Tag Archive for: abstract painting

We all want to make better paintings, get absorbed in the process of creating art and then stand back and discover a masterpiece. Often it doesn’t work quite like that! We can get swamped in the middle stages and easily lose our way, or even motivation to continue.

If you recognise that frustration, I hope these ideas will help.

1. Don’t stop through fear – trust that you have the knowledge to make it better

There is often a moment when you are quite pleased with what you have done so far. Personally I’m quite drawn to slightly unfinished looking works – the sense of potential and more to come really resonates with me. I don’t mind if the canvas isn’t fully covered. I don’t want to know it all; if I wanted all the detail I could take a photograph. I want to leave something for the viewer’s imagination.

However we all know that fear of spoiling what you have created so far. When you are working on bigger paintings this can get harder – perhaps you already have a lot of time and/or energy invested within them and it can be hard to move forward and ‘spoil’ what you have already created.

‘Cloud Shift’ in progress on the studio wall

This is a large painting on canvas I had been working on over a few months. It’s been quite a play piece. At this point I liked it; I liked the mood, the looseness of some of the marks, but it felt predictable and a bit gloomy. Stopping here would have been so frustrating, because I knew this painting could be better.

I knew I needed to do more, but the fear of messing it up was so overwhelming it almost stopped me. If I had listened to my inner fear voice I would never have completed this painting.

2. Get clear on what you are working on

When you’re caught up in the flow of creating something you are usually so involved in what you are doing that you don’t stop to assess it. You work almost instinctively. Your experience leads you where to go what next, what to try. If you asked me how or why certain marks or colours are there I couldn’t tell you why – they just felt right and arrived. This process comes with experience and practice. It can be tiring. Heck, it can be exhausting, but usually it’s only once you come to a stop that you realise you’ve been working quite a lot out.

But at some point there is a natural break in flow. Particularly if you are tired it can be difficult to recognise this and because we are in some sort of rhythm we keep going. Often this is when I muck it up so I have learnt that when I stop there is often a reason.

It’s hard to be objective about your own work. The very fact that you have invested your time and energy into it means you are emotionally connected to it and this can make it very hard to assess what you have achieved and what should come next.

I liked the marks I had created here as part of a loose play stage, but the composition as a whole wasn’t yet working. It was so hard to do the next stage! The more experimental and uncontrolled means a higher chance it can all go wrong.In the example above I was stuck because I wasn’t sure what the next development should be – the hesitation got me.

Having a set of principles really helps in these moments. Not rules, but guidelines you can use to ‘see’ your own work and know what will take forwards.

After a short time away I could remove myself from the parts I liked and start to see what the painting needed overall. For me it was all too messy so I needed some structure. I liked the yellow ochre but it was too dark and I wanted to really let those linear marks show off – which meant bringing in some areas of clarity. This is how I finalised the painting.

3. If you’re not sure what needs doing next, do anything!

Don’t fuss around the edges, tweaking at small changes. Do something bold!

I was loving the soft greys here with flashes of bright coming through, but it all felt a little…bland? pointless? I knew it needed something radical – a dynamic shift which would bring fresh life.

I find a painting goes through this stage many times, but adding this bold fresh cobalt suddenly gave this painting new direction. Yes, it shook things up a bit, but that’s what I’m looking for. And now I know how to handle this stage I find it exhilarating.

Middle stages of a painting, Alice Sheridan

pink painting in progress

Adding this blue surprised me and gave the painting a new lease of life. Without this it would all be simply too soft. Working like this takes guts, but is so rewarding. (see the final painting here) 

4. Check in with your personal ‘bigger picture’

Take a moment to ask yourself what you are exploring within this painting. There should be a deeper level of enquiry… something you are looking to test and learn. That can be as simple as how to portray the light hitting a glass vase or creating a certain emotion within an abstract.

I find it really valuable to re-connect with this big idea in the middle stages. Often as I start painting, I have no idea or plan and this arrives during the process of working on each individual painting. It helps to articulate it, whether in a notebook or just taking time to clarify your interests on that painting.

