Thursday, 14 August 2014

Mi Blog Es Tu Blog - Leslie Watts

I met Leslie Watts at the opening of the BP Award in June ( thank you Sophie Ploeg for inviting me). I was terribly flattered that she recognised me while I was having a closer look at her painting (she is a reader of this blog) !
Her portrait of son Stefan is incredible, one of the best entries this year. It's a work that gracefully dissimulates the extreme sophistication of its technique, a portrait that I find strong and melancholic at the same time. 
I want to thank Leslie, a lovely person I hope to meet again, for the very extensive post she wrote and the precious insight into her process and her pigments drawer.

Stefan, 23,
Egg Tempera on Panel, 20" x 16"

I am a painter living in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. I work in both egg tempera and acrylic. In addition to painting most of the time, I also have a dozen or so private students who come to my home for weekly art lessons in groups of two or three. I find that teaching helps me to articulate what I tend to do by instinct, and this helps me to become more aware of what I’m doing. Since I paint from photographs, awareness is a necessity.

I painted this portrait of my son specifically to enter in the BP Award 2014. I’m working on a series of faux-16th century portraits, and I had originally intended to paint Stefan for that series, inventing a costume to replace his t-shirt. But when I looked through the photographs I’d taken of him, I realized that this pose, without any elaboration, seemed right for this year’s BP submission. It was a good combination of a traditional pose and setting and contemporary clothing. I have painted Stefan many times before, but this was the first time that I felt I was painting him as a man and not a boy.

It is hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in London as part of the BP Portrait Award 2014 exhibition.

Although 20" x 16" isn’t enormous, for an egg tempera painting it was large enough to keep me busy for five months. My first submission to the BP Award was accepted last year, and I wanted this year’s submission to be bigger and more complicated. Working from a digital photograph will only take you so far. You have to be very careful to interpret rather than copy. I never want my paintings to look like photos. For instance, I created a cool reflected light on the shadowed side of the face. This light isn’t in the photo, but without it, the face looked flat and not quite believable.

I have three rules for painting: follow the form; soften the edges; use reflected colours. These are all approaches that keep a painting from looking like a photograph. The last rule means thinking carefully about how colours bounce off one another. If the background is green, for instance, the reflected light on the subject will have a greenish cast. If you exaggerate this, you don’t end up with those orange faces that are so typical of literal copies of photographs. Each form within a painting should influence every other form with its own light and colour; and so I paint what an object does, and not what it is.
After I’d been working on this portrait for a month, I was frustrated by how poorly the face was working, so I washed it right down to the board with a scouring sponge and started again. I felt a bit sick after I’d done it, but it was the right thing to do.
Besides referring to photographs on my computer monitor, I also spent time Skyping with my son, who lives in Toronto, so I could correct the shapes that couldn’t be seen in a photo. And he was able to critique the painting from his end. The first time he saw it in real life was at the opening at the NPG.

The painting is done on Ampersand Claybord. I love the surface, which is extremely smooth and absorbent. It’s specifically made for tempera paints, and it saves a lot of time. I used to spend a lot of time preparing boards with traditional cooked gesso, but now I just remove the plastic wrapper and get on with painting.

I don’t mix egg tempera in the traditional way. Instead of grinding pigments with water and then adding egg yolk, I mix an egg yolk with six tablespoons of water in a small jar, which I keep in the fridge. I pour some of this into a small porcelain dish. To make paint, I dip a brush into the egg mixture, knock off the excess onto a rag, then quickly dip the brush into dry pigment. The pigment sticks to the brush without leaving any egg mixture behind. I mix the colour in a round porcelain watercolour palette. This is a spontaneous method; it allows me to be free in choosing my colours, one dip at a time, since I don’t have to plan ahead. With this method, there is little waste.
I have nearly sixty pigments in little plastic canisters, all open in a biscuit tin, and I used most of them in this portrait. I tend to use earth tones more than primaries, but while I was working on this painting, I discovered that cadmium green and cadmium red mixed together with white make an amazing and versatile skin colour. I use iridescent gold to bring warmth to white and depth to eyes. I usually add a bit of iridescent pearl to skin tones, just because I think it looks good.
I start by blocking in with large strokes, usually with a 1⁄2" flat brush, keeping the colours to a basic few. For the first while I’m worrying only about working out value and form. It takes a long time before the layers are built up enough to focus on detail. After awhile, the surface starts to feel different under the brush. As I get further along, I use smaller round brushes. I try to avoid the cross-hatched look. I want my pieces to look solid.
I like to buff the surface with a flannelette cloth as I work. This painting looks as if it’s been varnished or waxed, but that’s just what happens when you buff it. I usually give the painting a coat of clear egg and water mix first to seal the colours. But this really helps to refresh sunken colours, especially the darks.

Titanium White
Raw and Burnt Sienna 

Raw and Burnt Umber 
Yellow and Golden Ochre 
Chromeoxide Green 
Terre Verte
Green Earth Light 
Iridescent Pearl 
Iridescent Gold 
Iron Oxide Black
Transparent Orange Oxide 
Transparent Yellow Oxide 
Venetian Red
Potter’s Pink

Cadmium Red Deep 
Cadmium Green



jeawar said...

Loved this, Ilaria. Kind of brought lovely memories back when we were all there at the BP last year. I really learned a lot from this and wish Leslie well. Her work is very unique and I am a big fan!

Unknown said...

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thank you ....... good luck ..... spirit .....
visit my website also ........ please .......

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