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The Evolution From Cabinet Card To Canvas

The process of finding Victorian images on which to base my work has always been one of the most exciting and engaging parts of the image making process. I look through thousands of photographs until I come upon the image which really speaks to me.

When I first laid eyes on this incredibly well attired Germany lady I imagined a young woman gazing out to sea, staring past the low grey storm clouds to what lay beyond; waiting. Her dress immediately brought to mind all the tiny wonders that can be found in rock pools where the collector may spend hours searching for treasures to display in their cabinet of curiosities, able to relive the experience of discovery repeatedly through revisiting the object.

Colour is absent in the photographs of this time but this image speaks to me in colour as well. She is a collection of greys and pinks. Greys for the deep green grey of the ocean before a storm, the heavy greys of rain clouds closing over the water and the glittering greys of rocks on which waves break and mollusks cling. Pinks represent coral which in Victorian times was thought to promote good health and longevity.

A La Ronde in Devon is close to the sea and houses an extensive collection of shells displayed in cabinets, bell jars and fireplace grates. In this photograph of the unknown German lady disconnected from her time, passions and family I see a bridge to the two spinster cousins who built A La Ronde. Their house and their collections like this photo which long survives its sitter has become their portrait and a way for those living today to connect with the objects which represent their lives in a very real and tangible way.

To create the drawing I first sketch out a very rough silhouette of the sitter onto my canvas. I don’t make drawings before I start on the canvas because I’ve found that in translating the drawing again and again small and hardly perceptible changes in the line-work alter the image. I prefer to discover the changing composition though a process of trial and error erasing passages which don’t work and strengthening those that do. The face even at this early stage has a personality which is influenced by my subconscious, if the face and especially the eyes are wrong I will erase and draw again until the face gives me confidence and says something to me about what I will be speaking about in the work. I love the subtlety of the tiny changes in a face, to me it is the most important part of a work and I won’t begin the painting until it is right.

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