Ultramarine…beyond the sea

'Beyond The Sea'. Oil portrait on gesso panel, 30cm x 40cm 2016 by Helen Davison

‘Beyond The Sea’. Oil portrait on gesso panel, 30cm x 40cm

This is a terrible photo of a short portrait study that I finished this week. I haven’t worked on these particular gesso panels very much, and I really noticed how much this support altered my painting technique. For example, fusing edges was more challenging, so I found myself painting more islands of tone which then needed halftone transitions specifically mixed and applied. Although the paint texture is thicker, the panels also absorb a lot of the oil, so at certain points it almost had a watercolour effect here and there.

This was also an opportunity to revisit the liberal use of Ultramarine in a painting. A large, life size project that I keep reworking (and haven’t yet posted an image of here) uses the same colour. It is powerful and striking, largely I think due to the religious connotations of that particular colour, but also technically difficult to work with because of its slight transparency and tendency to sink in the darks. Still, I haven’t given up on the large painting (yet), and I really enjoyed getting another go at using such an extraordinary colour within a portrait composition. I feel that when I finally settle on a title it will be a reference to Ultramarine and its origins.

Overall, I found that I rather liked what came of this study and in real life the nuances are much richer and satisfying to look at than the photo illustrates. It’ll be a while, but once this is dry and I can unify the surface with a thin coat of retouch varnish, I’ll try to get a better shot and update the image.