It's so, so pretty.
This was a commissioned portrait created to be decorative but more than an illustration; it's role is not only a visual record but in a limited way, it also provides some insight into the nature of the subject. In discussions with the client, we wanted a result that is pleasure to live with; although in many ways it is 'made-to-order', it is in my mind no way diminished by that. It speaks to the subject's personal style, as described by the my visual vocabulary within the boundaries of a pre-determined scope. And it's turned out really pretty!
Ever wonder how a commissioned portrait process works? For this piece, I asked for a few items of personal ephemera (transitory items and articles, for example, a plane ticket, a handkerchief, a page torn from a magazine, that kind of thing) as well as listening to the sitter's own story. 'Knowing' something of her story in order to capture her in a way that makes sense to me, by translating some essence of her personality & communicating that to the viewer. And the early reports are that it looks good...decorative yes but with some added dimension, a dimension I took literally in fact: 'appliqué' on canvas. It seems I cant make something without some kind of added dimension.
Some of the personal items or cues were: several old drawings by her children; some Mother's Day cards; a photo of some fabric kept for sentimental reasons; snapshots of various family celebrations and some C18th entomology prints, among other things. She had also spent time living in various South East Asian locations & that struck a chord with me of course, so straight away I had decorative patterns on my mind.
The concept design process is important to document as it tracks the development of the imagery, how I have translated her story in my 'language', as it were, and tracking the different directions of travel available in order to hone the design & arrive at an image that pleased us both. This is what I presented as the design concept:
The lace/pattern immediately became an essential part of the whole project, being an element that figures largely in my own work. I've been working on my beloved 'digital lace' for a long time so with an opportunity like this, it was applied generously! And the pink wasn't unexpected either, it really does represent the subject well, she's definitely a pink lady!
So all the above acts as a record of the original references, how I applied these both decoratively and emotively as well as laying out the design concept.
From this I offered the following images for her selection:
The first image selected was indeed number 17, but the final dimensions were later determined to be 800x1200mm, too big to embroider with a sewing machine as I had intended but in any case, number 4 was the winning image in the final analysis, which changed the methodology anyway. I still wanted to add dimension though...I was thinking appliqué and how it was used in sensational style on this fabulous Tom Ford dress from a few years ago:
Once the final image was chosen & further developed in terms of exact dimensions, media and colour, time to start painting. Layer after layer of acrylic paint wash. I use primed 10 or 12 ounce canvas generally, depending on the scale; this one is 10oz but that's probably on the low outer limit weight wise. The piece does get manoeuvred around a lot as I work on it so there's a a payoff between durability & flexibility. The finished work would usually be mailed or couriered in a tube so stretching and framing happens at final destination.
The cut lace was really interesting to make, I had to trial a few different fabrics to find the right look, feel and compatibility for application to painted canvas and then snipped it out with teeeeeeny scissors and it took aaaaaages. But I've always enjoyed handiwork of an evening. I'm like that. Actually I spent an afternoon-into-evening doing this while watching the whole season of Avatar Book 1 Water Bending with my favourite 12 year old. Best time. In fact this artwork will always remind me of him and that lovely time.
It was really important to get clean cuts so I went through three pairs of snips to make this piece, keeping to the sensitivity of line, that hand drawn wobbly edge so it has all the nuances of a hand manufactured lace. In adhering the thing to the canvas, I deliberately left some edges free of glue so the slight curl at the edge of the ribbon-like lace pattern caught some light, threw a suggestion of shadow, and enhanced the effect of the 3D appliqué.
In future I'll do a couple of things differently; although I did pre-paint the piece prior to adhering it to the canvas, I did end up re-painting it all anyway. The most time consuming part was painting both layers of lace in great detail, including fine black outlines using 1/20 brushes; a lot of my careful work on the underlying (pink) lace is covered but I knew that would happen & did it anyway. I'm like that too.
As can be seen on the design process pages, I referenced Alexander McQueen but at the time, I was only concious of the butterfly effect as that inspiration had come directly from the sitter, but towards the end of making this piece, the central lace motifs reminded me more & more of the great McQ, something about pattern and the echo of bones...That guy. Amazing.
In painting all the subtle gradations of colour, I mixed some mica pigments (pearlescent) into the acrylic so the layers seem to float on each other.
I'm not sure if I captured this effect too well in studio progress photos as it depends upon kinetic light but have a look at the following pics of the process. Click on an image to bring it up larger: