One to One. The Psychotherapist

Portrait in oil

‘The Psychotherapist’.
Oil on Linen, approx. 50cm x 60cm

I’ve been really quiet on the blogging front lately. In truth, I’ve been snowed under with all sorts of things and my art practise has really suffered. To try and break back into things, here’s a portrait that I was working on at the end of last year (with much fussing, re-doing and over-working after New Year).

The model is a friend of mine who is a recently retired psychotherapist. We had about 6 sittings in all, and I finished the portrait from photos. During the sittings I concentrated on the face, leaving only a few tweaks to make from the photos. This (arguably most important) part of the painting was finished relatively quickly, and I didn’t touch it again. In contrast, the pearls (in particular) and figure part of the painting from the neck down, caused me no end of problems. Aside from a basic lay in, these areas were mostly done from photos, and herein was the problem. I couldn’t match the life and photo work, and inevitably began overworking. I must have painted the pearls 20 times, causing other knock on effects every time I scraped off the paint and started them again. From life, they would have been less detailed and more immediately painted. I think they would have been more successful.

I also have some dislike for the placement of the figure on the canvas. If I were to frame this painting, I think I would take the opportunity to consider quite a dramatic crop. Anyway, for all the things that don’t work, there are areas of painting that I like very much. It is not a coincidence that the more successful aspects are those that I concentrated upon from life.

Aside from the technical thoughts of painting itself, I was really interested in considering the dynamic between painter and sitter as I worked. I think portraiture is an intimate, sometimes intense, process. There is scrutiny by the artist and a search for the psychology of the sitter – who can consciously seek to control what they show of themselves, or unconsciously give away something unexpected. There is an element of working together to create something meaningful, but also one party leading the process. In so many ways there is much in common between what is shared by artist and sitter, and what is shared by a therapist and patient. No wonder portraiture is so compelling.