Painting evolution, travelling away from technique towards poetry

May 2, 2015

Bottles and stillife, oil on canvas board

Bottles and still life, oil on canvas board

I’ve been concentrating on developing my oil painting for nearly 5 years now. Having a long career as a fine artist, graphic designer and calligrapher up until then, I already had a good foundation of drawing and composition. So I didn’t have to start from scratch, luckily. It has been mostly about learning the medium, and I’ve shared that process here fairly regularly. This is my first painting after a several months interlude of copying the work of some other artists. I learned a lot from that process, mostly about paint application and relaxing a little.

Basically I’m satisfied with this painting, it is another step along the way. What I am sure of, though, is that this isn’t my destination- ie perfecting realistic representation. I’ll talk more about that in a minute. Meanwhile, this has a nice story behind it.

Awhile back, I took a photo of a bowl of nectarines at my mother in law’s home and did a few paintings from it.

Tanny's bowl

It eventually landed downstairs near where Rende’s computer is. We moved my bottle collection out of our show window and they ended up in front of this still life. (You may recognise some of my first paintings of this collection from several years ago.)

So the bottles against the still life caught Rende’s magic eye, and he made several photos, they were so rich and juicy and deep, they nudged me out of my uninspired period- I had to paint them.

Painting something that is already beautiful is a major challenge! The question is, what can you add? The painting all the way at the top is a response to the richness of Rende’s photo, but it is also about mastering technique to capture what moved me. I liked the sharp clarity of the glass against the fuzzy background; a special challenge was muting the fruit still life behind the glass to make it look out of focus as it was in the photo.

But technique is never the end goal, it is simply a tool. My journey in paint is away from rendering to suggesting. But I don’t know how to do that, so I have to keep doing one piece at a time and let the work teach me. I don’t know if anyone can see the steps made since the first glass paintings, but I am moving closer to painting the way I feel.

Also important to me, not quite achieved in this last painting is letting go of form to the extent that the canvas surface becomes interesting in itself. The rhythm of the brush strokes, the layers of paint, the texture of thick and thinly applied colours all are more interesting to me than depicting a real object perfectly.

I want to paint that way NOW. But take it from me, this process of discovering your own vocabulary of marks can’t be rushed or forced. In ‘Art and Fear’, by Bayles and Orland, (super book by the way), I remember something about how important it is to develop pleasurable working habits, and that these somehow also help you to find your work.  I think even the set up of your palette could influence how you use colour, for example. One person might place the cadmium yellow closer and another  might place it at a far end, so it is less easy to reach- so you just end up using the colour closest to you.

I watched a video of David Hockney painting one of his landscapes from his show ‘a Bigger Picture’. All his years of daily work just flowed out of his brush like a guided dream.  He did one complete painting a day, and it looks so easy! But watching him taught me about working from back to front (sky first, then branches) in a landscape. It completely changed my thinking, so this is the set up for the next painting, same subject slightly different crop. I’ve sketched in the masses in the background and foreground, and am aiming to suggest more and work even more loosely.

Set up for second painting

Set up for second painting


9 Responses to “Painting evolution, travelling away from technique towards poetry”

  1. jodie2025 Says:

    Nice piece! Good luck on your journey!

  2. cpickvance Says:

    Thanks for sharing your thought processes with us. I find it really interesting, particularly because I’ve just commenced my own painting journey a couple of months ago. I think I’m going to try studying a few masters myself next. Thanks again. I’m looking forward to following your progress.

    • gee thanks. How exciting to be at the beginning of your painting journey. Do you have any ideas about where you might want to go and what will keep you on track when the inevitable challenges come up? Excuse me for mentioning these at the enthusiastic onset of someone’s decision to pursue a skill. It is just that I started oils many times in the past and kept giving up. What finally got me to stay with it was to think about how I’d feel at 65 if I hadn’t hadn’t pursued painting seriously. So now I am 65 (this could read 25, 35, 45, 55) and can look back on 5 years of steady work. By the time I’m 70 I hope to look back on continuing progress mastering technique and the emergence of the work that is most true for me.
      So good luck!

      • cpickvance Says:

        Ah yes, a great question! I recently took 6mth off work, mainly

      • cpickvance Says:

        (Woops- hit send too soon)
        Anyway so I was painting full-time for about 6 weeks, but now that I’ve returned to full-time work it’s a much slower learning process. But the desire to paint still burns strong. Amazingly I managed to get a still life accepted into a small group exhibition in November this year. So now my goal is to build up a body of work (experiments) in time to have a website launched in time for the exhibition. But I love your suggestion of thinking five years ahead.

  3. Always a joy to read about your artistic process. You have given me cause to think about my own personal evolution in much the same way.

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