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Dimitri: Process in Oils

Updated: Dec 3, 2022

The theme for the Upstairs Gallery's annual 'Emerging Artist Awards' was 'the joy in art.' About two weeks out from the registration due date I settled on a subject, collecting materials and set about painting it over the three day Queen's death-day weekend.

I had a particularly fitting photograph taken by a close friend of her son who kindly allow me to draw on as reference. Many pictures in the public space are legally available to use, especially as a painting is not a direct reproduction, however given the context, I wanted to ensure I had the family's consent before painting their child.

Given the limited time to complete it, I checked in with a few friends - how to cut down the total time? We figured borrowing a projector from the local drama college and setting it up over the canvas would significantly reduce time it took me to map out the under drawing. I'd usually use a grid line system for anything anatomy based. This is particularly time consuming. The projector set up made laying out the initial charcoal drawing a breeze by comparison.

First I laid down the base for the chair and child's outfit, gradually building the mid tones and detail. The shadows and highlights came next, along with accents, particularly bright red and ochre to make segments pop. I made sure to take my time with his face - building up the layers very slowly. Children have far less lines than adults, so it's important not to overwork their features. This is incredibly tempting the more time you spend becoming frustrated over a section, making it important to step away often and take a break by working on other sections.

I started his face early, so I would have time to progressively retouch it later.

The skeleton proved quicker a paint than I expected. I laid a pale yellow colour for the base. It was still laborious to work my way around all the limbs and joints, but it definitely helped opting for a looser style. Rather than going for bone white, I picked a cool red to paint the base of the skull. I wanted a slightly brighter, warmish tone to come through, since to me this suggested a more warm, inviting image rather than inferring an ominous relationship between the figures.

There are several unexpected colours across the skeleton; ochre, bright red, blue, green and bright yellow - all to help suggest the shadows and lighting, rather than describe it. I didn't want the skeleton despite the subject matter, to appear sterile. I sacrificed details in the back ribs and spine, although once finished, this seemed to be beneficial in balancing the rest of the detail in the painting.

I finished off with a pink tone for the background. Considering the theme is art, joy is not a typically subject matter of mine. Most of my paintings tend to have a more neutral or unsettling tone to them. By picking a cool base this helped keep to my style (incidentally, these are the only oils I have on hand), but a bright, typically warmer colour helped capture the atmosphere of fondness I wanted between the child and skeleton.

The extra plant pot in the corner was incredibly fun. It was very satisfying just to indent the surface in a few places with a muted accent to balance the space without detracting attention from the figures.


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