You might have read about my plans to paint a series of portraits of people showing their ‘superpower’.

Well, I have made a start, and my first subject is the beautiful, and super talented Rhiannon, violinist and harpist and performer in a local folk band. I went to see her, ask her some questions and do some sketches, and felt very lucky to hear her beautiful violin playing.

Prep work

It was helpful to spend some time observing her personality and the way she moved, and sketching her as she played made me more confident about the pose I wanted to paint her in. I went for the violin pose to start off with, though am very tempted to paint another picture with her harp as she loves it very much and harp and player formed a satisfying and apt love heart shape when I sketched out a composition!

I took my sketches from the day, along with some photos and made a large drawing which I gridded to check the composition and the size of canvas that I needed. I also sketched Rhiannon in colour to check if the ideas I had would balance out and did some small oil painted studies of the light at the back of her head, and several of her hands.

Building the canvas

I decided to build the canvas using stretchers as I wanted to go for impact with a big painting and I find ready made large canvases can be a bit flimsy and prone to warp. There’s nothing flimsy about these stretchers, I thought I might have bitten off more than I could chew as (and I did enlist my husband to help with this) but putting it together was like building furniture! With his help we got the canvas stretcher and stapled onto the double braced frame . I used a medium grain canvas as I’ve found the standard slightly rough for oil paints, though great for acrylics.

The next step was gessoing the canvas to prepare it for oil paint. It took me 6 hours to give the canvas three coats and a full litre of gesso, so pretty hard work. You can buy pre-gessoed canvas by the metre, which might be a better idea for next time!


Painting the portrait

I wanted the portrait to have a warm glowing quality so I underpainted the whole canvas in cadmium yellow deep (slightly muddied with cadmium red and ultramarine). It wasn’t an easy strategy as painting skin tones on yellow is a bit tricky and unsatisfying. I also noticed the faults in my reference photos that were a bit lacking in tonal contrast, leading me to do a total repaint of Rhiannon’s face halfway through.

I really enjoyed working at such as large size, it felt liberating and let me be much more expressive with the mark making. I also felt more able to put paint on the canvas and stand back and look, then remove it if it didn’t work. Which was very necessary with all that yellow!

I still have a few little bits and pieces to tidy up, but I hope I’ve got across a feeling of emotion and movement in the painting which was so very evident in Rhiannon’s playing,


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