Painting in Progress: The Old Bridge

Sligachan bridge painting in progress

This is the painting that’s currently on my easel, a sequence of photos taken while I painted, up to the what I will be facing when I head back into my studio. It’s 100x100cm (39×39″).

Sligachan bridge painting in progress
100x100cm, acrylic on canvas

Looking at the photos, Jerry Fresia’s “complete at any stage” popped into my head: “… at each moment of the process a painting ought to have correct value and color relationships. It ought to be complete at any stage. … think of a painting … [as] something alive that grows and moves in unexpected directions, not unlike jazz improvisation“.

Having correct colour and tone relationships at each moment is something I aspire to, and not having it is often the ‘problem’. In this painting there’s a point at which I make the mountains too dark, as I refined the shape and made them more “mountain colour”. This was resolved by having some cloud drift in (glazing with thin whites and greys).

At another point I realised I was struggling with the water in the river because I was trying not to get “river colour” on the bridge. I could have prevented this, of course, by not starting on the bridge before I had finished the river, not having painting so much of it, or not worrying about preserving it. But liking what I already had, I opted to mask it off with some tape instead.

Sligachan bridge painting in progress
This photo would fit into the sequence above as the second-last one.

I’m aiming for a “river in spate” level of water, influenced by how it was when I took this video earlier this month.

I’m thinking of it as a companion piece to this more summery painting (which is at Skyeworks Gallery):

“Rushing”. 100x100cm. Acrylic on canvas. £795 at Skyeworks Gallery.


Perhaps Being Over-Ambitious (Part 2)

(You’ll find Part One here.)

Painting River Rha WaterfallSo having stared at my painting-in-progress on and off, pondered it and where I might go with it a lot, visited the location again, I decided I liked the brushwork on the painting too much to risk messing it up and so would not continue working on it. Just yet, anyway.

Instead, I would start another painting on the same subject, and push this further, using layers of line along with brushmarks. And while I was feeling brave and bold, I’d do it big, so set up two 100x100cm canvases on side-by-side easels. (It did mean the In-House Art Critic was temporarily unable to get easily to the chair in the Studio Reading Corner.)

Work in progress

These painting-in-progress photos are unfortunately a little out of focus (taken in the low winter light at the end of the day).
painting in progress

I liked where I’d got to, but felt I’d lost the energy of my original layers of mark making and it lacked line. So implementing my rule of “be dramatic, you can’t tweak a painting into working”, I took a handful of acrylic paint markers and worked a layer of line over the painting, trying to do it as freely as I would if I were drawing in an initial layer of continous line. It was both frightening and liberating, and the further I went, the freer I became.

I deliberately stopped to take a photo of the purple line I added to the waterfall rocks, which is where I started adding the line layers, so I’d have photographic evidence a reminder. It felt over-the-top when I started, but had additional line layers of darker colours on top of this.

Studio Cat Ghost also helped.

I don’t have any other progress photos, but it involved overpainting some of the line to knock it back, some glazing to enrich colours, and just generally “some more”, until I started to think I was happy with it. I showed the In-House Art Critic, who told me to stop. I was surprised as I’d thought he’d say I should hide more of the line, but he said that he liked how the painting reveals more and more mark making as you get closer.

“Never Still”. Diptych 200x100cm (two panels of 100x100cm).

A few detail photos:

And the full painting, showing you where the details come from:

The title “Never Still” comes from my friend Lisbeth in Australia who, when I sent her photos, said: “I think the lines, and the colours you’ve chosen for them, give the painting a dynamism that real life has — nothing is really ever still, even rocks. Nothing is still inside us as well.

Perhaps Being Over-Ambitious (Part 1)

Painting River Rha Waterfall

Let me start by saying this story has a happy ending, in the shape of the largest painting I have ever created 200x100cm (78×39″). A painting I love, as does the in-house art critic and and the close friends I have sent photos to, and my Mum.

The story starts with my intoxication by the double waterfall and River Rha tumbling through the rocks (see photos) which I visited for the first time last month and then did multiple times thanks to a stretch of dry weather. I enthused so the in-house art critic came along once, together with his pastels, to sit in temperatures <6°C in the icy fine spray off the waterfall. That’s love!

