05 November 2022


 Recently I posted a photo of the first stages of a new painting on Facebook, and several people asked me to show them the step-by-step process from there to a finished painting. This was a bit of a challenge, as I am usually reluctant to show people work in progress, but I agreed. Here is the history of a painting, in ten steps.


I wanted to practise painting rocks, so hiked in to Handsome Cave to get some ideas and inspiration.

I spent about an hour sitting and studying these rock formations while I ate my lunch, and by the time I had reached my car for the drive home had a very clear visual image of the shape I wanted for a new painting.

Here it is the beginning; some basic shapes on which I could build - something!

Some more work, adding colours where the design suggested. I'm not thinking about objects at this stage, just putting down a pattern of colours and shapes

Finding objects

Two new words: pareidolia and mimetolithic.   The first is the human propensity to find patterns in random shapes, for example, pictures in the clouds.  Mimetolithic patterns are formed by weathered, broken and eroded rocks whose shapes lend themselves to this by suggesting interesting things. 

In nature, we most frequently find faces. If you look the right way at the photographs I took at Handsome Cave you might find some.

Pareidolia comes into play at this stage of  painting, when I look at what I have on the canvas and begin to find patterns and shapes that I can emphasise and develop. Like this.

Adding more stuff

A landscape is beginning to appear, and it needs figures in it. This is not some arcane aesthetic decree; it's just the way I like to paint. Off I go to rummage in my toybox for a suitable doll to use as a model, and that's when I find out what the painting will be about. 

There are always half-formed notions lurking in corners waiting to be discovered, and every so often two or three fuse into an interesting idea. This happens now. Along with a couple of useful dolls I find a yellow plastic whale. Recently somebody returning from their holiday remarked they saw lots of "flowering orchids and whales". Jokes were made (mostly by me) about flowering whales and somebody else suggested that might be a suitable subject for a painting. So this happens.

Now I have to construct the picture around it. The whale  turns into a rock formation and I sketch in a cluster of rock orchids growing from it. A second figure balances the composition, but then the egg-shape at the top looks odd.  I quite liked it, but it has to go. Similarly, the green bushes on the left were only intended as a "placeholder" until I decide what would finally fill the spot. In fact, I'm not sure what to put in a lot of places.


At this point things get serious. I spend three days reading about Tasmanian orchids and drawing diagrams of them, while sketching ideas that might or might not solve the problems. Then back into the studio. None of the ideas for the left hand side work so I end up with something completely different, but the rest of the plans look good.

After that, it is just a matter of putting everything in place then fine-tuning and adjusting details until I've absolutely had enough of it. 

The Big Finish

This is the result. 

Whales and Orchids, oil on canvas, 61 cm x 91 cm

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