Joyful discovery painting mystery tour

June 5, 2016

To the loyal handful of followers, thanks you make it worthwhile. And to new passers by. thanks for dropping in. It feels good to be sharing my joyful discovery painting mystery tour with you.

Continuing with the  ‘Spirit of Trees’ series, I took on an unfamiliar subject this time-  landscape/architectural. This painting is a lesson in overworking, and why it is so compelling, even though 9 times out of 1o it goes wrong. Below is a version I found ok but too fussy (with the detailed roof tiles). I wanted a yellow tree per se. And I wanted to keep it painterly and fresh. But I kept trying to get the whole thing looser, and eventually, I feel I lost the sunniness of this version. See painting under this one.

grandfather tree sunny copy

Grandfather tree sunny        50 x50 cm acrylic


grandfather tree greenish

Grandfather tree meets the walking dead

In my search to use my own colours rather than the given ones (see that the warm terracotta from the rooves is replaced by greens), I feel I lost something of the warmth of the first version. It kind of looks eerie, like the light before a bad storm moves in.

Between this phase of the painting and the previous one, I had also painted the sky soft yellow, you can see the remnants of that behind the buildings. That move killed it, so I reinstated the blue. You know what?, it began not to be fun any more, yet I’d started it with a wonderful sense of excitement. I’ve learned ( I hope!!!) to stop when the joy goes underground and painting becomes about trying to ‘correct’ something, or ‘get it right’. The fatal flaw in this painting was that I started with a concept (yellow tree) and didn’t listen enough to the subject or the painting.

A few days later, I got inspired by a photo I’d made of two onions on my work table. I took an old painting and drew right ontop of it, then started in painting rapidly, leaving some patches of background exposed. I loved it so much after the initial blocking in, that I didn’t dare to work on it any more.


Onions1 acrylic

So I put it aside and started a new one ontop of yet another old painting. I listened better this time and kept the freshness. It is mostly done, see below.

Here is what I learned, the lessons are particular to my own trajectory toward an intuitively sensed goal of where my truest work lies. So maybe they will be applicable to you, maybe not, but here they are:

  • let parts of the painting remain unfinished if that’s what looks right
  • cherish the roughness, don’t try to paint ‘beautifully’
  • don’t try to have everything make sense
  • follow the painting, not my original ideas about it when I started
  • don’t describe, dance.
  • the goal isn’t to get the subject right, but to get the painting to feel good, true

By the way, I feel that this tutorial taught me more in a few minutes than several advanced painting workshops I’ve taken. And buying a brush similar to the one this woman used was also a revelation! Materials help or hinder so much.

Here is the second onion painting, almost done. It makes me very happy.


Onions2 acrylic

11 Responses to “Joyful discovery painting mystery tour”

  1. Thanks for this very good advice – really helpful. The final onions painting is gorgeous!

  2. thanks so much Michael, and I’m glad the insights gained were also helpful to you.

  3. Saskia van Bottenburg Says:

    Wat een mooi proces. En wat een mooi resultaat. Dank je wel voor het delen. Heel inspirerend.

  4. julie harms Says:

    I love your trees ! the colors are really nice !

  5. Laura Hughes Says:

    Hello Sarah,
    Gosh, your advice and experiences are so helpful. I love your way of painting on top of a previous painting and the results seem absolutely ‘right’. I’ve tried this too and it feels a wonderfully different (and easier/warmer) way to start.
    You inspire me greatly, thank you.

    • thanks Laura, nice to hear from you. Yes, a ‘warmer’ way to start feels right.
      I visited your site, it was nice to see a new side of your work (the game models). I liked your free work as well, a watercolour called ‘pods'(?) especially.

  6. Your paintings are all such fun to look at, to study. I imagine that when you are creating them you are having such fun and joy.

    • thanks Annie. I guess if you are having fun looking at them, it is one of the ones where I had fun making them. There are also many where I struggle, I think those lack that spark of joy, and so probably don’t connect with the viewer either.

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