• April 29, 2012

May News

Lately I’ve been working on portraits. These are always fun to do, and especially satisfying to see in a finished state, but they are also the most demanding pieces, and consequently they always take the longest to paint. When I’m painting some lillies or a fictional character, they really only need to come out looking like – well – lillies and generic people; the success of those pieces comes down to those key elements of light, colour, composition and the overall story. But with portraits there is that overriding and daunting factor of “accuracy”.

Accuracy  is of course about correctly defining the key features and their relationships, and the centre of the face is particularly unforgiving in this regard – if you get the relationship between the eyes wrong by even a millimetre, it’s enough to turn a beauty queen into a mutant hillbilly. The human eye is a fantastically accurate measurement tool in detecting errors in someone’s likeness. But accuracy is more than just measurement. The world’s great portraitists have often taken liberties with dimensions: Ingres sometimes elongated necks, legs and arms to suit his composition, and Lucian Freud accentuated some features more than others to suit his hyper-naturalistic tastes. Ultimately, accuracy is about the portrait “feeling” like the sitter, and that’s where painting portraits seems to rely more on some kind of alchemy than a measuring tape – alcohol and tantrums seem to help enormously in this regard.

At the end of the day it has to feel like the real person and you just keep on keeping on till you get there, without ever quite knowing how you arrived…


  • January 23, 2012

January News

It started off as a simple enough idea. Borrow the concept and the composition from Manet’s Olympia, put a different spin on it, and bring it into a modern environment. Months later…

The trouble started early. Manet’s light source was placed differently to what I’m used to, the contrast much lighter. Some re-imagining and re-working helped to resolve this. But then came the main figure. Manet’s Olympia is nude – bright skin dominates, grabs our attention and holds it. In putting a dark-suited businessman in her place, I changed everything. The eye wouldn’t settle on him, and none of the colours fitted any more. I re-worked and re-worked, changed the colours of everything and changed the lighting around. Nothing worked. In fact it got worse, like a stew that’s over-seasoned and stirred too much. Finally it was taken off the easel and turned to face the wall like a naughty child.

Months passed and other paintings came and went. You can’t leave the shame of an unfinished problem-child sitting in the studio forever. I put it back on the easel and took a fresh look at it. I started by simplifying the colours, reducing the palette. Then I needed some glue to pull it into a coherent painting. Manet’s glue was Olympia, but I needed to use something else, so I re-imagined a new background that could also bring it all together. There – finally finished. But you can’t have everything: while it’s now a completed painting, it’s also now a world away from Olympia. Note to self: Manet knew what he was doing – mess with the Masters at your peril.

  • December 4, 2011

December News

Lately I’ve been experimenting again. (That usually means the output rate drops and the finished product is unpredictable.) The urge to experiment came while I was listening to Brian Wilson’s remarkable album, “Smile”. The album essentially showcases the man’s genius in composing rich and layered harmonies in a way that mere mortals ought to find impossible. It reminded me of a tangent I once headed off on to see if it might be possible to create some visual equivalent of an aural harmony. The idea was to see if you could use light, colour and composition as visual substitutes for the mathematical relationships of aural harmonies (ie harmonics), to achieve a similar emotional response.

I never did get very far that first time, and although I have done better this time (in that I will at least complete the painting!), the dream still remains elusive. My effort this time has been to apply composition and colour “echoes” to see what effect they might have. I’ll post the finished product on the website here soon once it’s done. While the holy grail of visual harmonics still waits out there somewhere to be discovered (if it exists at all), the painting has been a fun diversion nevertheless, and a good lesson in colour. Of course you should judge for yourself…

  • October 1, 2011

October News

Spring is now well and truly upon us, but the two paintings that were on easels and under construction in the studio a month ago are still there! 101 competing priorities have slowed things down recently but steady progress is still being made. The two pieces are a potrtrait and a larger concept piece. It’s been useful to attack them using two different approaches to see how they compare.

The concept piece has been primed with a mid-tone ground of Raw Sienna, which is an approach that was common amongst Old Masters paintings. It allows a pleasing golden glow to emanate through the top layers of paint and unify the whole piece. By contrast, the portrait has been primed completely in black, which is a less common approach but one that is still visible sometimes in Old Masters works. For example if you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse at the sides or back of an unframed Caravaggio you can sometimes see the pitch-black priming. The fun thing about starting with a black canvas is it gives you total control over the light – nothing is visible unless you deliberately allow it. It means that the painting is all about the bright highlights and where you choose to draw the eye of the viewer.

And with Spring here it’s a good reason to get back into the studio more often, turn up the music and crack on while the sun streams in through the open windows.


  • August 6, 2011

August Update

With the NZ Art Show over, it’s time to get back to the serious business of producing more work! A couple of my pieces attracted media interest this year, with “Attachment” selected as a Signature Piece finalist and making some local Kapiti press, while “Pilgrimage” featured nicely with a full page in the Sunday Star Times and gained some radio interest as well. So back in the studio now, I have a couple of new pieces underway: one is a portrait, and the other is a new concept piece that refers back to Manet’s Olympia. Plenty to keep me busy…

  • July 18, 2011

Signature Piece Finalist

Some great news out today, with my piece “Attachment” being selected as one of the finalists for the NZ Art Show’s Signature Piece Award.  I’m very pleased with “Attachment”, but it’s exciting to have it recognised by the Art Show as a finalist. The actual winner of the Signature Piece Award will be selected during the show by popular vote. You can see all of the finalists on the NZ Art Show’s Facebook site – well worth a look.

  • July 7, 2011

First Blog!

Hello everyone and welcome to my first Moonlighting blog. A few tweaks to the website mean that it’s now easier to keep everyone up to date with what’s going on. And it’s now easier for you to share whatever you like too, with the addition of some links to your favourite social networking sites.

The next event on my horizon is the NZ Art Show in Wellington, 28-31 July. I’ve recently completed the piece “Pilgrimage”, which you can see here, and which will be at the Art Show. Pilgrimage has a little fun with the religious fervour of the Rugby World Cup, and uses biblical “3 wise men” iconography typical of 16th and 17th Century art, and in this painting rugby itself becomes divine and is nursed on the knee of a Kiwi Madonna. Another piece that will be at the show is “Attachment”, which is a favourite  piece I will be a little sorry to see go – and for those who have asked out of concern, no it is not autobiographical! Get along to the show if you can – it’s always worth a look and it gets better each year.