I usually have a broad idea of where I am going with a painting when I start. Sometimes it's in a sketch, or I want to develop a motif from a previous work. Often, painting something sparks off new ideas and images.
This is what happened with "Croes y Ddwy Afon". I'd had the idea of the quarry isolated by the river, mysterious and hemmed in by the mountains, in the bacxk of my mind. The real quarry, somewhere I've known for many years, is a jumbled scene of geological chaos. It's been untopped, and the signs of what went on before are difficult (although not impossible) to read.
I started blocking out the main shapes, thinking that the quarry would emerge from the mountain in the mid-left of the painting. In the foreground, I felt that the two shapes could be symbolic of drumhouses...or perhaps the bowstones of my youth, when I became obsessed with two old menhirs on the skyline seen from my parent's farm. That felt right, anyway.
It' seemed all a bit shallow ...so I left it for the night and came back the next day. The river became a flooded pit. I scraped back some areas and added others.
Now, a lot of work had gone on. I changed the colour of the hills. I made the central area a creamy naples yellow and added some rock cannon motifs. I also added the sawblades that I feel compelled to place in my paintings. The boiler and a pressure vessel held the attention too much, I suspected. I already felt that the chimney should be reduced and changed. But I liked the dark feeling of the weigh house. That was going to stay.
More shuffling about of paint. Some scraping back. Then I decided that the horizon was too literal and I used a familiar ruse of mine, the window in the sky. A great weight seems to be bearing down on the hill, and I like that. The DeWinton boiler is almost gone. The Bowstones have appeared on top of the hill...doubling as an incline winder house.
The final image is above. There were some things that needed to be amended...I'd made a Cadmium red mark above the pit which, on reflection, looked like a perfect signwriter's seven. Oops! Other things needed taking back, or deepening. But it's finished now!
I have the urge to simplify things more, to reduce all the areas, or to take just one area and work it up into an abstract. The trouble is that I am very fond of the story, of showing the palimpsest. We'll see where that goes!
Usually, the way my work happens is this: I sketch, at first just tiny doodles in my working pad -until something occurs on the page which switches on a light in the old brain box. More detailed sketches follow, where I try and isolate elements which I think will work, or new ideas emerge from the sketching process. It gets to a point where I can't wait any longer, and I start to work on canvas.
Of course, this is where the real task begins as the paint never obeys the brush or behaves the way you think it will. So I build up layers, like a story...sometimes as many as ten. I go back, scratching some areas away. Gradually, something emerges and the light in the brain box flickers tentatively again. The painting is probably not finished. I may go back to it months later. It may be completely different to the original sketches, but that's what makes it so fascinating. And all the while, I am trying to tell a story, one that I hope lies on the painting's surface like those we can read on the landscape. I am trying to at least spark a train of reflection in the viewer.
This was pretty much the process with "DeWinton". The name comes from a manufacturer of quarry locomotives (and much more) in Caernarfon. Petra and I had found one of their long abandoned locomotives at Penmaenmawr Quarry...it was a fascinating find, evocative, forlorn yet suggestive of a great deal of history. My post about it is here.
I kept doing little thumbnail sketches of it, but shied away from the idea of doing something too literal. Then one day, a painting emerged.
It was not quite right, but there was something, I thought. Still a bit literal. This is just a little over A4, on card. I kept this for future reference.
I did another small sketch, above. Then a canvas emerged. I thought this was more like it. The locomotive is simplified and the landscape has taken over the duties of composition:
Finally, I arrived at this, above. I am much happier with it and it is less ephemeral than the previous iteration, although that is still there, underneath! You can see a few points of reference if you look closely.
I'll leave it for a couple of weeks and see what I think about it then.
For the first time in many years, I have a dedicated studio, a place to paint where I can leave all my work out and not have to tidy everything up, or have to worry about the carpet! It's an old barn next to our house which I am in the process of making totally weatherproof...a window to replace and then I will be there. The floor needs some attention, too, but that can wait. The light is great, from two huge skylights facing north west...so almost the fabled northlight- good enough for me, anyway.