Back to black


170128 Bird People (2017) oil on canvas 60 x 85cm

This painting was an experiment, combining two perspective effects: atmospheric perspective using the full colour spectrum (background blue, middle ground yellow, foreground red); and a light effect (background dark, middle ground light, foreground dark). I didn’t think it through before starting, and the two effects don’t make sense together at all. I also didn’t give any thought to the actual objects, I just wanted to try the light and colour effects.

I don’t like the result, but there are details that I like better than the whole image: for example, the ground.


170128 Bird People [detail] (2017) oil on canvas


170128 Bird People [detail] (2017) oil on canvas

This light effect reminds me of paintings that I like by Edward Hopper.


Edward Hopper Summer Evening (1947) oil on canvas 76 x 107cm

One of the things I especially dislike about the Bird People painting is the colour palette. I usually try to keep my colours saturated so that my colour blindness doesn’t cause me to confuse them, but that gets really tiresome and in this case it resulted in a palette that I don’t like at all. I tried viewing the picture in black and white, and it made me think about how much more confident I am with dark/light value relations, rather than colour relations.


So I’m taking a break from negotiating my colour blindness, and going back to painting in black and white. First, reacquainting with the grey scale.




170215b Grey Scale (2017) oil on canvas 26 x 27cm


170215a Grey Scale (2017) oil on canvas


170215d Grey Scale (2017) oil on canvas 26 x 29.5cm


170216a Grey Scale (2017) oil on canvas 45 x 32cm

Photographing these requires the camera to be set on the correct white-balance, otherwise the whites come out too warm or cool. When that happens, it’s tempting to use PhotoShop to make the image “black-and-white” (I did this with the ones above), or to partially desaturate the image (the one below), but neither is   really accurate. Photographing paintings is an art in itself, and I need to work on it.


170216d Hand (2017) oil on canvas


10 thoughts on “Back to black

  1. I probably love you by now Liam – but don’t panic quite yet. Your telling us about the struggle with palette confirms it hehe. This something even an old soother like me can’t help you with much.

    As this Bird painting was an exercise, there will be stuff you don’t like about it anyway. I reckon you got the light effects though.

    And now I’ve seen the B&W stuff below the birds I’m rooting for you to go full bore into 50 shades because there is a command evident even in such a small survey. And you’ve announced it in any event.

    One day I’ll blast the hell out of you if you don’t take a great leap into colour, fuck off the exercises and just take big risks.

    But you’ve got a big leave pass for now



    • 50 shades, haha, I’ll definitely be using that as a blog post heading. Thanks! A “great leap” into colour sounds great, but the reality is: Making colour paintings for me is like painting in a darkened room, passing them out to you in the light, you tell me they look fine, but I only ever see them in the dark, squinting and trying to figure out if that’s a green or brown, blue or violet, pink or grey… Meanwhile, millions of painters all over the world are working in the light, fine tuning their colour sense, playing colours off each other like music. Or music is another good analogy. You know how singers hate it if they can’t hear their own voice on the stage monitors? Everyone else can hear whether they’re in tune, but they can’t hear themselves. That’s the same thing. ….. but never say never. If I could find a way of making it work, that would be great. And everything I’m learning now about light dark dynamics would be transferable. 😀 xxxx


      • I just re-read what you wrote yesterday. It occurs to me that when it happens that you come back to colour, remember with confidence the powers and gifts and skills you DO have in your arsenal. And paint for your most important audience – you. If you’re content, that’s it. Goal achieved. If it turns out there is disconnect with the “straights” (haw haw) on the colouring then deal with that then.

        I’m slow on the uptake – Back to Black is blasting my head off as I start a long train journey on a perfect end of summer morning with that softer light the approach of Autumn brings. Next up, appropriately, is, You know that I’m no good!


  2. In response to the rest of your comment, or particularly the part about remembering the gifts I do possess: Today I was at a large market where there were several stalls selling art. They were mostly selling images printed on stretched canvas-effect plastic, or etched into mirror, or box-framed with text collaged on, and the ones that were handmade were obviously assembled formulaically. Almost all of it drew from photographs of pop-cultural icons (golden age and contemporary movie stars, musicians and band iconography, cartoon characters, 1950s Americana, etc.) or cityscapes / landscapes. I imagined how my recent paintings would look among these art objects, thinking probably mine would seem remarkably clumsy, ugly, amateurish and bizarre – very much “outsider” art. I was trying to figure out why, and then I realised that it’s because (a) I’m studiously avoiding effects that are “beautiful” or “cool”, and only trying to keep the process interesting for myself; and (b) I’m genuinely totally uncynical about my painting, never trying to second guess in order to please others, and never seeking to produce something commercial. …. So that’s two things I feel very positively about my painting: not cynical and not tailored to a market. That positivity and freedom is exciting to me.


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