River Rha Pastels

My fingers itched to paint the location, to translate my sketches and mental images onto canvas. But wasn’t I being over ambitious the voice-of-doubt kept whispering? How would I be able to convey the sense of water when the colours of the river were the same as the hillside? The only “water colour” was the white of the waterfall and rapids. Would I be able to get the layers upon layers of vegetation, the sense of the steep hillside, the stillness, the presence of the rocks? All these doubts, despite the fact that I had sketches that I was pleased with, that could lead the way.

Sketchbook Marion Boddy-Evans

Sketchbook Marion Boddy-Evans

Sketchbook Marion Boddy-Evans

Sketchbook Marion Boddy-Evans

What’s wrong with being over ambitious occasionally, I kept telling myself. I might just pull it off, and how wonderful wouldn’t that be. I decided to work over a painting that hadn’t gone anywhere, removing the pressure of a pristine canvas, whilst stimultaneously giving me a starting layer for the hillside. The long format also echoed the format of my sketchbook. Here’s what it looked like when I started adding the first reworking layer, in Prussian blue.

Painting River Rha Waterfall

Prussian blue favourite colour

A bit later:
Painting River Rha Waterfall

My palette, which will make more sense to those I’ve had conversations with about putting minimal paint out at any one time:
Palette of Marion Boddy-Evans

And a bit later still:
Painting River Rha Waterfall

Detail:
Painting River Rha Waterfall

Problem now was that I really liked where I was with this, but could see various directions I could go with it. (Also known as the “don’t mess it up stage“.) Which would I choose? Stick with brushwork only? Add a layer of line, my current enthusiasm? Texture? How far towards detailed realism? Which would I be able to pull off most successfully, which would lead to disaster?

Unable to decide, I stopped. Time for pondering, and working up courage.

Sketching River Rha

Practising Layers

Painting from reference photos by Marion Boddy-Evans

I’ve been practising for next week’s workshop at Higham Hall near Cockermouth. I’ve been trying to get a bit more systematic and specific about what I do so I can explain it, making a list of what individual layers are or might be because “be intuitive” isn’t a sufficiently helpful instruction. Also with the aim to have some examples of “layered paintings” “informed by” (based on) the photos in my new photo reference book (which workshop participants get) as well as some that combine elements from various photos.

Here are two of my paintings. Each has bits I like and things I don’t think are resolved, yet, or I would do differently next time. When I was telling the in-house art critic how I felt about them, when he finally got a word in edgeways, his response was that I was being way too harsh. He might be is right, and only I can see the gap between what was in my head and what’s on the paper.

Painting from reference photos by Marion Boddy-Evans

Here they are with the reference photos alongside. 350gsm, A3-size, NOT watercolour paper, using pencil, coloured pencil, acrylic ink, acrylic paint, and oil pastel.

Painting from reference photos by Marion Boddy-Evans

Painting from reference photos by Marion Boddy-Evans

Photo reference book by Marion Boddy-Evans
Buy photo reference book direct from me

Cue the Lightbulb Moment with the Red Tractor

The first ingredient in a painting is, according to Monet, not drawing, but light. So there goes another excuse for not tackling a subject because you/I/we can’t draw it.

For me it’s been a neighbour’s red tractor. I’ve been in love with their vintage tractor since I first saw it, but have been reluctant because tractors have all those bits and angles and things and the more I looked the more I convince myself it’s too complicated a subject to do justice. Not that I stopped looking at it, just that I put the thought of painting it aside in the belief that one day I’d be ready.

That day came a few weeks ago. Cue the lightbulb moment: what if I focus on the red, use this as the “first ingredient”, then add a huge wheel and a small one, and take it from there. Paint what I can see of the tractor when it’s being used in the croftland in front of my studio rather than what I know about a tractor from having looked at parked ones. And paint it small so there’s no space for any of that detail anyway.

This was the result:

“The Red Tractor”.
Things in the view from my studio, moved together by artistic licence.

