National Portrait Gallery

Second sitting with Kalervo

Kalervo portrait first color layer

Here's the evidence that some progress was made during yesterday's sitting. The lighting for the sitting, a mix of reflected sun and direct lamp light, made for some really beautiful colors in both the shadows and highlights. I was a bit visually overwhelmed and had a tough time focusing in the beginning. Every color was appealing, and no sooner had I turned back from the palette with one color, I spotted another and quickly had to grab that one too. My brushes were competing for space in my hand. And then I had to wrap up the session. It was over too quickly. I was left with the feeling that hardly anything got done.

I realize now that I'm up against a powerful anti-portrait force: lively conversation. Kalervo is an animated conversationalist. I thought I could paint and keep up my side, but I have to admit I can't do mental calculations and ponder life's imponderables at the same time. Just like the sign says on a bus, "Don't distract the driver", don't distract the portrait painter, you might become the unspeakable car-wreck of a painting.

Dorothy Mary Hodgkin portrait

When I say Kalervo is an animated conversationalist, I do mean animated: he fidgets, shifts, jumps up, turns his head, gazes off at all angles. I understand it's difficult to be stationary under the steady gaze of an artist, I've been there myself. Tolerating and learning to ignore a hard stare while staying (relatively) still seems to be a learned skill. Maybe I should give in to the temptation to paint the movement à la Maggi Hambling, as she painted Dorothy Mary Hodgkin in 1985 (the portrait is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London, link here.).

This reminds me of one model we had in our drawing course at Boston University's Undergraduate Visual Arts program. This model would listen to mixtapes on his Walkman while in a long pose (three-hour drawing session, for example). Now these were idiosyncratic mixtapes: side A would be R&B and side B would be the 1812 Overture. He would bop his head to the beat and maybe wiggle some toes too. And the he would sing along to both sides. We'd get some "Oooh yeah, uh huuh" from side A, and "Baaaaah, bum bum bum" from side B. It was hilarious. But we were spoilsports and complained that he moved too much. Looking back now, I don't think he moved around that much, we were being fussy. Maybe I should lend Kalervo an MP3 player with an audio book or something,...