How I created Stardust

This piece worked out pretty much how I envisaged it from the start, which is always a good thing, but the journey on this one was harder than I thought.

Firstly, I need a reference image, and this was provided by a ballerina model that I have worked with previously, Jade Wallace. She has a large number of images in her portfolio, which I had browsed through on line, looking for something individual and vibrant that I thought I could make my own.

The beauty of working in this way is that all of the pieces I create are then original paintings to me, and not generic or copied in any way. This is all too easy to do in these days of social media. All of the platforms have massive image content, and its very quick and inexpensive to use images found there as a base reference for your piece.

So, image selected, now onto planning the colour tones of the background. As I am going to cover the foreground image with gold leaf, the background needs to work with that. With this in mind I decided on earth tones, graduating from dark at the outside of the canvas through to lighter tones against the figure, this will propel the ballerina forward in the piece.

Background decided then, what I usually do now, before I start to add anything at all to the front of the canvas, is to string the back of it. This way, whilst I am painting and between sections of the process, or wanting to take the piece off the easel, I can hang it up so as it is out of harms way, as painting left on the floor can easily get damaged, and or covered in dog hair.

After stringing, I apply the primer to the front of the canvas. Every canvas is already triple primed from the manufacturer, but more is needed. This will stop the paint from soaking into the canvas weave, and give a better line to the work. More primer also reduces he high points on the canvas weave, and makes it easier to paint on. If required you can apply thick primer to give added texture underneath the oil or acrylic you overlay on top of it, but not in this case.

Primer applied, (it’s actually called Gesso, pronounced Jesso, I think it’s an Italian word) I make a rough sketch of where I want Jade to sit in the piece, so as I know where to make the background lighter around her. That done it’s time to paint in the background so off we go. I mix the outer darker colours and keep adding lighter colours and white to brighten it as I get closer to the middle and around where my subject will be.

On this piece, all of the paint is oil paint, as I was still experimenting with gold leaf application, so I now let all of this dry off for a few days before I continue.

After the piece has dried of a little and stopped being tacky, I can begin work on it again. Firstly, I redraw a more detailed image of Jade which I will use to create the finished image. Then, to enhance the gold leaf, I paint all of the area under where the leaf will be applied in a deep red, which gives the gold leaf more lustre, plus it adds another layer of paint to the canvas which will help with the finish.

The piece is now left again for a few more days, so as it can become completely dry, as this is what I need for the next stage, as when I apply the gold leaf, it will stick to anything that is remotely tacky, and it’s a pain to remove.

So now it’s the main event, Gold Leaf Time yay.

I apply the glue or size as its called, to everywhere the leaf will need to adhere to, and leave it for around 15 minutes to go tacky.

Then the leaf sheets are taken off their backing sheets and applied directly over the red painted and glue applied areas. When this is all covered with gold leaf, I cover the applied leaf with a sheet of grease proof paper, and rub it all over with a cotton wool pad so as to ensure that the leaf is fully adhered to the canvas.

Then, I take a very soft guilding brush, and wipe all around the edges of where the leaf has been applied to lift off the excess leaf, this should leave the whole area I wanted to have covered, completely covered in gold, result.

I didn’t need to make any corrections to this piece as it all went on well, which was great, and a rarity. Next phase is applying the lowlights to the gold for which I used Copper Leaf. So I repeated the process of applying the glue, but this time, I only paint thin lines on the top of the gold leaf to indicate the folds in the supposed material. This is a very delicate and careful operation.

All done, I go through the same process for placing the leaf and removal of the excess, and there we have it.

All that is now left to do, is paint the flesh tones and the hair. These are left until last so as I have the ability to tidy up any of the leaf edges with more paint, and I can paint the hair over the leaf to add another dimension to the piece.

All finished, I just have to leave the piece for about a week for the oil paint to dry off, and then varnish it, and we are done and good to go.


Stardust part finished image, before gold leaf added

How I created Stardust