It’s not often that I post photographs of my paintings that are unfinished however I’m so pleased with the progress of this new oil painting of the Tyne Bridge that I couldn’t resist sharing the current status.
Last week the Tyne Bridge was deservedly upgraded to Grade II* listed. For many it is symbolic of the North East, representing the industry, design and creativity that the region is known for. Indeed, these are all themes that the Great Exhibition of the North have been showcasing over the summer months around Newcastle and Gateshead Quayside.
I have painted the Tyne Bridge many times since I was an art student in the early 1980’s but this is the first time I’ve tackled it on this scale. The painting is more than 1.5 meters in width and the main points of interest, the Tyne Bridge, the Millennium Bridge and the Sage are coated in 22ct Gold Leaf.
Although there are still a few areas to complete and details to add, the painting is already starting to take shape. The Gold Leaf means that depending on the lighting conditions of the room, the areas that are gold really add depth and intrigue to the painting.
Last week I posted a photograph on LinkedIn of my first limited edition print of the Tyne Bridge taken from the former Gateshead Multi Storey Car Park. You can read about it here on an older blog post. It received some very kind and complimentary comments so I look forward to hearing what folk have to say.
In 2017 I received a commission to do a very large oil painting of the Angel of the North which you can read about in an earlier blog post. The Angel’s wings were coated with 22 carat gold leaf.
My client loves his painting of the Gateshead Angel and once I’d hung it for him we discussed a second commission to go alongside, this time a Tyne Bridge Painting.
After bringing the Tyne Bridge Painting close to completion I decided to add a little extra gold leaf and make a short video of the process which you can see on YouTube. First I applied some liquid size for the gold leaf to adhere to. The next stage is to place the gold leaf over the size once it’s gone off and it sticks straight away. As you can see in the video it also sticks where you don’t want it! I just have to carefully lift it off and put it where I want it to go.
Then with the backing paper over the gold leaf I can rub it down so that the bond becomes more secure.
This is not the actual finished painting commission, it’s actually a much smaller preparation oil painting on canvas board 30″ x 20″.
The reason for doing a smaller preparation painting first is to make sure that everything is going to work out in terms of colour, composition and of course where on the painting to apply the gold leaf.
The Tyne Bridge Painting can be seen at my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland and online at www.alanreed.com.
The 17th February 2018 marks the 20th Birthday for the Angel. Created by Anthony Gormley, the “Gateshead Angel” or “The Angel of the North” has become an icon for the North East, often featured on television when a reference for the region is needed.
Opinions are divided about the Angel but I’m in the camp of those who are in favour of this huge sculpture that welcomes those travelling on the A1 to the north.
I recall painting the Angelfor the first time back in the spring of 1998 after visiting it on a very wet and muddy day. The site looked like a scene from the First World War with broken fence posts, large puddles and JCB tracks leading up to the dark, almost forbidding sculpture, silhouetted against the bleak sky.
The Week the Angel Went Up
The scene is now quite different as we are nearing the 20th Birthday for the Angel. The surrounding area has been landscaped and there is a handy car park for visitors.
Since 1998 I’ve painted the Angel on several other occasions at various times of the day, however 2017 saw me receiving one of my largest commissions to date. An exiled Geordie asked me to paint the Angel in oil paint with its wings filling the canvas, coated with 22 carat gold leaf. The result was one of my most dramatic paintings, the Angel standing proudly against a blood red sunset.
We’ve published the painting of the Angel as a limited edition print. Some of the prints are on paper and some are on canvas where I have hand embellished the wings with the same Gold Leaf used on the original oil painting. These hand embellished prints of the Angel also have areas that have been hand painted with oils making them original prints.
I’ve made a short video on YouTube of me applying the Gold Leaf to the wings of the Angel using the same method as on the prints so you can see the process.
You can see all my prints of the Gateshead Angel online at alanreed.com or by visiting our Studio & Gallery in Ponteland.
One cannot underestimate the importance to the artist of regular drawing, particularly when painting the human form. Don’t just take my word for it. Here are a few quotes from some of the experts:
“Work hard and don’t on any account neglect your drawing. Draw Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and don’t waste time”. Michelangelo.
“Do not fail, as you go on, to draw something every day, for no matter how little it is it will be worth while, and you will do a world of good.” Cennino Cennini from The Craftsman’s Handbook c 1400.
“You can’t do sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh.” John Singer Sargent.
