A Painting for Charity
This blog is about two journeys. Of Tim and his Life journey and the different stages of the my latest portrait painted for charity ‘Dystonia & I ; The Renaissance of Self’ and how it came about.
After military service in the RAF Tim went on to spend much of his life in Zimbabwe, as a technical advisor to the Zimbabwe Airforce. In 2014 after returning to his hometown in the heart of Wales, Tim was diagnosed with Dystonia, of which the cause still remains unknown. Since diagnosis Tim has sought refuge in keeping a journal, which lead to a love for observation, poetry and drawing. These have fast become a daily means of therapy for him and being creative on a daily basis helps to cope with the illness. Tim first requested to watch me paint in my studio, which was relaxing and intriguing for him. It was his was to curb the anxiety and “get back at the disease” as he puts it. Like art therapy. It didn’t take long before I proposed that while Tim worked in his journal I might paint a portrait of him. Tim had soon swapped over to ‘model’s chair’ and was sat there drawing me in his journal, as I painted his portrait.
Beginning the painting:
At the start I began to make a few sketches, I knew I wanted to capture Tim as naturally as possible in order to convey his story through the painting, one of struggle, that represented someone looking into the future, observing the viewer, and drawing in his journal, as Tim does on a daily basis. The ‘art as therapy’ being the main theme.
Eventually I settled on a composition and began painting. As you can see from some of the images, using charcoal on a loose canvas to get started. The reason being is that a small sketch or study doesn’t always translate well onto a large canvas.
As I continued forward, at some point I realised the landscape orientated canvas was putting too much emphasis the table and things surrounding Tim, when actually what I wanted was Tim to draw you in first, then slowly for you to explore the rest of the picture.
The ambiguous Self Portrait in the top right is one of Tim’s, sat with his cat in the bedroom. Previously it was further in to the painting, but I soon realised that by having just one third, it creates the unknown, and The whole battle which Tim has between how he felt previous to diagnosis and how he feels now. It’s all about the renewal of his life really. So the placement of the portrait is very important for the narrative in the painting and suggests Tim feeling better or late and making a conscious effort through his art and journal as Therapy to push away the dystonia, or visa versa; depending on how you look at it.
Surprisingly, painting of Tim himself wasn’t as challenging as I thought. I knew I had to capture the expressive lift of the head to capture Tim with that ‘fleeting’ look when he brought his head up to draw me. I thought this would be the main challenge. In the end it was the table, what to place on the table and find the balance between simplicity and narrative. As Carolus Duran once said after seeing works by Velasquez. “All in art that is not indispensable is unnecessary”
So with that in mind I tried my hardest to paint Tim’s pile of sketch books and papers, over and over. The problem was, they were black therefore, the dark tone drew the eyes too much holding the viewers gaze rather than guiding them around the composition with balance of tone and subtle accents of light or dark. So in the end it was only the palette that survived and most the books were replaced with a roll of canvas and stretcher bars. The most important book (Tim’s large journal) in the middle with it’s dark edges and light pages remains the focal point, more or less in the centre.
I believe it was Whislter who advocated that at times it was simply composition and arrangement that dictated what he paint. If you succeed first, in composition then the hard part is done. Tim’s cane, (which on a bad day, he cannot go without and on a good day, he is happy if he has misplaced it because it means he’s feeling relatively good) was placed on his lap. The gentle highlight catches your eye then leads you along the dark edge of the cane, cutting the verticals and horizontals, leading your eyes back toward the books.
If you would like to get involved with the project to sell the portrait and raise money toward neurological research you can contact Daniel directly by email at Danyeomans@mac.com
This Sunday Tim opens his debut exhibition or ‘Memoir’ as he calls it, showing works he has created since being diagnosed with Dystonia in 2014. It’s wonderfully intriguing journey through his highs and lows, showing how art has helped him change the way he deals with day to day changes. Open Sunday 13th August until Mid October at the Mid Wales Art Centre, Caersws. The gallery is open 3-5pm, Thursday- Sunday. You can meet Tim, and see how he is working, what he is creating as sits in as artist in Residence for the next week or so.