Painting as poetry rather than science

October 10, 2016


airy still life       acrylic    40 x 50cm approx.

One of my present challenges with painting is to distil some basic elements out of a crowded composition.

I don’t like to set up still lifes these days, they strike me as too formal. So when certain aspects of our messy kitchen counter caught my eye, I took a picture and decided to work with it purely as a starting point. This first piece above wasn’t entirely to my satisfaction composition wise, but I liked that I was able to break out of slavishly following the actual photo.


Later, I revisited this set up from another angle. This time I used a specific underpainting which was a previous failed work. Last post I talked about using some of my oil pastel drawings as models to kick start my painting. Take a look at the lower left panel of this piece below.

I decided to enlarge that as a separate painting. It didn’t have enough design elements to hold interest, but it made a great underpainting for the next still life I did.

I let the composition and colours of the underpainting lead my decisions in this still life. Finally, my two ways of working seem to be coming together- the realistic, and the freer, fantasy approach. I need the everyday objects to anchor and engage my attention. But  I also need the room to be able to play with colour and light. I also enjoy the freedom of not having to explain everything. Areas are left out of focus and a little mysterious.

That’s why I feel that the approach to painting which speaks most to me is as poetry. Distilling the essence of something without explaining the magic away.

A lot of realistic painting bores me because of the intellectual approach. Just imitating the likeness of something even if technically well done isn’t necessarily art. As either viewer or maker, it doesn’t bring me anywhere new, it doesn’t open any doors in my heart or soul.

Here is a merged photo of the still life over the under painting.


More in this series coming soon.

6 Responses to “Painting as poetry rather than science”

  1. This post really spoke to me, Sarah, as I feel I’m on a parallel journey (but several steps behind you!). The underpainting as a basis for a somewhat abstracted still life is terrific. I can hardly wait to try that myself! So inspiring – many thanks.

  2. Michael, I’ve been to your blog and as always am inspired by your work. I like the sensitivity of your line and the playfulness of your experiments with the sunflowers and with the collage, inspired by Ralph Steadman.

    I do think we are on a parallel journey, and wouldn’t ever place one or the other of us ‘ahead’ of the other. 🙂

    I’ve just started following you, so will be excited to see if you try underpainting. On the other hand, your work is very fresh and spontaneous, so underpainting could take you somewhere else, more into built up layers, for example.

    I liked your words about winter. I always dread the end of summer, but am happy with winter too. The things you cited, the warmth indoors, the time to reflect, all are very welcome.

  3. Your “Airy Still Life” is so ethereal. It pulls me into a dream world.
    Loving it. Bravo, Sarah!

  4. Thanks Annie, good to hear from you.

  5. Taia Says:

    I know what you mean about realistic paintings, but for some people it is a way to learn.. You have so beautiful paintings, that they don’t need comparing.

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