Sometimes it can feel a big jump making the transition from a sketchbook up to a ‘proper’ painting. So what to do when you want to get from zero to hero? One of the ways I have used in the studio to bridge the gap is to work on a set of ‘improper’ paintings.

Having been out of the painting flow for a while and using ‘page ready’ media like pastels and pencils, I just wanted some time to play with the paint, mix and add without any sense of “this has to become something” which can be so crippling.

Start with something improper

Choosing 6 small canvases which were cheap so couldn’t be ‘spoiled’, I laid them all out together and began with some pastel marks and white gesso. I added some collage elements I had in the studio. You could use newspaper, maps, book pages or torn up old drawings for this. This will create a different texture to the canvas which can give added interest and prompt some starting points. Some pieces may show through and some may be obliterated as you progress.

AliceSheridan_6canvas start2.jpg

Just starting on 6 ‘improper’ canvases: begin by making marks with pastel, adding gesso and collage to build up a base layer.

After this stage it all got a bit haphazard. The aim is to work quickly, without too much thinking as you apply the paint. Look at a sketchbook page or out of the window or an image in a book to get you started but then try and work with your intuition:

  • change marks from big to small
  • switch brushes
  • move the brush differently

Lots of this was painting direct from the tube: the mixing was happening on the canvas, not on a palette. This can be a good way to ensure coloured areas have some life to them – variety within each area of colour.

I was thinking simply of creating an underpainting layer and deliberately using much brighter colours which would show through the top layers and not appear dull.


Carry on adding instinctively. Theses are much brighter colours than I usually use to create a lively underpainting.

Carry on adding instinctively. Theses are much brighter colours than I usually use to create a lively underpainting.

At the moment I’m not sure on the boundary between figurative and abstract in my work. I’m reading a lot about it while I try to figure it out and often feel myself going in circles. But this exercise reinforced the idea:

the learning is in the doing…

Before long I was reminded how areas with a strong contrast jump out; sometimes this is helpful and sometimes you need to knock it back. Working over one layer using a contrasting tone or colour create some interesting effects especially if you want to scrafitto through with a pencil to reveal some of the underlying area.

20141005-090811-32891331.jpgSome canvases had an arrangement of shapes and colours that seemed unbalanced and playing with composition in this way, wrestling with the decisions of what I needed to change to bring it back in line is useful. Different moods were created, through colour and shape. It’s funny how things emerge: without any planning one set of marks seem to suggest a jumping grey horse at a circus.

I am not thinking of these as finished pieces; I think I’ll use them as ‘warm up’ pieces at the start of each session. Or just to test out colours as I paint on another piece. The layers will build as I work over and over. It will become a mess, and then get resolved. Perhaps…

..and the hero? The hero is a larger painting that has been waiting in the wings but which is now well on its way to being finished.

I often post work-in-progress on the Facebook page where it can be easier for people to comment (and quicker for me to post immediate updates than write full blog posts!) so if this is the first time you have been to this site please head over to the Alice Sheridan Facebook page and ‘like’ for an easy way to keep in touch.

Best wishes for a creative week,

Alice x



Are you guilty of encouraging your children to try new things and yet ducking out of activities you love yourself?

This morning I met with other mums at my son’s school to talk about the upcoming school events. Early next year is an Anonymous Art Sale where all pieces are sold at an affordable price to fund support services within the school. I’ve taken part in a few of these type of events and it strikes me as an open and welcoming way to choose a piece of art you love while also supporting a local cause.

What struck me today was the way the lady said “so this is your chance to be prepared and the excuse you need to get back to art that you have missed doing since school”

A few people around the table recolied in horror with a shudder of “that’s not for me”. She went onto to say that she had always wanted to continue with her art since school and it was only because she felt she never had the time that she didn’t do more of it anymore. She was genuinely surprised that not everyone felt the same urge.

The conversation moved on as the mum next to me explained she was more involved with music; both her children played more than one instrument. And that’s fine – we all have our different passions. Yet she herself had given up playing piano despite it being something she enjoyed.

20141001-141149-51109450.jpgA number of years ago I too started to re-learn the piano as an adult when my daughter was keen to give it a go. I loved learning as an adult – it felt more equal; a freer conversation with the teacher about the ways to practice, more chance to be involved and choose pieces I wanted to learn and not spend time on pieces of music that didn’t interest me. My daughter gave up and I continued, relishing the chance to practice. It was so easy – no preparation required; just sit and follow the music, noticing which parts were tricky and then paying them more attention.

However ultimately I realised that I was using it as a form of procrastination; it was easier to practice piano than it was to set my own path with the art I wanted to practice. The music gave me a clear direction to follow. With art I had to create my own guide and that was much harder.

I suppose it brought me around to thinking about choosing your own path.

Why do we give up things we enjoy, and still encourage our children to choose activities that interest them?

Why is it so hard to find time for things we would love to do?

I don’t think it is just down to finding time. I think we need a path to follow. School provides that for children – opportunities and activities are laid out before them. As adults it can be harder to see such opportunities but they are there: classes at your local college, books with ideas to follow, online courses, weekend events at art galleries.

October is the month of The Big Draw – the world’s biggest drawing festival. Follow the link to search for events near you.

If you are like that lady who wishes she had time for more art in her life, you don’t always have to compose the music yourself. Leave the ideas up to someone else, but what could you do to find a way to simply sit down and follow the music?