Andrew Walworth uses Williamsburg Handmade Oils for his dog portraits.
To encourage you to try them for your own painting Williamsburg Oils are currently on offer at Jackson’s.
A Portrait of Andrew Walworth
A guest post written by Sophy Buckley
I see Hatty first. A sleek long–legged black Labrador shining through the drizzly mist. I’ve just parked and am looking up and down the lane, not sure which of the pretty cottages rambling down either side belongs to Andrew Walworth. Intuitively, he has come out to see if I’m lost, Hatty following along. Intuition and dogs clearly play a big role in Andrew’s life as well as his painting.
We shake hands and go inside his stone cottage, Hatty ever present. “She’s a gun dog. She’ll do anything on hand command,” he explains as Hatty settles herself under the table and Andrew and I fall into easy conversation. He admits he’s nervous about being interviewed and that he had sought the advice of his younger sister. Just be yourself, he was told.
I ask about his background. Although he was clearly artistic, his businessman father didn’t want him to go to art school and refused to sign the permission forms for a foundation course. This was the closest he ever got to being formally trained. A place at Bristol to do Sociology was never taken up, and years later he completed a degree course at Portsmouth in Latin American Studies.
His interest in art, meanwhile, led him to London, where he started working in an art shop on Tottenham Court Road. “I don’t know if it’s still there. The guy who owned it knew everyone – he was a bit of a mover and shaker. He got into high-end interiors including sourcing and supplying art to rich people. We went everywhere and saw some pretty amazing places,” he says.
It must have been quite an education, teaching him about art, the market, business and making contacts, and in his free time he was painting. Indeed, when an enigmatic slightly louche portrait catches my eye at the bottom of his stairs he tells me it’s of his flatmate from his time in London. “I’d paint him in the evenings while he got drunk,” he admits.
These days Andrew lives in the pretty village of Mere in deep Wiltshire, earning his living painting, working everyday. “What’s a weekend?” he asks when I question this. He might spend all day painting or just clean brushes and preparing canvases, but everyday he does something in his studio – a tiny first floor back bedroom measuring no more than 10’ by 10’.
The studio is not what I expected. Certainly, it has the pre-requisite north-facing window – but it’s one of the smallest rooms I have ever been in and the walls are bare but for the odd paint smudge. There’s not a personal touch in sight. Two big pieces of furniture take up most of the space making it difficult for the pair of us to fit in. To the right of the door is an old wooden dining table holding Andrew’s Apple Mac screen and to the left a tatty set of map drawers with what could be an old door resting on top to give more desk space and on which balances his favourite machine – a Rollaco etching press. There’s also his easel, a shelf holding a vast collection of brushes – “It’s an addiction” – some blank canvases stacked on the floor, a work in progress of a somewhat utilitarian scene in shades of grey, and a curtain behind which are more shelves.
It’s more like a cell than a room and he admits he’s used to bigger. Still, he can spend hours at a time here working on the dog portraits for which is so well known. He mentions he’d like to do more human portraits, but today we’re talking about how he painted Elvis, a Tibetan terrier, using new paints he only came across last year.
Before discovering Williamsburg Andrew says he was “in love” with another well known artists oil colour range , but he’s “had his head turned” by the American brand and his confidence in their paints has grown with his experience. Elvis is his third picture using them. “They have a very strong pigment and just a small touch on the edge of the colour is enough. It wasn’t easy to begin with. But it’s good that it was difficult. It makes you change the way you do things. I started off the wrong way round, trying to make the paint to what I wanted it to do. But then I realized I should be going with the paint,” he says.
He is particularly impressed by what he calls its density. “It’s complex,” he says. “There’s more to it than meets the eye. It’s been a discovery, a nice discovery to mix a number of paints and see what happens.”
For the Elvis’ portrait on a 30″ square Fredrix standard stretched canvas he used a Williamsburg palette of:
- Neutral Gray N6
- Burnt Umber
- Titanium White
- Italian Yellow Ochre
- Permanent Yellow Ochre
- Phthalo Blue
- Fanchion Red
- Permanent Green
- Courbet Green
Elvis himself sits obediently near the bottom of the right hand side of the canvas and stands roughly 19″ in height. He is almost square on, with his head slightly tilted off-centre to the right with a quizzical look on his face. The space around him to the left accentuates this and adds tension.
“Working on people or people’s pets brings one into direct emotional territory. The paint surface is all and the intellectual arguments of conceptual portraiture cannot convey the same integrity. A technical exercise would be a parody so I am after a mix of gesture and realism – a mixture of experimentation and stricture but in a loose style. I think this style best suits this kind of portrait as it evokes life and nature and is not frozenly descriptive,” he says.
His working style is to upload photographs onto his Apple Mac and move between photo to canvas to get the likeness. For Elvis, the photos were taken inside under a large roof light on a grey rainy day, so there is a lot of shadow. Andrew used this shadow to create the form and volume with tonal values to delineate the spaces between the strongest light and the darkest shadows. Elvis’ eyes were under a shower of hairs, which made it difficult to see so Andrew explains his focus was on reading the light and shade. “Or to put it another way, it was down to my imagination,” he laughs.
His philosophy is to describe not prescribe – to intuit the personality as well as observe the look. “This is an animal and moves around a lot so somehow the portrait must show that. How to achieve that is the question. I was after a visual representation of Elvis that satisfied me and his owner. It had to have energy – all the brush strokes had to have a purpose. The content comes first and the process second rather than the process being the subject. After all what is the object of the painting? To immortalise Elvis or create something recognisably Elvis which has more to it than immediately meets the eye? Something in the process that stimulates a different remembrance?” he asks.
Painting the Portrait of Elvis
The painting has been roughly outlined onto the canvas using Burnt Umber and while Andrew did this he was looking for the shadows and highlights.
