New painting

How can a painting be attached / detached from place?

place | pleɪs | 

1 a particular position, point, or area in space; a location

2 a portion of space designated or available for or being used by someone: they hurried to their places at the table | Jackie had saved her a place
• a vacancy or available position

• the role played by or importance attached to someone or something in a particular context: the place of computers in improving office efficiency.

a position in a sequence or series, typically one ordered on the basis of merit: his score left him in ninth place.

Apple Dictionary

I feel this is what I am investigating with this new experimental painting.


I went for a run locally in SW London. I ran across and along the river, through a park, back across the river, and home. I didn’t record the run at all whilst I was on it – no notes, photos or sketches.

Later that day I got out charcoal and oil pastels, and sketched on paper memories of the run. Any feelings or views or moments, events that had stuck with me. I didn’t think too much about what I was doing, I just made.

I then got a larger A3 piece of paper and started by geographically mapping the route loosely in charcoal. When I had changed direction on the run I would mirror that direction change on the paper, trying to get the final drawing shape to mirror the shape of the route if I plotted it on a traditional map. Here’s a practice sketch:

I started drawing from the location of the start of the run and continued making marks on paper in chronological order, drawing charcoal marks in a line that inched forward as the run progressed, changing direction on the paper when necessary and without a plan of where the drawing would end up, but hoping that by the end of the run, my hand would end up back where it began, just as I had done on the run!

I added colour and shape on top of the charcoal as I went, making marks and picking colours instinctively, focusing on how I had felt at the corresponding part of the run, and making marks to record that.

I started with one piece of paper but needed to expand it across two…

then three…

and then four sheets of paper, to include the whole route on one drawing:

finished map drawing

I guess I was treating the run as a series of events, and responding with the same visual toolkit I would use to make a plein air painting of one place. So colour and shape were used to describe the bodily experience of phenomena. The richer and more detailed the colour and marks, the more of a (bodily) impression that part of the run made on me. For there were parts of the run I felt I didn’t need to add any detail of colour, and those were the parts of the run that didn’t stick out in my memory. The best example of this was my journey over the bridge there and back.

I also referred to the earlier drawings I had made to include views I had seen on the run, drawing them on the map in the corresponding location on the map-drawing.

In places where I could remember edges of fences, trees, only things that felt relevant and important to include, I would map those out too.

Some interesting effects are produced when you put oil pastels over charcoal; the friction of the chalk pastel moving over charcoal pushes the charcoal off the paper, giving the pastel marks outlines of white. In this photo you can see it in the top left marks:


More details of the drawing:

Why am I doing this kind of drawing? I think there are a few reasons:

  • Exploring how a run (/walk/route/journey) is a sequence of events
  • How artwork on a 2D surface can describe a visceral bodily experience
  • The experiential richness of a simple run.
  • Exploring how places make a bodily impression on me (us), and how place cannot be detached from subjective experience, because any location is fully inseparable from the experience of an event that one has there.
  • Ritualising a very average run through art! I find it interesting and silly almost to make such ‘serious’ drawing and painting about such a normal thing as a run through your local area.

It’s funny I look at this drawing now, nearly a month from when it was made, and lots of the marks, especially the more colourful, more abstract, perhaps more emotional marks are undecipherable – I don’t know what they represent! The fleetingness of lots of this journey are amazing. And yet a small number of things stick with me.

What would happen if I were to use the same materials and method to draw the same run now? How would it look different? How would my memory of the place have shifted? Is this something I’m interested in exploring?

Looking at this finished drawing, I could see that there were multiple perspectives across the map-drawing: in some places the drawing was birds eye view, and in others I had drawn in a horizon line, drawing from the perspective from down on the ground, from my own perspective of the memory. I wanted to ‘map‘ these shifts in perspectives across the drawing. I started on photoshop:

I put a horizon line in every place where I had drawn a view from my eye level. I then added converging lines to describe how far into the distance I could see – the sharper the angle of the line in relation to the horizon line, the more the lines converge to a single point and the further into the distance the space goes.

I then connected all of these lines up, to make one big grid. Any part of the drawing that didn’t have perspective lines – where the drawing was empty or where the drawing was from a birds eye view perspective – I returned the lines to a ‘neutral’ square grid pattern as you would have on a traditional (birds eye view) map:

I then copied this grid drawing out onto plain paper, detaching the grid from the experiential drawing, and more carefully drew the grid out evenly:

I THEN copied this A4 pencil drawing onto a 70.5 x 91cm stretched canvas (very pain-stakingly!! and therapeutically) with a tiny brush in white acrylic paint:


What could be better about the painting?

