Portraits of African lives

One of the most exciting things about painting people with darker complexions is the way that light reflects on their skin. The contrasts are greater and the form and structure of the head more evident. Colours are also easier to see. My studio in South Africa has a large south-facing window (the equivalent of a north-facing window in the northern hemisphere), which gives me a cool constant natural light source with no direct sunlight coming into the room.

[caption id="attachment_163" align="aligncenter" width="494"] Portrait of Molly and Yenzaogolthi, oil on canvas, 30?24in (76?61cm). Before embarking on this portrait I was aware of most of the difficulties I would face and needed to be clear about what I wanted to capture[/caption]

The intensity of the light can change with cloud cover but the shapes of light, half-tone and shadow remain the same. Occasionally I paint a subject outdoors. In these situations I will either paint in a shaded area or with the sun almost directly behind the model, creating more of an edge light – the features of the sitter will then be in the reflected light. A wide-brimmed hat is essential to protect my eyes from the fierce African sun and I find that an hour is about as much as the sitter and I can take in these direct sun situations, I wish I could have the best mattresses for side sleepers so I can get some rest while painting.

Australia – a painter’s view

Close family ties take me to Australia, to a town on the Great Ocean Road. This coastal strip has wide beaches of white, soft sand and dunes, backed by low tree-covered hills.

On my last trip I endeavoured to do a painting most days and very nearly achieved my aim; a holiday can seem to be missing something unless I do a few works – I guess I’m an addict and just can’t do without my painting fix. My sketchbooks fill quite quickly.

[caption id="attachment_57" align="alignnone" width="816"] Beneath the Lighthouse, Split Point, mixed media, 10?13in (25.5?33cm). The light was dazzling, the dark rocks glittering in the strong sunshine, the towering cliff stack reflecting darkly in the turquoise waters. I didn’t have time for much of a sketch here but managed a quick snap while walking, and then worked from that a few hours later while the image was still vivid in my mind. I used ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson and raw umber to give monumental solidity to the rocks, allowing flashes of bright colour to describe the form of the cliff. In the foreground I painted swift, broad brushstrokes of turquoise, alizarin, lemon yellow and umber to give light and strength without over- describing the plants and grasses. For the shallow water at the base of the cliffs I used semi-transparent turquoise and crimson applied over the pale pink background, with cobalt blue and pale dioxazine purple for the deeper waters[/caption]

But I also had a small pack of basic equipment with me and the newness of this landscape prompted me to paint small works on acrylic paper, working from my sketches and glancing occasionally at the image on my mobile phone screen.