Part 5, third in a series of paintings on a theme

12th July. This is a slight side step from the previous lock and key – a new self portrait that moves on from the earlier ‘angry covid face’ and ‘get the PPE right’ portraits. I have masks ready to deploy when I feel I need to begin going out but in the meantime I did what any artist and most six year olds would do – drenched a couple in inks to see what happened. This fine fashion item features in my next painting which will be its only exposure to the outside world because who knows what effect ink has on keeping viruses in their place.


I also needed to prepare a support and this time used two layers of packaging paper glued and gessoed together with a view to being able to rip the top layer and expose the one beneath if I choose. The top layer is brushed incompletely with white gesso, leaving some troughs and peaks in the texture but with none of the lumps and bumps of the previous paintings. I want this one to be a little more optimistic, a little more bright and silver, and dusted above and below my eyelids with white sparkly eye shadow.

I also needed to make some sketches of my selfie to get a feel for the shapes, and to see what could be done with a key pressed into some acrylic paint.


This is black acrylic on yellow sugar paper. I quite fancy the idea of the key prints as texture somewhere in this painting.


Weird eyes but the general shape is there. Black conte, washed to diffuse. I think I’ll start with blue washes for the mask because when that’s better defined and in its proper place, I can tackle the placement of the eyes.


The silver idea didn’t last. I tried it and it looked weak so I went onto a metallic gold and some more bronze, along with various blues, and an Alizarin crimson. It’s a similar palette to the previous paintings but brighter, and in the painting of it I realised that the shape as a whole is the lock. The mask is urban, the eyes are on their third iteration, and I need hair. Those will be tomorrow’s tasks.


13th July and finished, until I noticed that the mask was enormous and out of proportion so I’m on a rescue mission with a selective layer of gesso. This is closer to the reality; tomorrow I lose the shaving foam.


This is interesting me now because of that sense of disappearing the white paint gives it. It resonates with the resistance many people feel towards wearing a mask which, I suspect, is a largely western (US and Europe) phenomenon. We not only don’t do face coverings we have vociferously challenged people who do, notably Muslim women, and laughed at other, principally those from China, Japan, and other nearby countries. Perhaps we feel diminished, silenced, reduced by face masks – disappeared in fact. I’ll ponder on this.


14th July. This is what cutting your losses but not giving in altogether looks like. After a day of making adjustments it was over-worked and under-drawn. Another layer of gesso gives me not only a clean surface to work with but retains the structure of the original underneath. Lock shape, perspective and eyes are the priority tomorrow.


15th July. Mask/lock in progress with packing paper glued into place to provide structure.


I’ve adjusted the mask shape a little using a knife, and added washes and layers of Hooker’s green, Payne’s grey, Buff, Naples yellow, phthalo blue, copper, bronze, gold, titanium white, and string. I think to top of the lock (at the hair line) needs to look a little more metallic or the lock image risks becoming lost. I was contemplating adding colour to the outer area but I might scratch off some of what’s there to expose the painted surface underneath which I’d almost forgotten about. I’m glad I’ve managed to make it look less exotic this time, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, not a harem. Those eyes are still a bit cartoonish.


A little more lock, little less goggle-eye. This is not making me happy yet though.


16th July. I have had another go at making reasonable eyes and found some unexpected help in flaps of paper just beneath each that could be folded up, bringing the mask right onto the lower eye line.  I wanted the background to say something too but this wasn’t it.


Then suddenly the image became one of invisibility which I suspect is at the root of many people’s resistance to masks, and so I made wooden boards behind the lock, the lines of adjacency running through the person’s face. I’m staining some string dark grey/blue to stick onto the conte marks when the background is dry. I’ll also scratch out a suggestion of wood grain in the boards.


I think now that the wooden nature of the background is evident, and the way it invades the face is clear but also quite subtle because there is other string in this area. The lock is a little lopsided but then so are masks which is a reasonable rationale had it been intentional! Details below show the string that’s allowed to hang loose, and the 3D nature of the mask pleats.


This is at right eye level.


This crop looks at the contours from the left.


The mask is shown here in more detail.


Here, the hair is foregrounded.


Now that I’ve done this, I can see ways in which I might have saved some time – there are two layers of paper for instance, and while the under layer may have helped support more weight, I haven’t actually used it. I did slit some of the top layer into strips to peel back but this really added nothing so I glued them back together. That said, it may have been this very linear intervention that prompted the ‘beach hut’ slats idea so it may not have been a wasted effort at all.

What I find with my work increasingly is that each piece is an evolving process. I have the bare bones of a plan but what happens in practice depends on what happened a few minutes ago or yesterday. It shouldn’t surprise me at all; writers are generally thought of as being either planners or pantzers, the first having the whole plot detailed in post its or on spreadsheets before they write anything at all, the second following their characters with no clue as to what might happen next. That’s seat of the pants writing and it’s how I’ve always done it, so it probably doesn’t take a plotter to figure this one out. Like writing, I find art work is never done, which is one of the big things I’ve learned on this course so far. From neat, tidy, slightly anal little drawings in pristine sketchbooks to pushing paint around an A1 sheet with glue in my hair. Liberating.

I don’t think I have a fourth or fifth painting for this sequence; three might be enough. I’ll review this tomorrow.

Post script 17th July and recalling my tutor’s advice about cropping, I’ve experimented with this in Paintshop Pro, taking central crops of this image to tighten it, maybe heighten the feeling of claustrophobia or entrapment.

Narrow crop. Could probably be even tighter.
Tight square crop which might benefit from becoming narrower in landscape format
Tighter square crop, again horizontal narrowing might be interesting.
Horizontal crop which has political resonances.

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