Daily Painting Challenge, January 2015, Day 24

January 25, 2015












Marrickville intersection

oil on canvas panel, 8×10″


Today’s was painted not from life, but from a combination of memory, a reference photo and a watercolour sketch done on location. Curiously, it’s closer in gesture and feel to the original play of light on the subject than the watercolor. It renders accurately what I saw at the time. I’m aware of pumping up tone and colour, especially in the light of the comments by Cezanne and Van Gogh I’ve been reading lately.

I ended up using only five paints (Ultramarine Blue, (warm pink Art Spectrum) Australian Grey, Burnt Sienna, (Art Spectrum) Coral and Titanium White) so it theoretically could have been done plein air after all. I had managed to tuck myself out of direct sunlight, propped up against a telephone box; the shadows start to get interesting around midday.


I’ve been painting my still lifes early in the morning and spending the rest of the day thinking about it. I wonder if 100m athletes do the same. I’d return to paint again in the afternoon, but I’m too exhausted. I find myself accepting the happy accidents which turned out well, but am equally perturbed by effects which I believe mar the whole. Because I know there is going to be a huge disparity between happy accidents and unfortunate ones, I work quickly to “block out” any judgement while painting. One simply observes and hopes for the best, leaving alone what doesn’t need fixing. The decision-making process while painting is frenetic, because if I give each decision its appropriate time, I will never get the painting done. Each painting becomes a two-hour session of intense observation.

I resign myself to the fact that once the two-hour session is over, it’s gone forever. Even if I had a fixed indoor shadow box setup instead of working in natural daylight, would things change, I wonder? To observe a second time means a quite different painting outcome, hence Arthur Stern’s insistence on at least three separate ‘statements’, scraping off between each one. The issue of re-working and re-touching work was well covered in the podcast by Carol Marine at http://savvypainter.com; time being such a precious commodity, it’s better to move on than endlessly correct.

Exhausting too are the “accidents”. Ultimately the “accidents” make or break the painting for me. Carol insists on being proud of her work before she puts it into the public domain. I put everything in the public domain because I can’t differentiate between what is “good” and what is “bad”. Inevitably, a work I am most proud of gets ignored; everyone raves about a work I feel has failed. Working in a sketchbook means that failures have to be accepted along with successes; they sit physically beside each other. I find Carol’s annual “art destruction” parties curious, those regular occasions when she will destroy her bad work. How does she know which are “good” or “bad”? Being “proud” of a work is surely more about resolving personal aesthetic problems and less about whether it will please others?

But on the subject of “accidents” and palette knife technique as a whole, creating “mud pies” and knowing when to stop, I identify very strongly with Francis Bacon. Here are excerpts from an interview he gave with David Sylvester in the Sunday Times Magazine (London), 14 July 1963, pp. 13-18 and reproduced in Herschell Chipp’s anthology, pp.621-622. He describes exactly what I’m experiencing at the moment.

Bacon: You know in my case all painting is an accident. I foresee it and yet I hardly every carry it out as I foresee it. It transforms itself by the actual paint. I don’t in fact know very often what the paint will do and it does many things which are very much better than I could make it do. Perhaps one could say it’s not an accident, because it becomes a selective process what part of the accident one chooses to preserve… The way I work is accidental and becomes more and more accidental. How can I re-create an accident? Another accident would never be quite the same. This is the thing that can only happen with oil paint, because it so subtle that one tone, one piece of paint, that moves one thing into another completely changes the implications of the image.

Sylvester: If you were to go on, you wouldn’t get back what you’d lost, but you might get something else. Now why do you tend to destroy rather than to work on? Why do you prefer to begin on another canvas than to work on?

Bacon: Because sometimes then it disappears completely and the canvas becomes clogged, there’s too much paint on it; just a technical thing and one can’t go on.

Sylvester:  Is it because of the particular texture of the paint?

Bacon: I work between thick and thin paint. Parts of it are very thin, and parts of it are very thick. And it just becomes clogged, and then you start to put on illustrational paint.



Chipp, Herschell. Theories of Modern Art: a source book by artists and critics. Berkeley, Univ California Press, 1968.



2 Responses to “Daily Painting Challenge, January 2015, Day 24”

  1. cateblue Says:

    I haven’t been able to scrap off 3 x’s for same subject, but I do like the concept of painting the same subject over and over – take for example Helene Schjerfbeck – a matter of convenience for her, but so interesting. Her portrait work captures me completely.

  2. rodbyatt Says:

    May yet create my own monthly challenge just doing the same subject, or a month of days doing a single painting. Thanks, Kate, for putting me on to Schjerfbeck; will check out her work on underpainting for which she’s known.

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