Sue Newham explains how she tackles an original painting and why originals are special
People sometimes ask how original paintings are made. This is a difficult question, as every artist will have their own favourite methods and materials, but this is what it is like for me!
For “The gift”, the initial idea came to me when we were focusing on Jesus gift of righteousness. I imagined Jesus sweeping his robe of righteousness around me, covering up my filthy rags. When an idea comes, I play around with it in my mind, thinking how best to illustrate the spiritual truth that God has given me.
I asked a friend and his son to pose for me and I took lots of photos from different angles. This was my favourite.
I chose my canvas, then painted the whole surface with a slightly orange-scarlet base coat of acrylic paint. This has become my favourite colour for a base coat in the last 2 years.
I used a projector to shine the photo onto the red canvas and experimented with different sizes of the figures and different positions on the canvas by moving the projector slightly.
Once I was satisfied, I marked the main positions of the figures with an oil pastel.
Next I started adding layers of oil paint mixed with a thinner. The thinner enables the paint to dry more quickly, but I still needed to leave several days between applying each layer.
When I first started painting, I used medium quality oil paints, but I have decided that using the best quality materials pushes me to do my very best with every picture.
I use Sennelier paints, which have been used by Monet, Gauguin and Matissse, amongst others. I reckon that the paints were good enough for them, so would help my paintings too! My favourite colour is Quinacridone Magenta, which you can see mixed into the pinks and mauves in this painting but which I use a lot to mix deep purples too. I use quite a lot of red in my paintings. A 40ml tube of Cadmium Red Light costs £18.90, so I try not to waste any paint on my palette!
Oil painting cannot be rushed and in a way, that is what I love about it. When I was younger, I was too impatient to wait while layers dried, but now I see the waiting stage as a part of the thinking process, where I might make quite radical changes, having had the chance to look at the picture over several days.
When you work over many sessions, you spend a lot of time washing your brushes. They first need to be soaked in thinner or white spirit and wiped on kitchen paper, then I work them around in neat washing up liquid in my hand to remove every trace of paint. Canvas wears brushes out quite quickly, so careful washing prolongs their life as much as possible.
With “The gift” I wanted to use colours to represent the cloak of righteousness. White , the more obvious and normal choice perhaps, seemed to lack vibrancy and joy. I wanted light to be streaming from Jesus and had to be very careful when painting the rays of light to get the direction of each stroke just right.
I always try to paint around the edges of the canvas as I go, which can be easier said than done at times. This means that canvases could be left unframed if that seemed the most appropriate thing to do.
“The Gift” has probably taken me about 15 hours overall, although it is hard to estimate when you keep going back to add more layers! When I feel a piece is finished, I sign my name and put the picture aside to dry.
It may take up to two weeks for a picture to dry enough to take for framing. Initially, very little of my work was framed, but now I use the Bayswater Framing company in Oxford. The staff are very skilful technically, but are also able to frame pieces in a quite modern and imaginative way. I always choose the frames for my work personally, as a good frame can enhance the picture enormously.
People do wonder why originals are expensive, but the amount of time they take and the cost of materials has to be reflected in the price. If you are buying an original, no one in the world will have exactly the same painting as you!
Click the link to see the finished work called “The gift”.