Dark Paintings in Gloomy Corners

'Justin'. Oil portrait on linen, life size. 2017 by Helen Davison

‘Justin’. Oil portrait on linen, life size.

'Justin'. Oil portrait on linen, life size.Absolutely everything was difficult about this portrait (apart from the model, who was a pleasure to work with).

In hindsight, the dark corner where we set up was just too gloomy and difficult to see in. The day we started was one of beautiful light which lit up the face and created a lovely luminosity to the model’s ‘Victorian consumptive poet’s pallor’. Unfortunately that light was rarely to return for the remainder of the sittings, and a dull flatness was generally the more usual effect. I was also using a different canvas for the first time and experienced paint sinking-in to a much greater degree that it is usual to expect. I hate to blame my tools, but I was reminded that there is a reason why consistency of materials can also be an important part of the process.

And finally, now the painting is finished it continues to be difficult in its resistance to photography. Glare on the darks obliterates subtleties in the paint and just emphasises a kind of drabness (hence my inclusion of the image of the painting seen from another angle in an attempt to mitigate some of this).

Still, we limped on regardless and got to the end. Perhaps in time I will see more positives in the portrait. It is a good likeness of the model and does convey a sense of his psychology, so it is not a complete failure. I don’t want to create ‘look at me’ pictures that grab attention with superficiality, but this I think goes too far in disappearing into the shadows.