Sunday, March 28, 2010

The portrait of David Thomson

oil on canvas
48 x 48
         Much of our days are filled with ping pong thinking, being affected by what ever is right in front of us, reacting to the randomness of our lives, taking care of the minutia of existence. The laundry, what’s for lunch, the oil change for the car, the doctor’s appointment next Tuesday, these and a million more fill our conscious  to the exclusion of life. It living with out life and then we have those moments when for a second the world is revealed.  If we are lucky we can take that moment and extend it to hours that pass so quickly we are shocked. As a painter these are things I want to stop and hold to share to attempt to relive the wonder of that recognition. It is remarkable that as a painter I am fortunate that many times I can enter a moment that lasts hours while I try to capture the fleeting.
               It was one of those ‘fleetings’ that prompted me to paint David. We had talked about doing a portrait of him for many years.  My uncle would say you don’t start something until you are ready to finish it and this portrait was one of those. One afternoon David and I had been discussing Constable and his cloud studies but the time had come. We went to the kitchen returning our glasses. As I turned to say goodbye  I was struck, stopped dead in my tracks. I was looking directly into David’s face, there was an afternoon sunlight crossing his face from his right. In that light he was shown. It was in the thinness in his skin, the cools and shadows, in the pinks and blues, the vulnerabilities and strengths. It was in his boyish joy, in the simple honest man with guards down. It was all there and I knew I wanted, no needed to paint that, to attempt to capture the man I knew in that moment.

Like most people the idea of sitting for hours while I work on a canvas is daunting. It is for the sitter extremely boring for the most part. It is for this reason I tend to work from photos however good honest photo reference is very hard to capture. The subject has to forget there is a camera in front of them and relax. Some people are very good at this and others need to be tricked into it. David and I spent an afternoon at the CNE. I started shooting till I had filled the memory card. Much of what I took home that day was useless although fun however there was a few very good shots, one in particular. This became the primary reference augmented by many of the other shots.

It had long ago decided I wanted the portrait to be on a larger scale so I started with a 48 x 48 inch canvas. I gridded off the canvas to give a loose guide and started preliminary painting using mostly burnt sienna.

Here I have started some shaping with yellow ochre and scarlet lake.

I switched to a #3 round which for a canvas this size is quite small however it is the only way to get the detail I was looking for.
my main focus was the eyes.

back to the 1/2 inch blade to rough in the hair

the final painting still on the easel.


  1. Hi Rick -- I love seeing how you work up a portrait. I have been working on a series of portraits of the boys and my dad, and that is certainly a learning experience for me. I do so much better with trees!!!


  2. I hope it's not an obsession with the rich?