Option 4: The unknown: Project 2: Gaps and Spaces: Exercise 4:1 Leaving space/making space: 1st pain

In figurative painting there are two ways to deal with pictorial space and object space… it helped me to think of pictorial space as horizontal (extending into the distance) and object surface as vertical space (what you painted first is at the bottom).

  1. You paint the pictorial space in the same order as the object space. So you paint what’s furthest away first. In this case you would paint the stars first and the rock nearest you last.

  2. You reverse the order. So you paint the star last (a final dot on the surface of your painting) or the rock first (some initial underpainting you allow to show through in your final painting).

The discrepancy in the chronology of paint application in the second example sets up interesting tensions between object surface and pictorial space.


Make two (or more) paintings; one in which you take care to leave a large amount of space as a key element in the composition in the initial construction of the painting, and another in which you redact the painting to create space by overlaying and blotting out what was underneath. In other words, one is partly an open vista or expanse, and the other is partly sealed over and blanked out.

I shall have to adapt this slightly as I am painting abstracts, but I have two good examples of painters from my recent research who both have pictorial depth in their abstract painting.

Ian McKeever tries to leave his paintings open and never paint over or obscure any of his marks while Joe Packer’s canvases are full of redacted elements.

Ian McKeever, Twelve-Standing III, 2009-2010, Oil and acrylic on cotton-duck, 270 x 190 cm

Joe Packer, EMBEDDED LAMENT’, 2020, Oil on canvas. Artist frame, 125 x 94 cm

1st Painting (Open)

I made black with french ultramarine/burnt umber (blue black as there is a whole range of blacks)… then diluted it with thinner and fast dry medium.

This is about the thinnest I’ve ever used it – I used wide brushes and played with the brushstrokes… it dripped a little but I wanted more drips so I diluted it further till it was really watery. I used thinner and fast drying medium again because I didn’t want the thinner to destroy the integrity of the paint.

Then I photographed it…

‘Open canvas’, oil on canvas, 60 x 60 cm

The very thin paint bled away to leave even grey patches and (where it went over the thicker paint) it washed away some of the other paint to leave some very interesting patterns.

I’m not sure how I can avoid painting over some of these marks? Or how I’m going to continue… at the moment I’m thinking of using brown/black… or different thicknesses? And red? But I’ll have to wait at least a couple of days till it’s dry.

This dried overnight with the thinned paint and thinned/fast dry medium so I made some brown/black (to add a bit of warmth and break up the blue black). I mixed this in a roasting tray as I needed both a flat and a contained area.

Brown-black layer:

Thinning brown/black in metal roasting dish.

To find out where my marbling had come from I added thinner on its own first, made marks on the canvas; then added fast drying medium and repeated the process.

The marbling was caused by the thinned paint and fast dry medium. I’m assuming this wouldn’t happen if you just added fast drying medium to oil paint without any thinner.

There was a beautiful range of surfaces and depth starting to appear, and some really interesting mark making.

2nd layer of thinned paint added

This is beginning to be quite interesting and is nothing like I’ve ever painted before. I like the sense of movement and objects hanging in space. It’s almost like I’m developing a visual language.

The process is not one done in passion; it is considered and yet (maybe because I’m mainly freed from colour?) not decorative.

I need to let it dry and then add another layer. I thing I’m going to add two more layers… a thin red layer – with no fast drying medium… possibly thin and very thin? And a final layer of blue black. But I also want to keep the openness of the canvas as I like the effect… I trying to work it out but I think it’s because it makes the painting into a sculpture rising upwards, with the white as the plinth?

Red layer:

Open painting with black, brown-black and cadmium red layers, oil on canvas, 60m x 60 cm

I took some shots of details using different combinations of thinner and or fast drying medium.

I’m starting to learn about my media and have found that my paint is a tool as much as my brush as it leaves different marks. Here are some of the things I discovered.

  1. I have different mixes of paints with different properties: paint + thinner; paint + fast drying mixture; paint + both thinner and fast drying medium. These all have different qualities in the way they drip, cover, colour, and in texture.

  2. Each of these mixes has different qualities depending on whether they are very thin, medium thin, or thin.

  3. They react with each other differently, for example thinned paint over paint thinned with fast drying medium produces a texture.

  4. Which brush I pick and how load it with paint – and how I apply the brushstroke all affect the mark.

  5. Different oils all have different properties and drying times, but for speed I am sticking to fast drying medium for my oil.

It’s like playing 3D chess on multiple chess boards… it’s not just colour you’re painting with but materials that interact with the canvas (and each other) in different ways. It feels like a hybrid of sculpting and painting. And as the canvas is not referential you’re not trying to match anything to anything… it’s pure creation and very exciting.

The game is to make it work… and one wrong move can lose you everything… checkmate.

Blue-black layer:

Abstract 1, oil on canvas, 60 x 60 cm

I looked at my painting for a long time before launching into this layer because I couldn’t decide whether it was finished or not. But as the only way to learn is to experiment, I decided to add another layer and see what happened.

I’m both excited and frustrated by the result because it has some exciting areas, but doesn’t work as a complete painting.

I can’t quite decide what’s wrong… it may be the dead area near the centre which is dull black… or the fractured nature of the final layer. I feel it’s very close, but I don’t think I could improve it by spending any more time on it.

However, I love the possibility of the materials, the wonderful tones and colours, all the different textures and surfaces.

All the time, with this way of painting, you are surfing the crest of a wave of chance and deliberation…it’s thrilling and suits my personality.

Here are some close ups of the painting. I find the range of subtle colours from blue purple to rich red very exciting, the surface ranges matt to high gloss, saturated to unsaturated, opaque to transparent, smooth to broken… and you can see through the layers and the white canvas lets the painting breathe.

I lived with my painting for a couple of days then added two red marks, no drips. I’m sure I could fiddle at it but I think this is a big improvement and the best I can do at the moment.

New revelation… Your surface is as important as your media as the mark you make is a product of both.

And here are a few new details:

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