Finishing another big painting with a structure

I looked at photos from where I painted and looked at the painting itself to figure out where I would put the octagonal shape and what angle. This 3D shape helps with this process SO MUCH.

After I picked the shape I mapped it out using the 3D shape for reference, having to step back from the shape very often to check angles.

Next I added in the lines coming down from the shape using a technique from the three point perspective work I had been doing; using a long ruler to pin point where all the lines met above the painting, and lining this point up with the corners of the shape and mapping out the angle of the lines that way. It was a trial and error process and took lots of removing and re-adding of lines, but I got there in the end!

I was already so much happier with this shape than the last painting! This octangon shape really creates a feeling of being under a great space, even better than the cuboid shape. I considered leaving the shape as it was, but I wanted to add more details out of curiosity, even if it made the painting worse at least I had tried it!
I did some doodle on my phone with an image of the painting to see whether I should add a top to the shape.

After doing this quick digital sketch (above) and adding arches to the shape I decided to add very subtle lines that would converge at the highest point of the shape. But I decided not to show the highest point because I wanted the brushstrokes to look like they were in the structure, so I let the lines go behind the brushstrokes. If I had drawn in all of the roof it would have ruined the illusion of height.

Finished painting!

What works

The structure! I think this is the most successful structure shape I have ever done on a painting, and I want to continue pushing this forward! You really feel like you are standing under a structure with great height.

The process that creates the plein air part of the painting. It has taken me this term to really find a process, medium, set of intetions, tools etc that produce paintings that excite me!

This painting shows the potential for next term for painting with this octagonal shape, and for more big plein air paintings to come!

What could be better

Shapes inspired by cathedral interiors. The arches I added remind me too much of a pagoda and not enough of the interior or a cathedral! I need to work on using lines and maybe dots to create more of a sense of the cathedral feeling. Or maybe I pair it back to just the octagonal shape? That is for me to explore next term.

Another Big Canvas en plein air

From start to finish in giff form!

Next big canvas using the same stretcher as the first big painting I ever did – it feels small now compared to the bigger stretcher I have!

I am painted in new weather conditions here. I painted in windy, grey and stormy weather. I wanted to see how this new weather affects my colour palette and brushstrokes. Shots from where I painted:

Painting Process Thoughts

I had to paint this canvas in two sittings because I ran out of white paint in the first sitting! And I needed lots of white paint to fill in the grey sky.
Luckily for me the weather when I came back to the same spot the next day was very similar to the first day, so this wasn’t much of a problem.

My confidence is certainly growing with every one of these large canvases. With each new painting I add more layers of paint. I started with very thinned paint to block in big areas. The my paint marks get thicker with less turps on average. The I finish the painting with paint thinned with Liquin. This process has been working so far!
I finish with Liquin thinned paint because Liquin keeps the texture and opacity of the paint, but it makes the paint far more slippy, which means the marks I make don’t drag wet layers of paint underneath. I.e. it keeps the paint layers clean and from mixing too much.

Finished painting (before structure is added)

I think the windyness of the painting is translated onto the brushstokes. I like how many layers of paint there are, on asking a friend who knows nothing about my work he says the painting looks like a jungle scene which I liked the idea of! I like how it makes people play with shapes and ideas and brings out a playfulness (more on that in my small red sketchbook entry 16.03.19).

Reflecting and comparing the three big paintings I’ve done so far…

It’s exciting that each big painting that I’ve done so far looks so different depending on the weather conditions! Looking at them in my studio space you can really how different colour palettes, energy and textures (like rain drips or my finger marks holding the canvas from moving in the wind) add to a sense of the painting experience); this is an important part of my work! And it’s encouraging – although these paintings are so abstracted from the actual landscape, I am clearly receptive of the environment, otherwise there would be no different between the paintings that correlates with the weather.

Rethinking the Cathedral Inspired Structures

I needed to rethink the way I put the structure on the canvas, because the last structure was pretty but it didn’t do what I intended! Which was to make the viewer feel as if they are looking up at a great space and height. I went back to the ink structures and started to rework things and make new sketches.

I went back to this ink sketch above after the last painting when realised this is much more like the shape I want to be creating in my paintings – adding a shape like this would make the viewer feel like they were underneath the structure looking up at it, into a great space.

