Apart from a brief and not very successful flirtation with abstraction when I was at Art College in the ‘70s, I’ve always painted fairly realistically, though the subject matter has changed from time to time, sometimes almost without my being aware of it.
For many years I did mainly figurative work and portraiture, but have more recently concentrated on still life. I like the way that this gives me complete control over subject matter, composition and lighting. I tend to think of my set-ups as little stage sets and for this reason the table or plinth is usually positioned straight across the picture. Strong horizontals and verticals help to give a solid structure to a composition. Shapes and the relationships between them are important, and I pay as much attention to the shapes created between objects as to the shapes of the objects themselves. A reviewer once wrote about my objects having conversations with each other and, while I winced at this at the time (and my friends have never let me forget it), maybe we sometimes anthropomorphise a little.
I use acrylic paint, which is quick drying. This, while it has advantages, presents challenges, particularly with colour and tone blending. I usually do this by cross-hatching in very thin layers and although this is time-consuming, I like the control it gives over colour, tone and texture. I tend to start by painting dark tones and then paint many thin layers of lighter tone on top.
The objects I paint are collected from around the house and from charity and antique shops. Fruit and vegetables sometimes have to be replaced half way through a picture. I try to avoid this as no two plums are exactly the same, but I had no idea that over-ripe watermelon could smell so unpleasant!
I sometimes try to put something slightly unexpected or uncomfortable in my compositions – maybe by putting incongruous objects together or by putting an object a little too close to the edge of the table, but whatever the subject-matter, really the main thing for me is always light and how it is affected by the objects it reflects off or shines through. For this reason I’ll give as much attention to a piece of cheap kitsch as to a more traditional still life subject. I use a combination of warm electric light and cooler daylight, putting quite a lot of time into positioning the objects and the light sources before starting on the initial drawing.
A full-size drawing is done on paper, which is then traced and transferred onto the final board or canvas. I keep the tracing until the picture is finished, as the lines are often lost as the picture progresses. I finish with several thin coats of varnish, so the finished painting is quite durable and can be (gently) wiped clean.