Here is the finished version of ‘Cloud Shift’.

Adding the brighter sweeps of blue (colour harmony and saturation contrasts) and a flash of turquoise lifts the land from the deeper muted tones. And that sky has carefully adjusted areas of lights and darks and uses a wide variety of marks so it has its own interest.

I work with hundreds of artists within my Connected Artist membership to help them strengthen their professional approach.

You can find out about ways to work with me here.

Facing a large white panel or canvas can be daunting, but once I get started I actually love this first stage of painting. With nothing established, there is nothing to lose and no risk. 

Usually I begin by making marks with black – it’s too strong and too harsh but the strong contrast immediately gives me something to react to and to knock back. This time I am looking for a different approach. 

I’d like these paintings to be a bit gentler and less busy and really enjoy the movement of paint and not be so concerned with the structure. In the video you can see me starting 3 large panels. First I subdues the white with a soft grey. I’m not bothered at this stage by getting the exact shade or colour temperature correct. In that sense, it’s still about building the tonal layers, but starting with versions of a colour I may hope to keep throughout the painting. 

Still no plan!

The danger here is that I find something I like quickly like and it feels restrictive to move away from it. As soon as you create something you enjoy there is a risk of loss – if you see it that way. 

I enjoyed this approach so much that I came away thinking “I love this stage” and then quickly: “so why can’t I always paint like this?”

Have I been too concerned to make ‘corrections’? So my intention is to continue to paint with this feeling in mind. 

I hope (!) these paintings will be ready to show at Surrey Contemporary Art Fair in March. If you’d like free tickets to see them in person, or to see the final results then I’d love you to sign up to my mailing list


Of course, with the same first name, how could I resist? I first met Alice a year ago at The Other Art Fair and we’ve been in touch since then via Instagram (her and me).  We recently had brief exchange about the importance of titles for abstract paintings and I suggested we get together and try and record a “Creative Conversation” for you.

I visited Alice at her London studio in Woolwich and we talked about how work changes over time. She shares where her inspiration comes from, how people respond to her paintings. And we get the giggles.

You can see her work on display at The Other Art Fair in London, 4-7th October 2018 and sign up for her newsletter for a complimentary ticket code here:


I hope you enjoy this, and that it may be the first of other conversations between artists. I know I love listening to conversations such as this. Let me know what you think!


Nadia Waterfield Fine Art is a leading art gallery near Andover, Hampshire specialising in contemporary paintings, sculptures and bespoke furniture. Coming soon is their bi-annual Art Fair which draws collectors and interior designers.

Twice a year Nadia builds a collection from artists all over the country and displays them in the Old Dairy building where art is shown alongside painting and furniture. This really helps give you an idea of scale and how a piece may look in your home.

The next event is coming soon:

Autumn Art Fair
Wednesday 11th October – Saturday 21 October 2017

Preview Wednesday 11th October – 6.30 – 9.30pm

  > request an invite <

The exhibition will be open every day from 11.00am – 5.00pm

If you would like some personal guidance she also offers a bespoke art consultancy service to help you select and arrange the best paintings, sculptures or ceramics to suit your home and reflect your taste, need and pocket. They can rearrange and rehang existing art collections, source and acquire new and original art to suit your taste and guide you making those tricky decisions of which pieces will really feel at home in your home.

“Our aim is to work with you to make the most of your love for and investment in art and to create the ‘feel’, impact and atmosphere that you wish to achieve.”

I love the careful approach Nadia takes to find the right selection of work – she focuses on showing new and exciting artists along with more celebrated names so it’s always a varied but carefully collated mix.

This is the second time I have been invited to show work and she has chosen four paintings of mine from this large centrepiece painting down to more intimate pieces.

From Autumn 2017, Nadia is expanding her gallery and will be open three days a week so if you’d like to visit please find directions here (and tips for tempting local places to eat) or drop her an email.

