Eurovision 2023 comes to Liverpool
Revealing the creative process from initial idea through the research, sketching, evaluation and painting decisions that combined to create my canvas in tribute to the Eurovision 2023 song contest taking place in Liverpool.
PICTURE PERFECT: ARTWORKS AND EXHIBITIONS
Every picture begins inside my head and some pictures have to jump through a lot more mental hoops than others before they become the finished picture hanging on exhibition. “Eurovision 2023 Comes to Liverpool” was one such painting.
This year’s Eurovision is taking place a few miles down the road from where I live and from where the big regional annual art exhibition, the Sefton Open, was taking place just a few weeks before the musical extravaganza. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity of creating a canvas in tribute to the Eurovision and to submit it as one of my entries to this year’s Sefton Open.
I confess to not really knowing anything in-depth about the Eurovision in recent decades other than it seems full of people in crazy costumes each seemingly trying to outdo the other as to who could look the wackiest. That meant in order to do a tribute to Eurovision that didn’t portray my stereotypical viewpoint of the contest I had to do a lot of thinking and an equal amount of research.
Where to begin? What were the elements that I needed to include in the painting?
- Symbolism of the event, of the country that would have been due to host the event (Ukraine) and of the country that is now hosting it (UK);
- The colour, energy and action that is the hallmark of the event (it’s difficult to paint sound so I focused on the colours and movement instead);
- The idea of artists performing on stage.
Research immediately showed the logo of Eurovision is the heart shape, so that is an essential element in the painting. It also gave me a great way of combining the three symbols listed above: the heart shape with one half showing the Ukrainian flag and the other half the Union flag. That could be a huge backdrop to the stage.
Stages have lights coming in to create different effects so I considered streams of colours for lights coming up from the stage to form the two flags in the heart-shape. I did various sketches for this with different patterns of lights coming in at different angles. In the end I kept the idea of lights coming in from the side but chose a more simplified version of two lights either side – the mid-blue and yellow shining up to form the Ukrainian flag and the red and dark blue together streaming into the patterns of the Union flag. You can see from this photo how it started off.
I found a couple with Jedward jumping up and caught on camera in mid-air, one of a singer nearly doing the splits as he crouched down in a dramatic moment in the song, and a few of guitarists looking fairly engrossed in playing their instruments. Otherwise they were pretty much standing there on stage. Not the most inspiring of poses and not what I thought of as typical Eurovision.
As I trawled through these images I confess to nearly giving up on the idea on more than one occasion but it was too good an opportunity to miss. There had to be an answer somewhere. I sketched and painted some of the figures that did have a bit of movement in them and tried placing them around the stage as if they were all one act on stage together. It was working a bit more but still fell short of the mark.
Rather than giving in, I placed the growing pile of preliminary sketches to one side and did something totally different: a pastel drawing that was also to be exhibited at the Sefton Open. The work, entitled “Walking in Kew Woods, Southport”, swapped the Eurovision’s vibrant primary colours for muted woodland shades of browns and greens featuring a pine cone nestled among curled bronze leaves and clumps of fluffy pale green moss.
The tactic worked a treat! I not only completed the 4th picture that I needed for the Sefton Open but it meant that I came back to the Eurovision picture with fresh eyes and a more confident outlook. I still didn’t know who or what I was going to put on stage but it felt like the answer was within reach so I moved away from doing yet more preliminary sketches to starting painting the actual canvas.
I began painting in the backdrop of the two flags in the heart shape and the lights shining up to form them. The flags made colour mixing easy (virtually unnecessary) as the Union flag is the primary colours of red and blue plus white, while the Ukrainian flag is the third primary colour of yellow plus Cerulean Blue. Only the parts where the different light beams cross did I need to mix the appropriate colours.
When I finished the backdrop it lacked the idea of being flickering lights beaming up to form the flags – as you can see in the photo from this stage. I then thought about how I was planning to complete the painting with streaks of white or pale yellow lines coming up from the footlights going over the top of the rest of the image including the various performers . . . I was aiming to use this as a way of both separating the individual acts but also unifying the whole image.
Thus I took the idea and used the same process of creating streaks within the lights forming the flags. They are the same colours (red, blues and yellow) used in the lights so it stands out but in a more subtle way than the front footlights would.
That resolved the problem over the backdrop but I was still no further forward with which acts I would be depicting . . . until they announced that Mae Muller would be representing UK at the event and I googled her name.