With this in mind I like to work on Life Drawing studies on a regular basis. Whenever possible I prefer to work on a single pose for at least an hour to two hours to give myself a chance to resolve the figure proportions as well as capturing the pose, tonal values and form.
Once the Life Drawing pose has been established and the model is comfortable I use the “Sight Size” method to ensure I can fit the whole pose on a tinted canvas board, usually 16″ x 12″.
Figure Painting on Canvas
I then begin to “draw” with the brush using a thin mix of Yellow Ochre, Light Red and Lamp Black. I’ll use this colour to block in the darker shadow areas, using the tinted board colour as a half tone. As soon as I feel I’ve captured the pose I then begin to paint in the highlights using a flesh tone made up of Lead White together with the same Yellow Ochre and Light Red.
The painting can look quite monochromatic like Figure Painting No 2 as it’s more important to get the tonal values right than the colour.
During this stage it’s important to keep all the edges soft, almost slightly out of focus because after the model takes a break, they may not be able to resume the pose in exactly the right position. I sometimes go over the painting with a piece of kitchen roll or a dry brush to achieve these soft edges. It’s at this point that I also aim to capture a likeness with the portrait which you can see in Figure Painting No 1.
Notice also in the detail of No 1 the mix of hard edges and softer, more blurred edges.
Detail of Figure Painting No 1
After an hour the model needs a twenty minute break. When you step away from the painting and review your work afresh you begin to see areas that need immediate attention. Once corrections have been attended to it’s time to start refining some of the shapes and building up the colour, particularly on the flesh tones where there is strong light.
Figure Painting No 1
On Figure Painting No 1 above you can see how the tinted background has also been used as a flesh tone, particularly on the models thigh.
It’s also in the final stages of the sitting that I often load the brush with the lighter flesh tone which I’ve been using and begin to describe the form and muscles of the nude with some more direct, expressive brush marks. On the Figure Painting below of a male model I’ve used long, fluid strokes throughout the pose, especially on his right thigh.
Figure Painting No 8
The detail photograph below shows the tinted canvas tone coming through to describe highlights on his hair. It’s this combination of thin areas of paint verses thicker applications of paint, hard edges verses softer edges, loose brush marks verses more detailed areas that help to create a study of the human form that is engaging for the viewer on so many levels.
I’ve added several of my figurative oil painting studies from my Life Drawing sessions to my website which are available to purchase online and from my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland.
In a previous blog post I described a recent painting commission where I was asked to do an oil Painting of the Angel of the North. As part of the project I decided to do a smaller study to try out some ideas with colours and cloud shapes.
This new Painting of the Angel can now be seen at our Studio & Gallery in Ponteland. As you will see, it is quite different from the larger commission and different in style from all my other paintings. The wings are made up of 22 carat gold leaf. This can cause the painting to look quite different depending on the lighting conditions of the room, whether the room is in natural light or gentle artificial light.
Whilst doing this painting I’ve been asked several times how to paint a straight line. The answer is quite simple, I use a ruler. The find out how you can watch a short video.
On this particular Painting of the Angel I decided to add a solitary figure to provide a sense of scale and heightened drama to the scene.
Although it wasn’t deliberate on my part, these recent works of the Gateshead Angel have reminded me of the stunning painting of the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by north east painter John Martin which can be seen at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle. If you are in Newcastle and you have some spare time, the Laing Art Gallery is well worth a visit.
Earlier this year I received a request to do an oil Painting of the Angel of the North. Although I have painted several paintings of the Angel since it was first erected in April 1998 the client had very specific ideas about the size, colours and view point which were completely different from my other paintings of the Angel.
All my previous works of the Angel had been in watercolour so I was excited about tackling it in oils. I suggested to the client that the painting could have more visual impact with some gold leaf on the wings. Over the years I’ve painted a number of different subjects using gold leaf and the effects can be pretty amazing. A more recent example is the scene below of Buckingham Palace from Green Park.
Original Fine Art Painting of Buckingham Palace from Green Park painted in oils on Gold Leaf.
I made several trips to see the Angel to get fresh reference and to remind myself just how iconic the Angel has become.
I’m always observing interesting skies and whenever possible I’ll either paint them on the spot or photograph them. In the case of sunrises and sunsets, they are more challenging to paint on location because the colours change so quickly. I searched through my library of photos and found a suitable sky for inspiration.
