top of page

Work in Progress 1

People are often fascinated by the process of making visual art. They assume that the success of the work lies in the application of good technique, believing that technique to be something like a trade trick or secret. Knowledge of how to manage paint comes with practice. The hard part is managing the creative process. To me this is largely navigating through an array of possibilities. Creative processes are largely decision making processes.

When painting, it helps to have a pretty focused intention, which slowly evolves through the development of the painting in stages. Apart from preparing the canvas with a primer, the first layers of paint develop a 'ground' from which subsequent layers can be added. There are various types of ground depending on what you are looking to achieve. Next comes layers of opaque and semi-translucent paint. I often complete the paintings with transparent glazes.

I think that painting is really about looking to exploit both the visual potential and organising capacity of layering. When oil painting in layers, it is good practice to use the principles of 'thick' over 'thin' paint and 'fat' over 'lean' paint. Thick and thin needs little explanation. The terms 'fat' and 'lean' simply refer to the amount of linseed oil in the paint. Or more correctly, the ratio of oil to pigment. The fatter the paint, the greater the amount of oil in its composition and the greater the relative plasticity it has. Adopting these simple principles is designed to reduce the likelihood of cracking paint.

To assist in finally arriving at a satisfactory solution (composition), it is a good idea to work each layer across the whole surface of the canvas before moving on to the next layer. That is: try to avoid finishing any one part of the canvas before starting another part. This is surprisingly dificult to do at first and probably has a lot to do with our habit reading images by identifying and isolating subject matter.

I have added to this blog sequences of images, illustrating the production of some of the Saraji paintings in various stages. As you can see, I have experimented a little with different ways of developing the grounds. For a variety of reasons the ground is one of the most important layers, even though you end up painting over most of it.

As well as working in layers, the degree of success is often dependant on other sorts of planning/designing. If you have some basic intent in mind, it is a good idea to quickly explore some ideas for compositions. Quick, one to two minute sketches help you design the general layout and thrust of the composition. After using the thumbnails to develop a good general solution, it is a good idea to do a tonal drawing with a little more care. The tonal drawing fleshes out the arrangement of tones and is useful in finding solutions to issues of proportion, structure of form, relationships between positive and negative space. It is easy to underestimate the value of this step with the urge to just get started. The arrangement of tones in your painting ultimately determines the success of the composition. If you have a poor design to start with, these inherent issues will remain with you and the work as it develops. At the very least, you will struggle with solving these issues during the painting process. Best to solve them before you start.

Below is a series of images showing the production of the first painting in this series. The general approach and colours were quite ill-defined at the start, so I took my time with the preparatory stages.

This is the intintial drawing using water soluble pencil. This drawing was intended to double as a plan for the painting and the ground for a little gouache painting. As yet I have not painted over the drawing.

Here you can see I have added thin, lean layers of cadmium orange, indian yellow and dioxazine purple in that order. I guess it is both a tonal ground and a coloured ground. I used a lean medium to ensure the paint was both thin and lean. This stage of the painting sets me up for the layers of true colour that will come next and potentially allows for some of this warm ground to remain visible at the end. (certainly better than white and may assist in providing a level of cohesion to the end product.)

The spread of lights, mid-tones and darks are becoming established. The arrangement of lights and darks essentially formalise the composition. At this stage it is possible to re-arrange the shapes, proportions, tones and patterns to ensure a sound solution is found before adding the thicker paint layers.

The dioxazine purple has some french ultramarine blue added.

I had fun playing with these three layers of lean paint and fiddled too much. Clarifying too much what will happen next by adding too much detail at the start isn't always a good thing. You may end up being tied too much to the first layer. If there is no discovery, chance or finding, the final result may be a little stiff and contrived. I personally prefer when you can see where the artist has taken risks. The bigger the risk the more there is at stake. Each artist should find their own balance between control and unfettered chaos. Where you find this happy balance, I guess depends a lot on your personality and on the result you want in the end product. The following is a detail. You can see the white of the canvas through the transparent layers that comprise the ground. This white should optimse the luminosity of the paint.

For this painting I used a quality bought canvas. Something I don't normally do. (I normally stretch my own and have become fond of linen.) I found this canvas nicely prepared and very nice to work on. I think of this stage of the painting as providing possibilities as well as defining solutions. You can always change your mind or depart from the plan.

Here you can see the opaque and translucent colour being added to the ground. I have intentially painted lighter and brighter than what I think I want at the end. This is because of the intention to glaze over this layer with transparent colours towards the end of the process. This will slightly darken and reduce the colour and tonal differences between the individual paint marks. So at this stage they neeed to be little bold with exaggerated colour and tonal differences.

...before glazing

...after intitial glazing. Some further glazes were subsequently added to complete the painting.


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
bottom of page