Now that I’m full time at this and painting a lot more, I have more opportunity to try things out and develop my painting process as I go.
I’m going to try to post a bit more here about how my process is changing currently, and how I put my paintings together, since it might give you some ideas for things you can try in your own work.
One of things that’s changed a lot about my process lately is how I prepare the panels before starting a painting.
Sometimes it’s just a base colour, painted on roughly to give it some texture. Sometimes it’s bit closer to what you’d call an underpainting.
Starting with the set up, often I’ll have a rough idea for a subject and an arrangement. Then I’ll spend ages trying out different arrangements till I arrive at something completely different than my original idea!
But once I have that, once the set up is in place and I know the general feel I’m after, I can prepare the panel.
Some Examples – the start and the finish
Usually, the underpainting will be deliberately left to show through in places.
Although your brain will still create the perception of three dimensional space and the objects in it (if the rest of the painting is done well enough of course) the base colour – brown, red, magenta, whatever – is still obvious.
But even when it isn’t, it still affects everything that comes after it in some subtle way I think. Parts of the painting will be semi-transparent or little more than scumbles, and the base colour is still there, although much less obvious.
For this one I used a pretty simple panel preparation, just burnt sienna (I think it was, maybe transparent red oxide) thinned with turps and brushed on roughly.
The texture of the brush strokes helps to break blank canvas syndrome for me! But I’ve deliberately used a colour on the orange side of the spectrum, because the colours in the set up are tending more cool. Yes, okay, I said “cool”.
I thought this next pic would be a good shot to show you because you can see that although I’ve tried as much as I can to paint the colour of the onion accurately, and to get the values right, the underpainting still shows through on the background.
The painting feels warmer, overall, than the subject I think.
I went a bit mad with this one and I wasn’t at all sure it was going to work. The underpainting is very high chroma, and in places I put the highest chroma red I have in my paint box on it – Michael Harding Naphthol red.
By then end, most of it was covered. I’ve tried to paint the lemons as accurately as I can, in terms of colour at least. But that underpainting is still obvious in the background in the top left.
And also, you can see it here in the cloth – right through the painting, tiny patches of high chroma reddish-brown poke through.
Lemons and bowl
Unfortunately for this one, I didn’t take any progress shots. But here’s the finished painting as it would appear from a distance, as you’d normally view it:
And here it is really close up. You can see here the little patches of low chroma magenta poking through. The whole panel was covered in this colour at the start:
Peaches and silver
I really wanted a kind of warm glow to emanate from this painting, so I let the underpainting influence the final effect a lot.
A bit further through:
Coalport jug and peaches
Now this one was painted right after the Peaches and Silver Cup painting.
I really wanted a more reserved effect so that the colour of the pattern on the jug would be the most interesting thing in the picture, and provide a contrast to the oranges and reds of the peaches. So I started this one with a raw umber wash.
The subject is similar to the previous painting, but the effect is entirely different I think.
Modelling the form:
Unfortunately, most of the stuff I’m talking about here doesn’t really come out on the photos I take of the paintings before I post them. Perhaps I’ll try to take some more photos of close ups that show it more.
The only way to really get the effect is to see the piece in person. It’s subtle, but unmissable.
I think the idea for preparing painting like this comes from the traditional method of making a warm, umber underpainting and then painting the cooler lights into it.
And yes, I did just say warm and cool. Again. But I think that’s how those traditional painters approached it and thought about it – it was a habit, a process, a working method, rather than trying to paint solely their perception.
I’ll never forget the fascination with which I pored over Hammershoi’s paintings when I saw them in real life for the first time. He often painted interiors in this way, with a warm underpainting over which he directly painted – sometimes scumbled – the cooler lights.
That process is so obvious in his paintings, the construction of them is so clear to see, and the paintings are so beautiful that the process stuck in my head.
It seems to be coming out now, albeit in a slightly changed form. I intend to play with this a little more and see what effects can be achieved with a careful preparation of the panel.
I hope this has given you an idea or two to use yourself when you’re at the easel.
But I should emphasise one thing: Once I’ve got that underpainting done, I’m very concerned with judging and then painting the colours over it accurately. Obsessive, even.
I think that’s why it works. I guess it’s a kind of a marriage between a traditional technique and an approach to colour that owes more to the naturalists. Somewhere in the juxtaposition of those approaches lies some possibility for beauty, I think.
Do let me know in the comments if this kind of post interests you and you’d like to see more of my evolving process here. I’ll do what I can 🙂
Best wishes and thanks for reading.
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