Technique & Studio Practice
Since childhood I've fostered a desire to create work of the same quality as that produced by the 'Old Masters'. Such hubris I hear you cry! But it IS possible. I also rather relished the idea of being a modern-day heretic. As a young man I turned my back on much of the contemporary art scene, (especially Conceptual work - which is, of course just nonsense). When, at the age of 18 in the late 1980s, I began to look for a fine-art school to attend, I was horrified by the poor quality of the work on display at the major London institutions such as The Royal College, The Slade and St.Martin's. I heard from the course tutors first-hand how much they seemed to despise anything from the past! Even at The Ruskin in Oxford I saw monstrous work which showed utter contempt for our great artistic traditions. Thank goodness I had my wits about me at such an early age. I fled as fast as my feet could carry me! I would advise any parent with a son or daughter who wishes to learn to paint, not to waste their money on a course in London. Off to Florence or St Petersburg they must go! Or one of the excellent American academies. I decided to study art academically, and to pursue the esoteric arts of practical painting in complete secrecy - away from the Cultural Marxists in the fine art schools.
Whilst studying at The University of London, by day I read 'The History of Art & Architecture' at Westfield College, (that marvellously leafy campus in Hampstead which sadly no longer exists), and by night I was an alchemist, devouring treaties written by the Quattrocento masters. I meticulously followed the practical advice I discovered in ancient books, such as Cennino Cennini's Craftsman's Handbook, and I spent three years learning how to make the perfect gesso from rabbit-skin glue and chalk dust. While studying in the library at The Courtauld Institute I discovered Leonardo da Vinci's own descriptions of the 'verdaccio' method in his Treatise on Painting. Firstly, one creates a fine drawing (or cartoon) on paper, which is then copies onto the canvas or panel in great detail. The techniques I learned in my early twenties are the same ones I used to create my portraits of country houses and gardens for twenty-five years.
I generally prepare my all my own 'supports' (canvases and panels), by applying several layers of my own hot gesso to Belgian linen which is laid onto a timber panel using animal glue. After adding a sepia 'ground' onto this gessoed surface I then paint the entire composition in monochrome. (grisaille) This is finally 'glazed' with layers of oil colours in extraordinary detail. Although the method I use is extremely time-consuming, it ensures that the painting possesses unusual richness and great sense of depth.
I use paints manufactured by 'Old Holland'; a company that once supplied Dutch masters such as Vermeer and van Ruysdael. The pigments are ground between porphyry rollers rather than steel, a process which ensures their purity and permanence of colour. I also like paints manufactured by Michael Harding, and I also make some of my own.
Building up an oil-painting in layers in the way I've described above is the method that was used from the late 13th century until the early 20th century. It requires great patience and completing a painting takes several months. This technique is known as 'verdaccio'. Paintings executed in this way have enormous luminosity and will last for hundreds of years with very little change to their appearance. If properly cared for they will stay as radiant as the paintings of the European Renaissance. I also used the 'verdaccio' technique for my portraits of people.
I have also been painting looser style pictures over the last few months - using the paint much more boldly, and to applying it with large brushes. I work over these pictures with 'glazes' over a period of weeks, but the effect is very different from my architectural work and is most inspired by J.M.W. Turner.