The Story of a Painting

The Story of a Painting: Moving Heaven and Earth

This story of a painting is a brief explanation of why and how I paint. In this case, the painting is titled ‘Moving Heaven and Earth’.

I wrote this for several reasons. Firstly, it helped me to articulate my own creative process. Secondly, people often assume that paintings appear by magic. I thought it worth demystifying the act of painting. This may make it more accessible to a wider audience, though the magic is still important!

The Idea

My initial idea was to paint a local cityscape. There is certainly is plenty to choose from here in Bath. I also wanted to do something quite structured and architectural. This would contrast with the painting I had previously finished, a rather “impressionistic” seascape.

For me, some threads of the story of a painting are common in each and every piece I create. For instance, I am always aiming to stretch my skills. I attempt to do something new, but that builds on existing experience.

I generally work from photographs, so I went through my collection. I was looking for a powerful image that also had a message. The photo of the noble spire of St Michael’s Church in Bath behind the grubby chimneys jumped out at me. It contrasted the spiritual with the mundane. I now had a concept and a title “Heaven and Earth”. The composition also looked simple enough to complete in a reasonable time

The photo of the top of St Michael's church

The Process

I did some quick sketches to play with the compositional elements. It was really a question of what to include and what to leave out. I also did a complete A4 pencil sketch. I felt if I could get the fairly straightforward sketch to work, then the painting would be easier to execute.

I then started the painting by drawing outlines of the buildings. This was really more of a technical drawing exercise and quite mathematical.

I blocked in the main areas – sky, church, roofs – with paint. Working with fast drying acrylic paint requires continually over painting the same areas. Each coat is a refinement of the one below. Sometimes it seemed that I was doing exactly the same thing over and over again. To paint straight edges I even resorted to applying strips of masking tape

.A preparatory pencil and chalk pastel sketch

The Problems

Even though I expected the painting to be reasonably straightforward, mid-way through there seemed to be masses of problems. There is a process of selective amnesia each time I start a new work, I simply forget how difficult the last one was. Mixing and matching all those supple shades of grey, for one, was challenging. I over-painted the background three times to get the exactly the right shade.

Finding a way to paint background buildings in a simple yet suggestive way was an interesting exercise. Having the buildings recede towards the distance in a convincing way was similarly testing. I wanted some regions to retain an abstract painterly quality. I was intending the soft focus background areas to contrast with a sharp foreground.

A work in progress

The Story of a Painting: “Is this finished?”

Towards the end of any painting I constantly ask myself “Is this finished?”. If I look hard enough I can always find something else to fix. In this picture the unresolved areas were, in fact, intriguing. I concluded it was best to leave them as they were. I finally, after 6 months, declared the painting finished.

Heaven and Earth

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Contemporary Art Prints of Classic Bath Architecture

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