Demonstration : Bearded Man

I was drawn to this pose by the interesting position of the head and how the receding hairline seemed to accentuate the downward thrust of the head. Although the model is at rest I perceived a lot of vigour and movement in the pose. I hoped to emphasise this in the eventual portrait.

I began making these A6 sketches from life.

Sketch for the painting.

Colour study for the painting

STAGE 1:  I applied a layer of gesso primer, applied acrylic modelling paste with a palette knife, using sweeping gestures to give texture and movement to the hair, and to build up form in the brow and nose. Modelling paste was then mixed with red, yellow and white acrylic to make a convincing skin colour and give the paint extra body. I applied this to the forehead and nose and used it to 'block in' the shoulder area.

STAGE 2: I made a few tones of reddish and greenish browns and applied them with a rag, dryly, rubbing in and indicating form. Then, still with the rag, I used the acrylic a bit more like watercolour, allowing it to run and drip in places; it's all a bit slap dash at this stage - I'm concerned with looseness and texture, layering paint and letting things happen without editing or restraint. Working like this I find gets the creative juices flowing and allows for happy accidents and surprises. A few brush-painted lines were added to indicate the hairline/sides of the face.

STAGE 3: I mixed cerulean and ultramarine for the beard and applied them with a 1in brush as I think it better describes the texture and flow of the hair. The dry paint picks up the rough marks of the modelling paste on the support. Sometimes to create apttern I spray on some watered-down acrylic by flicking the brush. if the paint underneath is not quite dry after a couple of minutes it will have eroded the paint and leave a lovely bubbly pattern.

STAGE 4: I defined parts using a stick dipped in ink. The stick doesn't allow for too much fine detail and has a lively, loose quality. This lack of control means there's an organic feel to the lines on his face that correspond well to the quality of skin, I think. The edges of parts of the face are defined, the areas I want to emphasise, such as the brow and temples, are heightened and the detail within the eye socket has been hinted at with the ink's line. I sometimes repeat this process a number of times, drawing, then painting over the marks and redrawing. In a kind of lost-and-found way the image appears and disappears until the emphasis is where I want it and the piece still has an expressive quality.

STAGE 5: After lots of splattering and looseness, I redrew over the acrylic with the ink, then painted over the wet ink in places. I decided to move on to collage to get the contrast I wanted.

FINISHED PAINTING: Bearded Man, mixed media on mount board. 40X30in (101.5X76cm)

I selected the areas I wanted to heighten with collage pieces, and tore bits from old paintings and bits of newspaper that I hoped would enliven the image. Finally I moved on to oil paint - I find it seems to float on top of the acrylic and adds a vibrancy and richness to the painting. I mixed cerulean blue oil with white to add contrast again to the hair and bring out the eyelids. Now and again if I felt stuck, I would put this portrait in the corner of the studio for a day or two and work on something else, then return to it with a fresh enthusiasm.