playing with fire

Friday 21 August 2009

whilst digging about in my photos folder i came across these photographs of my painting  fyre, as a work in progress… so perhaps this is a good opportunity to talk painting methods and processes…

abstract painting - starting with primed canvas
[primed, stretched canvas, with addition of a home-made acrylic gesso..]

usually i use a mixture of chalk and diluted PVA (or rabbit skin glue with the smaller panels to make a traditional gesso), although i might add some ‘sweepings’ to marble dust or a chalk to add irregularity to the texture. sometimes you can use these accidental flaws, incorporating them into the work (or how far i can go with a textured mix on a flexible canvas substrate)..

this canvas was first worked on horizontally then put on the easel where gravity did its bit.. i reworked some of the medium as it was about to dry, and used a water spray to loosen up some areas,… it’s a very intuitive, organic process.. then later i scumble glazed some cadmium and lemon yellow for the upper section..]

abstract painting - adding and reworking textures

[a few more semi-transparent glazes were put down to dull it slightly and add subtle texture which i left to dry, then more washes of yellow and some scrubbed-in and stippled mix of burnt umber across the middle section… i also use scrapers, wire mesh, a water spray, old sponges, to cloth rags, newspaper, tissue paper.. at this early stage i was looking very closely at the surface, observing the developing texture and surface patina.. it’s the printmaker in me.]

abstract painting - more pigment and transparent glazes

[above, you can make out some of the scrapings which i probably blotted a bit to soften the edges… the colour was applied with a brush, and was a mix of burnt umber and alizarin with a smidgen of violet. i think the camera flash has made the yellow paler than it actually was – i didn’t mind the drips. some photographs i had taken – the found paintings – of corroded metal also influenced the painting process.]

abstract painting - adding more colour

[more yellow applied. this time i added a bit of cadmium red which is a quite warm red, and the lower section is mainly umber with some violet, and a bit of alizarin.. alas after this (May 2008) i didn’t take any more pictures until the painting was completed (July 2008), but i progressively added more layers of orange to the upper half, using red & yellow, dry brushing, scumbling, blotting… the lower section was progessively built up in vertical brushstrokes and scraping back, and then finished with a transparent glaze that was most likely alizarin-tinted so that in some lights the surface shifts from a dark earthy brown to violet.. it is not solid black..]

i work with only a few acrylic base colours; again because of my printmaking background. in intaglio printmaking especially, a lot of the colour mixing and blending happens in the wiping of the plate. i used to make my own inks, a ground paste of powdered pigment and linseed oil. the acrylic colours i currently have are: cadmium red, alizarin crimson, lemon yellow, cadmium yellow, cerulean blue, cobalt blue, ultramarine, burnt umber, violet, and mars black, which is a sooty warmish brown-black.

i know other artists will use more colours such as yellow ochre, payne’s grey, hooker’s or sap green, burnt sienna, but i’ve stuck dogmatically to my own very simple colour system, which includes just two of each of the primary colours, one cool one warm, plus a turquoise and violet, which makes colour-mixing more interesting.

i’ve got into using only acrylics in the last couple of years because of their quick-drying nature in situations when you want to build up many layers of colour. many people are surprised that i have used acrylic paint as i mix it with an acrylic medium or varnish, or i might add powdered chalk to get a matt surface, rarely using them in their neat consistency, avoiding the plastic sheen. i don’t want the surface of my paintings to be uniformly finished with a sheen of varnish, as i prefer subtle textural contrasts.

Large abstract painting - for sale on Etsy.com
[edgescape: fyre]

i was also influenced by tv and media images of forest fires, which, with high resolution digital cameras, make quite stunning imagery. i was intrigued by this unsettling duality in the reading of these images, of disaster as both awe-inspiring and deeply tragic.

this painting vacillates between the macro, as an encrusted, textured elemental surface, into a wider vista, an imaginary landscape, a burning horizon perhaps, depending on your perception. it’s part of a theme that i want to continue to develop further… charred earth, burning fields and forests, smoke clouds, volcanic dust, toxic mists, polluted rivers, the aftermath of catastrophe.. to coin a well worn phrase, there’s no smoke without fire

view this painting with other paintings in the edgescapes series.