Specific spaces/environments influence, to some degree, the way in which we work. It is therefore helpful to do something simple like a mental a SWOT analysis from time to time (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) on our working spaces.

As our needs change from project to project, the demands placed on our working spaces change too. A little time developing our working spaces can save a lot of time-wasting and frustration during the execution of our work. This might sound overly organised or controlling but it is important to me that when I begin working, I am free to do whatever I need and want to do in the moment. So, trying to find or adapt things at such a time is an unwelcome and often unnecessary distraction.

I have been researching artists’ studio spaces not least because clues can be found there about how they work and solve problems.

It is fascinating when you find you have fundamental things in common instinctively, emotionally, philosophically and morally with people whose lives are apparently vastly different from our own. I am always interested in connections.

I took part in the 10/10 PRJCT, 2015, UCS. Over a 10 week period, 10 artists took over the same space for one week each (an empty rectangular room with white-painted, breeze block walls) and then put on an exhibition of a body of work generated in response to the room.

Gillian, L-B, Untitled, 2015, Fine Art Print mounted on board

Weirdly for me, for personal reasons, I could not be physically present in the room. So, mine was a virtual experience of the room while working somewhere else. The great thing I learnt from this turn of events is that no matter where we are or in what circumstances (or frame of mind) we can channel and project our minds, transform the spaces we inhabit and generate fabulous art.

If we consider the work and working environment of contemporary artist Julie Mehretu we can see there is a direct correlation between her art and her working/living environments.

Mehretu, Julie, Black Ground (deep light), 2006, [Ink and acrylic on canvas] 182.9 x 243.8 cm

Julie Mehretu set up a studio in Harlem, NY, in 2006. She works with assistants who share her working space; her partner has a studio next door and above their studios in the apartment in which they live. So, this sounds like and tightly knit world where work and home are intrinsically linked.

The interior spaces are highly organised according to needs and purpose; and paradoxically, the world outside is as complex and frenetic as Mehretu’s work. Perhaps this is a good example of what Gaston Bachelard in his book entitled The Poetics of Space, calls “Intimacy in immensity”.

The video below features interviews with Mehretu’s assistants which provides an insight into the highly technical aspects of her work and their role in its development and execution.

In the following video Julie Mehretu can be seen working and talks about her creative process. See the wonderfully inviting recliner chair positioned in front of one of her works in progress from which she sits and relates to her work – in my view an essential aspect of the process of being creative.

Watching a video of Martin Wohlwend at work in his studio in Liechtenstien shows an artist literally getting his hands dirty. There is no dialogue or sound track to the film so our attention is entirely taking up by Martin Wohlwend’s actions.

A note on filming: I am about to make films of myself painting so I was interested to see that out of 161,278 views the video received 152 dislikes. It could be that the video needed editing e.g. the rather slow preparations for painting could have been omitted. The film begins with Wohlwend laboriously removing the wax outer wrapping of oil bars (those of you who have attempted this will know how frustrating and messy this can be). He then precedes to wash the black oil paint off his hands.

I admit to a sense of frustration at first while watching these mundane events as I wanted to see Wohlwend painting but I then found watching the reality of the tedious aspects of gaining access to paint rather amusing and realized that frustration too can to be managed if anticipated e.g. wax wrappings could be taken off oil bars well in advance of beginning to paint, or making a film about painting – especially if you want keep your audience enthralled.

Also, in my opinion, a sound track, or dialogue also holds an audience’s attention more than only the sounds of someone moving around the studio though this does give a sense of the physicality of painting; and the intensity and isolation in which many artists work.

Action: I’d be interested to receive your comments on what holds your attention when watching films showing artists working. Thank you.

Hommage to Egon Schiele
Wohlwend, Martin, Nude 1, 2015, Mixed Media on Canvas, 260 x 150 cm

Publication: If you are interested in artists studios see: Fig, J, (2009) Inside the Painter’s Studio, New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

In this publication Joe Fig shares his research into the studio spaces of 24 contemporary artists. The artists include partners April Gornik and Eric Fischl who work in adjoining studios in North Haven, USA.

The image above shows the architectural model of the Gornick/Fischl studios. To view their work see www.aprilgornik.com and www.ericfischl.com.

To see what the studios look like now they are occupied by artists see the article featured in The Morning News: Inside the Painter’s Studio by Joe Fig www.themorningnews.org.

Gornik and Fischl’s studios look amazing. However, a fantastic studio will not make us great artists.

The following photograph of Frida Khalo reminds us that tremendous determination and integrity are vital qualities in anyone wanting to improve the relationship between their interior and exterior worlds.

In 2014 (the sixtieth anniversary of Frida Khalo’s death) I attended an exhibition of her stunning and very moving work exploring self-representation, at the Quirnal Palace, Rome.

