September’s Painting Project: Circles of My Mind

This month’s painting project is similar to last month’s Arboreal Abstract Project, but working with rounded shapes rather than stripes. Trust the process (i.e. follow the steps in the instructions), don’t try to tightly control the outcome from the start but meander along towards a finishing point, and remind yourself that no single mark is critical.

YOU WILL NEED:

  • A sheet of watercolour paper (I suggest A3 in size)
  • Scissors or a knife, something that will scratch a line into the surface of the paper not merely indent it
  • Paint (I suggest watercolour, granulating colours if you have them, or ink or watery acrylics)
  • A white gel pen or rigger brush and white acrylic/gouache or white oil pastel

WHAT TO DO:

  • STEP 1: Scratch 15 roundish shapes of different sizes into the surface of the paper. Try to avoid sharp corners or points on the shapes. Yes it’s quite hard to see what you’re doing, but don’t skip this step. Do it decisively and don’t stress or second-guess it. I found it easiest to do it in two halves, like brackets ( ).

  • STEP 2: Mix up a brownish or greyish off-white (a “dirty water” or pale sandy colour) and cover the entire sheet with it. Don’t worry about getting it as an even colour, and vary the direction any visible brushmarks. Dampening the sheet with water before you start will make it easier. Allow to dry before moving on to the next step. (What the paint does where the scratched marks are will reveal why step 1 exists.)

  • STEP 3: Mix a midtone blue/purple-grey (mid-tone = not especially dark and not pale). Paint five rounded shapes somewhere on the sheet, in various sizes. Splatter a bit of this colour around the sheet too.

  • STEP 4: Mix three different earthy browns/yellow/oranges colours. With the first colour, add five rounded shapes, in various sizes. Splatter a little of this colour around too. Allow to dry. With the second colour, add seven rounded shapes. Allow to dry. With the third colour, add seven rounded shapes. Allow to dry. (I would mix a colour, use it, then add something to the leftovers to shift the colour, rather than mixing three separately.)

  • STEP 5: Using a dark pen or pencil, draw an outline around the shapes you see as the top-most layer. Then, on the shapes underneath these, draw an outline on those parts that are beyond these top shapes, that is stopping and restarting the outlines rather than going all the way around.

  • STEP 6: Using a white pen (or brush and paint, or an oil pastel if it gives a thin enough line), draw 25 rounded shapes as the final layer. Don’t outline existing shapes.

TIPS:

  • Allow some painted shapes to go off the edges. It gives the composition a sense of continuing beyond the edges of the paper rather than being constrained by the edges.
  • Overlap shapes, both within a layer and between layers.
  • Tape the edges of the sheet of paper before you start, then when you’ve finished peel it off and you’ve a white border to the painting.

VARIATIONS:

  • Do versions with only transparent colours (except for the final white), with mixed opaque/transparent, and with only opaque.
  • Work without letting shapes dry before adding the next.
  • Use colours other than white for the final layer.
Holding the sheet at an angle in strong light will help you see where you’ve scratched into the surface
Paint will accumulate where the paper has been scratched. Let it!
Mixing leftover bits of colour on a watercolour palette is an easy way to create desaturated colours.
Step 5: Adding pen outlines

Like the circles that you find
in the windmills of your mind

Noel Harrison, The Windmills of Your Mind

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