Meet Kent artist Nicola Ulldemolins
- Credit: Archant
Portrait artist Nicola Ulldemolins’ startling renditions of Whitstable residents are on show this month
The creative spirit can rarely be completely snuffed out, so it was serendipity when Nicola Ulldemolins presented her partner with a portrait, after 10 years of working in totally different arenas, including selling wood-burning stoves. None of her friends knew she could paint, but they were all excited about her portrait, which was enough to send Nicola back to her earlier art interests.
Nicola had taken an Art Foundation course at Canterbury College of Art and later took Life Drawing classes. She then got a first-class degree in 3D design, specialising in metals, at the former West Surrey College of Art,.
However, by the time the portrait of her partner was done, 20 years had passed but, as Nicola says: “It gave me the encouragement to pursue my art further.”
She admits that the portraits have been a challenge. “Apart from endeavouring to create a likeness of each person, there is also a lot of background detail. To be honest, I think portraits can be quite dull unless they convey something about the person or are technically superb.”
So Nicola, like the great Renaissance artists, decided that an attribute of the person should be included in the work. An example is Giorgione’s Portrait of a Warrior with his Equerry, where the helmet is included to denote the subject’s activity and which is said to be an early instance of including an attribute.
I note that many of the portraits are front facing. “I choose front facing because the eyes are what ‘speak’ to the viewer; apart from my subjects Colin and Paul, who wore sunglasses and were definitely not taking them off in the bright sunlight! There are minute muscles around the eye and eyebrows and at the scale at which I work, a dot of paint can mean the difference between getting an expression spot on or totally wrong. But you must never be afraid to make changes; admitting you got it wrong is one of the hardest things to learn.”
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On the thorny question of conveying emotion, Nicola says: “I don’t know that I have portrayed emotion, mainly because my subjects are seen in their working environment. It is an interesting concept and possibly one I would like to explore.
“Gestures play a large part in the way we are perceived, so I always include hands as I think they show subtle signs of the way we hold ourselves; closed and tense, or open and confident.”
Nicola veers towards using strong contrasts in light and shade. “I feel it helps to enhance the features, contours and detail in the face; subtle nuances that bring out the character of a person.”
I ask Nicola about her colour palette and whether she ever gets asked to match the portrait to the tones of an interior?
“I have not been asked to match colours, although that is another interesting prospect,” she says. “I do like to use ochres, terracottas and blues and have asked most of the sitters to wear something bold and bright in order to inject something of themselves into the portrait.”
The portraits are created in gouache on ply board, whose size was a totally pragmatic choice, as these were cut from a whole sheet of ply.
“I went to the timber merchant, we did the maths and out came eight identically sized boards. No waste, so good for the environment too!”
Nicola does not see herself exclusively as a portraitist, however, and her future plans include working on landscape. As with her portraits, she has decided to supplement the preparatory process with photography and tells me: “I am mesmerised by how beautiful the orchards and hop gardens of Kent are.” These last are rapidly disappearing, so Nicola’s landscapes may well constitute a good record.
Nicola has good advice for the new portraitist: “I would say simply give it a go. I would suggest maybe to start with a self portrait, or one of someone you know well who will sit for you.
“Or try painting a photo of someone you admire and see if you can get a likeness, you will know instantly when you have got it right. Never be afraid to make a mistake and use a medium you can work over or remove and start again.
“This is partly why I use ply board so that if I make a mistake I can sandpaper away a whole area and start again!”
Nicola’s also works on commission, so do take a trip down to Whitstable to see her portraits.
Get in touch:
See Nicola Ulldemolins portraits at the Horsebridge Centre, 11 Horsebridge Road, Whitstable CT5 1AF, 01227 281174, from 15 to 21 June.
Also at Creek Creative, 1 Abbey Street, Faversham ME13 7BE, 01795 535515, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, from 4 to 10 July and (for your diaries) from 10 to 16 October, at the same venue.
Contact Nicola on 07828 853 308 or visit www.nicolaulldemolinsart.co.uk.