I was with the Italian cousin of a friend who at the last minute could not accompany us. Elisa cannot not speak English and I cannot speak Italian but thinking back it seemed as though we discussed the 150 works for hours.

“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality”. Frida Kahlo (1907-1954).


Gillian, L-B, Untitled, 2016, [Oil on wood] 1000 x 1500 cm
This painting underwent many transformations. Various squeegees were used to make and merge marks, to blend colours and to differentiate areas of the board. To begin with I used unmediated various shades of green paint.

Stage one was a complete departure from how I started other recent paintings. I deliberately applied a variety of shades of green, unmediated paint using a spatula to make crescent marks which I then spread into ribbons and incomplete rings which emerged like bellowing smoke rings. I then painted over the ribbons and rings, or created a 3D illusion that the paint was behind other lines (see bottom of board).

I began the next stage by saturating a brush with Pip Seymour PM5 medium and began to brush the concentrated areas of paint around the outside edges of the central ribbons and rings of green paint. using brushes felt controlled and slow so I reverted to using a squeegee to push the paint to the outside edge of the board and cut into it with the edge of the squeegee to differentiate intersecting areas of paint.

Some of the marks made by the squeegee look organic – frond-like. There is also sense of ice splitting into a myriad of microscopic cracks, crevices and fractures.

The feather like marks like those shown here remind me of marks produced in mono-printing. I was interested in how a change of direction in the use of the squeegee records the change of direction in time and space on the board as though tracing the changing direction of the wind or the wings of a bird in flight.

It is as though one energy system flowed up against another more impenetrable front which caused the more flexible and reactive front to change direction. This sense of alteration along a plane enhances the organic, active feel inspired by this painting.

I added lines and slivers of light by scraping paint away (see top middle). The wave motion made by the squeegee reminds me of the images made by ultra-sound scanning. I am interested in the way some lines merge while others are elongated or stunted under the pressure of the squeegee. Lines are pulled out to reach their ultimate lengths while others cluster together. Lines also separate and break away. The image above is also reminiscent of photographs of the earth taken from space.

At this stage new colours were introduced: white, purple madder, ultramarine blue; Michael Harding’s kings light blue and cobalt turquoise deep. New colours liberate the emerging picture and produce fresh opportunities for departures, connections and correlations.

White acrylic paint was applied to the board to obliterate the previous stages. Using the squeegee in sweeping motions to slice through the wet white surface the underlying colours shot through to form grass-like forms in a snowy landscape. Perhaps communicating with the familiar constitutes a place to pause before exerting energy once more. To break away from this stage I applied ochre and burnt sienna. Although these are earth colours so have associations with grasses, they broke up and melted the white like blasts of sunlight signifying a new season.

View of entire surface.

This section and the one below – now obliterated – were preserved as studies of colour combinations and for their markings.

This section shows how slashes, scraping and prizing open the surface ochre and burnt sienna revealed the vibrant greens and purple madder tones beneath.

This section from the final version shows the use of unbleached titanium oxide (selected rather than a white for its warmer tones). It also highlights the scoring and scarification beneath the surface which add textures, lines and shadows as do those which follow.


Gillian, L-B, Unfinished, 2016, [Oil on Board], 1000 cm x 1500 cm

For this painting I began by using Michael Harding oil paints thinned using Michael Harding medium PM1 and Pip Seymour Oleo-resin PM5.

I was interested in the extent to which the pigment spread while retaining its intense colour qualities and what happened at the points at which colours blended and merged.

I then introduced unadulterated paint. Obviously unmediated paint restricted the degree to which the paint spread and so the concentration of pigment greatly intensified which added dramatic contrasts to the strength of colours and tones.

There was a mesmerising ethereal quality to this composition reminiscent of silk wafting in the breeze or vapour extending then collapsing. I wanted to add more of the tension and strength achieved using unmediated paint. I sculpted lines into the paint using the edge of a squeegee and spatulas of various sizes.

This photograph emphasises the icy quality of the painting produced by covering large areas of intense blues, violet and amethyst paint with thick bands of white. I then scratched out lines of various thickness. Viewers say they see twigs in a wintry landscape. This painting was a surprise to me.

Following many phases of activity, I have yet to return to this painting in an active mode. Like winter, it transmits to me a sense of something dormant, still and yet restless. I am reflecting on why it appears that this image and this particular colour combination appears to stop me from transforming it still further.

The velvety finish and intense pigments of Michael Harding paints produces a sumptuous, textual quality. I mainly painted wet-on-wet so many of the final colours were blended on the board while working through the paint with various implements.

I could have revealed more of the colours beneath the surface but I feel a sense of shared intimacy with the painting knowing that the earlier nuances are present and yet cannot be seen (a visual oxymoron).

Perhaps, once again, as with human experience we sometimes see the outworking of events but not the events themselves. This image points to a cold, brooding – perhaps otherworldly – abstracted landscape.


