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.

Artist: Ross Bleckner

I am trying to figure out how I incorporate the cathedral interior influence into the structures in my paintings. The mediums I have been using- charcoal and acrylic sketches don’t seem to be helping me get what i want, so I want to look at Bleckner’s work to look at how he uses cathedral structures in his work, and push me to experiment with new mediums out of the sketchbook.

The book Milazzo, R. & Bleckner, Ross, 2008. The paintings of Ross Bleckner, Brussels: Editions Alain Noirhomme.

Chapter 9: Articulating the Void: Unknown Quantities of Light (1987-88), Knight/Night (1987-89), Architecture of the Sky (or Dot or Constellation) Paintings (1988-93), and Other Series

Bleckner’s part, despite the odds, and no matter how irrational, [is to] to articulate the void,


Architecture of the sky series of paintings is the one I’m interested in – even the name is great!

The circles are ‘ever-widening’ and go down from a ‘focal point’ at the top centre of the paintings.

Bleckner was interested in constellations, cells, dome shapes, light waves.

It is as if Bleckner were trying to come up with images of our world or the universe whose patterns could tell us or show us something about who or what we are in a more minute but objective and scienftific way.


His architecture of the sky paintings reference the Abstract Expressionists but also reference architecture.

the larger or more universal [painting] – the abstract image, the signs or symbols, the transcendent dimension – yields another, more architectural or architectonic in nature.


The paintings are about the AIDS epidemic. The dots in the paintings can be seen as a number of things relating to this, including the a feeling of universal-ness.

The domes are ‘mapped’ by the spots of paint, arranged in ‘horizontal tiers or arcs’.

The dome beckons the gaze of a single individual… upward into a private, sheltering realm. The dome embodies awe, desire, and consolidation… Its insistent, ascending rhythm draws the viewer upward with all the force of desire, and… delivers him into the empyrean.


Empyrean meaning the (the highest form of) heaven.
^ I like the idea that the dome shapes embody feelings.

Bleckner completed these paintings using complicating layers of paint and resin that required specific drying times in the process.

the constellations of ‘mere’ dots, in these paintings, on a universal level or plane, articulate an architectural figure or vision, one that has as much to do with the cosmic, the heavenly or the divine, the transcendent per se, as it does with the gruff ‘patina’ of earthly experience.


^ I love this sentence! My work is also about this play between the ground, the earth, and great heights, with intrinsic meaning and grandeur.

P.121 is an image from a page in his sketchbook – his sketches of structures are similar to the shapes I want to make.

Looking up ‘as the emptying itself into something larger than itself.’ I get what Milazzo is saying when he refers to the sensations of looking up at ancient churches, sky scrapers or the sky itself. I think this sensation is easy to experience when looking at man-made buildings, especially modern architecture. But for me the wonder that comes with seeing vast and grand spaces is a sense of being grounded in myself. And this is especially true when looking up at forest canopies, or buildings with more religious or cultural gravity than modern day buildings.

“I still see myself looking out of the same window,” Bleckner says “still wondering about things in the sky and things I’ll never know… I like to paint paintings that are full of awe.


^ I am so painting things that I am in awe of too!!!

Bleckner goes on to explain that his paintings move from being one thing to the next when one is looking at them: ‘They go from being things in the atmosphere to being nothing at all..’. My work plays with that line between the representational and anything the viewer identifies it with. And as a result I think my paintings also shift in what they ‘are’ as one looks at them.
This is interesting because it is in reading about other artists and works and looking at them in relation to my own do I realise what my painting and thinking is and isn’t about.

Bleckner’s work also reminds me of the medieval model of the universe – where the sky was to seen to have an edge to it, which was the barrier between the next layer, like an onion with the earth at the centre. This idea of the sky being infinite, as we see it today, vs the sky being a closed space really changes how space is seen! – Since when there are edges to a space, a space can feel vast and grand is a way that an endless space can not feel.
Lots of interesting points on P.120 that I could refer back to! But too much and perhaps not relevant enough to write all here.

Domes, as models for the cosmos, are one of man’s attempts to recreate and rationalize the external world. Moreover, they refer to the Ptolemaic vision of astronomy, which holds that the earth (and therefore man) is at the centre of the solar system.


^ What I was just talking about above! Also the use of domes is an interesting take on architecture!

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Architecture of the sky III, 1988
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Architecture of the Sky V
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Related image
Related image
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The Fifth Examined Life, 1989
Oil and wax on canvas, 92 x 72 in.
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Ross Bleckner Untitled, oils, 2014 45.7 x 45.7 cm (18 x 18 in)

So many of his works are interesting, I have included a bunch of his works here to refer back to.

