Melissa Anderson Scott
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Technique

Usually when I am discussing my technique, I make reference to the strong influence of the Dutch and Flemish schools of painting on the development of my own style. It has to be said, however, that one of my strongest influences has been the Spanish Master, Velazquez. He incorporates many similar points of technique to the Dutch Masters in his use of a tinted canvas, thin shadows, thick, impasto highlights and a restricted colour palette. Velazquez was called by many “the lazy painter” because of his relaxed, gestural brushwork (very different to the careful, almost invisible strokes of the Flemish school) and his habit of testing the paint on his brush by wiping it on an empty part of the canvas, to be covered later in the development of the painting. He made no preparatory drawings, and often added pieces to his canvases at quite a late stage to change their proportions to better suit the composition he had in mind.

My technique differs in some major ways. I do only a thumbnail sketch to determine the proportions of a canvas for a particular idea, and I never change the size of a canvas later in the process, but, like Velazquez, (and Vermeer, I might add) I do most of the real drawing and development of the composition on the canvas itself. I work on a tinted background, and use a very old, traditional recipe for a medium which I make myself.

Paint is made by grinding pigment and dispersing it in medium. The medium binds the pigment to the support or ground. The earliest known medium was wax, used mainly by the Greeks and Romans. It fell out of general favour around the eighth century. In the Middle Ages the main type of paint was tempera, in which the pigment was bound with egg. From the fifteenth century, however, oil became increasingly popular as a medium. Among its advantages were slow drying time, allowing for easier corrections to be made, flexibility when dry which produced a sturdy paint layer, and a luminosity which soaked up and reflected the light, allowing for beautiful, natural effects.

As any painter develops his or her skill base and searches for an individual language of mark making to best help them describe their world, the habits and choices of earlier painters can be quite interesting. Ultimately, each artist has to re-invent the wheel, so to speak, when it comes to a personal palette.

For me, with my strong interest in painting people, there have been special challenges. When I was studying Fine Art in high school and university in the early 70s, the teaching of oil technique was in serious decline. It seemed to me that other media had usurped the place of the painter in describing the human face. Painters who did include the human figure in their work were using more opaque techniques, and it was very difficult to find any teaching of the older, more transparent ways of painting skin tones. As a result, I have had to research some of the old treatises on painting, and then adapt their advice to suit modern oil colours, modern lighting levels and even modern suntans! I have added extra tinting layers to the traditional grisaille which add a lively quality to the skin.

In 2003, in my show A Different Kind of Blue, I was painting several Polynesian women, the cleaners at the hospice where I do volunteer work. These women do a fantastic job, and work almost invisibly around the ward and kitchen. Finding a way to describe their beautiful skin was a fascinating exercise, and I learned even more about ways to explore the personalities of the sitters through physical description. I turned again to vibrant under-painting, transparent shadow areas and changes in thickness and opacity of paint to try to describe the complexities of what I was seeing. The “Different Kind of Blue” in the show’s title had several meanings: it referred to the atmosphere surrounding hospice work (not at all blue, as it happens…there is much laughter there), the blue uniforms the cleaners wear, and, most importantly, the use of a blue under-painting in some of the works, which I had never tried before.

My more recent paintings, including those on the Gallery pages of this site, have taken my interest in the play of artificial light even further. I have become very absorbed in describing people and objects under bright, artificial lighting in settings that have a stage-like, dramatic quality. Light and shadow become part of the action. Narrative and symbolism, present in many paintings from earlier centuries, have been given a modern twist, and are presented fresh.