Life and drawing

©Chris Thomas©Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas will be displaying some of his portraits at two Wanstead venues this month and next. Here, the local artist explains the importance of direct observation.

I was born in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, and from an early age took an interest in painting and drawing. After leaving school, I studied at Cardiff College of Art and graduated from Birmingham Polytechnic with a degree in fine art (painting). I stayed on in Birmingham after graduation and continued painting, drawing and exhibiting my work with the financial support of West Midlands Art.

By the end of my twenties, I felt the urge to travel and spent most of the next 10 years overseas in the Far East, Asia and Latin America. During this time, my interest in visual language transferred from painting to photography. I returned to Britain in the mid-nineties and have lived in London since.

On my return to Britain, I very much wanted to resume my involvement in drawing and painting and decided to attend life drawing classes. I found the discipline of the life room suited my needs and has remained a constant in my work through to the present day.

Portraiture has been a recurring theme in my work. All my drawings are done from direct observation. Although none of the sitters are personal friends, I have drawn some of them again and again over many years; the life room still affords a definite sense of objectivity. The drawings are on a monumental scale and endeavour to utilise the shape and format of the paper, which the head occupies.

The materials used are water-based paints, charcoal and pastel and there are endless possibilities with these combined mediums. The fact these materials are fast drying suit the immediacy of response required by the time limitations dictated by the life room.

Although I don't begin a portrait drawing with any fixed idea in mind, my work is informed by the work of the Old Masters in that I spend time copying from reproductions and from originals in public collections, a practice I find insightful and helpful in overcoming the problems involved in observational work.

Life drawing and portraiture are an important aspect of my work, and the discipline and critical nature of the activity feeds other aspects of my endeavours, drawing in themes of sequence and narrative.

Chris's portraits will be on display at High Street venues The Stow Brothers throughout August and at the Oxfam bookshop during Art Trail Wanstead, which runs from 8 to 23 September. For more information, visit

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