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Artist's oil paint palette
Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16th, 1581, by Ilya Repin (1885, oil on canvas)

At the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, I gaped at Ilya Repin’s monumental oil painting of Ivan the Terrible after he struck his son a fatal blow. Ivan’s eyes bulge with horror as he clutches his dying son in his arms. I was just 20 then, but I’ve never forgotten the powerful story told by that image.

Paint stroke

About Clare Thorbes

Early in my career, I studied drawing and oil painting for five years with the late Glenn Howarth, RCA. To counter my beginner’s tendency to paint hard edges and fuss over one section of a painting, he’d remind me, “There is no object-background separation; you have to paint the whole array.” At the Victoria College of Art I learned to tell stories with paint on oversized canvases. Since moving to Nova Scotia, I’ve increasingly focused on portraiture and large-scale narrative paintings.

The narratives are my means of satisfying the storytelling impulse inspired by Repin. Each idea begins as a fully formed scene in my mind. To translate the concept onto canvas, I gather models, props and reference photos. Preliminary sketches and oil studies help me bring the composition alive. If your imagination can lead you into the space I’ve created on canvas and make you feel my characters’ emotions, then the painting has succeeded as a story.

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