Andrew Tift is an extraordinary realist portrait painter with a show on at the moment at New Art Gallery Walsall. He very rarely teaches, infant I have known him since around 1996 and have not been aware of him teaching a class before. Although I have seen a tutorial article in Artist and Illustrators. So yesterday the 14th July 2018 was a special day. Andrew is not a natural teacher but he is an extraordinary talent and it oozes out of him. He is also one of the nicest people you will ever meet.
We started the day with an introduction and to be told we are going to have our photograph taken, we had no information before the workshop so our speculation on what we might be drawing had ranged from still life objects to each other, we had not suspected it would be ourselves.
After showing us the effects of different types of lighting Andrew took our photographs with a front flash at close distance with a digital SLR in black and white.
As the images were sent off to be printed out we were given a tour of the drawings in the exhibition with special attention paid to the materials, sequence of the layers and direction of the light. It is not surprising to find out Andrew’s interest in photography, it is the backbone of his work, to make a drawing that looks like a photograph is his aim, but in order to do that he needs an exceptionally detailed photograph, only the perfect photograph will give him the perfect drawing. This is my first lesson of the day, working from shabby photographs, often taken with a phone have given me shabby results. I can’t put in details that I have’t recorded in the photograph.
We go back to the workshop for a demonstration on the materials he uses and how they are combined. These are the secrets to his success that have taken him 14 years to develop. I will not reveal them just yet. Our photographs arrive and we transfer them on to some 220grm cartridge paper.
Andrew usually starts at the top left and works his way across meticulously finishing each section before he moves on to the next, this means he is never smudging an area because his hand needs to lie there. I find that I can not be so patient, but this is a technique I should endeavour to learn. I jump around the image, starting with the eyes. I find it hard to stick to his way of working with carbon dust and revert to the safety of working with a pencil, but his demonstration on my nose persuades me to try harder with the combination of charcoal pencil for the darkest velvety blacks a putty rubber to pull out the white highlights. The way he works is more like painting than drawing, a cheap stumpy brush is the indispensable tool of the day. Spreading out the charcoal to achieve subtleties in tone. Back in with the rubber, back and forth he pushes and pulls until the amazing detail fools the eye into thinking it is looking at a photograph.
Carbon powder is a material I have never thought of using, I had never really liked charcoal sticks and saw no justification in using the powdered form. But it is far more sophisticated than charcoal, its silky finish and almost silver tone, it ease in putting on and taking off give your work a richness that is probably not attainable with any other material.
We had just over 3 hours to work on the A3 drawing, a size that would take Andrew a week to finish so it is not surprising that we did not get to the stage of finishing but with his guidance we saw how it was done, now all we had to do was practice for 14 years.
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