"Elisabeth of Valois"

Ailsa Johnson

This is a piece that I made recently – a portrait of Elisabeth of Valois based on a painting of her by Pantoja de la Cruz.

When I visit a museum or gallery I’m drawn to these portraits of fabulous wealthy women – all those decorations, accessories, the rich materials. Everything looks so big, flashy, dazzling. I’m never going to be able to paint like that – I have little to no hand-eye coordination and I am terrible at doing things that look realistic or soft. What I do enjoy is using bold colours and lines.

I was really needing some portrait practice. Photographs are good to work from, but I tend to take less creative licence with a real face. Maybe I’m scared or something. These old paintings offer a face that has already been stylised, and room for interpretation and independence from the past. They’re often very static, so I find it easier to pick apart the aspects I want to draw from them – an almost geometric corset or a silky sleeve.

Most of the time, for female portraits, there is an emphasis on beauty, so it’s fun to play with that, to see what might have been fashionable then and work with it now. Massive forehead? Cool. No eyebrows? Ok. Weird hats are a given. And then comes all that crazy embellishment; the clothes and the hair and the jewels, which is half the fun. How far can I push that? What can I push and pull using the techniques I want rather than replicating what already exists?

I’d like to work more on this idea and really ‘modernise’ these paintings, see if I could push them into something that wouldn’t look out of place amongst contemporary fashion. I think that might be cool.

Back to Creative Inspiration Gallery