Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Magic Faces : Portraits in Watercolour

Expressive Face appearing from a simple first wash in watercolour

I fell in love with painting portraits when I lived in Dubai. Not only because I was surrounded continually by wonderfully characteristic Arabian faces with stunning facial features; but also because I trained under a fantastic Indian artist who taught me how to work in oil. I loved learning about skin tones and how to place features correctly.  My work at this time was highly detailed to the point of perfection. But something was missing from my results. I quickly discovered it was the lack of a feeling of "life". I seemed to be addicted to painting from photographs, copying exactly what I saw, step by step, with each new brushstroke.  My work was predictable and so wooden. Over time the better my work became the less I liked it. I felt as though I was falling onto a path followed by a million artists before me and even worse, my pleasure in painting potraits gradually disappeared.  That is, until I started working without a preliminary sketch.  All of a sudden the practise of sketching and painting perfectly aided the new direction I was heading in and my passion for painting faces grew again, with each painting.

In time I developed a personal technique where I would choose the colouring for my subject and with a few brushstrokes, along with very careful application of water,  truly expressive faces started to appear. Many with an atmospheric sense of mystery. I was so happy at this time in my career, when I first started  working on a series of these faces. I used to teach Watercolour courses at the Dubai International Arts Centre which at that time was on the beachfront. It was a beautiful art centre where many artists shared their love of the arts, willingly giving their techniques in so many classes. I had been successfully selling scenes of dancing ladies, landscapes and many paintings of camels in local galleries. When I fell in love with creating these faces I was told by galleries and fellow artists alike that faces as a subject "wouldn't sell". But I have never been an artist that paints for financial reasons so I didn't listen.  I always have, and I always will paint what I enjoy so that each of my creations is fresh and  full of the passion I feel when I hold a brush.

As my technique developed I started painting these faces with red wine, coffee, left over tea.  Absolutely anything that mixed with water  became my new way of working. I was addicted! Eventually these faces became not only popular but highly collectable. To the point where galleries were phoning me and sking if I had any more. In every exhibition these faces were sought after and always sold first.

Over time I moved  from Dubai to Hong Kong, France, Belgium and eventually back to UK. My magical faces took a back seat while I became distracted with so many other subjects in each of these different countries. But today, like an old friend calling to me, I felt the urge to return to my beloved mystery faces and the above image is my first creation this year, in my technique. This possibly needs a little definition to make this a completed painting. But if you study the painting at this stage everything is already there and such an expression is present. It holds mystery without working on this futher. Mystery that could disappear if I add detail.

I often tell artists on my workshops to stop when they can see what the subject is and that is exactly what I am going to do with this piece. It made me feel wonderful when I painted it, as it brought back so many happy memories. So to work further on this would lose that feeling of connected emotion. But I will be starting another portrait straight away.

There is a moral to this blog post. Had I listened to everyone telling me that faces were a waste of time to paint because they wouldn't sell, I would never have  learned so much as an artist. Or grown in my technique or art journey. And by  staying strong and sticking to my own way of working I found success  by accident. My advise is always paint what you enjoy, only listen to advise from others if it suits you and remember, others aren't always right!


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