How to make a Portrait | with Audrey Grant, Norman McBeath and Val McDermid

The portraits Audrey made for The Long Look took weeks, months and sometimes years to finish.

They evoke a sense of her sitter’s presence, rather than their personality – something visceral, organic and direct.

They were erased at the end of each sitting, leaving only traces behind.

And why was that?

So that next time, Audrey could look at her subject with fresh eyes.

Norman McBeath, Audrey's hands, 2017. Archival digital print on Hahnemühle Photo Rag 308 gsm, 59.4 x 42 cm. © Norman McBeath.

In 2015, Audrey Grant asked Norman McBeath to sit for a portrait.

Norman, a photographer and printmaker, responded to being drawn in charcoal by capturing his surroundings; Audrey’s materials; and her process.

Norman’s photographs invite the viewer into the usually private world of the artist’s studio.

They urge us to think about the creativity behind the work.

They capture the snap of charcoal. The falling dust. Audrey’s hands.

They capture the ties of an apron, discarded finger tape, a paint-spattered plastic sheet, streaks of paint left on shoes and furniture, a line of brushes, the tiles of the studio.

The cushion in the sitter’s chair.

They capture everything that goes into creating the finished product: a portrait of Norman himself.

Norman McBeath, Sitter's chair, 2017. Archival digital print on Hahnemühle Photo Rag 308 gsm, 59.4 x 42 cm. © Norman McBeath.
Audrey Grant, Portrait of Norman, 2017. Charcoal on Arches ‘Not’ watercolour paper 300 gsm 76 x 56 cm. © Audrey Grant.

The traditional artist/sitter relationship is one directional: one person sees, and the other is seen. 

In The Long Look, Audrey saw Norman, and Norman saw Audrey.

Audrey also saw Val.

In addition to two portraits of Norman, Audrey completed two charcoal portraits of the award-winning crime writer Val McDermid.

Like Norman, Val found that many sittings over a long period were inspiring.

Sessions with Audrey allowed Val time to let her mind roam, exploring thoughts and ideas that might otherwise have been crowded out.

Audrey Grant, Portrait of Val McDermid, 2017. Charcoal on Arches ‘Not’ watercolour paper 600 gsm, 76 x 56 cm. © Audrey Grant
Audrey Grant, Portrait of Val McDermid, 2017. Charcoal on Arches ‘Not’ watercolour paper 300 gsm, 76 x 56 cm. © Audrey Grant

The body of work created by Audrey and a selection of the photographs taken by Norman during his sittings form The Long Look – The Making of a Portrait, a new exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Have a look.

15 May 2019