Choosing the right sitters for Portraits Untold was no mean feat. I wanted to find four diverse high profile sitters who had achieved greatness in their lives through celebrating our common humanity in their chosen field of expertise. I also wanted sitters who I would connect with and who I thought the public would connect with. Collaboration is central to the making of these portraits and the stories that will be told will inform the portraits as they evolve.
How surprised was I when acclaimed virtuoso percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, said yes to having her portrait painted by me as part of the Portraits Untold live events
Initially we set about meeting Evelyn and her team in her studios in Cambridgeshire to see how we could develop Evelyn’s portrait. Ideas for our collaboration began to emerge almost immediately. Evelyn and I seemed to be speaking from the same page on such a lot of things and our drive and passion for our work seemed to unite us as creative people. So we arranged for two private preliminary portrait sittings to take place. The first would be at Evelyn’s studios in Cambridgeshire and the second sitting would be at a rehearsal at a secret location in Barnes, London.
I arrived at Evelyn’s studio with my mobile art studio that contained a small table, box of paints brushes and water cup, an easel and canvas. The first thing Evelyn said to me before we started was, ‘now I hope you’re not going to get any paint on my floor are you!’ We laughed and I said ‘no, I’m a very tidy painter!’ Later Evelyn remarked on how impressed she was by how contained and professional my approach and setup was and that she liked the simplicity of my use of basic materials to create this portrait in an organic way.
Evelyn settles herself in the sitter’s chair with her cup of tea and biscuit in hand whilst I begin. With this preliminary portrait sitting I wanted to capture the essence of Evelyn’s personality through her physicality as we conversed about various subjects that inspired us and that we might talk about at the live portrait event. I’m looking at how she moves when she talks and I’m specifically looking at her facial features and her facial expressions and trying to capture moments in time. I also want her to feel relaxed and not on show so we start with a conversation that centres around what we do as artists and musicians and we soon find common ground that unites us as human beings.
We begin to explore themes based around creative processes, diversity and humanity, something that we might use to instigate conversation and debate for the live event. Evelyn asks me if I listen to music whilst I paint. From this I explain that sometimes I just listen to the sound of my painting process on the canvas as this helps me to think about the colours and structures I’m using to create the portrait. The pressure of the brush on my canvas changes to create a light, delicate or thick mark and this transcribes into sound as well. Evelyn was fascinated by this and wanted to listen as she never knew that painting make sound. In order for her to hear my painting she asked if she could rest her arm on my arm whilst I painted.
Evelyn’s touch was extremely slight and completely non invasive allowing both of us to explore the sound of painting together. An experience and story that will be told for many years to come and since this sitting here have decided to incorporate this into this painting to tell this story.
Our collaberation has begun.
We were all feeling really excited about the possibilities of what we could do and create in the live portrait event.
Evelyn’s portrait event was beginning to take shape and will very much be about our responses to each other’s creative processes during the making of the portrait on the day.
I don’t want to tell you too much about what we are planning but watch this space as its not to be missed!
This portrait is now in my studio back in Shropshire where I can study Evelyn’s form from other drawings and photo reference I did on the day. I continue to develop the painting into a storytelling moment captured from my study photos of the beginning of our collaboration. You can watch the progress of this painting evolve on the Twitter and Facebook feeds.
If you want to know what happened at my next sitting with Evelyn during a concert rehearsal tune in in July for this next blog.
Next week I’ll be blogging about one of our partners The Big Draw and their award ceremony, where I recently presented awards to some great projects.