Tina Spratt Portrait Painting: Capturing the Authentic Moment

An Exclusive Interview with the Figurative Painter

Ambiance, Painting by Tina Spratt

Tina Spratt seems to have an uncanny ability to understand the ways of the human heart. Her brushwork traces every sensation of it. The artist from Somerset, England, skilfully uses light for her visual narrative. Thus in the warm glow of sunshine or in the timidity of shadows, her art leaves enough hints for the audience to draw their own conclusions.

Growing up how did your environment contribute toward the development of the artist and the human being in you? How early were you introduced to the world of Renaissance and Dutch Golden Age paintings?

I grew up in very loving and supportive family and from a very young age I was encouraged and given the freedom to explore my creativity. One of my earliest childhood memories, at the age of six, was when my drawing was pinned to the wall at school and I felt extremely proud, it has become an obsession and passion ever since. There weren’t any artists in my immediate family, apart from my sister and I who both pursued a career in art, although I have been told my grandfather was very talented. The first time I remember seeing a Rembrandt painting I must have been around 14 years old and on a school trip, ‘Self portrait at the age of 34.’ I thought it was the most amazing painting I had ever seen, I could not believe the effect of light he had captured with paint, and how he had manipulated paint to create such depth. The effect of light on a figure became a constant theme in my own work.

Tell us about the playfulness you exhibit with light or the lack of it in many of your paintings to a dramatic effect. How big has an influence studying the very pronounced tenebrism of Caravaggio paintings been in this regard?

I love playing with light, it adds real depth and atmosphere to a painting. I think the biggest influence I found in Caravaggio’s paintings was the way he used light to freeze a moment and create drama, also the strong observational qualities to capture the likeness and emotion of the sitter. I find I too am drawn to it for similar reasons, there are so many possibilities thrown up by using different lighting and it can change the feel of a painting so much, it is definitely one of the tools I enjoying playing with the most.

Finding the Words, Painting by Tina SprattRiver of Dreams, Painting by Tina Spratt

Often the subjects of your figurative paintings are found to be in a deeply contemplative mood. How do you identify and capture your subject on canvas when she is in touch with her most intimate self?

The models I work with are often someone I know, although I do occasionally hire models too. I start with an idea in mind, and find that the process of exploring those ideas is a collaborative process, the more we are relaxed together then the model’s true personality comes forward and it is then that I can capture the most interesting emotions and natural poses. It’s often a fleeting expression between poses, trying to find the authentic moment in a posed situation. I can just feel when something is right, a connection.

Complementary to the human presence every other element contributes to developing the story to be portrayed through your hands. How as an artist do you bring forth the characters of those objects that do not have a life of their own for the sake of narration?

I like to use objects that you can read a narrative into for example a note, it leaves unanswered questions such as what is written on it? Is it important? And when coupled with a figure and their emotions, this just helps to extend the possibilities. I like to leave my narratives ambiguous so that the viewer can come to their own conclusions and maybe relate their own personal experience and a chance to reflect on their selves.

Sleep in Red, Painting by Tina Spratt
Sleeper in Red

How do you train yourself with the power of observation to mentally take a note of fleeting moments of subtle emotional exposure? What is the human emotion that you love portraying most on canvas?

I don’t think it’s really a case of training myself, more the awareness of an emotional connection with another human being, trusting my instinct when I see it and being inspired by that emotion. It really comes down to the gut feeling. I love portraying vulnerability, not necessarily in a weak way, but as the strength it gives a person to truly be themselves without any pretence or guarded feelings, I think that’s an amazing and powerful thing, at the same time creating the space to be calm and peaceful, if I capture it right it will make a connection with the viewer.

Of all your creations till date do you have a piece of art that is closest to your heart? If so then why?

My favourite tends to be the one I’m working on at that time, but when I look back at my previous paintings I usually have several favourites and always for different reasons, for example, it may be that I’m really pleased with the composition of one piece, or the colour of another, the brushwork in another, the mood or pose in another etc… it’s hard to choose just one, I’m always trying to push myself to improve so I’m always hoping the next one will be better, I see it as a fascinating journey.

Perfect Day, Painting by Tina Spratt
Perfect Day

‘‘Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens to which our wills are gardeners.’ — As an artist who exclusively deals with human body and emotions for her work everyday, how do you associate with these words from Othello? Describe your sensations as your painting develops in perfect sync with your imagination.

Painting can be the most amazing thing in the world, I love the early stages that are full of possibility and excitement as I’m trying to get what I imagine out onto canvas. It can also feel like a battle or struggle, as inevitably this happens at some stage during the painting process. I paint in many layers over several weeks so quite often as a painting is drawing near to being finished, I become overly critical. I do know that if I’m not emotionally connected with the painting, then it won’t be in the painting either, it really is a mirror of how you are feeling as an artist.

Standing by the ‘River of Dreams’ and seeing the reflection of yours on its sparkling water how would you see your artistic journey mirroring itself thus far?

I see myself having started a journey with a long way yet to travel, and a lot to learn but I’m very excited by the possibilities it may hold.

Portrait of Tina Spratt

Tina Spratt likes…

My favourite holiday destination is the Scottish Highlands, I love the rugged, dramatic landscape and it’s where my husband and I spent our honeymoon.

George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones seems to stir my imagination every time I read it. When I’m painting I often listen to artists such as Kate Bush or various female folk singers. I also enjoy listening to rock music.

With all its intensity red happens to be my favourite colour.

Find more of her work at her website.

Image Courtesy: Tina Spratt