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Andrew Tift's portraits of Nick Stern and Adam Roberts

The British Academy commissioned the artist Andrew Tift to draw a portrait of Nick Stern to celebrate his tenure as President of the British Academy (2013-2017). Here, you can see the portrait take shape and read Andrew’s account of his work.

• Andrew Tift

Andrew Tift

I aim for an objective likeness in my portraits, a kind of unflinching realism which renders the sitter immediately recognisable. Then paradoxically I like to make the portraits look like "fresh" drawings and removed from the pure realism of a photograph so the finished drawing has an unfinished look using line only for the collar and shoulders in a head study. I also like to work around a life size scale because I feel that adds to the realist feel.

Lord Stern and I had a two hour sitting in which we chatted about many things relating to both of our lives and while we chatted I made hundreds of photographic head studies. I like to have conversational sittings because I feel that around half way through the sitter is relaxed, engaged and animated and I can capture very specific moments.  

I selected around 30 images which I thought had a "certain something" and gave them to Lord Stern and asked him for his top three favourites in consultation with his family. Through a process of elimination we arrived at an image that we both felt would be a good basis for the portrait.

The sequence explains the process and development from beginning to end. To avoid any smudging I lean on a mahl stick and tend to work from left to right, as I am right handed. I gradually work in the eyes, nose, mouth and flesh texture working my way across the paper like a spider weaving an intricate web.

I love the simplicity of black and white and all that is in between and the way that it strips everything down to the raw and bare essentials. Over the years I have utilised and honed many black mark making mediums and here I use charcoal, charcoal dust, graphite, carbon, ink and an engraving tool on 300g paper. 

Nick Stern by Andrew Tift

The finished portrait of Nick Stern will be hung alongside Andrew Tift’s portrait of Adam Roberts (President 2009-2013).

Andrew Tift’s portrait of Adam Roberts (President 2009-2013).

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