Palette Knife Portraits of Women > Born in Spain and based in London, with time spent living in Africa and India, Elena Gual’s work engages with the myriad realities of being a woman worldwide – as both reflected in her subjects and her own artistic identity. Applying her uniform signature style to different portraits, Gual’s work equalizes the experiences of women, inviting the viewer to be embraced by the emotional realities expressed in her painting.
Trained as a painter at the Florence Academy of Art, followed by courses at Central Saint Martin’s and the Royal Academy in London, Gual developed her unique palette knife technique after developing an allergy to turpentine. Her process remains grounded in the principles of her classical training, with each of her portraits demonstrating a strong attention to color, light and composition, also informed by the Impressionist style.
Gual’s collection of women’s portraits was recently on view at Grove Square Galleries in London. Passionate about female equality, Gual says: “My goal is to focus on these women, highlight their shapes, beauty and persona; I want to evoke their aura and I strive for the viewer to appreciate them and their emotions as much as I do.”
Working initially from photographic material, Gual begins with a charcoal drawing before she starts to apply thick strokes of impasto onto the canvas with a spatula. Often working from oils created herself, this dedicated process requires Gual to wait for the layers of paint to dry before she can continue. The result is an almost sculptural textural effect that further animates the inner lives of her subjects. This is underscored by her graphic instinct for the emotional possibilities of colour, often inspired by her surroundings – from the sea of Mallorca to seasonal reflections.
Q&A with Artist Elena Gual
What advice do you have for artists who paint portraits?
It will depend on which kind of portraiture you want to achieve but I would start (even if it’s from a photograph or a live model) to play around with different lighting, composition and shadow shapes. When you see something that feels special or that you want to portray, that’s when you should start painting it.
Portraits are such an amazing subject to paint, so never worry only about capturing an aesthetic resemblance of what is in front of you. Always try to also express those different feelings that go through your mind or what you feel your model expresses.
It is definitely hard to find your own signature, but at the end of the day we all have one. Gather together what you most believe in or what you feel people cannot see, so that painting it would be an opportunity for an audience to view it.
What types of spatulas or palette knives do you use?
I use all kind of spatulas, round ones and square ones mainly. They can normally be found in any art shops but I normally really like to also go to go to the building section and get the spatulas that builders use to apply cement or wall paint.
What challenges does this tool present to you as you paint?
It probably was harder to use a spatula at the beginning, when I started with this technique. I have to have control of about six different palettes on my hands, and also know the tool so well that I know prior applying the paint which has the best shape for what I want to accomplish. I must add that, having used these tools for over four years, they feel like a second skin.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I always thought that creativity would find you by only traveling or doing different things to your daily routine, but I must say that through the years I’ve come to the realization that creativity also finds you working.
Using new materials, doing sketches of what I see and what I don’t, writing about everything that goes through my mind, and obviously getting out of my comfort zone and looking for the different colors that I haven’t been able to find in my studio – those little things help me so much in the process of my work.
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