Monday, 23 June 2008


I want to talk about 'style'. As in painting styles.

This is a big subject, and is going to take more than one post.

A recent correspondent asked me to explain how I achieve my 'loose' style.

When painting I don't think about my 'style' at any stage. I think about colour, about placing, about what I'm painting. I try and achieve the same resonance on the canvas that I'm seeing with my eyes.

For example, if the horizon is shimmering, then I'll try and capture that. If it changes while I'm painting it then I'll try and capture that too. Then I'll make a decision about whether to change it at that stage, or to leave it as it is, with the possibility of changing it later. I explain a little about this thought process in the post immediately below this one.

The key to all of this is to actually look.

Looking is an active thing, something you have to do very deliberately and consciously. It doesn't mean glancing at the landscape, then painting what you think you might be seeing in a way that fits in with what is already on the canvas.

I spend very little time looking at the canvas.

For the vast majority of the time that I'm working I am looking at the subject, then at the palette, then back at the subject.

I'll then look at the canvas t0 place the marks on it, but it is definitely not the focus of my attention.

The making of each mark on the canvas is the culmination of deep observation, consideration and understanding; the making of the right colour and resonance on the palette. And then finally placing the mark on the canvas.

Then you have to look back at the subject to see whether you've got that mark right.

I'm not precious about my marks. They are so frequently re-evaluated, re-considered, re-painted that I cannot be so.

If you are not prepared to change, even obliterate, marks you have made however beautiful and effective they may look - it means that you are not going to push yourself and develop as a painter.

At the Slade we were taught to initially block in the main shapes first, squinting while doing so in order to obscure the fussy detail of a scene and to allow yourself to focus on the tonal qualities. At this stage I am painting in flat colour, and in basic planes - rather than 'modelling'.

There then follows a process of refinement, of building up the surface - and really looking to bring out more elements of the picture which were perhaps obliterated by squinting harshly.

Then as the picture becomes more complex I will occasionally return to the main shapes, and how they relate to each other - right through until the painting is completed.

In summary, you are not properly looking at your subject if your expectation is to get it right first time. It is vital to continue to look at what you are painting right up until the moment that you stop painting. And you should be prepared to make dramatic changes right up until that moment.

After all, painting is a destructive process in my opinion.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Sorting The Sheep From The Cows

The photographs above show recent progress on the large landscape that I started here in late spring.

I had hoped to bring it to a conclusion before now, but a variety of circumstances and other projects got in the way. This meant that the time between painting sessions was longer than I would have liked.

As a result the landscape has changed enormously. When I started this painting the top field was intensely-yellow flowering rape, and the field in the foreground had sheep and new-born lambs grazing in it. They kept the grass short, and the colours were paler as the new grass emerged.

Now the view is very different.

The field in the foreground has great patches of nettles which have grown rather high, obscuring some of the previous view. The flowering rape is now over, and has turned green. The hedgerows are blossoming white. And the sheep and lambs have moved to fresh pastures to be replaced with a herd of Holstein bullocks. The scene has the lush, deeper colours of early summer.

The top photograph was taken today, and the lower one on Monday.

As you can see I have had to take a positive decision to lose the sheep from the painting. I was sad to see them go, as they were part of the inspiration for starting it. I am also not ashamed to say that the lambs were very cute and full of personality.

Looking at the lower photograph you can see that the loss of the sheep was not a snap decision. On Monday I cautiously began to add the cows, leaving the sheep present in case they returned as they sometimes do.

During today's session the angular black-and-white bovines began to dominate. And although I have 'lost my sheep', they have not disappeared entirely from the painting. In places I have deliberately left ghostly echoes of their presence.

This is because such a painting is not a photograph. It does not capture and freeze a single moment in time. It is rather a record of the time I spent intensely observing and absorbing the ever-changing, living, evolving scene in front of me. And this is naturally reflected in the painting.

That is not to say that the sheep will necessarily still be there in any form when the painting is completed. But that their presence for a time has influenced what I have painted in some way.