My painting technique
When I started on the road to becoming a full time professional artist, I was unsure which direction I would take in my efforts to develop a recognisable individual style. Initially, I spent many months working with a variety of materials including water colour, pen and wash, pastels, acrylics and oil paints. Over this period I tried hard to let my enthusiasm for a particular technique determine my preference.
I tried to improve my painting and drawing skills until they became as correct as I thought was necessary for the professional art market place. In fact, I think that I had become conditioned by my earlier experiences in art colleges to feel that technical precision was vital. To this end, it was appropriate to aim for reality in my presentation.
I found that oil painting enabled me to have a more controlled approach which seemed to satisfy this particular need. For some time I worked on a range of paintings with greater precision than I had achieved before. So basically, I was trying to become a better painter. However, using oil paint, the scale of the paintings I worked on and the very physical approach required, suited my technique.
I explored many ways of working with oil paint on canvas and enjoyed using heavily diluted colours. This added a degree of unpredictability which found suited my purpose. For some time I worked this way and often found myself washing off canvases to re-establish my drawing etc. This meant that in my poorly ventilated studio, I was working in turpentine fumes and over a long period I found this unpleasant. So although I was now finding my feet in the way I approached painting, I decided I would have to find an alternative to the use of oil paint and in particular turpentine.
In a way, this tended to take me back to where I started. What I needed was a means of working on the same scale, in the same physical manner but with more bearable materials. The obviousl conclusion I reached was that I should try acrylics again as an alternative. The main drawback with this particular type of paint is that although the colours are quite vibrant it can have a very flat and uninteresting quality. None of this would be suitable for my particular approach. I therefore, had to find a way of using the best qualities of oil painting and try to achieve them by adapting acrylics.
Fortunately, for many years I have had a great interest in ceramics and stoneware in particular. On a visit to St Ives, Cornwall, I saw some ceramic sculpture in a gallery and was especially drawn to large stoneware slabs with heavy texture and natural earthy colours. Seeing these and combining their appearance with some of the qualities that I really admire in old enamel advertising panels, pointed me in the direction of working on textured canvas.
When I was an art student, I developed part of my coursework producing a surfacing material similar to a substance called ‘gesso’. This is a mixture which has been used for hundreds of years particularly in the Italian Renaissance period. The technique known as tempera painting applied this to wooden panels in order to eliminate grain and make a smooth surface. In those days the use of canvas for painting had not been established.
I now intended to use this type of finish but for the opposite purpose. I wanted to make the surface rough and applied the material heavily to achieve this. The end result is a canvas painting panel with a textured surface achieving some of the qualities I saw in the stoneware slabs and the enamel signs. This enabled me to apply layers of acrylic paint in a fashion which made the outcome more unpredictable than is usual.
I find this more interesting and combined with my very physical application, cutting and scratching into the surface, sanding it etc., is more visually stimulating. I use a limited palette range and mix all my own colours from the primaries. I never use pre mixed paint. This enables me to produce the earthy qualities I admire and has resulted in my paintings having their own recognisable identity. Or if you prefer ‘style’.