RETURNING TO LONDON
28 November–3 December 2022
PV 29 November 2022, 18.30–20.30 pm
RETURNING TO LONDON
I am a Londoner. I have lived in London for over fifteen years. However, for a brief period, between 2011 and 2017, I lived in Asia. Returning to London after six years of living abroad made me look at the city differently. Yes, I re-appreciated the fantastic history, beautiful architecture, plethora of museums, theatres and stunning art galleries. But I also noticed the smaller nuances in everyday life, that I’d previously missed, or simply taken for granted.
London acts as a magnet attracting people with a range of different stories and backgrounds. We cannot help but share experiences whilst we are here. No matter how mundane, the sharing of routine, of experience, of our city, help bond us to each other. ‘Returning to London’ highlights the importance of the humdrum, celebrating a snapshot of the everyday: Londoners on their local commute, and the all-time favourite British gossip topic; the weather!
Throughout my training, there was a strong emphasis on the core importance of drawing; we had access to life models at least three times a week. Even now, I still approach both drawing and painting from a draftswoman’s perspective. My graphite work pairs down a person’s detail to very minimal lines. I reduce and remove additional information which I don’t see adding to their core individuality or the drawing’s narrative. However, it’s still imperative to me that the images suggest volume, fluidity and personality. I tend to experiment with both removing and replacing detail during my process.
In drawings, I may choose to focus on a detail or pattern, but very rarely add tonal variation. The graphic starkness and way a pattern or shape interacts with the body can also help give the sense of volume. To me, the art of capturing convincing and accurate volume without the need for tone is a challenge I enjoy.
Similarly, in my painting, the main detail is restricted to my model – possibly only their face, whereas the background is kept simple. I very rarely use the same level of detail throughout a painting, finding instead that the area(s) of more refined detail tend to draw the viewer’s eye, allowing more scope to control a painting’s narrative.
I am very aware of the viewer’s role and relationship within my work. I believe, we cannot help but relate to figurative work more than any other genre, as we empathise with or relate to the person depicted. The way someone holds their body, where they are looking, their expression and their positioning on the canvas or page all affect the the way the viewer is invited to engage with them, and their portrait.
Composition, and how it affects the stories within my work, plays a vital part. For example, a figure cropped so her body is partly out of the canvas may suggest she is about to exit the painting – hence, she seems less engaged with the viewer which gives her more control over her and the viewer’s relationship – it could also encourage the viewer to study her windswept hair (now central to the canvas).
– Rebecca Holton, 2022
Each year Rebecca accepts a small selection of portrait commissions. These can be in oil paint, graphite or charcoal.
The graphite or charcoal drawing process takes c. 3 days per single portrait from start to finish. However, this usually spans a week or so to allow time for feedback.
The oil painting process is much more drawn-out and labour-intensive. It includes 7 or 8 layers of paint and a protective varnish. Drying time is needed between each layer, and then a longer final drying time to ensure everything is set before varnishing and packing it for postage/ delivery.
The whole process is expected to take between 4 weeks and 3 months (depending on the complexity, size and thickness of the paint).
CAPTURING THE CHARACTER
I can work from life or photos. I normally go for a mixture, but I am happy to work from more of the latter due to geography.
We’d kick off with a briefing session where I’d ask you to come armed with around 4-6 images of the model and we’d discuss what draws you to each image and what you are looking to capture. I’d also ask that you have a look through my work, choose one or a few portraits that you like and be prepared to articulate what you like about each. The briefing session can be virtual.
HONING THE MASTER IMAGE OR POSE
Brief sorted, we’d then arrange a time and location (this could be my studio) to capture the model(s) with photographs and working sketches. Depending on logistics, this would either be the first of several sitting sessions, or I would use this time to create a ‘master’ to base the portrait upon. Some clients want to base a portrait on a photo they may already have – which captures a specific time/memory or expression. I can work from this too.
REVIEWING THE PORTRAIT AS IT PROGRESSES
Capturing someone effectively is a very personal and subjective process. I believe it is also most effective if it is collaborative. After we have agreed the approach, pose and master photo (s), I will share the monochromatic underpainting stage before I embark on colour. I will then share the colour portrait twice more. I allow for 2 rounds of feedback within both stages. It’s important that you are happy with the result!
If you would like to commission a portrait, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rebecca exhibits regularly at the Mall Galleries, including both the ROI and Royal Society of British Artists, and was selected for the Ruth Borchard Self Portrait prize (2021). This year she was awarded the Surgeon’s prize by the Royal Society of British Artists, and in August 2021 she was awarded the Michael Harding First Prize in Oil painting by the Gallery at Green & Stone, London.
She has recently had the privilege of painting a selection of notable sitters, including Paul Mayhew Archer MBE and Lady Alison Scott Deeny. Her work is in a number of other private collections across the UK, Europe, USA and Asia.
Each year Rebecca donates a portrait to charity; beneficiaries have included The Parkinson’s Society and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, this year she is due to donate to the Teenage Cancer Trust’s annual auction.
Rebecca works as a full-time portrait and figurative artist in London, and she is fortunate to have a regular stream of commissions through both private clients and collectors. She juggles these around independent projects for exhibition.
Following her MA (Hons) Fine Art, Rebecca followed a successful 10-year career in advertising in London at a senior level. She lived in Asia for 6 years before returning to London in 2017.