If you would like my help choosing art for your home, maybe you are tempted by one of my paintings but you’re not sure if the size is right, or the colour would look good in your room, then you know where I am. I understand it can be hard to imagine what will work best so let me help. You can always get in touch with any questions and I will get right back to you. You can even send me a photo of your room and I can create an image like the one above so you get a better visual sense of how a painting will look. Fun, right?





As my own approach to painting abstract art has changed over the last year, this has left me wondering where sketchbooks fit in with the whole picture…

If sketchbooks help to plan alternatives, test compositions and colours, how does this fit in with a process where all that discovery, that excavation, happens on the canvas itself during the process of painting?

inspiration for abstract artist Alice Sheridan

Valencia graffiti and the sketchbook pages I worked on in the following week

I wrote about this in my recent newsletter (would you like to get the next one? you can sign up here ) and how my short trip to Valencia ended with lots of new experiences, but empty sketchbook pages. Jean Davey Winter messaged me “this is just so relevant to me at the moment. I’ve just got back from Cuba where I had planned to do lots of sketchbook work and came back with next to nothing…apart from photos, memories and a feeling that I now need to process this sensory overload both visually and mentally!”

Jean originally trained in printed textiles and has been course leader of a BA Hons Fine Art programme so you would think she is well placed to avoid sketchbook angst, but it seems it gets to us all! But for abstract artists where work is not representational, what do you actually put in those pages and how do you use them to inform your work?

abstract art sketchbook

mark making by Jean Davey Winter

Jean says “these are all from an A6 sketchbook – a size I really enjoy working in. None of them ended up as larger paintings – but I do find I can free up and be more inventive when I’m working in a sketchbook – just frustrating that it doesn’t happen in quite the same way when I get onto a larger canvas…”

composition drawings in the sketchbook of Jean Davey Winter

“these are ways of thinking about compositions – this is sometimes helpful, especially as a starting point, but the problem is when I come to translating what I like about a line drawing into a painting the whole thing obviously changes completely.”

Line is immediate. It’s a direct and subtle translation of how you interpret what you see and over time your own personal language of mark making emerges. But as preparations for paintings it sucks. It can be almost misleading… it just delineates form without any information about the relative tonal density of the areas. We both agreed that adding tone or colour afterwards then just feels like colouring in!

If we break down the elements of design (and consequently any image on a flat plane) perhaps this helps:
• point
• line
• space
• color
• texture

Once you refocus on these, it doesn’t really matter what your subject matter is – there is plenty there to get you going. Colour alone can be a lifetime of exploration and understanding.

Add in other design principles like balance, proportion, emphasis, movement, pattern, repetition, rhythm, variety, harmony, and unity and you have a full tool box of potential.

Ideas come from mysterious places; they can well up without warning.

One thing I have noticed is how often an idea begins in the pages of a sketchbook and then stays hidden. I may be working on something and then suddenly see recognisable fragments emerge from a note I first made many years previously.

Or the opposite happens: the pages shown here I made one day, seemingly at random and then later I looked back through my photo roll and noticed the shapes and colours within this image of Dartmoor. Later in the week I was waiting for the children at the climbing centre and took this photo: the yellow against the dull green, the glowing light against the grey, the fine lines of the netting next to the smooth dark grey.

All these elements link together and could be the basis for an abstract painting. Can we define what the source is? Who knows! Does it even matter?

Making connections between the outside world and our inner reaction to it is what abstract art is about for me. That need for exciting variety and times of calm reflection which is essential both for art and within life.

Having an ongoing sketchbook practice can be so helpful as a way to allow ideas the time they need to emerge; if you are looking for ways to reinvigorate your own work how about these tips…

Be selective

think about separating out and exploring the different design elements. Maybe you just want a mark-making book to explore different mediums, maybe you do want to practice your life drawing or create a book around still life and abstract shapes? Mix and match or have one book for each practice.

Find a medium which works for you

I’m currently loving collage, but anything which has a low barrier to getting started is good – coloured pencils, different pens, pan gouache can all be great

It’s Ok to have some downtime

It’s not a race. Ideas can develop slowly or in a rush but often when you’re NOT thinking directly is when the best, or most distilled ideas come to you. There are many who advocate daily practice and while this can be great ti get you out of a rut, it can also end up making you feel forced and disengaged. Go with the flow instead.