And it framed:

“The Red Tractor”.
50x20cm

I’ve made a start on another, the red shed and red tractor (though the frend who lives near this building tells me this crofter has a blue tractor). Part of me likes it at this stage, part of me wants to push it further to the level of the previous. What are your thoughts?

Red tractor and shed painting

Photos: Being a Troll (aka Painting Under the Slig Bridge)

Painted on location at Sligachan with a group of painters on an art retreat today. When we arrived, the peaks were hiding behind cloud, but they revealed themselves in the afternoon. The river was really low after all this dry weather, so I started at a spot under the modern bridge out of the breeze. The view of the underneath of the bridge and its reflection was tempting, but I decided to save that geometric abstract for another day and stick with my intended focus, the old bridge. Later I moved upstream to amongst beautiful water-polished rocks. (Materials: Payne’s grey and a yellow acrylic ink, watercolour, on 350g paper.)

Artist Michael Chelsey Johnson

A Bit More Than a Month of ‘Thinking Time’ (Plus an Afternoon) to Finish a Painting

Part of the reason it’s hard to answer the “how long did it take to paint” question is because of ‘thinking time’. When I’m thinking about a painting, about what I need to do or might do (or wish I hadn’t done!), but not standing brush in hand and paint on palette in front of it.

It came to mind today when I finished this painting which had been waiting more than five weeks for me to feel brave enough to tackle a few small changes and additions as well as add more glazes to finish the sky. My main hesitation point was my doubts about matching the blue in the stream, but in the end I was right with my first guess, cerulean.

For a bit I used the excuse of getting ready for my workshop at Higham Hall to not finish this painting, then the excuse of a bit of R&R after teaching the workshop, then I got sidetracked by an idea, and then today I suddenly felt up to it.

Being hot meant things dried quickly (acrylics at 21?C is quite different to it at 10?C!) and I had to just get on with it. I think I have finished it, besides varnishing, and choosing a title, and stringing, and photographing properly. But those can wait a bit still.

Diptych. 120x80cm.

Fake Cloud (or why you need to leave things out of a landscape painting)

Picturesque cloud stretching high above, a sea of calm grey-blue rhythms, and parts of the band of islands that is the Outer Hebrides. As paintable as it comes.

Except for one thing. And I don’t mean the patch of pines poking in on the left.

It’s that improbable bit of sun-light cloud on top of the island.

Solutions:
1. Leave it out if you know the shape of the island.
2. Omit the sunshine on it if you don’t.

Did I Stop Too Late? (or When is a Painting Finished?)

When is a Painting Finished? Step 2

When is a painting finished is one of those “how long is a piece of string” questions. I usually say “sooner rather than later” because you can always add to a painting tomorrow. But conversely, if you don’t push a painting past a certain point, how do you develop? The danger is to under-work a painting for fear of over-working it.

These photos are from a painting where I was consciously thinking of this. I’d set out with the intention of using opaque colours on top of transparent, to explore the possibilities. (It partly comes from looking at Joan Eardley‘s paintings again.) At various points in the painting I very nearly stopped because I really liked where it was. But instead I kept going because I wanted to go further, to see where the journey might lead.

Should I have stopped painting at this point:

When is a Painting Finished? Step 1
Acrylic ink on A2 paper. Payne’s grey and a yellow.

Or should I have stopped painting at this point:
When is a Painting Finished? Step 2

Or should I have stopped painting at this point:
When is a Painting Finished? Step 3

Or should I have stopped painting at this point: When is a Painting Finished? Step 4

This is where I did stop (the changes to the step above are minimal): When is a Painting Finished?

Was it the right point to stop painting? Yes, in that I like the result, the layers of colour, the opaque colour over transparent, and that I pursued the version of the painting I had envisaged when I started through several points at which I was tempted to stop. No, because I regret I don’t have that minimalist version in the very first photo.

I could have stopped and started a new version to push further. Would I still have ended up at the same final point with the interruption(s)? That’s impossible to know and ultimately not the right question to be asking. The better question is: how do I feel about what I did do and where I ended up, not what I might have done but didn’t.