Process, what process?

When applying for the course my son-in-law, Berwyn, said you will have to say something about your process, you will need to be able to articulate about your work.  But, I don’t have a process.   All I do is look at the blank sheet, start painting and stop when I think the work is finished.  As for articulating, I am not even sure what that means.

Last night we had an insight into how the artist and tutor, Stewart Geddes works.  How he formulates his ideas and most importantly, how he processes that information.  He generously revealed the minutiae,  which for someone like me, who needs to really understand and not assume anything, (Nothing left to chance for me to fill in the gaps?  Now there’s an insight, so in contrast to how I actually work.), was very illuminating.

While Stewart was describing, I kept hearing my inner voice saying , ‘well you do that’ and ‘that’s how you do it’.  After four weeks of study I think it is time to have a first stab at articulating (there’s that other word, what’s happening here!) what I do to create a painting.

I don’t normally paint in series, which I am also appreciating to be an essential part of the process. However, in 2011, I did, so lets start there.

I was working as an IFA (financial adviser), responsible for managing over £6m of client funds.  The compliance company I worked through had decided, inexplicably, to stop paying me, for nearly a year, resulting in a court case, which I won.  ‘Simples’ to quote the Meerkat, maybe not.

In order to continue to w ork, I had to adopt a different personality to hide what was going on from clients.  The deceit overwhelmed me.  The following paintings, displayed in sequence of production were painted during that period.  They were not painted as therapy, but my unconscious mind is clearly at work making sense of my feelings, emotions and creative energy during that time.

Is That All There Is? Is That All There Is?


Light Light


In this painting I am able to separate the two identities.

Searching Searching

In this I seem to have taken back control.

New Beginning New Beginning

Here, I seem to have come full circle but acquired a calmness.

Reaching Out Reaching Out

In this work I am moving on.

I am not sure if this is articulating, particularly as I am looking at my work retrospectively, but it is the closest I can get.  Clearly my unconscious mind was articulating for me at the time!

What also came out of this series was a whole new approach to my work.  Unhappy with one of the darker pieces, which was much in the style of Is That All There Is? and Light, (nothing survives of the original) I erased what I didn’t like.

Shelter Shelter

The result is one of my personal favourites.

Out of this transforming period a process emerged, as I understand the term today.

My first decision is the size of the work.  This is very much gut determined.  The above are all 38 x 38 cms.  I started to use a square format in 2010, and feel it suits my work.  No implied portrait or landscape.

Recently I have  painted on canvas because I wanted to produce larger work, but I predominately work on Bockingford 140lb paper.

My starting point will either be a brand new work, or I will revisit an old work to see if it reflects who I am today.  Some works still stand, others were part of the process of getting me to this point, and their role is to now be reincarnated.  Interestingly, as I am writing this, it occurs to me that the current work I am revisiting is all 58 x 78 cms and I am struggling to find its form.  Time to crop!

I select a limited pallet of maybe two reds/blues/yellows, to which I may add other colours as the work progresses.

I never tape the paper down.  I work very wet and very freely, which creates problems with the un-taped paper and the paint pooling.  The joy is from watching the paint behave unexpectedly, although this creates a bit of a nightmare for my amazing framer, Teresa, who has to flatten the work.

I like to work on a distressed surface.   I currently freely gesso tissue paper, but I am considering other approaches, because texture is so important to me.  In another life I would like to have been a textile designer, so I suspect something touchy feely will develop.

Detail from Venus

Detail from the right character in Venus.

Detail from Venus Detail from Venus

I would love to say the angel wing was there by design, but as so often happens in my work, it appears just when needed.  As Stewart Geddes said, his found images are found because he creates a space for them to appear in.

Breaking Free

Breaking Free, a work in progress.  I have applied netting to the surface, principally because it suits the subject, but I will revisit when it is less appropriate.

Detail from Breaking Free

Detail from Breaking Free.

I continue to work and rework until I am happy with the result. There is a myth surrounding watercolour that it must be right first time, that there is no leeway.

Early Loss Early Loss

I was unhappy with the central section and decided to rework.

Loss Loss after rework

The distracting leaf at the bottom has been ‘lifted’ and the surrounding colours strengthened.  The awkward green shape near the top was covered in tissue and reworked in softer shapes and colour.

I am currently not ‘scraping in’ in the way that Stewart described, because, as Stewart found, canvas/paper doesn’t sustain that level of interference, but I do scrape the paint when applied straight from the tube to create interest.

This year is about Visual Enquiry.  After four weeks I am seeing differently, I am assimilating, I am digesting.  Writing this particular blog is to identify where I am today in that reflexive process.

Author: susanmilleruk

Watercolour painter living, working and loving Hastings and St Leonards on Sea. MA in Fine Art.

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