What I found then was a range of videos from various Eurovision aficionados telling everyone who they thought were the best acts taking place this year. Their videos were filled with clips from acts around Europe . . . and Australia?? How did that happen? I suppose it shows there must be people with worse geography than mine!
Those video clips were my answer. Images of people on stage and MOVING! Whoo hooo!! I went through countless videos and kept doing freeze-frame after freeze-frame to try and capture the best movement which I could then sketch.
That still gave me lots of different acts to choose from and the last thing that I wanted to do was to just choose one country’s act to portray. It would have been different if I had been commissioned to do a painting featuring the winner after the event but not for a painting prior to the grand occasion.
So I focused on the main singers and thought I would combine a selection of them on stage together but somehow not looking like they were all one act. As I kept looking for good poses to create the action and energy that is the hallmark of Eurovision I realised I was mainly selecting singers with heavily accentuated sleeves to their colourful costumes.
I had to hope that they would be wearing the same costumes at the Liverpool event as they were on their promo film clips but hopefully Eurovision fans will recognise them from having seen the same videos.
In the final selection there were two singers wearing black but one took a dramatic pose on the stage that I couldn’t resist because of the strong triangular shape it created which contrasted well with the mainly upright shapes of the other singers. I then spotted one of a singer sitting cross-legged on the floor and another crouching down so they would alternate well with the standing figures.
With the acts chosen I began the final placing of the singers plus the drum kit which I wanted to add so that I could write “Eurovision 2023 Liverpool” onto the front just to emphasise the topic.
The drum kit needed to be centre stage so tucking it under the bottom of the heart was obvious. Next I wanted to add in the host country’s entry. One of Mae’s trademarks is her incredibly long finger nails so when I froze a video with her placing her hands with their long red nails on the back of her creamy-white skirt, I knew that was the image I needed. By placing her just off centre I could link her red top to the red of the Union flag while the bend of her left elbow pointed to the lettering on the drums.
One of my freeze-frame sketches had the Lithuanian singer sideways facing in from the left and one of the Belgian singer was sideways on but facing to the right – that made the edge figure placement easy and both had their arms out showing off the huge sleeves on their costumes. There were 3 crouching/sitting figures and another standing one so it was obvious to alternate standing and crouching figures.
Both the Danish and Belgian singers had magenta and black so placing them each side of the canvas balanced out the colours. The two figures in black needed brighter backgrounds, so the French singer was placed predominantly in front of the yellow beams going up to the Ukrainian flag plus some of the white edge on the heart shape, while the crouching Albanian singer had part of the yellow beams and some lighter stage flooring colour but is also helped by the flesh tones showing through on the arms and legs of her costume. That left the remaining crouching figure – from Finland – whose vivid green sleeves stood out from the dark blue light beams and the black trousers.
With everyone placed, it still left the actual painting of the figures and trying to capture the look of them caught mid-note – well at least the four who you can see from their faces are meant to be singing!
The final touches were the beams of light coming up from the footlights at the front of the stage. All the beams were to come from two fixed points but I wanted them to reach across the majority of the stage. It’s no problem to fan beams of lights out but the one thing that couldn’t happen was for the beams to cut through the actual face of any of the performers.
Look closely at the angles of those beams and you’ll see that there are slightly wider gaps either side of singers’ faces which help to frame and separate the individual singers while the beams going across the full width of the canvas keys the whole image together.
It’s colourful, vibrant, energetic and symbolic of Eurovision 2023 which is being hosted by UK in Liverpool . . . job done!
The finished canvas “Eurovision 2023 Comes to Liverpool” is on exhibition in the Sefton Open which is staged at The Atkinson in Southport from April 1 to May 13 2023.
So far so good. I had found the way of establishing reference to the two countries coming together but the big issue was how to present the singers and musicians. Did I have a few figures in silhouette? Did I have musical instruments “floating” around the stage? If I did pick specific acts then which ones?
I started off by looking at previous Eurovision contests to get ideas of costumes, groups, singers, and most of all, their movement on stage. That’s when I realised how many photos from Eurovision have singers just stood on stage holding a microphone . . . that’s all they were doing?? What happened to the singers and musicians leaping around the stage in bizarre costumes????
Bright sleeves from the Belgian and Finnish singers.
Singers from France and Albania in dramatic black.
Lithuania's act with another set of dramatic sleeves.
UK's Mae Muller with her trademark ultra-long finger nails.