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! 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, (especially the Conceptual), art scene, and I set about pursuing a secret study of the esoteric knowledge necessary to create seriously good paintings. I discovered, to my delight and surprise, that that all the information I needed was not so much hidden - as overlooked.
Whilst studying at The University of London, by day I was an academic, reading 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, although my style has changed hugely since May 2016.
I used to 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 painted the entire composition in monochrome. (grisaille) This was finally 'glazed' with layers of oil colours in extraordinary detail. Although the method I used is extremely time-consuming, it ensures that the painting possesses unusual richness and great sense of depth.
I used, (and still 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.
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. My current practise, however, is to employ the "direct painting" method, applying the pigments 'alla prima'. My earlier pictures were 'Verdaccio' paintings. They 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.
My current practise is to use the paint much more boldly, and to apply it with bigger brushes than the ones I used in my earlier work. I do work over these pictures with 'glazes' over a period of weeks, but the effect is very different from the early work. I incorporate the delightful accidents which occur when one paints briskly, flicking it hither and thither. The studios I worked away in during the earlier part of my career were always absolutely immaculate… but you can just imagine what a splish-splash I make on the walls and floors these days.
My Early Technique: