Following on from my last blog, today I am showing the stages from mid-point to completion of The torn wallpaper of childhood. My general practice is to take a breather when I have the rough composition and perspective mapped out, in order to think about details and colour. I usually do this by photographing the work on iPad, and looking at it. Sometimes I experiment with colour and object placement using ArtRage as well. I find this process useful, as it stops me being over hasty and enables me to test ideas without compromising what I’ve already done with I’ll thought out detail.
So, after a considerable coat of staring, and some experimental play in ArtRage, I had a clear idea of where I wanted to go with this painting. Firstly, I wanted to balance the light, as the shopfronts in the mid right had started to look dark and heavy. I did this by introducing white and cadmium yellow, both providing a light source and accentuating the suggested figures on the pavement. The results of this are shown above.
The next step was to complete the upper left skyline. The London I grew up in still had a number of bombed hulks and part demolished buildings and factories. The left side upper skyline was detailed using Raw Umber to introduce these and so provide a mid ground for this side of the painting. The knife was used as a simple sketching tool for this part, with a very small blade being used to cut in bricks and windows.
With most of the main composition dealt with I was able to move on to resolving the detail. The ruined building was treated to a pink wallpaper, inspired partly by a reference from Viv Stanshall and the Bonzo Dog DooDah bands ‘Rawlinsons End’, which summed up my memories of 30’s interior design – “and when you half closed your eyes they formed Roses of great vulgarity”.
The mid left section was sharpened to suggest an internal wall, windows and curtains, and this firmed up the piano like shape in the near centre. This references the significance of music as a social activity to me, evoking memories of singing from the Joan Baez songbook and Songs of Work and Protest as a child whilst my mother played guitar and piano in our living room.
As ever, all the painting was done with a palette knife. The textured effect of crumbling concrete on the centre left above the window is done by allowing the white paint to semi-dry, so when specks of pigment are introduced they are almost forced into and over the plastic ground. This also works well as a technique for painting more natural landscapes, suggesting flora and rough rockscapes.
The final touches added four elements to the painting (the finished piece can be seen below). The blank rectangle on the mid left had the suggestion of greenery added, as I spent much of my childhood outdoors, playing in parks, scaling and running along the top of walls, or just hanging out on the green across the road. The back end of a lorry was suggested- we lived on a busy road, and our landlord used to back his car into the space in front of and above our basement sitting room window – the smell of diesel has firmly buried itself in my memories. The three large perspective panes I coloured by thinly scraping a layer of paint across each with the edge of a large palette knife. Achieving an even, flat but translucent effect calls for a steady hand and small amounts of wet paint. The Red, Yellow and Blue are references to my emerging awareness and recognition of the importance of politics in the early 70s, when each of the mainstream parties seemed distinctly different. Finally I included myself, or at least a place for me to view the work, sitting at a table with a pint, looking back at my life whilst reading (I read compulsively, again a habit I developed as a child and one that certainly trained my imagination, creating worlds in my mind from the text).
This has been the wallpaper of my childhood. I hope you have enjoyed reading about both the process and the reasoning behind the construction of one of my paintings.
Many thanks for viewing. John 🙂