Use technology

Using your phone to take photos still counts. You are raising your visual awareness and making selections as you photograph. Even if you then delete them all! Jean: This is why with the colour ones I tried working from a photo on the computer screen, trying to simplify and look at shapes/colours and marks.

Sketchbooks can also be places for words. I’m amazed at how much writing helps me to formulate my ideas and I do more writing now than at any tie in my life, but that’s a subject for another day!

If you are a creator I’d love to hear how you use your own sketchbooks. If you are an art collector do you enjoy seeing in to artists’ books? Please leave a comment below or add a photo over on this Facebook post.

On Instagram you can follow my studio practice and sketchbook pages here, or see more of Jean’s ongoing process here where she is currently sharing photos of her Cuba journey and loving the vibrancy of the new colour palette.

Thank you Jean for our conversation and for sharing your work with us 🙂


There is nothing like sneaking things in at the last minute. The Robert Rauschenberg retrospective exhibition at Tate Modern ends on 2 April. If you’re reading this too late, I apologise – go and look up the catalogue which is a hefty almost two inch thick book jam packed with writings and images. (link here)

But, if you can, get yourself to Tate Modern this weekend to see the Robert Rauschenberg retrospective. Eleven rooms filled with work spanning almost fifty years.

Art work entitled 'Ace, 1962' by US artist Robert Rauschenberg during a press preview at the Tate Modern in London

Photo credit: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

What struck me most as we walked through was the sheer energy and exhilaration. You never knew what would be waiting in the next room – this man never stopped! He collaborated with dancers, with musicians, he used dirt and found materials. He turned comic books into paintings which were dismissed as irrelevance. He added found objects: socks, ties, window fans, bits of wood, a brightly painted quilt…

And just as you are getting used to this approach of using objects for their own sake rather than representation, we have a room full of the most beautiful, delicate and almost fragile drawings using transfers and quiet subtle colours. Except the whole series is based around Dante’s Inferno and the tiny figures taken from contemporary news images are highly political.

Rauschenberg Canto XIV Dante transfer drawings

Canto XIV: Circle Seven, Round 3, The Violent Against God, Nature, and Art, from the series Thirty-Four Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno


There is a strong sense of the era in which he was creating – JF Kennedy crops up repeatedly. Space travel, references to the Vietnam war and later the restraint upon citizens of China, our position within a consumer world all make their mark.

This is a hugely visual collection of work from an artist who didn’t restrict himself to any particular medium or approach. It also feels like work full of thoughtful consideration – a lifetime of opinions. It bristles with energy that never lets up. There is a record of a performance piece involving (from memory) roller skates, three dancers in wedding dresses, parachutes…. It seems a little out of context to me until I feel it is simply a lively reaction to what is possible.

No point in asking ‘why’ when the obvious answer is simply “why ever not?”

He seemed to move through relationships just as quickly. In 1949 he marries Susan Weil and they have a son, by 1951 he is in a relationship with the artist Cy Twombly and then another art contemporary Jasper Johns. At the time of the Pelican performance piece in 1963 he is living with the dancer Steve Paxton who talked about the idea of incorporating everyday action into dance “We began with this idea of Bob’s that you work with what’s available, and that way the restrictions aren’t limitations, they’re just what you happen to be working with.”

What did I take from it?

Think – take ideas from everywhere, it’s all valid. Don’t think – don’t be obsessed by proper materials or delicacies.

Be aware of your surroundings – use whatever you can. There is no limit. Don’t be precious. Some paintings were completed on stage and stopped when the alarm clock integrated into the canvas went off! Have fun!

Testing. From the early days he sets out to question what the role of art is. Is it new art if I just erase an existing drawing by Willem de Kooning, a process which took many hours and over 40 erasers?

Can I investigate the role of chance by creating two almost identical paintings simultaneously? 

