Secret Art Prize: the story behind the painting
Exciting news that my painting ‘Breakwater’ has been long-listed for the Secret Art Prize run by Curious Duke gallery. UPDATE: Voting has now closed
As always with a gallery display, this just shows the final painting and I know you like to see all the stuff that happens before I get to that stage….
As is my usual practice now, I started on four 20 inch paintings together which helps me to explore and be a bit free-er. At the beginning they are often similar; usually all pretty messy and jumbled until I have added enough to begin to unpick what’s there.
You can see in the bottom image there is no rhyme or reason at this stage. Anything which disrupts and changes the surface is a good start. I use water soluble colour sticks, and thinner washes of paint and next I usually bring in some really dark tones.
It doesn’t matter at this stage if it becomes too black or too gloomy.
In fact that can be good…
If it feels too dark, that tells me what I need to do next to bring the next round of changes.
There was no plan for these, but I had been working a lot in my collage sketchbook and was enjoying creating many small non-square compositions where the colour blocks of found papers seem to break into the white space.
With a fixed shape panel I have to work within the edges but I wanted to bring in this idea of the painting extending outside the edge of the square.
I added bold white shapes to create a superimposed framework. These immediately suggested space and sky alongside the more complex layers of paint texture.
Colour decisions here are also fairly subconscious. I wasn’t working from this sketchbook page in particular, but maybe the frosty image had settled in my mind.
It was early in the year and the light was cool so the cool blue start and stark black and white is reminiscent of winter.
As the painting moved on I added some translucent lime green. The unexpected combination of the white circular forms, the overlaid brightness and diagonal scrapes through the white paint started to feel like sunlight coming through clouds. The dark form had become a mountain and the blues made me think of water.
There is no direct relationship, but a few years ago we spent time in the Lake District. One day we climbed a mountain (well, it was a hill really but we only got the children to join us if we made it a little more exciting!) and when we reached the top, the sun was low in the sky and you could see all the movement of clouds and weather and sunlight on the land below.
I started to think about this moment when I had felt on top of the world. It was a little windy and everything felt alive and full of movement. Using vivid colours like the cobalt blue is quite unusual for me; the british landscape offers a more muted palette. But they bring a more urgent and lively sense to the painting which I enjoyed, it feels vibrant and full of unexpected marks and mini compositions.
Although the painting is not directly of that view, it feels that way to me; a mix of those impressions – the sideways sunlight, the bright and dark contrasts. For me the more graphic feel of the shapes brings a harder edge to such idyllic scenery. It creates a crossover of that outside expanse with manmade shapes and my life in London. It makes an exciting combination.
I often turn the paintings as I work on them; it’s one reason why I like a square format. At this point I was’t sure how much further I still had to go, but turning the painting around helps to be sure the whole image is working together, and means when you turn it back you can notice clearly any parts which still need clarity or attention.
The pace slows right down towards the end and I make very considered changes. Edges are defined, colours finely adjusted. I’m very careful to keep the loose feeling of freedom, bit some control is needed. A sharp slice of white against a rough or soft textured area is very satisfying somehow.
And here is the finished painting. Next I seal and wax the surface to bring a soft lustre. 60 x 60cm and sits within an off-white handprinted frame.
This painting was a challenge but as often happens, those works which have the most confusion at some point led to the strongest paintings – where you have really pushed and tested and moved forward. ‘Breakwater’ is a bold vibrant and exciting painting. Some paintings feel like turning points and I will really miss this one so I look forward to seeing who chooses it. See more details about owning this painting here.
What does a final waxing involve ?
Once everything is dry, I use a UV varnish and then a thicker layer of acrylic medium or levelling gel to seal any drawn marks or collage. Once this is fully dry I lightly buff with a fine wire wool and use a soft cloth with just a small amount of cold wax medium. This removes that overly plastic finish acrylics can have and instead brings a soft and tactile lustre to the surface. Next time I finish I shall try and remember to take a video to show you!
Thanks Alice. The UV varnish you use, is it water, or spirit based? I’m liking the sound of this finish.
This is the one I use from Windsor and Newton It’s quite thin but I like the satin finish – on very large paintings I sometimes use just this.
Many thanks Alice. I plan to try this, as I agree about the plastic look of some varnishes!