Stages of Completing a Painting

A brief look at my working method

My paintings fall roughly into two categories.

The simpler, quieter images where the birds are the main subject with various degrees of abstraction, particularly in the background and a focus on light and atmosphere. Often the light is from behind the bird with and emphasis on reflected light and shadow.

The more complicated, noisier images are much more abstracted and almost chaotic in their design. These arose from a series of paintings I created some years back of birds travelling through habitats such as woods and hedgerows where their movement is suggested by bold vigorous strokes across the canvas. This degree of abstraction is very apparent in the example I’ve shown here entitled “Memories of EastWinds” which is a kind of composite view which plays around with perspective but can still be read as a single image.

I started with a coloured ground, in this case something close to Indian Yellow and rough out the basic elements of the design before adding some of those bold dynamic lines to suggest movement and energy. One of the great liberating characteristics of working with oil paint is that right until the end of the process everything is up for grabs and anything can be altered and refined. So the painting evolves over time and eventually a sense of balance is hopefully achieved. The way I feel about the work while I am making it can see-saw wildly from complete despair to total elation and back again. I know in the grand scheme of things it’s not much to complain about – some people have to juggle chainsaws for a living – but it can be exhausting.

In the end the painting tells me when when it’s done. Often when I start fiddling I know it is time to stop. Some artist (I can’t remember who) said it is better to stop a painting too early than too late and I think they were right.