Robert Rauschenberg Factum1 and 2

Left: Robert Rauschenberg. Factum I. 1957. Combine: oil, ink, pencil, crayon, paper, fabric, newspaper, printed reproductions, and printed paper on canvas, 61 1/2 x 35 3/4 in. (156.2 x 90.8 cm). The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The Panza Collection; Right: Robert Rauschenberg. Factum II. 1957. Combine: oil, ink, pencil, crayon, paper, fabric, newspaper, printed reproductions, and painted paper on canvas, 61 3/8 x 35 1/2 in. (155.9 x 90.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase and an anonymous gift and Louise Reinhardt Smith Bequest (both by exchange). All works © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation


It seems his work moved in clear ‘batches’ as he leaps in steady jumps from clue to clue. Almost scientific in approach by following the leads he has already uncovered; so, I’ve done these large brightly coloured ‘funfair’ paintings and combines, what happens if I now create 34 relatively small drawings with very limited colour – what are you looking at now?! 

If you’ve ever felt as an artist that you have to have a ‘style’ this blows it out of the water!

However there is a thread and an evolution. By the end of his life, his work using silkscreened images is refined further and the last pieces combine photographs from his own collection. It feels like a cinecamera on quick rewind – quick glimpses of the world, flash backs and always on the move. Isn’t that how we now see things? 




“It is impossible for me to make painting that has no reference to the very powerful landscape in which I live” spoke Peter Lanyon in 1963.

He was painting at a time when American Abstract Expressionism was taking over the contemporary art scene and yet his work remained strongly rooted in the Cornish landscape; proof that exciting modern art could be created from man’s experience in the world. The new lure of pure abstraction was not necessarily the holy grail; there could be another way…

Finding abstraction from the real world

Abstract art usually seeks to break away from traditional representation of physical  objects, relying instead concerns of composition and emotive response so this idea of having to begin with a place of contact with the real world, an immersive sense of being part of our surroundings is fascinating to me.


Peter Lanyon Silent Coast 1957 oil on board 122 x 93.5cm

Peter Lanyon Silent Coast 1957 oil on board 122 x 93.5cm

Soaring Flight brings together a group of paintings and constructions that sprang from Lanyon’s desire to fully experience his environment from a unique vantage point. Flight and birds had already shown their influence in his earlier work and he joined the RAF in 1940 with hope of becoming a pilot but recurrent migraines halted his ambitions.


Some of these gliding paintings are collected together for the first time in this exhibition where the air and sky become not just ‘the top’ part of the painting but, as he commented “the sky is all around and is the element from which that land is experienced.”

In Silent Coast we can see that he was concerned with changing the picture plane; it is essentially an aerial view of the sea which he regarded as being “closest to out human instability”. The calmer areas of blue push the white boundaries of the coast towards the edges of the painting. This was painted the same year Lanyon visited Mark Rothko in his New York studio and it is suggested these large colour planes show his influence.

Using flight to give a new perspective

photo Sheila Lanyon

photo Sheila Lanyon

Studies of clouds and weather aren’t new obsessions for painters. Constable and Turner both made meticulous studies and used their understanding and observations of weather to create a controlled manipulation of space. Turner advised his students to “let the truth of the experience trump the over rigid dictates of conventional linear perspective and to work with an understanding of nature more profound than simply what the eye perceives.” Turner even used air balloons to lift him to a changed perspective. However what distinguishes Lanyon is his experience of using the weather to power his own flight and how that impacted upon his portrayal of land and air. In 1959 he decided to combine his fascination with landscape and flight and  began to learn to fly a glider.

His 1960 log book shows how short the initial flights were – often only 2 minutes in length although as his experience and understanding of thermals grew this allowed him to make longer cross country flights, catching and using the air currents to extend his time in the air. Titles such as Backing Wind and Calm Air reveal how his view changed from simply observing the weather to specific meteorological conditions that he was now having to understand and use.

