this conclusion is Goya, his head and shoulder portraits are all drawn sight size and the chest is often fully facing the viewer. The width of the shoulders then creates the required space for the head. I had drawn a sideways pose and I think the wide brimmed oversize hat created just sufficient space to allow the painting to be satisfactorily cropped to fit the smaller frame.

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