Stepping Out – Notes on Technique
As I prepared for this exhibition, Barefoot Gallery Director Nazreen and I engaged in a stimulating dialogue across the time zones – thank goodness for the wonders of skype! One aspect of our talk was my painting technique and these notes are a distillation of Nazreen interviewing me on this topic.
The subjects in the Stepping Out series are all painted from life without using photographs or found images. These are real shoes and objects that are borrowed, bought or belong to me. Sometimes when I have a particular idea in mind it means searching the markets of Hong Kong to find the perfect teapot, toy or crystal ball! My studio is increasingly filled with an eclectic collection of objects which may one day find their way into a painting.
Arranging the composition is critical. The still lives can take hours of moving the individual objects in relation to each other, changing the viewpoint and trying different lighting options so the reflections and shadows fall as integral parts of the overall composition. Although the single shoes in the series stand alone without relation to another object in the picture plane, they were still carefully angled and lit until the composition worked.
I use acrylic paints for their versatility and because they mix with water and I prefer not to use other solvents. They can be thinned to watercolour consistency or used like oils but they have a very quick drying time. This enables me to work in layers in rapid succession. As I like to focus on one painting at a time and work solely on that until it feels finished, this saves me from having to set it aside to dry for days between layers of painting.
Where a high level of realism is required, I use a traditional oil painting technique. This starts with a monochrome, tonal underpainting. For this stage the image is painted fairly accurately in just one colour with dark, mid and light tones. I usually use a burnt sienna for this with added white for the highlights. It looks something like an old sepia photograph at this point. Then colours are added in thin layers or glazes over the top. This technique allows for the build up of subtle gradations of colour and can give the effect of letting light reflect outward from the object, creating a luminosity that is hard to achieve otherwise.
In other areas, in the single shoe series for example, I want to contrast the high illusion of the depicted object with the very flat 2D picture plane itself. These flat backgrounds look simple but to achieve the matt finish and the intensity of colour, there are between four to eight layers of paint, often with different colours in the underlayers which subtly effect the final tone.
A final word should go to the palette. In my initial training in sculpture, colour was never a major consideration, I was mainly interested in form. When I moved to painting, colour became important but was still limited to a fairly neutral palette. The catalyst that changed my colour sensibility was the experience of coming to Sri Lanka. In the decade I have been visiting Sri Lanka, the paintings have taken on a vibrancy of colour that has become a key component in my work.
Kay Beadman, March 2012