Chapter 10: Examined Life (1988-91) and Other Paintings (1989-1993) seems interesting but not as relevant I don’t think to me. Might be worth reading though?

Bleckner also works in watercolours to convey his intentions. These works are less refined by as interesting if not more:

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‘Untitled’, 2002
Watercolour on paper
30 x 22 inches (76.2 x 55.9 cm)

It looks like he’s used bleach here to remove the pigment? Or perhaps just skilful watercolour use!

‘Untitled’, 1988
Acrylic and Watercolour on paper
16 x inches 12 inches (40.6 x inches 30.5 cm)

These watercolour works seem to support his oil paintings. I can see ideas in the watercolours that have been defined and strengthened in the oil paintings. The lack of control one can have working with watercolour or ink is good for exploratory work because you have to lose some control over the work. Leading to happy accidents and interesting things to unfold.

Implications for my work

I am going to return to the ink YEY!
It seems a bit symbolic or nicely cyclical to be returning to working in ink. AH.
I want to play around with shapes and dimensions to figure out how I can use the cathedral architecture in my paintings.
It seems appropriate to get out of the sketchbook and work in the medium ink to push myself to act on new things in a refreshing medium.
Ink seems the right medium because of how versatile it is, and because I can play with how much I control the ink – maybe bring bleach back into the process?
Anyway, I am not bothered about colour here so monochrome ink will be good, plus Bleckner’s work has an inky quality. I am going to play with the shapes he used in his paintings and see what happens.

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.

Reading ‘Landscape and Power’

Mitchell, W.J.T., 2002. Landscape and power 2nd ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

I read the selected chapters of this book over a few weeks, making notes here as I went. I read this book to understand how my intentions and landscape painting fit into landscape painting in history. And also to understand the British (and western) relationship nature, so I could better understand my paintings in relation to those ideas.


Landscape exerts a subtle power over people, eliciting a broad range of emotions… landscape exerts the passive force of setting, scene and sight. It is generally the “overlooked,” not the “looked at,” and it can be quite difficult to specify what exactly it means to say that one is “looking at the landscape.”


“looking at the view” is said instead of “look at that mountain”:

to look at landscape is an invitation not to look at any specific thing, but to ignore all particulars in favour of an appreciation of a total gestalt , a vista or scene, that may be dominated by some specific feature, but is not simply reducible to that feature.


^ This quote above has similar intentions to what I want my paintings to achieve; there is no focus on any individual brushstroke, and the scenes are dominated by one feature – the structure – but the whole painting is not reducible to that feature, instead the painting is about an appreciation of ‘a total gestalt’.

An empty space is not the same thing as an empty place. An empty place is filled with space, as if space were the negative void that rushes in when a place is vacated. It is the spectral absence that “fills” a hollow shell or a clearing in the forest.


^ My paintings are filled with empty space that is defined by the brushstrokes hovering in it.

Seeing landscape “as an instrument of cultural power”.

System, Order, and Abstraction by Ann Bermingham 

Landscape drawing and painting is argued by Bermingham as transforming landscapes into active “sites of specific ideological attitudes and ambivalencies,” in the 18th c. P.78. Bermingham goes on to read placements of objects such as trees in the landscape and compositional tools to suggests things like man’s isolation in nature P.79.
My paintings therefore are a reflection of how I see the natural world. This was proved true when I had my group crit, and there were comments on how spring like and happy the painting looks, which reflected the feelings of spring arriving and the good mood I was in when painting the scene. Pathetic fallacy?

Difference in two paintings (PP.80-1) between a painting of imagination and a painting of sensation. Between a grand overview of a perfect landscape, and a description of ‘internal details’. P.79

The experience of vastness is… internalised and contained by the oak trees rather than extended over the landscape.


^ The oak trees are containing the vastness just like a giant building would contain vastness. You need defined boundaries for this sense of space and vastness to be created. If there is no edge to space, it is vast in a much more unimaginable way. 

Chapter Israel, Palestine, and the American Wildnerness by W.J.T Mitchell

“purification” – landscape as a liberation of the visual consumption of nature from use-value, commerce, religious meaning, or legible symbolism of any sort into a contemplative, aesthetic form, a representation or perception of nature for its own sake.

This purification… is… a modern and Western discovery, a revolutionary liberation of painting from narrative and ecclesiastical symbolism that can be dated quite precisely in the seventeenth century.


^ Seeing where my works sits in relation to history. My paintings are a product of my culture: at the moment see the landscapes I am painting are a purely a celebration of nature for its own sake.

