Welcome to the Barley Mill

Last week, I shared the briefing and sketching processes for one of my summer commissions: The Barley Mill house portrait (read more here if you missed it). This week, I hope you'll enjoy a behind-the-scenes blog tour of the painting process.

Most of my oil creations are on canvas or board. For this project, I worked on some lovely Fabriano Tela paper that I'd treated myself to. The commission was to celebrate a paper wedding anniversary, hence the change in materials. I'd invested in the paper last year but, as artists do, had been hoarding it for special projects. It has a textured surface that makes it suited for oil (most paper stocks are not appropriate for oil painting) and is acid-free and archival. A lovely surface to paint on. However, as it's one I'm less familiar with and the early stages coincided with some unusually warm summer weather, the first few layers of paint dried faster than I expected. 

Trio of images of painting on paper showing stages of outlining and blocking in of colour with woman artist visible in far right

I knew from my plein-air sketching of the house that it has unusual proportions. So my first challenge was to map these onto the sheet. I began with a limited colour palette, although that was significantly extended later on in the creative process.

I then began the blocking in stage. However, it felt a bit too formulaic and left-brained. I didn't want to lose the emotional connection with the character of the house and its glorious setting. So, to reconnect, I put the brushes aside and did some of the initial blocking in by hand. Sometimes you literally have to feel your way!

Collage of artwork in progress – house painting on easel and colour palette

Once I've blocked in the underlying areas of a painting – in this case: sky, landscape, house and garden – I begin to focus on light and shade. At this stage, the sense of form and depth starts to develop. Once I was happy that I had a good sense of form shaping up, I sent a process image to my client to check that she was happy.

Lots and lots of layers followed. Some areas needed softening (like the hills in the distance) and others needed more texture (the house and garden). Having viewed the property at different times of day, I was able to recall the range of colour in the tiles, bricks and stone. These materials presented lots of opportunity to explore texture and colour, especially when juxtaposing them with the soft curtains, shadowy glass and all the garden foliage. For the house, I repeatedly developed the texture and then knocked it back again to get the balance I wanted between detail and integration.

The creative process for this painting felt a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle. Noticing the details in my reference photos, searching for the right combination of light/dark, colour and texture and putting it all together bit by bit.

Most of you know I love flowers and gardening, so you can imagine how much I enjoyed painting the flowers and foliage for this beautiful property. And if you've read my cloud blog, you'll know I enjoy painting those too. You might be surprised that I also really enjoyed painting the building, not only the joy of exploring its materiality but also because my grandfather had paintings of our family home and I can relate to the emotional affinity a family feels for their house portrait.

My main indulgence in this creation was the garden furniture. I was very inspired by the garden chair squiggles I saw at the Hockney exhibition in Saltaire earlier this year. So I was particularly excited to try and keep a sense of looseness in my rendition of the garden furniture.

 Finished painting of house with two details alongside showing close-up of garden furniture and arched doorway

Certainly an honour to be trusted with such a special commission. It's new owners have taken it in for framing, so I'm looking forward to seeing it all framed and grown up soon.

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