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.


Steve said...

Thanks for this post.....again your words are very inspiring. I have been trying to formulate this approach in my own mind; you have summarised it as well as anyone could.
I'm looking forward to following your work over the summer.

Tony Perrotta said...

Thanks Harriet,

Tony P

Eduardo Alvarado said...

I agree!

Harriet Barber said...

Thanks for your comments.