I enjoy doing figurative work; it gives me a chance to explore human relationships. Families and groups of people of different ages have a timeless appeal, and it was a pleasure to work on this piece on behalf of my family-in-law. Working from a small photo reference, I painted the Worralls on holiday in Tywyn (North Wales), not far from where I enjoyed holidays as a kid with my own family.
The first technical challenge was to map out the four figures in proportion to each other. I took my time, using Raw Umber, a fast-drying pigment, to work out both the placement of shapes and the tonal pattern (light to dark) in monotone brown. That job done, I then started to build up the colour. I started with a wash of Alizarin Crimson as a ‘base layer’ for the flesh tones, followed by ever-thicker layers to model the halftones, shadows and highlights. I treated the landscape setting in a loose, almost abstract way. Layers of complimentary red and green helped to add depth to the grass in the foreground. I experimented with Viridian Green and touches of purple to define the transition between areas of flesh and the background.
This painting required an investment of energy and care over a number of months. I worked on it once, sometimes twice a week, allowing enough time between each session for the oil paint to dry/oxidise. Following the process through from initial concept to resolved painting has given me a good sense of what it takes to produce large figurative work: lots of preparation, patience, and care.