Paintings such as Thermal 1960 (oil on canvas 183 x 152.5cm) explore these conditions; the rising bubble of warm air, the turbulence caused by the boundaries between warm and cooler air. A strong thermal can lift a half ton glider at a rate of 800 feet per minute and several can allow a glider to fly of hundreds of miles. The power of the rising currents are clearly expressed in the paint markings in the lower left corner and the scraped area revealing the grey weightless shape surrounded by the thickly painted white turbulence.

Peter Lanyon Thermal 1960 oil on canvas 183 x 152.5cm Tate

Peter Lanyon Thermal 1960 oil on canvas 183 x 152.5cm Tate

Clearly he wasn’t drawing while he was flying and the paintings capture a transient experience; a combination of sight and memory which is recreated with paint. Sweeping marks may suggest the movement of flight and in the upper layers of the paintings we can see he is using ‘wet in wet’ paint techniques allowing the colours to mix as a direct result of his actions on the canvas. In some areas paint is scraped away or drawn through to reveal layers underneath.

Critic Eric Newton described his work as “areas of wild movement symbolising the thrill of a lonely struggle between wings and air, with no define able object, no foreground to give support, no landmark to lean on” 1960. Often names of locations are transposed which suggests that strict geographical identification wasn’t important to him, further reinforcing the sense of landscape as boundless.

Looking closely moving around a large painting and it almost feels like you are doing a dance. Like twirling around a dance floor with moments of speed and change of direction, carefully choreographed so all the dancers work together.

Using a white or off white ground keeps the colours fresh and quite bright, although browns and greens are often revealed in areas where the blue is scraped away. Drift 1961 stands apart from others in the exhibition using smokey greys and pinks and was named after a flight almost drifted him into the sea. The sheer exhilaration and awe he found in flying he found very sensuous and liked the exhilaration of being propelled upwards as a “sense of breathlessness and attitude of wonder” akin to seeing a woman naked.

Peter Lanyon Drift 1961 oil on canvas 152.5 x 106.5cm collection Alan Bowness

Peter Lanyon Drift 1961 oil on canvas 152.5 x 106.5cm collection Alan Bowness

The thin brown line in Soaring represents the flight of a bird and the red is used to mark the trajectory of the glider. It provides a bright contrast, and tells me that he continued to play with ideas of picture surface and twisting the conventions of foreground, receding landscape and how he could use paint to represent both tangible objects and intangible ideas.

Peter Lanyon Soaring Flight 1960 oil on canvas 152.5 x 152.5cm Arts Council Collection

Peter Lanyon Soaring Flight 1960 oil on canvas 152.5 x 152.5cm Arts Council Collection

This idea is taken even further in Glide Path 1964 which uses black tubing secured to the surface that breaks into our space and gives an extra dimension that sets us apart from the shifting landscape below.

Peter Lanyon Glide Path 1964 oil and plastic tubing on canvas 152.5 x 122 cm

Peter Lanyon Glide Path 1964 oil and plastic tubing on canvas 152.5 x 122 cm

By 1964 Lanyon was refining his vocabulary to the simplicities of shape, colour, line and tone. In Near Cloud the rich layered texture has been simplified down to the essentials and the surface of the painting is smoother. The dynamic yet carefully controlled sweep of red flight almost touches the stroke of grey. This seems a calmer observation of movement within space. This was probably the last painting he completed; in August 1964 Lanyon’s glider crashed and he died two days later in hospital.

Peter Lanyon Near Cloud 1964 oil on canvas 122 x 152.5cm

Peter Lanyon Near Cloud 1964 oil on canvas 122 x 152.5cm

“Landscape can no longer be governed by static horizons which derived from a fixed viewpoint. The person previously apart from nature now becomes the bearer of a whole journey, a complete experience.”

This writing is taken from ‘The Next Development in Man’ by Lancelot Law Whyte, a now obscure book which highly influenced Lanyon’s ideas of landscape as an ongoing dynamic, rather than static process, where the painter and the viewer are concerned with movement and change.

Many contemporary painters are still concerned with this boundary between place and emotion but Lanyon was where it began. Fifty years later we are all just catching up!


Soaring Flight is on at The Coutauld Gallery until 17 January 2017