I don’t expect to be blogging in such detail about every single piece of art I create (that could get a little boring right?) But every so often a painting leads me on a twisty turny path and it is interesting for me to look back at the stages that went before.
I have a plan for this coming year – and that is to immerse myself in my ongoing body of work but find a fresh perspective and create a series of work that reflects a deeper focus. So I am currently taking myself through my own mentoring programme Building a Body of Work. It’s a great programme if I do say so myself!
At the moment I am writing a lot about what I want to explore, what the work will entail and how I want it to feel. A time of preparation for the studio work that is to come. But this is going to be a long term project, so I am taking my time before I begin.
In the meantime, I have given myself the goal of working on as many works-in-progress as I can for the remainder of this month. I was shocked to discover that I have as many as fifty unfinished works in progress littering my studio at the moment. Many are small pieces and just in very early stages but some just need a final push to bring them to a conclusion. I highly encourage working on a few pieces at the same time in your art practice and also starting many paintings so that you always have something to reach for. But there comes a point where too many WIP’S becomes a burden rather than a freedom. I need to make space (both head space and physical space) for the new work – so time to get cracking and get some of these boards finished!
Finished or not finished? This is the painting as I left it last December.
Late last year I worked on two paintings that I thought were done at the time – but they had been sitting taunting me in my studio and knew I was far from happy with them. So they were the first to be tackled in this month of WIP’s.
The very first layers of the above painting
Looking through the various stages is always fascinating to me so I thought I would share them here.
My work always starts out very intuitively. I have an overall vision for my ongoing work, I know with certainty what my subject and theme are, but each individual piece begins with exploration and only a ‘feeling’ that I want to convey within my chosen domain.
Next layers – unearthing the composition and atmosphere
My studio walls are filled with printed copies of previous paintings, plein air sketches, research imagery and thumbnail explorations and I am working not from one image in particular but from a selection of images that inspire me in any given moment. So any new painting has a starting point but it is very fluid and born out of simply throwing paint onto my substrate and seeing where that takes me. My colour palette is always mixed up before I even start painting but it slightly changes each time.
Very often the early phases are my favourite – I love the immediacy of the paint application, the wild, untamed brushstrokes and the freshness. There is a chance that to many, the above painting could be finished – and I guess it really could be! But I always want to take things as far as I can – explore, experiment, lose my way, find it again and then edit and refine. So at the stage that this painting is in the image above, I haven’t been on the full adventure yet – it takes the full experience for me to feel like I have gone as far as I can with a painting.
Refining things and adding more marks (not always an improvement)
After the time of wild flinging of paint, I then try to wrestle it into submission – even though I know I get too controlling at this point. I can begin to see what I might be aiming for and I often try to force it.
It got better before it got worse again
My biggest nemesis is composition. Nine times out of ten if I am not happy with a painting it is because the composition is not working for me and it takes me a while to figure out why. Above is the point where I thought the painting was almost done. I added lots of glazing to darken the outer edges and left it there.
This is where I thought it was finished and how it stayed for two months
So this is the point at which it stayed like this in my studio for over two months. But I couldn’t help but thinking it just was not working for me. It felt ‘done’ (in terms of layers, details, finish) but ‘wrong’ in terms of composition and atmosphere. The more I looked at it the more dissatisfied I became! That big green hole in the middle was just too dominant.
So this week I decided to drag it back off the wall and tackle it again. Nothing ventured nothing gained right? It’s no loss to plunge back into a painting that you don’t like in order to change things. It wasn’t going anywhere anyway.
One of the most useful things about taking lots of in-progress photographs is that you capture many stages and it is easy to see earlier layers that you might have preferred. This was definitely the case here. Looking back, I still loved the very first layers. The colours, the composition and the energy. So I decided to take big brushes and boldly work that feeling back into the painting. I all but got rid of the green, changed that overly symmetrical hole in the middle, lightened many layers and sought to lose a bit of control again and bring back some of the earlier energy.
Going back in with big brushes and bold marks and layers
And here is where I began to love it again. The copper and red, the light seeping out into other areas of the painting. The feeling of destruction and impermanence.
Going in the right direction
‘Relics of departed days’ – The difference in the before …..
Relics of departed days – 24 x 36 inches, Oil on board (2019)
…. And the after. Oh my gosh, what a difference. Now I really love it!
In a welcome flurry of decisiveness, I tackled its partner painting in the same way for the remainder of the week.
‘No place to rest’ – the before – the overpowering icy blue was bugging me as well as the composition!
No place to rest – 24 x 36 inches, Oil on board (2019)
And the painting as it looks now. So much better in my eyes!! (Excuse the reflections on the wet paint)
Thank you so much for following these recent posts and your lovely comments. I appreciate the response I have had and I hope my ramblings are of some use!
A final thought and a tentative plan …
I am so enjoying blogging again! It is a powerful thing to reflect on my progress and the various stages of the paintings I am creating. But I would also like to create something that is a little more in the moment and immediate. Both as a way of thinking about my own practice but also as a way of sharing what I am up to – the ups and downs of my practice – the challenges and the celebrations.
So with that in mind, I have a small venture that I am currently in the early stages of planning. I hope to share more soon.
Thanks so much for sharing your process. I learn so much by trying to understand how you approach painting. Very instructive. What beautiful works, Gillian!
Thank you so much dear Michele!
Love watching your progress and excited to hear your news!
Thank you so much Kathy!
Oh my goodness Gillian; I’ve only just discovered you but what an inspiration you are. I find your writing fascinating and identify so much with it. The process of a painting was like reading about myself! Love your work and think you may be local to me. Would love to do one of your courses.
Anne thank you so much for your lovely comments! It would be wonderful to connect with you sometime – I am beginning to do workshops local to me – I am in Alnwick.