Portrait of Rach


As she likes poetry I shall endeavour;
Writing verse, though I’m no poet however.
All who see her know her face is sublime;
Any error in feature is but mine.
Yet what I love most cannot be painted;
Her voice divine, unadulterated.
As a soprano she’s verily skilled;
her words like honey, from her lips distilled.

This is a portrait I painted as a gift for my friend who I first met during my MA and has the rare distinction of having many of the same interests as myself – classical music (though she prefers baroque and I’m more into the romantic era), opera, and old films – making us fast friends. As I said above, she’s a soprano and sometimes she’ll record herself singing and send it to me, which always makes my day. I’ve been to some of her concerts too. I remember after one (Purcell’s “The Tempest”, I think) an elderly lady came over and told her that she’d never heard “Dear Pretty Youth” sung so convincingly.

I only hope my painting returns some of the joy she has given me through her singing.

I know she doesn’t like the use of animal products so decided to avoid my bristle brushes and Ivory Black (it’s made from charred animal bones). In the grayscale layer I therefore used Prussian Green instead of black since I’m green colourblind and so it looks like gray to me. Besides, Renaissance painters used green for skin when doing their underpaintings so I was interested to try it.

Prussian green dries damn fast, I had to mix a new set of grays/greens half way through this layer.

I hadn’t planned the composition before painting and the photograph I was working from was square but the canvas is rectangular resulting in blank space at the bottom, which was jarring so I painted it in Burnt Umber with a carefree wash-like effect and used the back of my paintbrush to etch a message. She’s teaching herself French so I added some French to the bottom reading: à ma cherè Rach, témoignage d’amité (to my dear Rach, testimony of friendship).



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