This is a short video of me at work on a relatively large painting. It will give you some idea of how I approach the challenge of working on big surfaces. This is a 200 x 150 cm custom made canvas and the scale presents new challenges, forcing you to adopt different methods and techniques.
I have deliberately avoided brushes for this stage of the painting: an assortment of rollers and palette knives are used to block in the main areas of colour. For me, it is important to establish the overall composition as quickly as I can, it really doesn’t matter if these early indications and suggestions are obscured or abandoned. I am always alive to the notion that the painting will undergo many changes of direction; in a sense each new direction can only be based on previous decisions and judgements. The key is to make some judgements and decisions, they can always be modified as the work progresses. These early layers are essentially a way of breaking the ice, they may be obliterated by subsequent layers but they do begin the process of finding a composition whilst simultaneously building impasto and texture.
Paintings on this scale use considerable amounts of material and this has to be taken into account at the outset. There would be little point in adopting a parsimonious attitude towards materials and thereby restricting your creative options. Part of the joy of painting this big is the freedom to use materials with genuine exuberance and conviction. If you are worried about the quantity of paint you are using, I imagine this concern and hesitation would inevitably show in the work. Painting big requires physical movement, energy and action and you have to resist the temptation to reach for the fine sable brushes. Playing safe always seems like an attractive option but it is generally counterproductive in painting; in an effort to exert control over the exciting events unfolding in front of you the encounter becomes more about accountancy than art.
As you can see, the painting is in the early stages, I’ll update you as I progress over the next few days and weeks. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask.
In the last day or so I have added additional layers to this work and tried to ensure that the selected materials interact in both challenging and unexpected ways. The inclusion of shellac and emulsion paint with powdered pumice stone creates unpredictable textural qualities and patina. Gloss, satin and matt painting media combine to reflect and absorb light. Bitumen, partially diluted with turpentine has been allowed to flow across the surface settling in crevices and darker pools. I am much happier with the overall direction of the work now, although it would be fair to say that the more experimental approach has clearly resulted in a loss of definition and resolution. Whether this is acceptable in the long run…only tomorrow will tell, when I begin all over again.
I thought I would share some of my working methods with you today. This is a painting of a well known landscape in Cambridgeshire called ‘Devil’s Dyke’. I have photographed the location on numerous occasions and in many different weather conditions; I have always found something new and exciting to reveal. A while ago, I decided to translate this scene into oil paint on canvas using a cold wax medium to render textural qualities.
It is a work in progress and I have been developing different ideas for a couple of days now. I am trying to achieve a balance to the recording of the pathway, the fields and the tonality of the sky; as you can see there is a great deal more to do here. I enjoy the fact that cold wax allows you to draw directly into the paint surface but there is always a tension between the purely illusionistic elements of light, tone and colour and the physicality of raised marks and incisions.
I’ll keep you updated and show you the next stage in a week or so.
This painting is from my New Forest series and the materials used include oil paint, cold wax medium and a solid block of oak. The oak block is 20 x 20 x 5cm. I have worked on cradled boards many times and have found that the harder surface encourages a more aggressive approach to mark making. The weight and density of the oak block takes this strategy a stage further and allows you to exploit the resistance and grain of the wood. That my subject matter is trees and I am working directly on the ‘machined’ surface of a tree only enhances the poetry and mystery of this activity we call painting.
I’m currently working on this painting… have been for quite a while now. It has gone through a series of changes and modifications, but that is just the way it always goes. The close up shots of the surface should give you an idea of the heavy impasto of the cold wax, the incisions and layering.
I increasingly find that a painting only really begins to ‘work’ after I have been through a stage of irrational confidence, followed by more rational misgivings and doubts to the final point of total despair. The point at which I lose all faith in the endeavour is the moment of maximum freedom, clarity and opportunity. That’s when I am liberated from my preconceptions and the false notions of correctness and quality…then I can begin to kick start the recovery. I repeat this ritual all the time….you would think that I would learn…but I can’t and I don’t.
These photographs were taken yesterday at The Locker Cafe in Cambridge. The exhibition of paintings and photography runs from 19th July – 19th August. If you are in town do come along and take a look. The Locker art cafe is located at 54 King Street, just opposite Tindalls art supplies.
