People’s faces have always fascinated me – their subtlety, depth of feeling and warmth (or not) behind the eyes; and despite drawing people and faces for decades, I still don’t feel I’m quite getting it ‘right’ – so I just keep going. I love to depict real people (mostly children) through an interpretative and intuitive approach, which hopefully still retains some likeness but does not have this as it’s primary focus. There are some incredibly impressive portrait artists out there, whom I greatly admire and who can paint faces with absolute precision and realism – but I am not one of them.
My particular process of creating a portrait begins with meeting the person and simply watching them for a while – how they move/speak/laugh – and I might take photos, notes and sketches. Depending on the person I might have some specific questions to ask, and as I am mostly working with children, there are often questions coming back at me too! After that its a process of creating the painting, which almost always incorporates screen-printed ‘motifs’ about the person’s interests/thoughts. For example, it could be a line from a poem, a meaningful piece of music or a reference to a personal experience. These are layered into the piece through a mixed media approach, which can sometimes mean that the ‘motifs’ are hidden until the light catches the painting in a certain way. The end result is hopefully a unique take on that person and my interpretation of them and their energy.
A few years ago I painted novelist Sara Sheridan,who at the time was exploring her origins through a DNA kit – this tied in with my own creative project at the time on the nature/nurture debate. Our process was recorded via a photo essay in the Guardian online: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/ng-interactive/2015/oct/09/a-look-inside-the-artists-studio-sophie-mckay-knight-paints-sara-sheridan
In addition to making portraits of real and living people, I also love to depict people from the past or characters from myths, legends and stories. These imagined portraits can be inspired by historical or theatrical imagery or some sort of ‘pull’ to a person or character from the past. Sometimes I like to reinterpret an old painting and it’s so interesting how certain faces seem to be repeated through time, and how some look so oddly familiar. I am enduringly fascinated by the many portraits made of Queen Elizabeth I, especially the so called ‘Rainbow’ portrait which is attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts the younger or Isaac Oliver. In it she seems calm and ageless, even though she would have been in her late sixties when it was painted.
I have depicted several other people through this imaginary approach, including Cleopatra, Tutenkhamen, Mary Queen of Scots, Helios the Sun God and the ancient astronomer, Ptolomy – and have plans for many more! This way of thinking about people, characters and portraiture weaves in and out of my tarot paintings and runs through my work in general. Although I often have a few different projects going on at the same time, I do really feel that everything is everything.
Thanks for reading and please get in touch via the contact page if you’d like to talk to me about a portrait or anything else; you can also look at the website commissions page and click on the commission request form for a bit more info.