Project 4.1 Portrait of a Friend

Rosie is from  Dartmoor in Devon. She grew up doing lots of writing, running and drawing of the moors. Likes knitting and painting landscapes.

When I met her as model at a life drawing day she had just finished a degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies. She was about to go  to Los Angeles and planning to emigrate to US – Trump permitting.

Overview and assessment

The collaged monoprint portraits originated in an expressionist oil pastel life drawing. Rosie was not someone I knew well as a friend, but someone I met briefly and found interesting as a person. The thing that struck me most was her eyes and gaze. Having talked to her over lunch, I wanted to make this a vibrant portrait of a young woman about to set out on a new journey.  But aware of the challenges, still vulnerable and somewhat anxious underneath about whether she would succeed.

The portraits – like the original pastel portrait – were inspired by:

Having considered first using multiplate linocut or woodcut, I decided to experiment with painterly monoprints using oil paints like the monoprints of Degas.  For a fauvist effect I wanted a coloured background and started to experiment using coloured pastel paper. This proved quite a difficult technique because it was difficult to predict which parts of the paint would print and which would not, particularly in hot weather. Even using Holbein water-soluble oil paints on damp paper. But I quite liked the somewhat haphazard and soft textures – much less sharp than printing on a printed colour background. I decided to persevere with the approach, adding pastel as Degas himself had done. Then I tried collaging together the most successful parts of the prints into one image and liked the aesthetic of the cut-out line and stronger contrast between the figure and background.

  • The first portrait Rosie in Blue follows most closely the colours of the original portrait. It has a reflective feel of Rosie dreaming of the bright lights of LA.
  • The second portrait Rosie in Red is much bolder – drawing on Frida Kahlo and also the vibrant colours of Salgado.
  • The third portrait Rosie in White is much more whistful – it is not clear if the brilliant background is a new dawn or LA burning under Trump.

Clearly the portrait also says a lot about myself – looking back at the time when I had just graduated and setting out travelling. And also the mystique  of short encounters  with people with similar views who one is unlikely to meet again.

The ways in which a printed portrait may differ from a painting depends very much on technique used. Many printing processes life relief prints rely on layering for their effects and this is difficult to completely replicate with painting – though it can be done to some extent. The collaging used here could equally be done with paintings. However although the monoprint technique used here is ‘painterly’ in that water-soluble oil paints were painted onto the plate with brushes and different types of mark-making, there is inherent unpredictability about what of the painting on the plate will actually print. There is much less possibility for control because the paint often dried on the plate and is not always evenly applied. But equally sometimes unexpected strength of expression just happens in a way that might not occur with a more planned controlled painting because of this unpredictability. This is particularly evident in the delicacy of the marks in Rosie in Green.

As an expressive portrait series that are not really aiming at complete accuracy in representing Rosie’s external appearance I think the portraits work quite well. It would have been good to have more time at the life drawing session to make more detailed sketches of Rosie. But I was able to base the painting of the prints on the photos as well as the pastel drawing. It would be good to experiment a bit more with the oil paint technique in cooler temperatures to be able to better predict what will and will not print and to explore a range of mark-making and different types of brush.

Pastel drawing and crops

The original pastel drawing was influenced by Degas impressionist interest in light – showing Rosie full of life and determination. I chose the dark blue background primarily to contrast with the light on the figure. But it also gives the portrait a sense of mystery – I did not really know her apart from a fleeting conversation.

With Rosie’s permission I also took some photos for reference.

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I originally thought of doing the image as a 3-plate woodcut. I did some digital colour and cropping experimentation on my iPad overlaying the original pastel drawing on my iPad.

Of these I think images 2 and 9 are the most effective. But I then decided that I wanted to try something new, rather than do an image similar to the linocut in  Project 3.1 Leon.

Oilpaint Monoprint experiments

I went back to the original concept of my drawing and decided to take a more painterly approach, based partly on Degas oil paint monoprints. As the project asked me to do three different colours interpretations I decided to base these partly on fauvist painters like Derain and Jawlensky to explore the emotional impacts of colour in portraits.

Portrait 1: Rosie in Blue

The first colour composition I tried was based largely on the lemon yellows and blue background of the original drawing. The plate was painted up using the stylised image from my earlier woodcut ideas and printed on blue pastel paper. Technically this proved rather difficult as it was not easy to predict which of the pain would actually print – more difficult than the other images because of the strong contrast between the colours. I then decided to try using pastel. And using some prints that really did not work at all I decided to try collaging the blue figure with a yellow background – I liked the cut out effect of this image 3 – but not so much the actual portrait that I found too ‘sweet’.

So I did a new portrait with a more angular style and collaged this onto the background of an unsuccessful yellow portrait. This makes a reflective somewhat mysterious portrait dreaming of a bright Los Angeles.

Portrait 2 Rosie in Red

The second portrait I wanted to make more fiery – on red paper. This portrait became more inspired by the use of vibrant colours like greens and turquoise by Andrew Salgado. Following the earlier collage idea I decided to use the original background to the red image for Portrait 3. Adding the white background from an unsuccessful portrait on white paper gives a much more contrasting image – a warm portrait against the cold purity of the city. I think aesthetically this is an interesting image – but not sure exactly what it might mean.

Portrait 3 Rosie in Green

The final image was the first portrait where the monoprint was quite successful without any pastel – I liked the delicate whistfulness of the paint marks. Although the original portrait worked quite well, the background was a bit  pale. In order to make the portrait fit with the rest of the series I collaged the burning red background from the original Rose in red. The whistfulness of the face now becomes more meaningful – is Los Angeles on fire with a new dawn. Or burning because of Trump who may not let Rosie stay?

Other life drawings that were considered


Select an approach, technique and style based on the print portraits you have been looking at. If you can, get someone to sit for you and sketch. If you can’t get a ‘live’ person, second best is to work from a photo. This could be in a newspaper or magazine, or one of your own.
Make several drawings of your subject in your sketchbook exploring different styles and compositions based on your research and theoretical studies. This process will help you find the best idea for your print and will help you decide on the printmaking method you will use.
Warhol screen prints may, for example, be converted into relief print or stencilled monoprint methods. A simple linear lithograph by Matisse could be suggested by a string collagraph.

Once you have made your decisions it is time to create your portrait or figure prints. Take your time and work steadily and carefully. You are aiming to make three versions of your portrait from the process you have chosen maintaining a professional and high standard of technique. These may be all the same but in different colours, as you can get from using a relief block, or three different monoprints based on the same image.