Gillian L-B, Untitled, January, 2016 [Acrylic on wood], A1

This completed work consists of multiple layers of acrylic paint built up with wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry paint. The paint was applied using various sizes of grouting tools which behave in a similar way to squeegees though the edge of the smaller implements are fine and sharp. This edge can be used effectively as a mark making tool. Under pressure the implement tended to mix colours rather than create the marbling effect I expected. The only white light available in this painting emanates from the scratched out (drawn) lines caused by exposing the white ground.

The white light is too limited to afford a restful place for the eye to pause. The scored out lines are edgy and agile like streaks of lightening – unpredictable and potentially dangerous as they cut across newly formed coalitions of paint. I feel that this painting has a primitive quality which generates a sense of destruction and potential.

The following photographs show earlier stages which involved a wide range of pale colours mixed with various mediums. Structure gel, including one containing tiny glass beads resembling sand, were applied in an unadulterated form and mixed with paint to add a variety of textures to the smooth surface.

I worked on wood rather than canvas as I want a hard rather than spongy surface to work on. I want to be able to scrape and scratch into multiple layers of paint using as much force as I feel is required. However, I want a textured rather than smooth surface as the 3D textures, together with scrapings and scorings, provide additional areas of contrast, diversity and a gravelly sense of layering and palimpsest.

This board was rotated throughout the painting process – painted portrait and landscape.

This section from an early stage consists of acrylic paint mixed with various mediums applied to the wood and allowed to dry. “Allowed” is an interesting choice of work as once I begin painting, I generally have no desire to pause. I applied structured gel to add a variety of textures which add shadows and resistance to overpainting. The scoring and scratching is made using various sizes of palette knifes.

Two visitors provided very positive feedback on this stage. However, I felt the colours at this stage were too tame as were the gestural applications of paint. I applied some paint using a sponge which produced a misty, cloud-like quality but I felt that this approach to painting was a too understated – too sedate. Some of the scoring was so deep it showed the pre-primed board.

Darker blues were applied; then wet-on-wet white and red to break the cycle of events from one stage to another. I felt strongly that each stage needed to have something unique to add to the evolution of the overall identity of the painting.

After whiting out the background, I began to apply colours in blocks. To eradicate the pale white tones now turning pink, I applied strongly contrasting deep ultramarine blue and hot orange.

This section of the board shows the diversity of the marks made using a wide range of applications of paint and scoring all of which was performed at speed without premeditation. I felt that it was important that I could respond positively to the painting holistically as well as in small sections.

This picture surprised me as it reminded me of Howard Hodgkin whose work I have not examined. Interestingly, when I looked up his work I found the one shown below entitled: After Visiting David Hockney (first version), 1991 – 1992. I had been to the same exhibition and loved the idea of painting the same land and treescapes in each season thereby capturing a sense of continuity despite the considerable visual differences. See video of Howard Hodgkin at the Gagosian Gallery, Paris, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jd4q4lxHbpQ.

I work in a reverse way to Hodgkin who says that his work is always “pre-planned but trying to understand it is a waste of time”. I am open to pre-planning but I tend to be analytical and cannot imagine not reflecting on my work to develop my understanding of it at some level of consciousness.

It struck me that knowing when an abstract painting is complete comes in part from knowing what gives it a sense of continuity despite undergoing an indefinite period of turmoil and palimpsest. In this way it is like human life – growing-up over time through events which transform us. Sometimes when we have drawn on all we know we can move on – changed – not utterly transformed but markedly so.

This picture shows a section being drawn into by scratching out paint; there is no predetermined logic to the marks though sometimes an area calls out for further intervention – cutting into with energy and light. These slivers of light sometimes obliterate beautiful lines of paint or run beside them for a while or intersect them – they have their own contrasting/complimentary language. These drawings do not come before painting. Some drawings begin during painting. These often only remain as traces beneath new layers of paint. Those drawings which arrive after the painting is complete are the last live communications I record before the silence of drying.


Gillian, L-B, Untitled, December, 2016, [Acrylic on canvas}, 20″ x 26″

I have been commissioned to paint two abstract paintings (A2) related by colour. Usually my paintings are individual so I decided to set up an experiment.

Firstly, I prepared two canvases and added small irregular shaped blocks of oil paint: grey, unbleached titanium oxide, violet and amethyst.

To begin the process of developing relationships within and between the paintings, I worked on both canvases simultaneously.

Once I had plotted blocks of colour, I used thinning medium to cause the paint to run and thereby collide and interconnect with other blocks of colour.

The strands of thinning medium coloured by traces of pigment produced new pathways along which relationships could develop. The stages shown here are a few of many transformations.

