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Unexpected Visitor

A visitor

It seemed appropriate to call this one “A Visitor”,  given that she came from nowhere. Not from a real visit in a real season in a real garden, but from a visual recollection of an image I had seen in someone’s house – but that was a photo of a black man in a white suit next to a round table covered in stones and geometric objects. I used to collect spherical stones or as near to spherical as I could get them, ever since I saw a layout of diminishing stones laid out in a spiral in Jim Ede’s house/gallery. There would have to be something else on the table. As it was during the Christmas week I started this picture, my mind turned to wine. The awful weather made me long for summer – and so our summer visitor enjoying a glass of wine entered my head. Having just painted a self-portrait I felt I could make a graceful exit her by sharing a glass with her. And so the two of us sat down together and the cat made his usual bee line for the visitor’s lap. Look how smugly he is sitting there! Gotcha!

The curve on the table was made by resting my elbow in the extreme bottom left of the canvas and swinging it up in an arc. Varying the tilt of my pencil made sure it was an ellipse, not a circle. You don’t want to be too derivative. I made the table slatted so I could articulate the top into slats and develop the surface by graining them, and that in turn suggested a garden setting. A garden table needs an umbrella , so I introduced one of those to the top of the picture. The spokes of its stretchers allowed me to break up the shifting colour of the fabric.

I had by now decided that I wanted to play with light. The fabric lightens as it goes up in the picture, suggesting that brightening of the sky which you never see. I made the lighting directional so that I could develop some dramatic shadows and highlights. Everything is presented contre jour, with the brightest point being the top of the visitor’s head. There would be other  brightly lit areas: the table, her forearm and parts of her face.

The colour of the wood prompted the choice of blue for her dress. Brush strokes makes it catch the light differently and so gives it some animation.

The colour of the visitor’s hair comes from that of one of my wife’s oldest friends.  The shadowed parts gave me a way to link the cat’s coat and the paving together in a spectrum of browns and to tie it to the struts of the umbrella.

I thought about the lines in the picture. I knew what I wanted to do about the timber grain, even the parts in shadow but the lines that define the composition would be too strong if all left as unpainted canvas. Looking at my “Same old, same old” I decided that on the shadow side these lines should be violet and should be left white on the other. Finally, I gave the wine glasses a blue outline and some thick white accents.

Hopefully someone like this will drop by next year…

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