Make at GoMA – Portraits in Alasdair Gray’s style

In this session we are going to make a painting a portrait or a self portrait in the style of Alasdair Gray (1934-2019). Gray, a real creative polymath, died on December 29th 2019 at the age of 85. He will be remembered as an artist, writer and highly creative mind. 

Gray was a well known character around the west end of Glasgow where he lived and he left his mark in the form of murals in establishments such as Òran Mór. He is also known for his dystopian novel Lanark (1981), an impressive book which inspired new Scottish fiction writers such as Irvine Welsh. Aside from being an author, Gray illustrated and designed his books himself.

Alasdair Gray was a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art in the 1950s. Later, in 1977, he was commissioned by Elspeth King, the curator at the People’s Palace in Glasgow to become the city’s “artist recorder”. He was to visually document the people of Glasgow going about their day to day lives. An example of this work is at show in our Domestic Bliss exhibition, with the portrait of journalist Fidelma Cook sitting in the BBC News Gallery (ink, watercolour, acrylic and paint on paper).

In 2015 GoMA showcased the exhibition Alasdair Gray: Spheres of Influence 1, with the complementing exhibition at the Glasgow School of Art. You can listen to Alasdair Gray himself talking about his practice in our short film here.

For this project you will need:

  • Brown wrapping paper/A4 envelopes (white paper will do as well)
  • Watercolour paints and brushes
  • Pencil or black ink pen
  • White paint (any type)

Find a photograph of the person you want to draw, or take a picture of yourself with your phone. The brown paper can help you giving the skin tone. Sketch out with pencil the most prominent features, perhaps a hairstyle, or glasses stand out most? Then accentuate these in your sketch.

Use a black ink pen to draw on top of the pencil so you have the final drawing. To recreate the classic pastel shades that can be seen in Gray’s portraits mix a little white paint into the watercolour (if you do not have a palette you can use a white ceramic plate).

Have fun colouring up your drawing, keep the colours bright and clean by mixing only the white into one colour – if you mix too many colours it will become muddy. A top tip is to always wash your brush properly with plenty of water before going on to mix up a new colour.

Share your work with us or let us know how it went on the comment section.

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