When he can, in the moments of respite between TV and stage projects, Derren paints. In 2009 he published Portraits, a collection of his caricatures accompanied by his extensive narration, and has since then moved onto highly accomplished ‘straight’ portraits. They are now looked after by the Rebecca Hossack Gallery in London and New York, who host an exhibition of his work whenever he has had a chance to create some new pieces.
His paintings are acrylic on canvas. Occasionally he blogs and tweets the progress of a painting: we have included one of these step-by-step sequences here for Derren’s painting of actor Michael Sheen. Any art enquiries should be made to the Hossack gallery directly. Meanwhile, some of Derren’s paintings can be viewed below:
I have known Michael for a little while, and recently went to see his Hamlet, directed by Ian Rickson and currently running at the New Vic. It’s phenomenal. Afterwards we had dinner and Michael spoke at length about what he and Ian had done with the play and why. A couple of weeks later we met again, I cooked an appalling piece of chicken and we asked him about his Passion, a mammoth modern unfurling of the Christ story spread across the streets and beaches of Port Talbot (an industrial port and market town where he grew up, and which has also produced Rob Brydon, Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton). Michael is deeply energised about his work, and if the formula for success is TALENT + ENERGY (as noted by my manager, who added wisely that the formula for stardom is SUCCESS + ATTITUDE) then Michael radiates them powerfully. He’s surely one of the most extraordinary actors of our generation, and possesses a phenomenal creative drive without any of the exhausting ego that normally accompanies mere dull ambition.
So, as I tend to paint people that I know and find extraordinary, I asked if he would mind awfully. A bit over a week later, interrupted by Christmas of course, and tweeted in its various stages, the large (it’s five foot high) portrait above was completed. For those who do not tweet, or for those who do but who might like to see the sequence together, and above all for those who give a jot because they paint and are interested in the process, I shall set it out as best as I can. Here then, is how it came together:
I prefer to work from photographs, so wherever possible I take my own. I can create a makeshift photographic studio in my painting room, so I took a bunch of Michael to work from. Ultimately I decide on one, tweak it in Lightroom to look its best, and print it out large (I have an A2 printer which does the job very well). He’s looking rather shaggy at the moment because of the role which he undertakes every night (a far cry from his shiny Tony Blair), which I knew would make the picture more interesting.I then began the portrait by sketching directly onto the canvas:
Next, I block in some colour to set a unifying tone for the picture. Orange is a good one for flesh, but it can be anything, depending on the palette that the photograph suggests. The idea is then to let this blocked colour peep through as the layers of colour are built up. You want to make sure that every inch of the picture is interesting. With a good painting, you can generally make a little tube with your hand and look through it at tiny, isolated areas of canvas and they will all be of interest. There’ll always be stuff going on. The way to do this is by building up layers of colour.