Graphic Grey

Monday, 8 August 2011

The Fabric of Life (or How Commissioned Portraits are Inspired)

One of the strands of my art practice is the painting of portraits for commissions. I usually have two or three commissions on the go at any time and it's a good way of maintaining some sort of an income from the art. Commissions range from portraits of individuals done through sittings in my studio, portraits of the happy couple taken from a wedding photo, family portraits of children and babies, to corporate commissions for hotels and offices. I'm constantly challenged as no two commissions are ever the same.
Catrin Finch
Royal Harpist HRH Prince of Wales
The thing which I enjoy most about commissions is also the aspect that is the most difficult. Many  clients have an idea in their head of how they would like their painting to look. It's up to me to get this information out of their head and turn it into something real and visible. Over the years I have developed strategies to make this process a little easier, but it can still take weeks of sketches, photos and samples before I'm ready to begin the painting process.
Private Commission
Luckinly for me I have a starting point which always helps me get the commission going: the patterned fabric on which the portrait will be painted.
Wedding Portrait
Commission in Progress
Life is one long process of collection and selection, purchase and gift. Between cradle and grave we amass a huge range of possessions. We choose the objects that surround us and accompany us through life. These in effect describe us and form part of out identity: they are the fabric of our lives.

I paint on fabric chosen by my subject. This may be an old item of clothing such as a wedding dress imbued with deep emotional significance and memory, or a furnishing fabric remnant left over from the decoration of a new home. Clothes, furnishings, fabrics and patterns provide unique clues as to the identity and personality of their owner. By using vintage fabrics with a past life within my painted portraits I desire to capture a depth of substance and facets of character which paint alone cannot describe.
Private Commission
I paint the image of my subject onto a panel covered with the fabric. The transparent nature of the paint allows the fabric pattern and weave to remain visible through the portrait, signifying the way in which our likes and choices define us, and thus become an inextricable part of who we are.

I enjoy the interplay of the pattern of a figure overlaid upon the pattern of the base fabric. My ideal commission is a portrait in which my subject is wearing an intricate pattern, and so I will often ask them to wear something of this sort to the sitting. It can sometimes get a little confusing, but I love the challenge of making the various patterns work together in harmony. The use of vintage fabric instead of canvas is also very appealing if my client would like the painting to match the existing decor in their home or office as I can select a fabric to match any soft furnishings.
Private Commission
Click here to find out more about my commissioning process.

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