Pastel Portrait – Maria


It was this cheerful Lady who made me want to try portrait painting again.  She has such a wonderful smile.  Her neck scarf is light and diaphanous, her head scarf is brightly coloured and patterned and the light on her face so attractive that she cried out for me to make the attempt.

I use pastels for portraits quite often.  It’s something to do with the immediacy of pastel painting, no brush, no water, no oil, between you and the tone in your hand and on the paper.  With that immediacy comes an intimacy between  you and your subject unbroken by the need mix colour.  If, as I do, you collect the pastels you use on a separate tray, then your tonal range is to hand.  It makes life so much easier!

I began by lightly drawing the layout with a pastel pencil so that I knew I had the proportions correctly placed, then drifted in the darks.  Her eyes are quite deep-set, as are the smile lines round her mouth.  The shadow under her chin, the result of top lighting, defined the face beautifully.  A quick splash of colour on the scarves set the colour balance.  Even that much painting brought her face alive – to the extent that I was reluctant to proceed.

Fortunately, when I looked at her the next day,  she drew me in, so I worked on the midtones of her face, softening the contours, trying to tease out the smile.  The eyes have it, though, for if they don’t smile, no amount of “grin” will help.  I have a tendency  to overwork eyes in a concentrated effort to get them “right” so I made a conscious decision to do as little as necessary and am happy with the result.  A mouth  with teeth is another trap for the unwary, but this isn’t the first grin I have painted.  The trick is to paint it in patches of colour and tone so that it appears, rather than drawing “a mouth” and “teeth” as if they were separate from the rest of the face.

The highlights on her cheeks, chin and brow were quickly completed.  Then there was only the finishing off to do, the light on her bottom lip,  the tip of her nose, and the bag strap, stronger colouring on the neck scarf, and patterning on the headscarf.

I hope Maria would show the same happy smile if she saw her portrait.



The Liverymen 02 – dressing the canvas

The liverymen
The liverymen

The actual scene didn’t exist – it was all in the mind – so it was going to be a composition of two men and a heap of objects somehow arranged to tell a story. It must tell of my two protagonists and their interests, and of the Livery, its age, customs and purpose. And I wanted a happy picture, too.

Martin and Brian entered into the spirit of things, furnishing me with details and photos of their interest and enthusiasms, and with the official photos of them in their robes of Office. One showed them standing together, facing the camera, their hands lightly clasped in front of them. That worked in the immediacy of a photo. But a more formal portrait would require a bit of variety. Another photo showed Martin seated sideways and turning to face the camera. Using this as a start, and echoing the pose of the left hand figure on “The Ambassadors”, I drew in Martin holding, not a dagger, but the traditional nosegay in one hand and resting his other hand on the dresser, thereby giving myself immense anguish – and of that, more later.

Thanks to Holbein, I had my two figures of good size posed on the canvas. Now I needed the story to unfold. They have a common interest in wine so we meet them sharing a convivial bottle of claret – doubtless Brian is telling a fishy story or two and Martin doesn’t believe a word of it!