Expressive figure painting

I cannot claim to be a painter, as I haven’t touched the stuff since A Level. Painting for me is quite a stressful business. Emily Ball encouraged us to enjoy paint as a material – manipulating the acrylic, in thickness and watering down, adding gloss, layering washes. I especially enjoyed using a large household brush, standing as far back from the paper as I could. I attacked the canvas, sometimes throwing paint at it, scraping back and adding more. I used a palette knife to gouge and rags to blend and smooth. Wet paper gives some exquisite bleeding effects.  Always be generous with the amount of paint on your brush – and be confident in your lines. Try to centre yourself in front of the easel and breathe out at you make your marks.


 One exercise is rather than work leading from one area to another, ‘pick and plonk’ from around the room, jumping from one subject to another – focusing one moment on the background colours, then the chair, then one area of the figure, and so on.  


Emily encouraged us to ‘feel’ round the figure – describing not just outline edges but the sculptural form of the figure. I loved the effect of a turquoise wash in the background and using contrasting orange lines.

This way of working made me consider, the ‘real’ in a work of art. The paint is real – but your impression of the subject is not. We had a day with a life model, but then had to work in the absence of the subject which I found really hard. My work is usually a triangle, myself as artist, the work (drawing / painting / sculpture etc) and the subject. With the subject absent I faltered. My conscious mind harkened back to her figure, trying to draw from memory, resulting in rubbish approximations.


I decided to let my unconscious lead the work. It pulled back to a recent nightmare I’d had about a print on a wall of tadpoles which came to life, seething with semi developed frogs. The ‘not real’ subject led to a painting full of eggs, rot, spermoza, bonfire ashes and fleshiness.

'The paint cries because I cannot.'