Tanya Raabe-Webber on her exhibition at Project Ability

"I was really looking forward to coming back to Project Ability to see what they had done with the work I'd made during my residency back in March 2015 and I wasn't disappointed! The exhibition of the portraits I'd made of many of the Aspire Artists and of the artists and delegates who came to the International Learning Disability Arts Summit really reflect what a great time we all had sharing our art and culture. I love the way the exhibition reflects the many people I encountered and the different painting and drawing techniques I explored during my residency, including iPad drawings, eye dropper ink drawings, and acrylic paintings on watercolour paper and on canvas. Plus the work had been hung at a wheelchair height. Perfect!

My aim for this work was to watch and see how the artists at Project Ability make their work in a supported art studio and to create a portrait gallery that reflected this whilst also exploring new ways of creating my own work in collaborative ways.

What I truly learnt whilst on this journey was that every portrait is a collaboration!

So here I was, back in the Gallery surrounded by my portraits, about to set about making a new portrait commissioned by Project Ability. Only this time we decided to set it up in the gallery with a live audience and to live stream the event on Twitter Periscope. Both a first for me and for Project Ability!

Another groundbreaking pivotal moment to add to my collection! Thanks Project Ability.

Another first was that fact that this was going to be my first portrait of a couple, a married couple and a gay and non-binary transgender couple, disabled activists as well. A perfect combo! How excited was I! Meet the sitters Nathan Gale and Robert Softly Gale, a fine and generous couple with faces of such character I was looking forward to paint them.

Plus this was going to be a challenge to paint: a finished portrait of two people in two afternoons! Was I biting off more than I could paint? I'm not one to shy away from a challenge and I love pushing the boundaries!

I set about making Nathan and Robert feel at ease with the process of a live portrait painting event.  This portrait would be in front of a live audience, so by letting them know that they would also have input into the making of the portrait this gave us a sense of ownership. Heather and Berengere set up the iPad and cameras for the live feed in Twitter Periscope and we were off. Live across the globe! We even had viewers from Dubai!

Where to start on a blank canvas can be a bit daunting but once I make the first mark, I'm off. I asked Nathan and Robert to tell me a potted history of their lives as individuals and then as a couple. This gives me time to map their portraits out whilst being influenced on an emotional level through my brush. It almost feels like a piece of dance at times! I'm looking for their physicality, their identity as well as a slight likeness. I begin to feel the essence of them as well as see what I see.

After a while people began to join us in the gallery, some took to drawing what they saw, some just watched and some wanted to discuss my portrait painting techniques. Some people chose to draw me drawing the sitters and other's just drew the sitters. The audience commented on the sitting as having a great sense of humanity being portrayed! Then there was the live stream virtual audience who were watching on their pc's and mobile devices at home and all around the country. A strange sensation as we could not see them but they could see us! Watchers were responding on Twitter with comments and we even got a couple of drawings tweeted that were drawn from people watching the live stream. Another first!

On occasion we would break and I would invite Nathan and Robert to look and respond to the portrait whilst encouraging the audience to offer their responses to the portrait too. I'm looking for their initial first responses so I can determined what direction to take the portrait. Of course they loved it every time we did a sharing and I think they were surprised how quickly the portrait developed and changed.

In two afternoons the portrait was made!

This live portrait sitting was a test run for a new live portrait project I've just got funding for coming soon.
#Portraits Untold http://portraitsuntold.co.uk/
Ambitious live portrait project with artist Tanya Raabe-Webber, exploring and celebrating our common humanity – the beauty and strength of humanity lies in the diversity of its people.

Exciting details of sitters, partners and venues to be released soon….Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Twitter @PortraitsUntold  #PortraitsUntold
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/PortraitsUntold
Instagram https://www.instagram.com/PortraitsUntold/

But before this I'll be back to see you all at Project Ability in February to run a series of master classes with Create artists and schools groups. So if anyone wants to have a gallery tour with me of my exhibition I'll be around between 2:15pm - 3:15pm 15-20 Feb in the Gallery."

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