Just completed setting up the exhibition last night at the Locker Cafe. Many thanks to John, the owner of the Locker art cafe for his assistance with the hanging process. I will visit the cafe over the coming weekend when it is busy and full of customers… Maybe take a video to give you an idea of the overall layout and lively atmosphere. Don’t forget, if you are in town, take a break from your shopping, have a coffee, a bite to eat…enjoy the artwork.
Mon – Fri 8:30 am – 5:30 pm, Sat 9:30 am – 5:30 pm, Sun 10am – 4:00pm
If you are in Cambridge between 18th July and 18th August come along to the Locker Cafe, just opposite Tindalls art shop at 54 Kings Street. I will be displaying a range of paintings and photography from the last couple of years so there should be something of interest for everyone. The Locker cafe is a lively ‘arts’ based cafe founded by father and son team John and Adam Hodges in 2017. The paintings are primarily large scale abstract pieces in a variety of media including acrylic, bitumen, cold wax and oil paint. The monochrome photographs are based on the Fenland landscape.
This painting is based on the artificial lake called ‘Roswell Pit’ which is located on the edge of the City of Ely in Cambridgeshire. The work is something of a departure for me as I have used acrylic paint and a glazing medium and not oil paints and cold wax. To achieve luminosity and translucency I have applied multiple layers and short strokes of colour with a hatching technique. It is perhaps difficult to categorise the painting style but I see elements of Magritte and Surrealism, Monet and Impressionism and possibly aspects of colour field painting in the relative flatness of the picture plane.
This is a multi layered mixed media oil painting on a high quality canvas frame. This painting represents a development of my New Forest series and continues my engagement with nature and land. The surface consists of multiple layers of oil and cold wax, with a marked impasto and pronounced textural qualities.
The gold paint has a soft patina and mirrors elements of the colour and tones of the immediate environment. Gold leaf has been applied selectively to some of the vertical forms and provides intense points of a golden reflective light.
The abstract nature of the work reflects the process of growth, flowering and renewal. This painting is concerned with serenity and contemplation. The falling and rising arcs of paint are designed to be both hypnotic and calming.
This is an experimental painting on canvas using tar, oil paint and cold wax medium. Just recently, I have been trying to include more elements of drawing in my work, allowing the hand to make incisions without consciously controlling or dictating the final outcome. I guess I am attempting to eliminate myself from the process, to achieve a sense of originality and inevitability about the marks, undoubtedly a foolhardy enterprise. How can it be possible to draw without prior awareness of drawing? I recall the ‘blind drawing’ exercises we worked on in art classes; they often produced surprising and unexpected results. However, many of the students never quite grasped the purpose of these techniques and often felt they were creating interesting but more or less random ‘drawings’ lacking in observational skill.
How as an artist do you suppress and override all those aspects of knowledge surrounding line and form that we acquire over years of practice? The lyrical and poetic qualities of line become part of our skill set, our DNA, the sweep of the arm, the motion of the wrist; curves and contours, all the motor skills associated with looking and recording though drawing become ingrained and established.
I intend to explore and discuss this aspect of drawing further in the next few posts. I’ll be looking at the use of unconventional drawing implements and the significance of the material we choose to work with.
I took the opportunity during my Fine Art degree course at Manchester Art College to work in the print room. I really loved the process of etching, preparing the copper sheets, drawing into the wax surface, revealing the bare metal and immersing the plate in sulphuric acid. The depth of line being controlled by time and the concentration of the acid solution. It is always a magical process and difficult to predict the outcome. I guess in many ways I have come full circle; that was over 40 years ago and I’m still drawing, scoring into surfaces and creating marks.
This series of paintings use tar, oil paint and cold wax and to some extent they can be manipulated to echo the qualities found in intaglio etching. Many artists say they begin a work without preconceptions and just allow the image to emerge and take form.
One of the assumptions about this technique is that it leaves open the opportunity for the spontaneous and unexpected to arise as the work progresses. This may be the case with particular pieces and you may occasionally ‘get lucky’. I prefer to think that this approach is often quite calculated and measured. It is about generating visual ideas through accident and chance, then looking carefully and reflecting on what has been produced and intervening to strengthen those qualities.
The ‘detail’ images shown below will give you some indication of the nature of the marks and the subtlety of the wax and tar surface. Beeswax is a beautiful medium to work with; selective burnishing enhances reflective qualities and a sense of depth and texture.