Sunday, 30 March 2014

A Pre Raphaelite stunner in the flesh and on canvas!

I am loving being back in the studio! At the moment Tuesday is studio day! As I mentioned in my last studio post I was going to share with you guys the Pre Raphaelite photo shoot I did with Grace Oni Smith my wonderful and gorgeous trans gender model and muse! I was SO excited doing this shoot with her as she looked absolutely amazing and it felt like all my dreams had come true as I had a true Pre Raphaelite stunner sitting right in front of me! Thanks again to Grace for being so great to work with and collaborating on costume and styling. (If you'd like to know more about how we put this look together let me know and I'll write about it)

These photos were taken in Grace's Manchester flat, so you'll have to excuse the kitchen background (not very Pre Raphaelite!) The poses were inspired by the paintings, Bocca Baciata, (The Mouth that has been kissed) and The Blessed Damozel both by Rossetti

 I had chosen the flowers Grace holds in the photos especially to reflect an aspect of her story and personality. The pink rose in her hair literally means 'grace', while the Daffodils, a Spring flower, represent rebirth and renewal and overcoming the hard times of Winter, a fitting sentiment since Grace had just weeks earlier undergone her gender reassignment surgery. The Gladioli posed a problem as they had failed to open in time for the shoot but in theory they represented strength of character. (I have since learned Gladioli are an August birth flower, and Grace was born in August! One of those flukey coincidences)

As you can see from the photos we arranged a selection of items in the foreground. These included, a magnifying glass, a mirror, some of the daily medication Grace takes, and make up brushes. Each item was chosen to represent a part of Grace's life and follow the Pre Raphaelite tradition of placing corresponding items in a painting to tell us something about the person we are looking at. (See the apple for instance in Bocca Baciata above, she's a temptress, a modern Eve waiting to lure you in!)

Now I have images to work with I am unsure about whether to use these items or not, or at least how to use them, I think this is something that will became apparent as I continue working on the project.

I've begun my first painting from the shoot  and in my last studio post I promised you guys I'd also share how my experiment on canvas board was going. So here's the scoop!....

I decided I wanted to recreate the feel of one of Rossetti's unfinished paintings, which just happens to be another version of The Blessed Damozel. He often painted the same subject several times, sometimes with slight differences. Here you can see the Damozel's gaze, hand placement and flowers are different to the original.

I find this unfinished painting more exciting than the actual finished version! I love how we can see the textured background and the raw edges to Rossetti's work. This is also my reason for painting Grace in this way, because as yet, she herself is unfinished, a work in progress, with raw edges.

To replicate the textured background I began this piece by painting the entire canvas board a deep ultra marine blue mixed with a little yellow to bring out a green tinge. Once this was dry I painted over it with gold. I am using acrylic paints instead of oils as I can't stand working with oil paint and hate waiting around for it to dry. So I will be trying my best to get the softness and depth with my own paints. The blue paint shows though the thin washes of gold and creates a metallic gold/green that looks mustard or deep green depending on the light and will contrast nicely with the softness of the skin and hair.

Once the gold layers (I put two thin coats on ) had dried then came the hard part of placing my image onto the board. I would usually do this by having a scaled down version to the exact dimensions and use a grid to transfer the outline onto the unpainted canvas. But for this work it felt right to do as much by eye as possible. This proved extra hard as I found it really difficult to draw out Grace's outline to the correct size! In the end I placed sheets of baking paper (a cheap alternative to tracing paper, plus you can use whatever size you need!) over the the board and drew onto that. It took a few attempts but I finally got the size and shapes I wanted.

I cut out the cartoon, as this kind of preparatory drawing is called, and placed it where I wanted it on the board securing it with tape. I then drew around this with chalk to fix where I wanted the image to stay. 

The gold paint makes it very hard to see where you are working and other acrylic paints do not sit on it well. I would have to build up lots of layers to get a purchase on it, so instead I filled in the outlines I'd created with white primer! Once I'd done a couple of coats I had a Grace shaped cloud floating on the canvas board.

This reminds me of how the Pre Paphaelites achieved their vivid colours by painting onto a white background, so I feel this is a good start! Next I had to add some loose detail as a guide line so I went back to the cartoon I'd done and drew on it's reverse. I then taped it back into position over the white shape and drew over the lines to transfer them onto the canvas board.

Now I have everything set up to begin painting Grace onto the board. I have begun by blocking in her hair for now. I have put in roughly the pattern of her curls and I will finish her hair after I have finished painting her face.

I'd run out of time by this point so I'll be continuing when I return this week. So far I am loving working on this painting! I am hoping to get some more free time in the next few weeks so will be able to make more progress. I'll be documenting the whole thing so will let you see how things are coming along!


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