Why Roadworks Gave Me a Change of Direction

'Detour' 2020, Oil on canvas, 61 x 61cm | Julia Brown

One drenched, gloomy morning a few weeks ago, we found ourselves on a rural-lane-detour around major roadworks en-route to the studio.

As I sat in the passenger seat, snapping photos from the window on my phone (a favourite way of getting randomly interesting images to base my landscape work on), inspiration started forming in my mind, slowly coming together from a few morsels I had rattling around in there. 

How to develop my work to the next level is something I’ve been considering deeply lately. 

Every artist wants to bring something new and fresh to the world, and create work explicitly in their own voice—I’m no exception. 

Finding that voice, however, is the difficult task and often takes years of work. 

My love of landscapes is a given—from tatty, angular, industrial spaces with texture and history, to outdoor scenes with a quirk about them: big windswept skies, or some notable feature that sums up a moment in my experience of the world. 

I’m realising the essence I want to bring to my current work, the thread connecting these (perhaps diverse?) paintings is the atmosphere: a sense of the 3-dimensional space in both physical and emotional (and historical) terms. Lightness or foreboding, joy or melancholia. The weight of centuries-old iron, of patinated glass and brick. The icy rain battering your face or the sun neon-lighting grass.

I recently had a break from oils, instead working on a large, well-over-a-metre-high watercolour.

It was an investigation into subject matter that was a tangent from my current work, but I also wanted to use it as a way of experimenting with my technique: of freeing myself up from the ‘rules’ of watercolour painting, and doing my own thing. 

The large scale made all the difference, allowing me to be more expressive and work—physically (and mentally perhaps?)—more openly, and I took away some valuable discoveries.

I also realised 2 things by the end of the two-week stint painting that piece:

a) I was desperate to make an oil painting, and
b) I was curious to see how some of the techniques would transfer over to the oils I'd planned, to just see what happened*.

*(This is a pretty standard thing and forms a great deal of what artists do all day, because the happy accidents, when they happen, are like a supernova of glittering stars going off in your head).

So, with gusto, I started work on a new set of canvasses last week.

Instead of starting with my usual coloured ground to work from, adding dark tones in and then working through to brighter and light colours, I started with the primed white canvas and big, flat brushes (1-3 inch wide).

I lashed on washes of different colours, allowing them to dribble, and mingle, and work together with the solvent. Layers of different colours went on, but some thinly and loosely, others more dense. 

I allowed passages of moving paint to remain, and wiped other areas off with a rag, angling the canvas so the runs moved or halted, letting them do their thing. 

As these layers started to settle and dry, I went in with more intense paint, dribbled pure solvent over them to break up a mass, or drew lines to create angular contrast with the more organic flow of the ‘washed’ areas. 

I came up against the usual temptation to overwork the painting, but after a couple of small tweaks to balance things, I downed tools. 

And I loved the results.

The new works are much more abstract, they still use tonal values to create form and space, but they suggest and imply, rather than lay it on a plate. Colours are subtle—even though in places I actually use quite rich colour washes, and hints of bright, pure hues. 

It’s a major step forward for me, I can feel the potential bubbling. It’s a way of working with huge mileage in it, and one that I can play around with and develop further, so last week’s work in the studio has me dancing with excitement.

July 2020 New Paintings | Julia Brown

July 2020 New Paintings: L - 'Over Woodhead'; R - 'Carapace'  | Julia Brown

Above are the first two paintings I made (both 91.4 x 61cm), then I started working on ‘Detour’ (the painting featured in the photo at the head of the post).

It went from this small development sketch (see photo, left, below), to the larger finished work, measuring 61 x 61 cm, using a similar method as with the first two paintings.

Below right is a detail of the canvas and paint textures.

Detour (Preparatory Sketch), 2020, Biro and watercolour on paper, 9 x 12.5cm | Julia Brown

'Detour' (Preparatory Sketch), 2020, Biro and watercolour on paper, 9 x 12.5cm | Julia Brown

'Detour' 2020 (Detail), Oil on canvas | Julia Brown

'Detour' 2020 (Detail 1), Oil on canvas | Julia Brown

All 3 paintings will be drying out for the next few weeks, but after that they'll become part of my available collection for sale. 



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About Julia

Julia Brown

Julia is a motorcycle-riding, cat-herding, food loving fine artist.

Based in rural Yorkshire, she lives with her partner, sculptor Damon Price, and their 3 bonkers cats. 

Aside from painting and drawing, she designs and illustrates books, sometimes does the garden, and loves food and cooking—but then has to run it off at some point later.

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Julia writes this blog on her website www.juliabrownart.com.

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