“I do not like to be prescriptive in my approach. Obviously, using a particular palette is a start but past that point I prefer to let the painting suggest itself through a set of procedures that become the process for that painting alone. These procedures identify themselves as the painting evolves. This is therefore intuitive rather than highly structured.
A point between tradition and personal aesthetic,” he explains. He was once asked if artists used templates for painting animals. “It was a wonderfully innocent thought but actually a good start for a discussion on prescriptive painting methods,” he says. “Asking an owner how they see their animal is a good place to start. After all, they are to keep a painting over the years as a recognisable study that evokes more than just the physical animal. Their reply might lead to some unconventional ideas and trying to reconcile what you might suspect to be a mistake can be at odds with the correct way to proceed. The unconventional painting moves further away from the muscle memory of repetition.”
Andrew has loosely brushed in a mix of Burnt Umber to begin identifying shapes he could see. On top of that he has used Sevres Blue & Permanent Green with some Titanium White to start bringing perspective.
At this stage the painting is almost abstract, emphasizing colour, structure and relationship as he develops his own style and aesthetic. There was a lot of over-painting as things progressed and he says it can feel a lot like sculpture as he was mixing on the canvas to define the shapes.
“The underpainting is the most important part as it has determined how I am viewing the body in terms of degrees of light and shade and therefore colour. For the light parts of the body I am using the permanent yellow medium and Italian yellow ochre. Everything is loosely applied and done in quick strokes not staying very long in one place – acting all over the body to get an idea of where tonal changes are decisive.”
Up close, sections of the painting are effectively abstract – it’s about making an impact. He took a no.10 Raphael Paris Classic 357 hog to start, using instinctive broad sweeps to loosen up.
“It was good fun as it was freely applied while at the same time applying concentration. I didn’t soften any lines but used them as clues to look for what I instinctively saw while making them, some sort of movement perhaps. Here, I mixed the colours on the palette, applying them thinly, overemphasizing the colour as indications of what I saw and generally felt my way around the figure.”
He says the Williamsburg paints, which mix and thin well, have made him change his style. Previously he used paint thickly; now the paint is thinned. “I like this because it makes the painting more fluid. And you can thin them down without loosing opacity,” he explains.
He stopped working on Elvis when he was happy with the impact he had made. “I do not like to stop unless I am at a point I can relax or am too tired to continue, a situation that generally leads to bad judgment from trying too hard and not using the right side of the brain,” he admits.
In his experience, people’s reactions on first seeing a painting of themselves or their animals vary between silence and tears. He likes this because it creates an “emotional experience both sides of the canvas”. It’s a form of communication, where the viewer interprets the painting to fit with his or her own image and knowledge of the subject. He believes viewers naturally focus on the eyes and so long as they convey the soul of the subject everything else is filled in by the viewer.
The background is a mixture of Neutral Gray no 8, Italian Yellow Ochre and a touch of Permanent Red-Orange. He believes that in an extremely cluttered world having a canvas free of unimportant elements removes any possible confusion as to the object of the painting. In this instance, Elvis is the sole subject and there are no subordinate images to take away his importance.
“I decided to complete the painting using the paints thinly to convey that Elvis is young and his hair is wavy and moves by itself. This was done using lots of small colour strokes using a no.5 Isabey 6228 Kolinsky sable over the initial colouring, creating new surfaces and trying to keep the memory of the first layer.” He captured the darkest deepest shadows by trial and error using Neutral Gray nos 6 & 8 and occasionally black as a mixer to push back or lighten up.
“The painting is still very rough and ready and I don’t know how far it will take me. I had to let my instincts guide me as I want to achieve something of the soul that I perceived when meeting Elvis,” he says.
The painting has changed several times and Andrew kept stopping to consider it, anxious not to overwork it. By this time he was using a Raphael series 879 no.4 and working into the contours.
“I never want to rush finishing a painting nor do I want to spend any time for no reason. Elvis’s portrait is quite loose and was not going to be helped by tightening it up. It is quite easy to get lost in the flow of painting and over concentrating on one area can have a negative effect on the whole,” he says.
Talking to him, it seems that finishing is more a process than a moment. For a few weeks he thought Elvis was done, but after learning more about the Williamsburg paint while doing a portrait of a local businessman he has returned to it and is thinking about reworking the background. He says he will know it is done when he feels an overall coherence. That sounds, once more, like intuition.
- Burghley Horse Trials
- Dublin Horse Show
- Hampton Court Flower Show
- CLA Game Show
- Alresford Show
- Sudeley Castle Fair
- Stourhead Hall
- Diorama Gallery, 34 Osnaburgh Street, London
- Longleat Horse Trials Show
- Space Studios – London – Open Exhibition
- The Old Coach House Gallery, Wyke, Dorset
- Larmer Tree Festival
- Marshalls Advertising Company Summer Show
- The Blue Gallery – London
- Gallery Le Fort – Bath
- Glanworth Mill – Glanworth County Cork
- Just-the-Thing, Gillingham Dorset
- Regent Tailoring Salisbury
Each Williamsburg Handmade Oil Colour is ground to enhance the beauty and luminosity specific to that particular pigment. Some colours will feel slightly gritty; others extremely smooth. Pigments are ground in pure, premium, alkali-refined and PH- balanced linseed oil and made in batches no larger than five gallons at a time. This provides total control over the product, much like the late nineteenth-century French colour makers. All the materials are hand measured, and every ounce of paint is scrutinized. The paint is packed in 37 ml and 150 ml non-reactive aluminum tubes.
Click on the underlined link to go to the current offer on Williamsburg Handmade Oil Colours on the Jackson’s Art Supplies website.
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