12th February 2015

From St-ART to finish

Flutter By

Flutter By

I’ve written quite a lot about my writing process but very little about the process I go through in creating a painting. I’ll be honest, for me, the painting process is a whole lot easier. There are so many layers to writing from conception, scribbling notes, character and setting development, research, more scribbling notes, rushed garblings into a dictaphone, draft 1,2,3,4…. etc. It’s a long process and you have to be made of tough stuff to go through it.

Painting is different. It’s quicker for a start, it’s completely absorbing, it’s more immediate, and, for me anyway, it’s a lot less problematic than the writing process. My creative/painting process goes something like this:

Pictures in my head
I see the picture in my head, quite often when I wake in the morning. Sometimes I’m consciously thinking of something to paint, but mostly, something appears. What appears is the concept, the overall layout, occasionally some sense of colour – sometimes this overrides everything else. It can be a pattern, a mosaic of colour, that then grows into something else. I think of my paintings as little stories. Each one is a freeze-frame of a more complex story. At the moment, I rarely use photographs except for detail on animals – the colouring on a fox I painted in ‘Night Life’ for example, and the butterflies in ‘Flutter By’.

Mini sketches
Art sketch bookI keep a small pad and pen next to my bed, so I do a quick pen sketch of the picture in my head. These mini sketches normally take between 2-5 minutes. Sometimes a title comes at the same time too. Occasionally, I let the idea float around my head for a bit. I often find myself doing these mini sketches while eating breakfast – a smear of marmite or splodge of muesli added for authenticity! I stick the mini sketches into a bigger notebook (sometimes sketches are done straight into this book) which I then write little notes on, eg. what size canvas would work best, idea of colours, detail of species in the case of two paintings that included butterflies.

Drawing on canvas
I love painting on box canvases – you don’t have to think about framing and I like to hold the canvas while I’m painting. I also like the wrap around effect as the painting spills over the edges. I draw out, in pencil, the mini sketch onto the canvas, keeping detail to a minimum. Drawing usually takes between 5 and 10 minutes.

This is the longest part of the process, for obvious reasons. I tend to work from the top down, but I nearly always leave detail – plants, flowers, butterflies, animals, people, until the end. I don’t know why. It just works for me. I work mostly with acrylics and build up the painting in layers doing the main areas of colour first – trees, fields etc. Then I build up areas of colour and detail – leaves within leaves, flowers around the bottom of a tree for example. Animals and people are notions in my head until the setting is almost complete, so they usually remain white ghostly shapes for most of the process, as can be seen in this image of my current work in progress, ‘Just Sitting’:
'Just Sitting' 11.2.15When I have most of the background in place, I can make a more educated choice about colour and detail needed for the focal point. Quite often, more background detail is added after this, and sometimes a last minute something extra. With ‘Leaf Fall’ the kite flying boy in the background was added at the last minute:

Leaf Fall

Leaf Fall

It’s a strange thing with painting, but I just know when it’s finished. If it feels unfinished and I don’t know why I leave the painting on top of a cupboard in the hall so that I keep walking past it – usually within a couple of days I’ve worked out what I need to do.

It’s a lovely process – absorbing, therapeutic, joyful… experimental too – it’s great fun trying something you haven’t tried before, doing something in a different way, and it’s lovely to be able to show the finished piece to other people too – there’s something very immediate about it all. I love it!

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4 responses to “12th February 2015

  1. Fascinating process, Abi. I always complete the backgrounds first, but I’d never be able to leave blank space for my main detail! I just build on top of the background layer. I struggle leaving space anywhere…which is why I can never paint with watercolour, as I’d just plaster it on too much, lol. I imagine the blank white makes the colour much stronger when you paint detail and I love how your paintings just pop with colour!

  2. That’s interesting, Lisa. I find I can’t make decisions about colours and detail of focal point (usually the people or animals in the paintings) until all the rest is done, then they just leap out at me! It’s so interesting to hear how other people work. Yes, painting onto white does make the colours a lot more vivid. Watercolour is a completely different beast to acrylics isn’t it? A lot more subtle.

    • I thought I’d be good with watercolour…I’m an ethereal writer, lol, but I’m way too heavy handed to get away with it. My watercolour paintings just look like acrylics! I’d love to be able to lightly daub watery colours and create a magical scene, but sadly, no-can-do…

      I love the boldness in your current paintings; strong, convincing pictures and a simplicity which really works. Do you plan to remain with the same style or try others?

  3. I know what you mean about watercolours – I can’t do the really soft blendy stuff – mine are still bright and quite bold! Re. style, I paint what’s in my head and at the moment this is it. I’ve done a lot in pen and watercolour pencils and although these are quite different, they are still quite abstract and very colourful, so I guess anything I produce will always have these features. I’d like to do some more focused bird pictures and I have a feeling these will be a little different… watch this space!

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