Producing a Painting of the Angel with gold leaf involved some experimentation with the base colour of the wings so that the gold leaf had maximum impact. I decided that using the same red as the sky would work best. It would provide the right visual connection between the sky and the Angel.
Adding gold leaf demands patience and care but it’s very satisfying when you see the finished result. It’s even more satisfying when the client sees the painting for the first time and loves it!
I’ve had the Painting of the Angel hanging in our kitchen for the last few days. It’s great to see the effects of gold leaf at various times of the day under different lighting conditions. It’s a painting which is quite different from anything else I’ve painted.
The 22nd February 2017 is World Encephalitis Day, the global awareness day for people who are directly or indirectly affected by encephalitis. I had no idea what encephalitis was until Sarah was diagnosed. I’d watched Sarah grow up from being a little girl for over 20 years so I was deeply shocked to hear of her illness.
Sarah has found painting and writing poetry a way of raising awareness of her illness. I’ve had the privilege of giving Sarah some drawing lessons to help her develop her growing skills in this area. Earlier this year I asked Sarah if she would like to sit for me to have her portrait painted so that I could play my part in helping folk understand more about encephalitis. The portrait was painted in oils over three sittings using a sight size method. I’ve used a very limited palette of only 4 colours using Old Holland Paints. For those wishing to try oil painting here is an excellent independant blog post reviewing many different brands.
We decided together that Sarah would wear her laboratory coat as a reminder of her training as a chemist and that we would keep the background stark and clinical as a reference to her illness and treatment.
I’ve asked Sarah to write a few words about her story so that we can try to understand what it must be like for her. As it’s World Encephalitis Day 22nd, the Millennium Bridge is going to be lit red. I’ll be joining Sarah and her mum at 7pm as they hand out flyers.
Behind the Smile by Sarah Galloway
A picture says a thousand words, though a thousand words may be insufficient to paint the picture of my story. I’ll try sticking to roughly five hundred instead.
I am 26, a chemist by training though dabbling in art myself as a trade. This portrait was painted after four years of serious illness. Four years of psychotic episodes, spontaneous self-harm and memory loss. Four years of utter hell.
So what’s the problem? A portrait seems quite fitting for this as it is quite literally all in my head. My body has been attacking parts of my brain causing it to swell. This is known as encephalitis.
At 22 I found myself lost and utterly undone. It is hard to go into detail about the events of that time, partly because I genuinely don’t remember, and partly because it is simply too shocking to want to think about. Let’s agree on one thing…psychosis sucks. It is a thief that drags away your security, identity and stability and leaves you hollow, confused and empty.
I have spent the last four years battling hallucinations and dramatic emotional outbursts. I have seen and felt spider’s legs on my torso, worms in my mouth and teeth on my neck. My sequencing became so bad that I would shower with my clothes on by accident. Socially I was unable to focus or remember what people were saying. It has been frightening and frustrating.
I was incredibly moved when Alan asked to paint this portrait. Raising awareness about encephalitis has been my main motivation this year and it was amazing to see this shared by a friend.
As I was part way through a relapse and also experiencing nerve pain down one leg I found it very challenging to sit still for the actual painting itself. Holding a smile is also quite difficult!
The smile was deliberate. Encephalitis can be like having an invisible illness. Most of the time, to most people, I can seem perfectly normal. My natural setting is a smile and it has sometimes become like a mask. Encephalitis can be very personal and painful to talk about so it is better to deflect then have to delve into it all with everyone.
Some people however have been complete rocks in my life. My family and my closest friends have been sources of comfort and confidence. My faith has been another stable place in which I can stand against encephalitis. For these I am eternally grateful.
The more people that know about it the easier it will be to find and fight this disease! Encephalitis is happening all the time. I, like many others, was misdiagnosed at first. My recovery is based on a fortunate research trial. The right treatment at the right time can literally save a life.
“Buckingham Palace from Green Park” painted in oils on Gold Leaf.
I first started painting on gold leaf in 2009 when I was working on a large painting commission. As part of the project I worked on some small boards about 19″x 15″ which were primed with gold leaf. I used these to produce some experimental paintings, one of which was a portrait of my wife Susan. The whole experience was challenging but very rewarding. Difficulties can arise in trying to get the right colours when the gold comes through the initial coat of paint. You have to build up the tonal values and colours to balance them against the gold. This can take time.
Painting on gold leaf creates effects which can change quite dramatically depending on the lighting. This can bring an almost 3D quality to the painting, especially when viewed with a spotlight.
