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My 8 Steps to Build an Abstract Landscape Painting

It's always fascinating to see what is behind the top layer of a painting, isn't it.


Every time I look at an artist’s artwork I wonder what was the first mark on the surface? How many passes were made? Did the artist already have something in mind? Was it completely spontaneous and intuitive and built directly in the moment? Did the artist do preparatory sketches?


Although I’m also a photographer and love sketching a lot while travelling, when it comes to abstract landscape painting I work directly from memory. I let my selective memory guide me through the re-construction of the landscape I’ve experienced.

During my recent spring trip to Dorset, England, the yellow rapeseed fields were replanted into my head. Vast, geometric blocks of colour and a bright yellow that I’ve never seen in other parts of the world with my own eyes before.


So from that moment of inspiration, there is a process of exploration I go through to relate this experience into an abstract landscape painting. Let’s scrape back the layers on the Dorset "Yellow Fields" pictured below.

“Yellow Fields” 30x30cm (framed 50x50cm) Pastels, Acrylic and Oil Pastels on birch panel see the whole series of my Dorset paintings

Step 1Gathering and sketching ideas


After recalling from memory the vibrant Dorset landscape, I start by quickly sketching the scene on the surface (in this case a gessoed wooden panel). For this stage I often use soft pastels and I don’t choose the colours I have in mind for the final landscape. I simply use random bright colours avoiding those I usually like as I don’t want to fall in love too soon with colours, marks and shapes. I never like to rush into things - as in life, so in painting.


By avoiding falling in love too soon, I prolong the research, the process, that feeling of enjoyment while seeing the pictures coming to life. This also helps reduce the fear of making mistakes, by not being in a rush you create the room to play and discover.


Step 2Playing with opposite colours


Then I start building up the layers with acrylics, again not using colours that I like and I want in the final result, but at this point I use the opposite colours. For example, if I see in my head a green / yellow landscape then I use mainly redd-ish / purple-ish colours underneath. The way I apply the paint is also another important aspect of my process. I try not to use brushes. I rather use any random tool, mainly found objects, that appear interesting to me and tickle my imagination and curiosity. I find these kind of found objects really helpful in creating unexpected mark-making.


Step 3 and 4Introducing the actual final colours


In stage 3 and 4 (see picture above) I start introducing some of the final colours that I want to appear in the top visible layer of my painting. Yellow of course in this case for the rapeseed fields and some light blue to create a cold underpainting in contrast with the warmth of the yellow. At this stage I also start defining the final composition.


Step 5 and 6 Creating textures


Step 5 and 6 (see picture below) are all about creating textures. I like when interesting textures appear by using unconventional tools rather than brushes. I use anything from hacksaw blades, to forks to twigs to giant leaves to sanding machine. This process can be quite scary as you think you are going to ruin everything you have done until now and you will never be able to see what you have built underneath. In some ways this scary feeling is what makes the entire process exciting!


Step 7 and 8 Fine tuning


The last 2 passes are the ones in which everything is defined, from colour to composition. It’s important in these steps to bring back some previous layers and create a balance between soft edges and hard edges. I then finish everything off by fine tuning marks and colour (see pictures above).


Conclusion

To some of you this process can probably appear too rational and pre-planned. To me it comes in a very intuitive and visceral way. There is no planning or overthinking, I just let my memory or sense of colour guide me and all along the process I never know how the painting is going to look until I get to the very end. It is a sort of zen process, adding and removing, adding and removing… until I feel I have evoked what I’m striving for.

This painting is available to buy at Highgate Contemporary Art Gallery in London.


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