Something I’ve noticed lately about the way a paint is that I have two modes of painting.
In the first mode, I’m judging colours and values as accurately as I can. I’m not even thinking about the panting much, I’m mostly laying down a jigsaw puzzle of colours that often don’t make a lot of visual sense. They’re more like markers, to show me where things actually are. I might end up oscillating around those markers a bit later on in the painting, but without this carefully observed, almost analytical foundation, I almost always lose the plot.
While I’m in this mode I have one eye closed and the other thrown out of focus. I don’t want to see form, I want a vague visual impression. But I want what I paint to be very, very accurate from a point of view of hue, chroma and value. I know that’s a strange dichotomy. It gets resolved in the next stage.
When I’m coming to the end of this stage, I’m usually convinced that the painting is a complete failure and I should wipe it and start again. I get depressed. Seriously! I walk away, usually, and take a break. Go to the shops and buy the veg for dinner, maybe, or just do something else. I’m heartbroken. But I’m also in that weird cloud of focus that makes it hard to talk to people.
Coming back for stage two, I deliberately make myself take the focus of the painting and resolve it as much as I can. I’m thinking about the form in this stage, and the light. I’m trying to make some part of the painting live as much as I possibly can. I slow down to a crawl. I tell myself it doesn’t matter if I ever finish the painting, just as long as I make one part of it well.
Somehow, at some indefinable point, I realise I’m making the painting, and it might not be a complete failure. I’m very rarely pleased with what I do. Occasionally, but not often. Usually I have to go away from it for a bit and look at it after a few days before I can decide if I think it’s any good or not.
I went through all of these stages with this painting – and the initial, experimental phase when I’m drawing and laying a base on which everything else will sit. This painting started life like this:
I know, odd. But I had an idea that I wanted a very warm underpainting to show through everything, a unifying colour, and I wanted it to be high chroma – much higher chroma than anything in the actual scene. And over that, I wanted to paint the picture as if it were about to dissolve.
This is what I do at the moment. For it to work, some parts of the painting have to be painted well enough to have convincing form. Without that, it would just be a mess. With it, some kind of interplay starts happening between the parts that are resolved and the parts that aren’t.
It’s taken me a long time to get to the point of painting like this. Most of it came, technically, from learning a lot about edge handling and how affects form. Also, a deeper understanding of perception. What we see isn’t an objective thing that happens in the retina. We construct our reality from visual cues. That’s why optical illusions work and realist paint, after all, is a form of optical illusion.
Leaving parts of the image deliberately unresolved forces our minds to create the reality there. It only works, I think, if enough of the image is resolved enough to be convincing. But I think it brings the painting alive in some way.
Paintings are not meant to be seen close up on a computer screen, they’re meant to be seen from a distance, and thats’ how I paint them. This is how this one looks if you stand back:
And here’s a detail of the lemons:
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