‘Jessica’ – a guest blog by artist Laura Quinn Harris
A blog written by artist Laura Quinn Harris, winner of our August Portfolio Plus Pegasus Art voucher in association with Artists & Illustrators magazine.
Her portrait was selected for the BP Portrait Award in 2017.
‘Jessica’ is a portrait I painted at the end of 2016, which was selected for the BP Portrait Award 2017 and was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, London, for three months last summer. After that it went on a tour of the UK, stopping at Exeter City Art Gallery, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, and Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens.
The subject of the portrait is my good friend, Jessica Lowe, a Neurodegenerative Diseases Researcher at UCL. I had wanted to paint her for some time and then I decorated my bedroom in tie-dye wallpaper and I thought it would make a great backdrop for a painting. Jessica has beautiful porcelain skin and with her blue eyes and blonde hair I was sure she would be the perfect subject for my vision. I chose a top for her to wear that complemented the paper so the painting would have a limited palette, although I regretted this somewhat when I realised just how long it was going to take to paint the fine knit pattern! We tried out different locations in the room and settled upon a spot by the window, where the sunlight coming in cast strong shadows. I took lots of photographs and made reference sketches, then completed the painting in my studio.
For a support I used 6mm MDF, which I cut to size – 516 x 626 mm – and primed with several coats of Winsor & Newton white acrylic gesso, sanded to a smooth finish. The paints I used were Winsor & Newton Artists’ Oil Colours, mixed with a little Liquin and Sansodor. I used mainly round brushes, sizes 00-4, with larger filberts for the background. I applied lots of thin, translucent layers of paint to build up the detail and try to capture the luminosity of Jessica’s skin. The portrait took me around 200 hours to complete, working on and off on it for about 5 months. When it was finished the BP deadline was fast approaching so I varnished it with retouching varnish in order to unify the surface sheen while still allowing it to continue curing.
I built the frame myself with mouldings from Lion picture framing supplies. The choice of frame is an important one as it can completely alter the mood of a painting. I had initially intended to use a grey moulding but when I tried out some samples they made the painting appear too dull. The one I chose was a metallic light champagne colour, which I felt brought out the warm tones in the skin just the right amount.
Being involved in the BP Portrait Award was a wonderful experience. It is considered by many to be the most prestigious portrait exhibition in the world so I was overjoyed to have my portrait selected, and I had entered three times previously without success. I was first introduced to the show when I was a Maths undergraduate in London 16 years ago and I didn’t even consider back then that I could have my own work in the exhibition one day. Having visited the show many times I was always awestruck by the talent on display. It was no different last year and I felt very honoured to be exhibiting amongst some wonderful artists, many of whom I’ve admired for a long time. The exhibition was on display for a year altogether, travelling to Exeter, Edinburgh and Sunderland, after London, and now ‘Jessica’ has returned home to me. It is amazing to think of all the thousands of people who have seen her on her travels. She will be making her final journey to her new home very soon, just a few hundred yards from my own house, funnily enough. I’ve had collectors as far away as the USA and Australia, but it makes me happy to think that ‘Jessica’ will be living so close to home.
Watch a short film of Laura and Jessica talking about how the painting was conceived and executed!
About Laura Quinn Harris
Laura is a UK artist specialising in oil portraits of people and animals. She has been shortlisted for the Wildlife Artist of the Year and Artists & Illustrators Artist of the Year Award and was a finalist in Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year, aswell as exhibiting in the prestigious BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery, London. Her sitters have included Sir Ian McKellen, Richard Dawkins and Armando Iannucci. She was also commissioned by the Royal College of Music to paint Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, whose portrait now hangs in the Britten Theatre.
Laura gained a degree in Mathematics from University College London, followed by a degree in Scientific & Natural History Illustration from Blackpool and the Fylde School of Art & Design. Here she discovered a passion for producing highly detailed images of the natural world. She enjoys focusing her attention on all the little elements that make a face unique, and builds up many translucent layers of oil paint to achieve the detail in her paintings. She undertakes commissions from all over the world and each one can take up to several months to complete.
Visit Laura’s website here. We would like to say a huge thank you for writing this guest blog for Pegasus Art.