Behind the photo

Inspired by a flower in my garden, therapeutic creation

Recently I started watching an old series of Portrait Artist of the Year (2020). There was one artist, Curtis Holder, who really intrigued me and ended up winning the whole competition. He uses drawing to create his portraits that involve a multitude of lines, a kind of scribbling that doesn’t often leave the page. Gradually you see the person emerge and there is something quite special and intuitive about the whole process that seems to capture a sense of movement.

Inspired by the series, my aim is to work on creating portraits of my family members that create some kind of memory. The first one I did was one of my daughter while she was studying … I wouldn’t say it looked like her but it captured a moment in time and is part of my creative journey.

I do art for my own enjoyment, not to show others unless it is to inspire people to just have a go at something creative. It is a way of bringing mindfulness into your life without specifically practicing it.

Anyway, back to the picture. Curtis uses coloured pencils and after the series I discovered what pencils he used. I decided to treat myself to a slightly cheaper version but they are still of professional quality. I was excited when they arrived, looking forward to experimenting.

The next day, I decided to go out in my garden and create a flower. I wasn’t going to copy a photo, or get up close and study a flower precisely. Instead, I sat with my hot chocolate taking in the view of yellow Californian poppies surrounded by lush green grass. Orange Californian poppies are one of my favourite flowers, many years ago I lived next door to a very kind and gentle elderly lady who had some in her garden (she actually brought them back from California – or so I like to believe) and they always remind me of her. I didn’t know you could get yellow ones until they emerged.

I admired the poppies from a distance, blurry blobs of sunshine. Once I had decided what I wanted to do, I went indoors to select a handful of Light Yellow Glaze, Strohgelb Cream, Earth Green Yellowish and Dark Chrome Yellow. Later I returned for more, Warm Grey, Middle Purple Pink and Dark Cadmium Orange, plus of course my favourite colour for the sky, Phthalo Blue – in reality it is lighter than the photo shown here. I just sat and became fully absorbed in the moment with the sun bringing a luminous radiance to the colours spreading across the page.

A warning … know when to stop. I was really pleased with my picture and then I grabbed some more pencils. I realised too late that I had picked up some pastel pencils that weren’t blending with what I had used. I rubbed off what I could and tried to remedy but it went from bad to worse. I tried creating a tree trunk and ended up with something that looked more like an eye so I added eye lashes as the final touch and turned the picture around.

I wasn’t going to share this photo but changed my mind as it shows that photos can be deceptive. The main photo is just a portion of the actual picture, so even if things go wrong you can still save what you like in a photo.

Watching Portrait Artist of the Year led me to learn about Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta. The prize for winning the competition was a commission to create a portrait of Carlos for the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and there was a whole episode that captured the process of Curtis creating his portrait. I found it fascinating and it resulted in something quite different and I think very special, I would love to see the original but it looks like that may be quite a wait. On checking, I find that the Gallery is currently undergoing considerable work and is only partially open until 2024. I did discover the Gallery’s Edwardian Tearooms, a vast space surrounded by works of art and with seating booths that have Champagne buzzers. This reminds me of one of my new activities during the pandemic. I started writing and planning a novel set in Edwardian times, something I never thought I would consider. To be honest, I enjoyed the research as much if not more than the writing so I didn’t get very far as I went off in so many different directions. So maybe a visit to Birmingham in 2024 would be a good plan to sit in the Edwardian Tearooms and be inspired to do some more novel writing.

I was led on a different research path with Carlos Acosta, discovering that he has such an inspirational story and in the programme he came across as a really nice, genuine person, and extremely talented. So another package dropped through my door this week – Carlos Acosta – No way home – A Cuban Dancer’s Story. I’ve not yet started reading it but I have already sneaked a peak at the photos included within of Carlos with his family and some ballet pictures. I also want to get to see the film Yuli one day which is based on his story.

Carlos was appointed Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2020. Below is a link to further information about him on their website and also a link to the commissioned portrait of Carlos on the artist Curtis Holder’s website.

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