Making a Painting: The Process Explored

What shall I paint ? is a question I fairly frequently ask myself. I know that I want to avoid repeating myself too slavishly because my work would soon feel like a pastiche of itself or show me that I am stuck. Which of course I often am. I seem to be searching as I paint as well as responding. Conscious intention mingles with the experience revealing itself. For some time now I have been taking photographs of my paintings and drawings as they evolve. For me the actual journey is as important as the final stage. Unlike many artists I don’t have a definite plan, first the sky, then … as articles on how to paint, can suggest. I am all too aware that the process for me is not straightforward: there are delays and prevarications and getting stuck and then better times when the paints behave so amazingly.

The painting process I want to discuss is a watercolour I have recently completed, although ‘begun’ in April, a painting of the end of my garden. Watercolour has a life of it’s own particularly when painting wet into wet where the spread of colour interacting with the wetted page can be unnerving in its liveliness…watching the actual colours mixing, sometimes granulating, when they do, and the varied behaviour of watercolour feels as if I am steering through unruly currents with wet and light itself interplaying in the saturation.

For me painting is very much about the behaviour of the materials themselves as well as a decision “I will paint a picture of the end of my garden”. I have been thinking about garden paintings..not least because of the recent exhibition at The Royal Academy and an ongoing interest in how to paint trees and plants and landscapes. Almost as a rite of passage : I am aware of the huge variety of approaches over time and in all cultures which shows how endlessly fascinating this is as a subject.

Image one: The end of my garden

Image 1: The end of my garden
I took this photograph before deciding I would paint the garden. In fact there was a gap of several weeks before I sat down in the garden to begin a watercolour (ease of materials). At once the view shows a tangle and profusion of growth with light and dark areas and some plants presenting themselves more particularly. Hard to find structure. Nevertheless the first stage then was to start, and set to, ‘mapping’ what I saw.

Image two
Rough colour sketch … getting to know what I saw and finding points of interest in the plethora of foliage. You can’t paint every blade of grass! The medium, watercolor, suited my purpose. Individual plants appeal for a response and so are delineated.

Image three
June … Long gap. Not sure why, but by June more profusion and enjoying what I see. Continue mapping out , more colours and suggestion of structure … but little sense of depth. Interested in variety of leaf shapes and pink/mauve with greens secondary’s interplay. Fern has been moved into the area and takes attention. The wrought iron stand gives focus.

Image four
Decided delineation of plant forms needed. Decided to add ink to give structure and depth with central focus of red/orange, not flowers but geranium leaves.? Should I Introduce pastels.?.lemon yellow since golden rod has appeared in garden and softer leaves of fern need emphasis. Then started to ‘draw into‘ with pen and ink but then ! calamity! Knocked the ink over part of the drawing, mopped it throughout, and all over … Left with dark and subdued gloomy feeling. But intriguing how brighter pastels survive. This shows the way accidents can happen and need to be made use of. Painting/picture asks for ‘re-reading.’

Image five
Decided to wash off ink darkness: under tap, a bit of a scrub and a soft and delicately misty view is revealed . Could this be winter frost? Again introduced pastel to define particular plant shapes this time realised I needed to subdue acidic yellow. Through photographing of parts noticed how subsections are very pleasing. In place of one picture there are 12 ..via focus points. Well known truth, it seems, some parts of pictures work better than others. Maybe cut the whole thing up and make cards ? For example:

Image six
Focus on parts of painting … Finding mini images that have strength; For example: This often happens when making paintings-some parts work better … not least if enlarged. The issue of scale changing impact is revealed here.

I became aware of the interplay of secondary colours: yellow and mauve: the image has become flattened. Asking myself what is needed? I can’t simply draw ink lines around to define depth and form.? Black ink seems too crude. See image seven.

Image seven
Here it is. I think the picture works better. The whole issue of asking oneself when is a painting finished? This is hard to answer but after a fairly long struggle with experiments, mistakes, and just looking at the painting it says STOP, this is enough. So I agreed.

Ann Froshaug