Second Large Canvas: Process

I started this even larger canvas than the last because I want to test the limits of painting outside! This canvas is slightly taller than me and as wide as my arms stretch so it’s about the limit I can go and be able to carry the canvas outside without any help.
The intention for this canvas was to paint in completely different weather conditions than the last painting. So instead of a still, clear, bright and clean sunset, I went for a more windy, raining, grey day. I wanted to see how oil paints would interact with a wet canvas and water getting everywhere.

My set up

The first thing I learnt about painting outside in the rain without any cover over the canvas is that the canvas quite quickly can become too wet for the oil paint to stick to the canvas at all. In the first painting session I painted for about 40 minutes before this happened. This still gave me enough time to take in my surroundings and start on the canvas.

I also wanted to use the learnings from my last painting and the monochrome paintings I had been doing. This meant applying bigger blocks of colour (using bigger brushes), use brushstroke shapes that I found worked in the monochrome experiments, and finally use turpentine with oils instead of Liquin and apply thicker layers of paint.

Using Turpentine
I found the thinner I made the paint the more affected it was by the rain – the wet, thinned paint allowed rain drops to make marks on the canvas surface which I thought is very interesting and a direct recording of the environment the painting was painted in.

Raindrop marks on the canvas.

Using turpentine made the process of painting a lot quicker and more economical, but using Liquin does give the thinned paint more body, which is appropriate to use in final, thicker marks, but for the first layers and getting marks down quickly using turpentine really works.

Painting in the rain was a very different experience to painting on a clear day and the painting is very affected as a result! This was the painting after the first sitting:

First sitting

On bringing the painting back inside there were still quite a few marks I wanted to have made. But the canvas was getting very wet (and so was I!) so I decided to come inside and evaluate anyway. There was still a lot of this sky blue in the background which I wasn’t happy with. I made this blue background because I decided regardless of the weather, there are always blue undertones in these woodland landscapes, and the blue created this feeling of space and sky in my first large canvas that I wanted to use again.
At this point I couldn’t decide whether to do a second painting session. In all my previous works I have completed the painting in one session. That’s because I want to capture one experience, and so coming back to the same place on a different day seems contradictory. But painting in the rain changed. It is impractical to stay out too long, so multiple sittings is necessary if I wanted to create these thicker layers of painting that would give my paintings confidence.

For the second sitting I waited until the weather was the same (ish) as the first sitting and went out to the same spot. Here’s the painting after the second session:

I didn’t thin the paint as much in this sitting and so the raindrops didn’t affect the marks as much. I made sure that the layer underneath didn’t get covered up because I wanted these raindrop marks to show through!
I’m glad I decided to paint more on this canvas. The painting has much more depth and intensity now. But I don’t feel it is finished yet. I think one more sitting using Liquin and thicker applications of highlighting paint is necessary. Where are these opinions of when the painting is done coming from? Partly aesthetic choice but also trying to fit the canvas to my memory and experience of painting in that place, in that weather. I don’t feel like the canvas is describing what I want yet. Although the textures, colours and marks are promising.

Up close photo of the painting.

One of the reasons this scale works so well is there is space on the canvas for these interesting drips and rain marks to stay, noticeable at different distances from the canvas. It’s this texture that creates the atmosphere of a wet grey day, and this phenomenological aspect of the painting is an good addition to these paintings – the environment in which it was painted is so much more present than in many paintings I have done in the past.

What I am being questioned on as I am painting these larger canvases, and talking about them, is how I make decisions about the marks made. I gave an answer yesterday which was new to me but important enough to make a note of here:
I am finding a balance with my brush marks of describing the objects, distance, colours in the landscape and describing the experience of being in the space.
So when I look at a tree in the scene for instance, I observe the colours and the shape of it, and I choose colours and an appropriate mark based on that observation. But I am also seeing how the tree is swaying the wind, how it looms above me or how it sinks into the background. I am feeling something about what I am seeing which also influences the mark I make.
And the mark I do make is a mixture of those two.

Thought and painting process:
There is a looming tree in the foreground up above me which seems like a big swaying but sturdy canopy above me, it’s so tall! And it’s trunk is so wide when I look at it from where I’m standing.
It is also brownish with small flecks of red and yellow ochre.
So I mix a dark colour, because it’s an important feature and it’s looming so I want to make it dark, but I’ll make it a reddy colour with maybe a spot of ochre, and I’ll use a sweeping movement of a slightly lighter shade underneath to describe the swaying canopy.

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