I’m often asked how I paint what I paint. What I mean by that is what kind of twisted bizarre things are there in my head to make me want to consciously paint some of the things I do. I don’t find the process of painting abstract difficult, ideas happen randomly, sometimes planned, sometimes not. The root of the form lies with the ability to see something in your head, either as a whole or in parts. Sometimes I only see bits at a time so I work on those. Normally I am driven by shapes and colours and how they interact with each other to make new forms. No matter what artists tell you every abstract is an experiment. Why? Ask an artist if they are ever happy with any of their works or whether they have re-painted a piece because it wasn’t right. The reason is because it doesn’t work. And if it doesn’t work then it’s gone wrong – experiments go wrong.
I always stand amazed at figurative and representational art. Figurative painting requires great technical skill and patience – things I have very little of in my own eyes. The principles of lighting, form and proportions are just some of the key elements in creating a representational painting. In addition it also requires that the observed form is reproduced in some way so as to be recognizable to the viewer. A person should look like a person in some way shape or form. With abstract there are none of the above. Rules don’t exist anymore. Well, I say there are no rules. There are as far as constructing a balance in your composition but that’s about it. Your eye has to be able to make sense of what’s going on even if your brain can’t figure out what it is. That’s quite key – the eye sees first then the brain decodes. You can’t do that easily if there is no balance. Balance is vital for me else the painting becomes a mess. I’ll talk more about balance in future posts.
When I plan a painting I start with the colours. Normally I just grab whatever I can lay my hands on in the studio at that time. If I don’t have much then colours are limited. I don’t go out shopping for paint when I have an idea, I just make it work using the stuff I have got. It’s that simple. Sometimes an idea changes if I don’t have the right colours, or I go and have a nice cup of tea or something.
Next I decide what I’m going to apply the paint with and choose it’s consistency. For oil based enamels (my preferred choice) I rarely apply neat, usually opting for a thinning of around 20%. This ratio allows for speedy drying, maintenance of the shade and the ability to move the paint around without it becoming too viscose. I never mix colours together to create new colours – I always keep to my primaries as they come from the can. The reason for this is that I like to mix on the canvas instead. One of the key common elements in my paintings is the way I allow paint applications to mix on the surface of the canvas. When primaries overlap and run into each other they form new shapes and new colours – often in ways I could not replicate if I had mixed them away from the canvas. I can then add more specific colouring if I choose to further enhance the mixing process and produce even more subtle tonal changes. That’s the great element of control over colour – Its all done on the canvas not in a jar, right where it matters the most.
I have no particular interest in brushes. Odd but true. I buy cheap crappy ones like you buy to paint skirting boards etc then throw them away the moment I finish with them. When I do use brushes I really like to use the same one for most of the colours, not because I’m a tight arse but because I cannot be doing with keep using different brushes all the time. I also use scouring pads, rags, cloths, turkey basters, squeezy sauce bottles, wooden spoons, spatulas and other household implements.
All good so far then. I’ve got half a dozen colours mixed, I have some implements but nothing else. Let’s talk canvas then.
Sometimes I use pre-primed canvas on a roll and cut a length to suit the next piece I’m painting. Sometimes I use un-primed canvas cloth and prime it myself. Depending on my mood and also what kind of painting I’m about to do will depend on whether I make a frame and stretch it first or just lay it out on the floor. I paint a lot of my work on the floor. Partly because it suits my style of application and partly because I like to stretch a canvas after I have painted it. That’s just personal preference really and doesn’t have any real significance. I also like to wrap my canvases around a frame so that it goes all round the edges – you can’t do that with a pre-stretched canvas unless you carefully paint the edges, which I find to be a pain in the arse because I am a lazy shit. Part two will be about forming shapes and layers and applying colours. Thanks for reading this far down the post.