How I Made “Sky and Stone”
I’m excited about the direction of my latest work and I wanted to share one of my new paintings – but also to share my new process, because I think process and result are closely linked.
I have found that whenever I start with an end in mind, the results are disappointing. If I plan to capture a specific view, I seem to tighten up and as a result, the painting is dull and lifeless.
So instead, I now begin by painting intuitively. I always know the colour palette I’ll be using, and I may have an idea of shapes, but otherwise, I let my hands do whatever they want.
In this case, I started with a blank 20 inch x 24 inch canvas board and begin to paint with a limited palette of indigo, burnt sienna, cerulean blue, magenta, black and white.
I smeared paint with my fingers, used brushes, sprayed the surface with water to create drips, flicked wet paint with a brush, and even flung white paint at the canvas from a distance.
At this stage I had no subject in mind, other than my perpetual subject of the North Yorkshire landscape. I’m learning that my subconscious mind always knows what it is doing – I just have to stand back, let things happen, and eventually, the image will become clear to me.
I left the painting overnight and when I came back to it the next day, I saw what I was painting. A stone wall, tumbling down over a hilly field, and a summer sky. (I’ve probably just had enough of winter!)
So I added to it – aware now of my subject but conscious of not losing the loose quality of the work (often a problem for me).
I started to add green paint to represent the field, and drew in lines to indicate stones using Coloursoft coloured pencils. I discovered an unopened tin of these in my store cupboard – I’m not sure when or why I bought them, but they turn out to be perfect for drawing over a painting. They are softer and more creamy than normal coloured pencils and they go on beautifully over acrylics.
Pleased that I had made progress without losing what I liked about the initial painting, I left it again.
This third image shows what happened at my next session. I worked on defining the wall with more pencil, adding layers of colour into the sky, and also pulling the sky colours into the landscape and adding splashes of green into the sky. I love the way this abstracts the image while also making it more cohesive to the eye.
I spent the next few days wondering where to go. I knew it wasn’t finished, but I also knew I was getting close. I brought the painting into the house and put it in my kitchen. Each time I passed it, I looked but I tried not to impose any ideas on it as this stage. Just look, then continue with whatever I was doing.
After a couple of days, I had a plan. I wanted to add some green above the wall to place it more in context (but I wanted this green to remain loose and not too defined). I wanted to further define the wall while keeping it somewhat abstracted. And I wanted to add more layers of colour to the sky to give depth and interest to that part of the painting.
I added the green by painting a little green near the wall, then tipping the painting on its side and spraying it with water, so that the green ran across the canvas, creating the suggestion of distant hills.
To develop the wall, I added some collage (torn pieces of an art magazine), drew more lines with a black Posca pen, and added a little more of the sky colour into the stones.
I then continued to layer colour into the sky, and lightened it in places to contrast with the heavy, dark wall.
Finally I scribbled a line from the song I was listening to into a section of the painting. I think I will always do this from now on. (The line is “all this empty on top of me” from James McMurtry’s “You Got to Me.” See if you can find it).
When the painting still felt lively and interesting, I stopped.
It’s so easy to keep going just because you’re having fun, but I think there is a point, if you’re listening, when the painting tells you to stop and I had reached that point.
When you get a painting right, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. What do I mean by getting it right? I don’t mean making something that looks like you had planned (I had no plan for this painting). I mean that as you are working, you are connected to a deep sense of yourself. It is so hard to put into words, and I plan to write more about this as I find the language, but I feel deep, true happiness when I am “in the flow.” I know I am being honest. I am not trying to please anyone else, imitate anyone else, or impress anyone else. I am painting because I love to paint and because I want to share what I see.
I have other paintings in progress and I’m excited to see what happens next.
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