Earlier this year I was asked to paint an interior of a house in Berkshire. It is a very beautiful house that has quite recently been decorated to the highest standard. Each morning I was let in by William the butler and was fed with coffee and biscuits throughout the day by him, Janet or Anna. Luxe.
I selected a good spot with a clear view into the middle of the room that took in the fireplace and just getting in the three walls with windows. When I paint an interior my aim is to try to express the feel of the room in one view. This isn’t wholly possible but I like to try and get as many of the important aspects in as possible. Usually, I would say the fireplace is the focus of most English houses. A view if there is one is certainly something to try to include. Usually the chairs and sofas face the fire so they often obscure the view. One way I have found to avoid this problem is to get as high as I reasonably can without loosing the human scale.
To this end I have a folding aluminium platform with a wooden surface made up of wood from pallets. This all sits on a rug to catch any paint that may try to make a jump for it. On the platform I have a tall stool and folding table. Many artists paint standing up and in an ideal world this is probably best as it encourages you to regularly get back from the painting, something that you get lazy about when sitting. However stepping backwards off a platform is not good. I also find that the relationships between the shapes in the furniture is so complex that keeping still is the only way not to get totally confused and sitting makes this easier.
I started off with a drawing done in pencil on paper. In order to get the feel for the whole room I like to get a view of up to120 degrees and at this wide an angle get the big relationships right, something which it is important to achieve. If this goes wrong, any detail, however beautifully executed, could end up in the wrong place and therefore have to be redone. Hours can be spent and lost this way.
I was to include the Labrador Spike in the painting so I did some roughs from life. However he is very boisterous and although obedient, he can only keep still for a couple of minutes so I did an oil sketch using my roughs and a few photos I took.
Next I did a quick version including Spike, and at this point it was decided that it was unfair on Rollo, the other Labrador, so he was to go in the main painting too. I now felt I could start so I scanned my drawing and when I had worked out the best size and proportions I printed it on paper to 14 x 18 inches and transferred to to a gesso panel that I prepared using rabbit skin glue size and whiting. I take a lot of trouble to decide on the best proportions for a painting of an interior and the panels are made up by me accurately to the last millimetre.
Just to keep me on my toes a fender was added in front of the fire. Extra bits of furniture arriving from time to time is something you have to learn to contend with if you are a painter of interiors and working slowly.
Towards the end of the painting we had a bit of a heatwave; it was now that I decided to light the fire and put some flames into the fireplace. I should have done this earlier when it was cooler but I had kept the fire until last as one may save the cherry off a cake to eat because it’s your favourite.
You get to know the people who work in a house quite well when you paint there over a period of time and in the same way that when a portrait is over you miss seeing your sitter, I miss the staff who looked after me so well.