I have been really enjoying painting dancers. There’s something about the combination of the human body in motion and its expressive power combined with music that really appeals to me and draws together things I am interested in (I wrote about this in my blog post Art and Music and Dance and Soul ).
It seems bittersweet that I can paint dancers while they can’t dance due to lockdown – or at least perform – but these are strange times.
I have made lots of small studies of dancers, taken from both stills and video, after putting out a call for material in a dance Facebook group.
First I did some pencil sketches in my sketchbook, then some pastels, then some acrylics on grey paper.
The key thing I want to achieve with dancing paintings is movement. I took one of the videos I had, of Lucy dancing, and beginning with free sketching, I refined the sketches to find patterns of movement that worked together and was left with five or six potential paintings that I could work up.
I did some pastel drawings of a couple of the more promising layouts to see how they looked compositionally and to check how colour worked together.
I wanted to do some slightly more definite colour studies, so I used acrylic to paint some. The benefit of acrylics are that you change your mind about colour, once the paint is dry you can just paint over it. With pastel you don’t have quite as much scope to rework before it gets muddy.
The disadvantage with the acrylic paintings on paper I made is that they became too static. I also felt they were becoming a bit posed and unrelated to each other.
Watercolour seemed to work better at portraying movement so I made some studies using them too. This study is taken from a video of a dance performance called ‘Revolve’ by two wonderful dancers and choreographers, Laura and Ryan, and I am keen to retain a sense of revolving in the painting.
I combed through the video to find the poses that fitted this sense of turning, trying to capture energy. I haven’t quite settled on a colour scheme though (even though I’m onto the oil painting now!).
After sketching and colour studies I began the paintings in oil.
I have two paintings in progress and one more or less completed. The struggle to show movement is continuous, I try to overlay figures but that alone is not enough, and causes some frustration. It seems the best way is to look for the tonal shapes and patterns between the figures as well as at the figures themselves, which seems to help bring the pose iterations together and increase the sense of flow.
It’s much easier to work with colour in oils, and I am really playing and experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t. Although looking at them I can see quite clearly how much I love my new Cobalt Turqoise Deep paint colour!
I hope these paintings work together, I have been trying to paint a series for a long time and I’m happy I have the material and ideas to work with. I think I’ll need to consider them all together as well as separately so I can’t really declare anything finished quite yet.