Naomi (detail)

2000. Oil on canvas 22x16 inches.

...continued from previous page/ Having agreed the pose, I then had to go back to the studio to prepare a canvas. Anyone who wants to be an artist should understand that the mathematics they learned at school becomes rather useful at this point.

How big should the canvas be? I have been taught, and believe it to be true, that a portrait face should not be monkey size. That is to say, unless you are doing a miniature, the head will need to be a little less than life size (over life size is all right, but the picture will then dominate a small room). A study of portraits in the National Portrait Gallery will confirm that most portrait heads are a little less than life size.

Measurements of my sketches and photographs gave me the relative size of the head in relation to the height of the composition. I then used a calculator to give me the height of the finished picture. Canvas stretchers come in sizes which increment by two inches, so I chose the nearest even number of inches.

Naomi 2

What about the width? To some extent this is a matter of aesthetic instinct. One may scale up from working drawings using a calculator as before.

I then stretched primed canvas onto the stretchers and prepared the canvas with an imprimatura, that is to say, an all over colour. I do not like working onto stark white because the painting does not realy start to work until all the white is covered. In this case I experimented with a rather dark brownish green. I laid out the main compostion by squaring up from the chosen photograph (again, elementary mathematics comes in handy here).

The painting was completed in six further sittings, with some studio work in between. I try to use live sittings wherever possible in preference to working from photographs, in order to retain immediacy and the relationship with the sitter. A portrait is partly a record of a relationship, which the eventual viewers of the picture will share. For this reason, I try to find and show what it is I like about the sitter.


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All images copyright 2000 Martin Dace