Landscape painting in mixed media materials
Landscape painting in mixed media materials

This is a mixed-media landscape painting on canvas. It is semi-abstract and expressionistic in terms of technique and style but there are elements of perspective and simple spatial devices employed in the work. It reflects my day-to-day experience of living in the understated yet dramatic Fenland landscape of East Cambridgeshire. The word ‘till’ is interchangeable with ‘until’ and I have tried to suggest both meanings in this piece. Working with the land is about understanding time and intervals of time, it is about the importance of rhythms of activity and inactivity, of waiting, of anticipating……until. It can also refer to a vault; a place to hold treasure.

The heavy texture of this painting combines gesso, sand, plaster, marble dust, bitumen and oil paint. The materials have a direct relationship to the physical qualities of the land and I feel this gets me closer to the reality of earth. I apply the materials with a variety of tools, scoring, carving and digging back through the surface with multiple layers. I often work outside the studio so that I am not constrained by the need to keep materials and paints in check. I enjoy working in the open air…. like walking through the landscape, it is a liberating experience.

Landscape painting in mixed media materials
Detail
Landscape painting in mixed media materials
Detail

Abstract Landscape painting
Abstract Landscape painting using cold wax medium

Artists are always searching for new materials and different ways of representing their feelings, their thoughts and ideas. The medium of cold wax provides a gateway into a world of experimental techniques and creative possibilities. The key ingredients are inexpensive and are relatively simple to combine using an old pan and a griddle. I use a basic recipe of 3 parts turpentine and 1 part beeswax. If I need a softer, more fluid medium I add more turpentine to the mix.

This painting is a mixed media work on a 40 x 40 cm canvas and I have used paper collage and card to establish different relief levels within the painting. The cold wax is a versatile medium and will act as an adhesive layer besides providing opportunities to apply heavy impasto. The rapid drying times speed up the working process and allow swift changes. By varying the oil paint and medium ratio, opacity and translucency can adjusted. Sgraffito techniques can also be used.

This work is an evocation of the Cambridgeshire Fenlands. This is an unforgiving, flat landscape, gouged and crisscrossed by rivers and dykes. It owes its existence to the draining of the Fens by Dutch engineers over 400 years ago and makes no claim to sentimental notions of a pastoral idyll. It is, however, honest, direct, immediate and without pretence… this is genuine beauty, artless charm and magnificence.

This is an acrylic painting on a 100 x 100 x 4 cm canvas. I based it on the landscape of Roswell Pits, an 8-hectare nature reserve near the city of Ely in the Cambridgeshire Fenlands. It may surprise you to see me working with acrylics as I normally use a range of media including oil paints and cold wax, which I find more expressive. The inherent ‘flatness’ of acrylic paint can be an obstacle to more creative explorations of the natural landscape, but the medium has definitely improved dramatically in terms of versatility and range.

I have applied the paint here with a variety of hog hair brushes in an impressionistic style with many quick strokes of translucent colour. Some of you may feel that it is closer to pointillism in technique. I made the layering and depth of colour possible with the addition of various Liquitex acrylic gels, both gloss and matt. Slow drying additives were also used to ensure the soft blending and subtle gradations of tone achieved in the lower part of the painting.

To unify the surface and protect the painting from dust, UV rays and yellowing, a last layer of acrylic varnish was applied with a large flat brush.

The dominant feature of the work is the reflection on the lake and how the trees and sky have been transformed by the breeze blowing intermittently across the surface.

Roswell Pit: 100 x 100 cm on canvas
Detail from Roswell Pit, acrylic landscape painting
Detail from Roswell Pit, acrylic landscape painting

What do I mean by reverse archaeology? That archaeology may have something to offer painting is less complicated than you might imagine. The painting that you see here is really 3 paintings in one, except that you can only see the last layer, or the current layer, to be more accurate.

This work started out as a monochrome image using a bitumen ground with a white chalk paint applied in alternate layers. The chalk layer acted as a kind of sgraffito surface that could reveal the darker tones below. At this stage, with the paint still wet, it was also possible to drag the surface with a wide squeegee, a technique used by the German artist Gerhard Richter to create unexpected marks and gradations of tone.

I guess I could have stopped at this point. The painting had already gained a rugged tactile quality with a richly textured surface. I had also used horizontal bands or sections to echo the characteristics of the Fenland landscape and aerial perspective. I reworked the painting a few days later. To be honest, I know the precise reason I made the next set of changes. I had seen a contemporary textile piece in a local gallery that comprised sections of worn, multi-coloured cloth, stitched together in vertical strips. The effect was mesmerising. The artist explained that the old clothing belonged to her husband, a farmer, and she wanted to embed and embody his work in the textile landscape.

I introduced several opaque layers of cold wax medium to the surface. These were stained with light ochre and I waited a few days for them to dry. I then scored regular horizontal lines through the surface to the bitumen. The painting at this stage was monochrome. It had a definite presence with a minimalist abstract quality. I had successfully avoided the trap of becoming overly decorative and too narrowly focused on detail. However, I didn’t stop at that point, hence the reference to reverse archaeology. Archaeology is a process of extraction and excavation, revealing the events of time. My paintings are a process of accretion and sedimentation, which disguise the origins of the work.

I became dissatisfied with the absence of colour in the work and I wanted to introduce a range of warmer, differentiated tones to the gridlike structure. I switched to acrylic paints and some metallic effects, which I applied selectively. As you know, acrylic and oil don’t mix particularly well, but this can be an advantage if you are striving to achieve an uneven, variegated colour. The last part of the process involved the application of heat with a heat gun. The intense heat allowed the bitumen to burn through the wax, reinstating the fine lines and increasing the textural qualities in the paint which momentarily bubbled and then resettled.

This is where I have arrived, and maybe this is where I should remain. Maybe the painting becomes less convincing each time I make a significant intervention. Maybe the earlier foundations and cumulative changes conjure a depth and a weight that may have lifted the work beyond the pedestrian. At this moment, the jury is out.

Let me know your thoughts, it’s always good to hear other viewpoints and opinions.

This is a painting about music, rhythm and the rich aural textures and the timbre of sound. The chords and colours of the painting reflect my interest in the acoustic guitar, its tonal range and versatility. The curved and straight lines found in the shape and structure of the instrument are used to provide contrast and compositional harmony. Elements of Cubism are evident in the multi-faceted viewpoints and the intersection of foreground and background spaces.

‘Counterpoint’ 75 x 52 x 4 cm on Canvas
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