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Digital Subscriptions > The Artist > Summer 17 > Portrait particulars

Portrait particulars

Juliet Wood describes how she tackled an oil portrait of her grandson, revealing the challenges that confronted her during the process

To make portraits you’ve got to have a strong sense of curiosity. I need to get to know my subject and then plan a pose from which to develop a composition. We choose clothes together and I photograph different positions in relation to the light source. My main aim is to convey character and create a composition. I need an idea, even though this starting point often changes along the way.

Although response to individuality, gesture and expression arise directly from the sitter, a portrait is a painting like any other, made of an abstract balance of shape, form and colour. It’s not just a matter of where you place the figure on the canvas. Every part of the rectangle is important to the composition so I choose the canvas size and proportion with that in mind.


Long before I start painting I think about what pigments would best suit the subject; a complexion is so individual, part of a person’s identity and can determine the colour atmosphere of the whole painting. Rex’s skin has no strong colour so I settled for tonal contrast instead.

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About The Artist

Welcome to our summer issue packed with ideas and tips for painting outside, including Paul Weaver's demonstration showing how to capture the spirit of the seaside in watercolour. Watercolourists will also love Paul Talbot-Greaves' focus on how to use neutral and dark colours to add impact to your paintings, Julie Collins' advice on using ultramarine blue, and our review of the fabulous exhibition of John Singer Sargent's watercolours at Dulwich Picture Gallery. There are inspirational features on mastering perspective, capturing a likeness of a family member in oils, painting the figure alla prima, how to create movement in wildlife paintings in acrylics, and why you should consider the use of digital technology to support your traditional painting methods. Our artists also share their views on the new Winsor & Newton professional canvases and Jaxell's extra fine pastels, while our cover artist, Eileen Cooper OBE, RA talks about her own work, as well as the organisation and decision making behind this year's Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. All this and much more to inspire a summer of successful drawing and painting!