Details, details – but important ones, like getting the lighting on all objects from the same place. My reference material had lighting from which ever place created the best image, and it is sometimes difficult in the throes of painting, to retain your own light source. The silver Cup was particularly bothersome, so much so that I took my camera to Chester searching for big Cups with sideways lighting, collecting some funny looks at the same time.
Then there was the cane medallion in the chair. If I painted it meticulously, it would look “tight” and anxious – overdone, careful. But I couldn’t leave it as a blur, since the rest of the painting was more defined. Moreover, the weave was interesting, hexagonal, though not clear from the small pencil drawing I used as reference. Even the World Wide Web was unable in my inexpert hands to provide me with a usable reference. Then I remembered a cane table basket. I studied it carefully, put it away, very nearly closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and “went for it” – mission complete.
I finished the painting of St James’ Garlickhyde, making Martin’s arm the right length in the process. In the beginning it was too long, his fingers would have reached his knees if it had been straightened; then I overcompensated. Finally I got my husband to pose with an appropriate scarf draped to represent the robe. Thereafter I added some lettering to the Cup and tufting to the carpet. Only the hands and faces to complete now. This was a matter of inching up to the desired effect, a dab of paint, followed by a lot of thought. then another dab.
Well, neither Holbein nor Alma-Tadema need to lose much sleep over me, but I have so enjoyed the effort and have learnt so much about composition, colour, relative size, lighting, reflections, faces – eight months of rare delight.
What to put on the floor was a real headache. The original pale colour left the images floating, lacking gravitas as well as gravity! I tried the rich crimson of the carpet in the photos of the liverymen, but while the background colour worked all right, the gold patterning made the floor take over the picture. In any case it had little real connection with the boys, their belongings, or my original idea for the painting. In desperation I turned to Holbein again, and found my deliverance. I would keep the tiles already under Martin’s dresser, and add the “turkey rug” that Holbein had draped over his dresser. Thus is the circle completed.
Both figures have had a lot of work done – Martin has his chain back, and his posy has flowers; Brian’s rod has a cork handle and carriers for the line, while his fly box, a more reasonable size now, hold some of the flies he marked as being to his liking. His wellies are standing on the tiles (altogether more appropriate than on carpet) and the perspective lines of the grouting help to give a little depth to the picture. “Vanity Fair” has its classic full leather binding, sitting on top of Brian’s “Ascent of Man”, an accident of size and colour, not a wry comment on Human Progress! The score on the chair is closed – I would have liked to show it open showing the music but the silver rose would not have shown up against the white paper. Martin’s left arm is still too short!
I had been wondering what to do about the floor. The pale colour made the picture top heavy so I searched around for something darker (richer?). The original photo of the robed figures had a dark crimson carpet, highly patterned, which might fit the bill. Certainly, the colour anchors the picture effectively.
I have moved things around too. The soup plate reel has gone but what should I use to fill the space? Much cogitation had led me to realise that I had no fruit in the picture: glass, silver, fur, cloth, flowers, rubber, velvet, silk ribbon, wood a-plenty, but no fruit. So, I added some grapes – they have relevance in making wine which both my gentlemen like. and they help the eye to move around the picture.
The noisy exciting colours of “Fanatic” in full sail are counter-balanced by the quieter, darker gleams of polished wood, though the colour of two of the glasses echoes more deeply the scurrying waves. The chair is more substantial now, walnut perhaps, with a velvety cushion bearing the score, and the silver rose of “Der Rosenkavelier”. The wellies are shorter, and the robes more detailed, though in the heat of the moment, the Master lost his Chain of Office. I am delighted with the ribbon on Brian’s robe while the fur is asking to be stroked. Even the fishing rod is now slender, ready for the lake.
It helps to read the picture by getting the darks in, so I roughed in the dresser, the chair and the wellies.
I had feared that the dresser would dominate the picture, but in the event, the two figures in their rich robes were not going to be overcome by anyone!
It was at this stage I stumbled across my major puzzle – relative size! I had photographs of many of the objects, but their size in relation to each other was problematic. Brian’s Cup had a couple of wine glasses in shot, and Martin’s antique glasses and wine bottles were displayed together. But, how tall was the dresser in relation to the figures, and how wide? and what about the fishing paraphernalia? I had a fishing catalogue with good photos in it but the size of the items in relation to each other, never mind in relation to the figures was not obvious. Also working on a canvas this size meant that everything was not under the eye at once.
I thought it would be good to add colour to check the tonal balance and it certainly shows how the colours are affecting each other. But it also shows the size mistakes more clearly – no bad thing, but a bit disconcerting. So you can see Giant’s wellies (right next to Brian’s neat feet!) a soup plate reel, a fishing rod like a tree trunk, a very spindly, somewhat inebriated chair, and a decided dip in the middle shelf as it goes behind the picture. I don’t think those books would sit easily in the hand, either.
The dresser is Martin’s, so it seemed appropriate to place it behind him, and it will be a good place to stand various objects relating to their interests. All the objects had to have significance, but they also needed to create a pleasing composition. Somehow I had to find a place for Martin’s collections of antique wineglasses, wine bottles, and Victorian books, for Brian’s fishing tackle, love of opera and yacht racing, for their shared interest in wine, and the Livery Company, for the Company itself, and for my own connection with it. Well, it’s a big canvas!
After I had roughed in the boys in their robes, I made a tentative layout in pencil, putting smaller things on the shelves. Brian is holding his fishing rod with his wellies beside him, the Silver Cup of the winner of the National Championship for the Yeomen Class which Brian and his friend won three times in the eighties, a silver rose (“Der RosenKavelier”, his favourite opera). Martin’s collections grace the shelves behind him, while the pile of books, and bottle of claret they are sharing demonstrate interests they have in common. I needed something light and fairly big behind Martin’s arm to give tonal and visual variety so I included a watercolour I had done of St James’ Garlickhyde. This beautiful Wren Church is where I accompany my husband, also a Liveryman, to the Winter and Summer Services of the Company. Behind Brian is a painting of his yacht “Fanatic” in full cry, and a chair representing the period when the company was founded.
Reasonably satisfied with this layout, I washed the canvas in a warm burnt sienna to remove the glare of white canvas.
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!