Experimenting with Layers

I wanted to explore my painting process and experiment with different layers and ideas.  I, therefore, decided to work on one painting, A1 in size on watercolour paper.  I worked on the painting over a number of days/sittings and initially began by using acrylics for speed of drying time.  I used a painting by Joan Mitchell as my inspiration for my colour palette with this experiment.


The images below show the first three layers.  I wanted to experiment with bringing tension into the painting by incorporating geometric patterns – this brought in a meticulous element with my painting method that juxtaposed the freedom of the abstract layer beneath it.

experimentslayer13 jminspiregeometric1 jminspiredlayer3

I naturally reached an end point with this part of the painting and having completed more of the geometric layer I masked out an area and covered it in watery gouache to create an opaque area in the top left.  I also tried to experiment with letting paint drip over the opaque area – this was an attempt to bring further tension into the painting by introducing another style/approach.

The next step was to bring a more painterly quality in by using watery gouache to add in shapes and forms in a light colour.  These forms then informed my decision with the darker brush marks.

layersdream3 layersdream2 layersdream4



At this point I was pleased with the progression of the painting – it was new territory for me – the painting feels denser, harder to navigate.  I can see that the linear qualities are too ‘cartoon-like’ (particularly the detail above) which I will, therefore, deal with in the next layer, I also have too many smudgy looking areas where the I have created brush marks that are either one thing or another.  The under layer is also causing me difficulty with the colours that I used over the top as, for example. the black is dulling the colours and adding a greyness.  I can, therefore, see the benefit of doing this kind of experiment with oil paints despite the prolonged drying time as the colours will retain a freshness that I don’t seem to be able to manage using acrylics.

layers8 layers9

After these layers I can see I am not making clear judgements about my intention with the work.  What are the problems:-

  • The colour palette is now not working – I haven’t thought enough about varying it or introducing different tonal qualities
  • There is too much chaos in the image.  How do I take this further, bring in a sense of order?
  • I am unsure how to develop the figures.
  • The mid-left area needs tightening up by re-introducing some geometric elements. It looks too messy and vague.
  • I have lost the luminosity in the image – too much opaque paint has been used
  • I have obliterated too much of the lower layers

Looking closely at the painting there are some areas I am pleased with.  I like the different brushwork I have incorporated and also the varying densities of paint.  I like the idea of painting forms in as they emerge, however, I need to work at developing this idea further.  I am also pleased with the way the geometric layer adds a tension to the piece – I need to experiment further with this layer, thinking about when the layer should appear, and whether it should overlay the entire painting.

detail3 detail4 deatil5

In a final attempt to pull the painting together I decided that the peach and pink colours were too strong and decided to knock these back with a bold decision to use black.


My reflections at this point:-

  • Whilst this an experiment to see what layers I might put together on reflection I should have left the painting at this point as I was unsure how to work on the painting further.   I have lost the context for the painting, what was dream-like is now jumbled and unfocussed. I can see I would have benefitted from some compositional planning and research being done before I committed to adding to the image any further.
  • The black has brought out some of the shapes within the image as it was all looking too similar in the previous layer, however, it is the wrong choice of colour.  I have reverted to my old pattern of overworking rather than leaving space for new ideas to evolve.  I am, therefore, unsure as to whether I would actually be able to do anything further with this painting.

What have I learnt?

  • to think about the order that I paint the layers
  • that I need to think compositionally during the act of painting the layers
  • that I need to keep planning the colour palette for every layer
  • that I must stop working when I am unsure what I should do next – I would definitely have benefitted from being clearer about my intention and taking time out to research or experiment
  • that the geometric forms are important to my work and to introduce structure/tension – need to think further about when I add these into the image
  • that I must ALWAYS remember the importance of luminescence and the flattening quality of opaque colours



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