In between lines. I made a decision to not put any ‘in between’ lines in – ones that curved in between straighter lines guided by connection to a perspective line. The result is that the grid doesn’t have a uniform flow. I want to the grid to look like one undulating surface. To do this I would have to include ‘inbetween’ lines. Here’s a digital edit I did where I added these in between lines, showing the difference they would make:

This looks better in terms of undulation, but the problem is that at the edge of the canvas I had designed the grid lines to be evenly spaced. Adding in these extra lines ruins that, suggesting the lines conform into even squares beyond the edge of the canvas. The painting then doesn’t look so complete, but part of a larger grid that extends beyond the canvas. Is this a good or bad thing? I don’t think that’s bad. In fact I’m tempted to add these lines into the painting! If it didn’t take so long to do!

Another problem is that the lines are clumped together in parts, which draws your eye to thicker bands of white, catching your eye and making the painting feel less uniformly smooth and even. I will incorporate these in between lines into the design of a next grid, so that lines aren’t closely clumped together.

Painting method. This method was so SLOW! And I don’t get a very clean line because the paint doesn’t take well to the raw canvas. Possible solutions:

  • Use a Posca pen – opacity?
  • Use an Oil pastel – thinness? acrylic paint layered over the top? – that might work in my favour.
  • Get in printed on vinyl? – stencil or lines
  • Make a stencil – paper? That would take so long lol. Then use spray paint?
  • Use tape?!
  • Some other sort of white pen?
  • Change the surface – prime the painting thickly so that the canvas is smoothed and/or sand the canvas down.
  • Change the surface – paint on wood or board. The brush will guide so much more smoothly on this surface!

Colour. White on raw canvas – not monochrome, nor is it striking. Instead it very subtle, which might work in some contexts, I think it depends on what I want the painting achieve. What do I want this grid shape to achieve?! I’m quite sure. But I do know that I might want to use this grid alongside other elements of a painting, in which case the colours I choose to represent it would be based on the specific painting.

This exact painting in black and white:

They’re way more sci-fi when they’re monochrome!!! Omg.

The black image suggests to me that there is infinite space extending beyond the lines of the grid. It feels vaster, scarier. It reminds me of the feeling of interstellar! It has a strong 1980s & 90s sci-fi aesthetic.

The white image doesn’t have the same feeling of open space. It has a strong 1960s sci-fi aesthetic, I’m thinking 2001 A Space Odyssey. The grid looks more like an aesthetic, illustrative? pattern, rather than something with depth to it. Although the more I look at it the more depth I see… Hmm.

I think I’ll make a decision about colours to use when I come to use this map-grid making again.

What works about this painting?

Raw canvas. The cool thing about painting on the raw canvas is that the paint lines are interrupted by the texture of the canvas, and so the lines have a kind of shimmering quality to them. They are not completely filled in.
There’s also something interesting about leaving the canvas raw because it reminds the viewer the viewer they are looking at a painting. When you cover a canvas completely in paint, the viewer is entered into the image of the painting, and one can forget that you are staring at a preparing surface called a painting. Leaving the canvas raw reminds the viewer of the process behind the painting. It’s a little more puzzling than a painting with clear intentions to create an illusion of say a window into a world, compelling portrait or abstract aesthetic.

Thinness of the lines. The delicacy of the lines is wonderful. They’re so fine and carefully painted (may I say so myself!) their shape is convincing. Any thicker and it would look clumsy, roughly done, and that would distract you from the image.

What now?

I photographed this painting outside amongst the plants outside the studio, and some interesting things occured:

It was interesting to put such an abstract grid back into place. I am essentially taking a very place rooted drawing, abstracting it to be place-less, and then putting it back in a new place, making it place-ful but migrated to somewhere new. That kind of represents my life at the moment and how I feel sometimes – moving around a lot, my wrestle with placefullness.

I read a line in a book:

Kenneth [E] Silver was a huge influence as a teacher, because he really gave us a narrative context for art – that it was attached to some place else,

P? What It Means to Write About Art by Jarrett Earnest

This idea of art a painting be attached to a place, and playing with that, is interesting. In the last year I have been painting very placed rooted paintings – I have painted them on site only. What if I were to play with that? Deconstructing the placefullness of a painting/drawing, and then putting it out of place. Could I create jarring paintings? Could I mirror something I am feeling? Would it help me ficure out what is placefull or placeless about a painting? How abstraction is placeless and how it could/can be placeful.


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