In the oil painting of “Buckingham Palace from Green Park” I decided to use my limited edition print of the same scene as a basis for the idea. However, instead of using a wider range of tones and colours, I chose to use just 6 colours in a flat art deco style, leaving the gold leaf itself as an extra colour for the sky and reflections and highlights in the foreground.
The overall effect is both engaging and dramatic. You get a strong sense of light and warmth coming through from the sky which is emphasised by the shadows being cast by the trees and the lamp post. I’ve stylised the scene to simplify it as there is a lot going on with the leaves, architecture and trees.
Both the Buckingham Palace painting and the portrait of Susan can be seen at my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland as part of my Christmas Exhibition which runs until the 24th December 2016.
On our Painting Holiday in Italyin May 2015, one of the guests asked me to paint a portrait of her husband Arthur for his birthday present in August. It was to be a surprise so she asked if I could work from photographs. I said that I could, but if possible I would prefer to try and do a sketch of him and take my own photographs.
I devised a cunning plan. On the last evening of the holiday, I began to sketch various guests in my Moleskine Sketchbook after dinner as we were all relaxing in the living room of Chiesa del Carmine.
Eventually it was Arthur’s turn and he willingly obliged to sit without suspecting that my humble charcoal sketch would develop into a 20″ x 16″ portrait in oils!
I took inspiration from the new John Singer Sargent Book “Portraits of Artists and Friends” which accompanied the stunning exhibition of Sargent’s Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in London earlier this year. In the excellent book are some very fresh, informal portraits of Sargent’s artist friends, singers and writers. I tried to keep Arthur’s portrait very simple and relaxed and was thrilled to receive this lovely testimonial from Arthur himself just after he received his present.
“We came home last night from Portugal, where we had been celebrating my birthday on Tuesday with the children and grandchildren. Now, I am the ever so proud and thrilled owner of the most marvellous portrait of me. I have felt both ecstatic and overwhelmed. Diana had erected it suitably on her easel.
When she called me up to see my present from her, and I saw my portrait, (actually I was wearing the same jumper), I just started shaking with excitement. Unusually for me, I was struck dumb, and did not know what to say.
Now a little recovered, I can tell you directly how thrilled I am. It seems a bit self centered to say so, but I think it captures the very essence of me. Just perfect. Thank you so much for taking so much effort to capture the very being of me. I am thrilled.
Please give my very best wishes to Sue, too. We both enjoyed both our original Easter visit to your home, and our wonderful week with you in the summer, and hence we are both equally looking forward to next year.
You cannot imagine how happy you have made my celebration week, for my larger birthday number than I really like to think about.
With all very best wishes”.
If you would like to discuss having a portrait painted of a family member or friend, please visit my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland without any obligation or watch the Commissions video on my website to find out more.
Some of the links on this post are affiliate links including the book “Sargent, Portraits of Artists and Friends” available from Amazon. If you click on the links and buy the books then I will receive a small percentage of the sale from Amazon at no extra cost to yourself.
On the 9th September 2015 a project was finally unveiled which I had been working on for two years. The artwork depicts a selection of portraits of people who are either past, present or future members of City Church Newcastle which Susan and I have been a part of since 1993. The portraits are hanging in the atrium of the CastleGate building which we bought as a church in the late nineties and is to reflect the vision of the church.
Most of the portraits have been painted from life over several sittings at my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland. Typically, each sitting would last a couple of hours which has been a mutually enjoyable experience for both myself and the sitter.
Part of painting someones portrait is not just capturing a good likeness but also about bringing out something of the persons personality and character. That comes from spending time in conversation with the sitter, getting to know them and bringing out an expression or “look” that is typically them.
I find that over the course of a two hour sitting, the light will often change casting either a shadow over part of the face or a highlight on another part which, when painted, really helps to describe something about that person. This has always been my aim since investing a huge amount of time in studying portraiture over the last four years. It’s not just about developing a good, sound painting technique in oils but producing a piece of art which people can really connect with, whether they know the person or not. I find that when I’m studying John Singer Sargent’s portraits, I’m really captivated, not just by the painting but the subject too. I somehow feel as though I’d like to meet them.
Atrium of the CastleGate
If you would like to Commission a Portrait then why not visit the CastleGate on Melbourne Street, Newcastle to take a closer look at the 24 portraits which have been painted in oils on aluminium panels.
To find out more about the process of commissioning a portrait you can also visit my website or Studio & Gallery in Ponteland.