To look at Will's paintings, you wouldn't guess that he was only in his second year of studying at University. The longer you look at his super-sized acrylic portraits of celebrities, the more life-like they become. Although Will studies graphic design at Central Saint Martins, it's his painting that we're curious about! We chat to him about acrylics, celebrity portraits and life as an art student…
How did you first discover your love of painting?
I first discovered the world of painting at age 12 when I heard about a local competition to paint the best Cornish scenery. Desperate to win the whopping first prize of £50 (70 packs of Pokemon Cards!) I raided my mum’s room for art supplies. Two days later and I had my first piece of art along with a room looking like the inside of a Skittles blender. After winning the first prize I used the winnings to buy my own set of paints which, sadly, sat dormant under my bed for a number of years. It was only when I pursued my passion for graphic design at age 18 did I once again seriously reach for my paints and brushes.
What is your process like? What scale do you work at? What are your essential materials?
I start by sketching the the face out directly to a 1m x 1m canvas, I find painting the eyes the most enjoyable and dread painting the mouth! Then the only materials I need after that are a tube of 1 black and 1 white acrylic paint and a handful of brushes. However, the real key to my process is loud music and an occasional shot of Barbados rum. This year I set to dive into using colour but definitely not in a conventional way.
How does your course at college differ from your extra-curricular painting?
The two couldn’t be more different. I walk into college wearing clean clothes and sit in a brightly, fluorescently lit room methodically generating ideas and slowly building them up. Whilst I find this really interesting it’s a much more organised and disciplined approach to how I usually paint. When I paint, I prepare my playlist, blast it full volume and chuck on my paint covered tracksuit bottoms, one of my countless ruined t-shirts and get stuck in. My flatmates are always anxious when I paint because I tend to get more paint on me than on the canvas itself! I have a good balance between the two subjects but sometimes painting becomes a necessity because I have so much creative energy built up that I just need to let out. It’s bit of an unpredictable, dynamic and crazy process to be honest. I’d be a terrible teacher!
Why is it that you choose celebrities to paint? Would you ever like to work with a sitter?
I choose celebrities because my audience can identify with each piece on a different level. People seem to recognise the person before they realise it’s a painting, then once that realisation kicks in I see their faces light up and they seem to engage with the piece on their own personal level; do they like the subject? Are they a fan? or do they hate the subject? Sometimes it just doesn’t matter because they appreciate the work regardless, but when there is a heightened emotional reaction because they know the person so well, the appreciation is even higher and that’s great to see. I am always open to new things so of course I would work with a sitter. Are you offering?
On your website you say you're 'addicted to painting’, does 2014 look like a year for even more Will Thompson portraits?
Most definitely! I am painting more than ever and have a lot of big projects lined up for the coming year, so you’ll only see more and more in the future. I’m always on the look out for bigger and more ambitious projects and it seems like 2014 is the year to do it in!
Lucky for us, Will’s paintings are available to purchase and he’ll even work on commissions, which make the perfect personal gift. Head to his website to view the full range of his works and to contact Will directly.