Mitchell goes on to say that other cultures, such as Chinese, have placed religious significance on the landscape that prevent ‘a pure appreciation of nature for its own sake.’ This is especially common in cultures that have not ‘developed a tradition of realistic or naturalistic pictorial representation.’ P.265.
In these non-Western cultures, a person sees themselves as part of the landscape instead of ‘as a consciously detached viewer’.

Picture and Witness at the Site of the Wilderness by Jonathan Bordo

Discussing ‘the wilderness’ and what it means.

Wilderness behaving like a name tag attached to some one or group or tribe’s intimate and parochial [relating to a Church parish] relationship to the real, to real estate.


The wilderness in a landscape as a denial of human presence?

Western European art from ‘at least as early as the fifteenth century’ is full of landscapes that are marked by human presence, be that dwellings, roads, smoke, ruins, graves etc. Wilderness as witnessed… wilderness

Removing human traces in landscape painting crosses ‘the threshold’ from witnessed to un-witnessed landscape and therefore makes the landscape about the wilderness. P.299

The painting ‘Arnolfini Portrait’ by Jan van Eyck, 1434:

The painting posits both present and absent witnesses… On the one hand the picture carries a delegate or proxy witness to the event (the witness figure in the mirror). On the other hand the picture as witness substitutes itself for the witness. It is the picture that notarises the event… It “arbitrates” because it sees without having to be present.


^Interesting and relevant in making me consider what my painting’s role is as a witness to the landscape. The painting is created outside in the elements of the landscape, so is it less a witness and more of a recording of an experience?

Wilderness – a place for incident without witness? P.309.

The wilderness is a denial of the meaning of the event…

The wilderness also comes to be a frame and topos [argument] of the aesthetic of the sublime, a reflexive specular looking, constituted through a cultivated or practiced relation to pictures, visually testifying to an unpredictable condition.

With modernity there is no wilderness without a picture.

The wilderness might thus be constructed as a monument without a witness.


^ Our human events, both external and internal, are irrelevant when standing in ‘wilderness’?

Reading this book has been very interesting! I want to return to these notes as my project continues. The implications that will materialise interwoven with future works.. we’ll see!
I do now have more self awareness around how my culture and upbringing affects how I paint the landscape; it makes sense that my paintings are so linked with aesthetics, experience and nature as something to witness as external from it, I think you can see that in the painting.
It will be interesting to see if I can challenge my own defaults with this, and bring in elements to the painting. I am thinking here of the interior of cathedrals that I have become interested in.
The implications of drawing religious inspired structures into my paintings; I then could be reintroducing ritualistic, spiritual or religious associations into woodlands. Like a conversation I had last night: the vikings had a lot of rituals in the woods.

I am also fascinated by this idea that for space to have depth and height and atmosphere it must be contained. So Cathedrals act in the same way as woods – they both contain space and therefore create a lot of height.

This book has really impacted my practice!

Artist: Clare Woods

Rubery Hill
Rubery Hill
47 x 68 cm
Enamel on MDF
Cold East
Cold East
122 x 183 cm
Enamel on MDF

These paintings above, Woods says, are painted from many photographs taken at night. She would put use the camera flash to photograph undergrowth.

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Black Vomit
Mistaken Point
Mistaken Point
250 x 1050 cm
Enamel on Aluminium
The Hepworth Wakefield

Woods works from photographs of British landscapes back in her studio.

Visually ambiguous, sometimes disturbing and definitely claustrophobic, it is as though Woods is telling us through her representation of rocks and tangled vegetation about her own conflicted relationship with the rural environment. Having studied and lived in London for many years, she moved to the country relatively recently, and finds she has experienced feelings of alienation from and ambivalence about both city and countryside, but in different ways.

Some of the images are full of foreboding, the encroachment of nature on a human being entering the corridors of ancient rock which threaten to engulf and even devour. Others are imbued with playful pinks and aquas, suggestive not just of seething ecology but of complete worlds encased secretly by the granite.

“I wanted some of the pieces to have a collaged feel and create a world within the landscape. I also wanted the pieces to work with the landscape of the gallery,”

Quote of Woods,

Woods has a strong sense of both working within a pastoral tradition in British art, but of also trying to extend boundaries in how responses to landscape are expressed.

The landscapes of Clare Woods are about as far removed from the sublime as you can possibly get.

Interesting how Woods uses blocks of swirling paint and colour to form semi-recognisable landscapes in her more recent work.
It is interesting to look at her work to understand the atmosphere she creates in the variety of paintings.