Meet talented portrait artist Ollie Tuck who, at the age of 25, swapped the 9 to 5 to paint. I caught up with her at her Buckinghamshire home studio to learn more about her work.
What’s your preferred medium?
Oils because it is such a flexible medium. Oils stay wet for longer and can be moved around more. There’s a great freedom in being able to push and pull the paints around as well as play around with textures. I tend to thin the oils out quite a lot but occasionally it is fun to really layer them on thick. There isn’t as much freedom with acrylics as they dry so quickly. Although, this also has its own benefits and was for a long time my preference.
How do you approach a project?
That varies depending on whether it is a commission or my own project. If it is my own project I am usually painting something that inspires me and that energy comes across. If it is a commission I work on finding the fun in a subject whether that be in the colours, light or composition.
Describe your painting style?
It’s still developing as I am a young artist, but I have always painted with a huge emphasis on colour and light. It may be because I began painting with acrylics, which are naturally much brighter and bolder in colour than oils. But where some artists use a muted pallet (which I envy), I can’t seem to resist throwing bold or unusual colours into the flesh tones.
What’s your favourite subject?
Most portrait artists would agree that older faces are much more fun to paint. They can be worked into and with the paint being layered on thick, which is a lot of fun. A younger subject, like a baby’s face, is far more delicate and less is definitely more in terms of the amount of brush strokes. It encourages a much more considered style of applying the paint, which is slightly more limiting but still fun.
What’s the hardest part of the human face to get right?
It really varies depending on the subject. I would say the eyes are the most important feature of any face because of the amount of emotion and expression they convey.. This is as true of real life as it is in paintings.
What fascinates you about portraiture as opposed to landscapes?
I love people and I love the challenge of capturing what it is about a person that makes them recognisable. A landscape can be easier because there is a lot of artistic freedom with depicting the image. You don’t have to be so precise. I like the challenge of painting faces because even getting the tiniest positioning of a feature makes the person look unlike themselves. Often I capture the likeness early in the painting then lose is again and spend the rest of the time fighting to get it back. It’s hugely frustrating at times but equally rewarding when you get it right. Each brush stroke in the right place is incredibly important. I like that precision.
Which artist/s inspire/influence your work?
Loads of artists inspire my work. As well as creating art I am also a huge art fan and love seeing paintings that are far beyond my ability. London-based artist Benjamin Sullivan BP has just been shortlisted for this year’s BP Portrait Awards for the 10th time or something. His style is so intricate and delicate that all of his works are like jewels. They’re just incredible. Knowing I could never paint anything like his work, I find him inspirational.
How many hours does it take to finish a portrait?
This is something I get asked a lot and can never answer. It varies depending on the composition, whether it be full body, just a headshot, whether background is included, etc. Even within the type of portrait, the time will vary depending on the subject. Some people’s faces are easy to capture quickly where as others will take a while to work out what it is that makes them recognisable. It can be the smallest thing like the angle of a nostril that brings a person’s character out and this is something that’s difficult to quantify time-wise.
Which piece of your work are you most proud of and why?
I am probably most proud of a painting of my dad that I did a couple of years ago. It was the first portrait that I worked on after three years of not really picking up a brush while I was at uni. The image was taken of my dad at my graduation at a time when I wasn’t really thinking about painting seriously again. It was just a labour of love. Through painting this portrait I rediscovered my love of painting and haven’t stopped since. It was also my first oil portrait which was where I fell in love with the medium. It’s over one-metre tall and hangs in my kitchen. It’s the biggest headshot I have done to date.
Who would you most like to sit for you?
I would love to paint Prince Harry. Obviously it would be a huge honour to paint the Queen as she is the most recognisable face in the world. I think Harry would be slightly easier to converse with. Plus he has a great nose to paint!
Who in the world would you like to sit for?
If I could sit for anyone, dead or alive, it would be Lucian Freud. I love the way he almost dissects his subjects, breaking them down anatomically with his brush strokes creating really intense portraits. If they had to be someone living I would probably choose Benjamin Sullivan or Henrietta Graham. I couldn’t choose between them.