I started to do a bunch of sketches in my sketchbook and what I realised was that my biggest struggles was how to position the lines of the shapes so that they looked three-dimensional. As soon as I thought of this it reminded me of the cuboid structures I used to do and I thought about adding a more structural shape into these cathedral shapes to help. This ink test that I drew into below shows this process of adding straight lines into the round structures:

After doing more sketches I had a bit of a lightbulb moment! I realised I had been mimicking the shapes of a cuboid in almost all the ink tests. So if I was struggling with the technicalities of this shape, I needed to start with an octagon shape which I could draw with accuracy, and then add the curvy cathedral shapes back on top once I got the perspective right. TAH DAH. I felt like I was going a lil bit full circle back to when I started to use the cuboid shapes in my painting last year. Especially with what I did next:

I didn’t have any wire so I masking taped some nails together into an octagon shape and used to see what angles lines would make when looking at the octagon shape from different positions underneath it. This is what I did with the cuboid shape last year and reusing the idea worked really well! I was able to make sketches from the cuboid shape that looked believable, and then the arches and details could be added later. WOOP.

Adding a Structure to the Big Canvas

After first sitting

This is an image from my first sitting for adding the structure. To make the shape I used the photoshop image (last blog post), photos from the location I painted this canvas in the woods, and inspiration from the ink structures.

Finished painting

What works

Using grey lines next to white to outline the structure.
This was inspired by the photoshop image (last post), that had a grey and white layer and it worked really well to create depth, so I used the same technique on the painting which also worked, because before that the shape was too flat.

Spirals and dot shapes add interest but they are purely stylistic. They add a lot of energy to the structure.

Using a ruler to make sure the lines are straight and thin works well – precision is key here!

What doesn’t work

The angle and perspective of the structure means you look across at the structure instead of up at it. The point of adding these structures is to create a sense of height and depth and scale and it’s not doing that here! This is a major issue in the shape, I need to rethink the way I make the shapes.


Another big painting and rethink the structure I’ adding.

Preparing to add structures to the canvas

I made this photoshopped image of a big canvas and a charcoal sketch. I wanted to see what it would look like if I added the shape to the painting. Results are positive! This shape works best at capturing height and space and the shapes of a cathedral ceiling dome, even though it’s just a sketch in my sketchbook , it was from the result of all the ink drawings.

This shape creates height and drama like the old structures used to, but with far more elegance and intricacy. I can’t wait to put this shape on the canvas! I am going to use a thin brush and white oil paint to apply the shape, the same technique that I used for the older structures.

Ink Structures cont.

I completed this ink drawing whilst looking at this image of the woods – I took this morning when I was painting outside.
With these ink shapes I am mimicking the shapes I see inside cathedrals. Like someone said when looking at the ink drawings: 

The shapes look like you’ve cast the inside of a cathedral.

This is what I’m doing in my head I guess when I make the drawings! And I want this idea to come across with the structures.

The cathedral shape could be flatter on top, not as pointed. This would make the shape fit better into the canopy of the trees and the gap opening up to the sky. Or maybe the shape needs to be taller so that it fills more of the space under the trees. Either way I like this shape! I want to some more tests and then try it out on a big canvas!!

Ink Experiments So Far

I have really enjoyed this change of medium! It’s refreshing to work with a material that you can drip, bleed, layer etc. I am drawing on skills I built when working in ink last academic year, but trying to push them forward and use as varied techniques as possible.

Paper: 90lb watercolour paper and black indian ink.

I want to continue experimenting but now consider what I am trying to achieve with these structures, so I can refine what works and what doesn’t.
I want the structures to create height and depth and a revered quality – the same atmosphere in cathedrals/churches or woodlands. Knowing this I can refine my tests and work out what shapes will work on the big canvases.

Finishing Big Rain Painting

The final painting session outside in the same weather conditions and location as before.
I decided to record myself painting this time, since that is such a big part of the making process it’s interesting to record it! I put a video together of 8 minutes of painting towards the end of the painting session:

I’m glad I went out a third time to finish this canvas, it really needed this final layer to add in elements of the grey sky and add space back into the canvas. The up close textures of the finished painting are interesting, they have much more depth than previous paintings, literally because I have built up more paint on the canvas.

I could not have achieved these textures without painting in the rain! (Unless I artificially created them but that doesn’t seem the point).

How I have to add the structure into the painting. But I want the structure to be these cathedral inspired shapes instead of the basic cuboid I have been using. I am yet to decide on the structure shapes for this, I am going to focus on that and return to this painting to add the structure.

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.