"The Art Gallery to watch, 2017"

Mark Payne

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Mark Payne

Born in Luton, Mark studied technical and scientific illustration for four years. After graduation he became a member of the Society of Illustrators, Artists and Designers (SIAD). Since then, he has had a full and demanding 33 year career as a full-time artist and illustrator, producing work for numerous national and international publishers, advertising agencies and galleries. He is the founder of CGI-company, Mission 3D.

Outside of work, Mark is a keen rider who has learnt the hard way that you can lead a horse to water, but that’s about all you can do with it! He also loves being taken for a walk by his two young Schnauzers, Connie and Alf. For relaxation, as well as his love of painting, Mark is a part-time student of classical history at the University of London. He lives in Cambridgeshire with his wife, and has two grown-up children.

Woodland scenes

Mark work with oils and uses a very simple method that is a variation of the early painting technique known as ‘Grisaille’, a practice used many of the old masters.

Generally, it starts with a monochrome under-painting, usually in shades of grey or ochre, on a white surface. Once fully dry, it is painted over with successive layers of transparent colour known as ‘glazes’. Each new glaze changes the optical qualities of the layers beneath, resulting in a richness and purity of colour that is otherwise very hard to achieve.

The technique is time-consuming as it’s essential that each glaze is allowed to dry thoroughly before the next is applied. Between glazes, the painting is lightly sanded, giving the finished painting a beautifully smooth, glossy surface. This method of applying colour has some important advantages over the traditional method of mixing colours with an opaque base.

It is generally accepted that the most beautiful qualities of a colour are in its transparent state, applied over a white background. This is because transparent colour is seen by the viewer as if back-lit, with light reflecting back through the paint from the white surface behind it. This is in contrast with opaque paint, which simply reflects light off the uppermost surface. Using opaque paint results in a surface that you can look onto, whereas the use of transparent glazes results in a richly glowing, glass-like surface that you can look into. He has adapted this venerable technique to suit the modern subjects of his paintings.

Book series

“I love books. Real books, as tactile objects that you can feel the weight of in your hands, leaf through, and into which you can simply disappear. Of course, like most booklovers, the excitement of a new novel, especially of a favourite author, is always an occasion to be savoured. But I find the books I treasure most become old friends. I love to revisit them, and celebrate down the years their graceful journey as they age – so often to marvel at their maturity, and sometimes to stand back with wonder as my youthful friend has become a classic! I love the feel of these my inanimate friends, who live with me and in me so vividly. Their stories, their feel, their warmth and their comfortable familiarity, – it is all these qualities that inspire me to paint them.

Most of the books I’ve painted are very old and have had many owners, yet their fine condition suggests a much pampered life in careful hands. Others have not been so lucky. With creaking spines, dog-eared and with fading colour, they may be battle-scarred, but they are still as precious. Many of the books I paint are now quite rare and sourcing them has required great patience, while others, I’ve simply stumbled upon, languishing unnoticed and un-remembered on dusty shelves in second-hand book shops. But, good design is timeless and as precious as what is contained in the treasure between the covers. These books, I am deeply convinced, deserve to be noticed.

While wanting to honour and pay tribute to the original jacket designers and their unquestionable talents, my paintings are portraits of some very old, well-loved books, the way they are now. Novels, poetry, history and a range of subjects all attract my interest. It may not be possible to judge a book by its cover each and every time, but a great engraving or a modern jacket certainly promises much.

The paintings themselves are much larger than life with every tear, crease and blemish, carefully and accurately recorded. You see my aim is not just to reproduce the original cover artwork like a poster. It is to paint the whole book as a real, three-dimensional object with all its imperfections – the evidence of life – so that when mounted and sensitively lit, the illusion is created of a real, giant 3D book. It really is a living thing.”


Mark Payne