The story of a painting; Unearthed

unearthed-framed-landscape-painting-grey-wall-alice-sheridanEver wondered what happened on a painting before it was finished – how it looked along the way? I wrote a while back about knowing when a painting is finished but sometimes it’s hard for me to remember where it began, and quite how many stages it passed through on the way. So I thought it would be interesting to search back through my photobank on my poor groaning phone and share how this one progressed. The story of the painting if you like. There may be some jumps where I forgot to take photos, but hopefully there are enough for you to follow.

I started painting over a previous painting where I had used just black and white, which I really didn’t enjoy! However it gave a good base and something to react against from the start. With absolutely no preconceptions about where this would lead, I was free to experiment and be led by the painting each stage…

This was an entirely new way of working for me, prompted by taking part in Nicholas Wilton’s Art2Life tutor programme earlier this year. The images below cover time from May until November. Yes, that’s a long time for a painting, but I was working on others at the same time. I mention it to show how impossible it is to answer the question “How long does it take you to finish a painting?”

I hope you enjoy seeing this develop, it’s fun to play spot the difference between each image!


Large loose marks using colour, any colour, after that black! The brighter cobalt blue is strong enough to stand out from what went before and jolt this into a new space so I’m no longer connected to the dilemmas of the painting underneath.


I rotated the panel to get a fresh perspective on it and decided I wanted to introduce a sense of horizon and skyline. As well as drawing through the new layers of wet paint I began to add oil pastel linear marks, almost picking a colour at random, yet knowing the mustard yellow would contrast well with the blue…


Taking more cues from yellow, but keeping it light and bright and bringing in deep purple… heather and shadows perhaps?


Time to do something radical – the colours are all a bit minty green and blue and I prefer more richness. Starting with a thin layer of a deep russet orange, this earthy tone knocks back all the existing colours on the painting. Another layer of thicker rust and the blues and turquoise underneath begin to sing – and now it begins to get exciting – and risky. Once you have parts you begin to really like, it’s harder to move on and keep a sense of loose and lively elements.


As the lower layers were full of more painterly brush marks, I like the feeling of the sharp edges of the orange shape. But I didn’t like the shapes I had created which felt like an obvious layer of ‘windows’. Adding more brings more intrigue and the sense of depth starts to grow. The thick creamy neutral colour is scraped through and scratched.


Some small dark areas to overlap the white and play with a sense of distance and foreground. And some smoother areas of richer greys bring a natural balance to the areas of multi colour. I’m still not sure what it is I’m trying to paint but I’m enjoying the complexity which is emerging. By now there are parts I can’t remember how I achieved them, and this makes it slightly easier to see what I need to add or remove to try to make the painting work as a whole composition.


Using torn paper to experiment with where to add new areas of colour. The scratched marks revealing the blue from the beginning layer encourages me to think about bringing in small chips of blue in other places, and I want a much stronger dark area in the foreground. The paper is only an indication though, and of course, once the paint mixing starts again it goes in a slightly different direction…


This is a big jump – I got carried away and forgot to take photographs! It feels like it’s almost there. The biggest change is the rich indigo blue which leads you back through the painting. A lighter area brings definition to the horizon and multiple layers translucent blue now links the sky to the colours below. Small areas and certain edges are more defined, but just some finer details to tweak…


Final adjustments. I always think this will be quick – not much more to do, maybe it’s hard to see the differences, but for me they are the changes which take me from being unsure to knowing there is nothing further I want to change. Some deeper blue right up in the top left of the sky, tiny swatches of white and turquoise like the flight of birds across the grey sky and many more too tiny to notice perhaps – the subtle variations within the lighter shapes which lift the overall painting.

Having started so boldly, it was a surprise to end up making finishes with a tiny brush to refine small differences which add richness and areas of discovered detail. It’s not time efficient! But it’s a strong indicator that this is complete. I could go on forever, but it’s time to take those sparks into a new painting.

I called this ‘Unearthed’. There is a feeling of excavation, of history and discovery. A rich red of soil,  the movement of changing weather, man made scars in the land and large boulders of rock which won’t be moved.

This painting was shortlisted for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2017 and is  now SOLD  but it is available as a print in different sizes > click here to see buying options <


8 replies
    • Alice
      Alice says:

      So glad you found this encouraging. While making art is a kind of alchemy, personally I find it helpful to understand that it comes through an evolution rather than meticulous pre-planning! As for living far away, isn’t that the wonder of online connections? Of course it’s wonderful to see the actual onject, but when that’s not possible at least we can appreciate via our screens. Thank you.

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