Canvas 1

Canvas 2

One of my UCS tutors commented that these forms look like figures free-falling in space. Her comment reminded me of a project I was working on two years ago. I had been thinking about the body in space and looked at many amazing images of dancers. The powerful athletic movements which propel them into the air allow them momentarily to break free of the earth. Their triumph over gravity coupled with their grace and serenity appears to transform them into otherworldly beings.

The image above was generated by combining drawings, paintings, photography and printing. I drew and painted images of dancers in mid air which I then photographed and manipulated so their forms were warped as you might see if they were printed on fabric moving in the breeze.

I produced a background for the dancers by painting on acetate sheets, manipulating the sheets e.g. scrolling and holding up to the sky and then photographing them.

The images of the dancers where then arranged individually on the background. I had the entire composition printed on silk organza so that the images could once again flow freely in the air. This image represents the continuous transformation of the human spirit in ever changing forms according to circumstance and environment – as recorded too in abstract paintings – human survival.

Canvas 1 Stage 2

Canvas 1 Stage 2

In the early stages the canvases began to look similar. I subverted the tendency to produce a strong echo by moving away from the soft curves on one canvas towards building-up pathways using more angular building blocks. I received positive feedback on the shapes which emerged on the canvased but they were soon obscured as each block of colour became less isolated.

At this point it seemed that the canvases then became polarised into stereotypical masculine and feminine forms. I therefore played with developing the rectangular blocks of colour by blending them until they merged with other neighbouring areas.

I felt that this stage was very sedate and invited stronger colours to add something more dramatic and less controlled.

The image above shows highlighted bands of colour beginning to move from the centre of the canvas towards the outside edges. This diagonal cross reminded me of the thick branches of a mature, denuded oak tree in winter. This sense of reaching out coincided with the search for form.

The cascades of colour in middle to left of the next image adds a third dimension to the composition. The injection of a sense of movement under force, like a waterfall, is exciting. The large rectangle (middle to upper right) appears like a gateway into or away from the turbulence. The dark blue and violet tones contribute to rock-like 3D effect.

The centre of the canvas above suggests a horizon moving up towards a bellowing sky and the feathery almost vertical bands of colours in the middle ground (immediately below the horizon) can be read as a newly furrowed field. I ran with the illusion by swirling lines to create organic shapes which imitate grasses blow about in the foreground. It is easy to see from stage 1 that starting points influence the way in which paintings develop.

At one point I applied paint straight out their tubes directly on to the canvases and pressed them together to imprint on each other. I then drew into them with a spatula. The intensity of the colours was pleasing but the canvases were otherwise bland.

I returned to strong blues and introduced white. Some of the white paint was used to highlight lines others were used to blend softer blues. The last paint I applied was a strong red, unmediated acrylic paint.

The red, white and blue combination feels unsatisfactory (too stark). The layering of different tones of paint meant that new dimensions opened-up which are highlighted by the muted pale, web-like strands which trail from one point of contact to another.

The final images shows how far I moved away from the original colour combinations and images.

While researching Gerhard Richter’s vast oeuvre, I watched a fascinating film entitled: Gerhard Richter: Painter. Directed by Corinna Belz the documentary was released in 2011, http://www.gerhardrichterpainting.com. Watching footage of film demonstrating Richter painting large abstract works became mesmerising. I was reminded of the excitement I felt when exploring materials and processes throughout 2013.

I spent the year experimenting with inks for paper, glass and fabric and watercolours in liquid, block and powered forms. I used a wide variety of papers including handmade papers; and drafting film and acetate.

I became entranced by the way water could be used to spread colours from one area of the paper to another and thereby make subtle new connections and interceptions.

It was fascinating to see how the application of water onto paper either before or after the application of coloured ink and watercolour paint made a tremendous difference to the progress of the movement and spread of pigment.

Watching the constant process of diluting and leaching colours and lines across papers is like watching a performance – a performance which involves a tussle for dominance and the submission or resistance to subordination. Different lines and ribbons of colours of various thickness demanded to be made more or less visible at different times. Thus, background lines were drawn into the foreground while others dissolved out of sight like characters in a play leaving the stage.

Some papers were so heavily saturated with colours that eventually it was only the subtlety in tones and the outlines of former strong lines of colour that differentiated one area from another.

Paper which begun with its own distinctive textures and colours ended up, after a long process of palimpsest and being saturated and infused with various sweeps of colour, utterly transformed.

Watching the interplay of materials, colours and forms propelled me through a range of emotions including a sense of harmony and cooperation quickly buffeted by tensions and competition. These feelings challenged my curiosity about where and why things begin and why and whether they end.

The following images, 2014, represent later experiments where I have exercise control over the process by harnessing and incorporating the effects of light produced by using a camera to photograph various stages of change in the works.

Section of collage of acrylic ink on drafting film, 2014. The feathering of colour produces an organic feel to the delicate trances of translucent lines.

Section from scrolled layers of acrylic ink and embroidery threads on acetate, 2014 showing the effect of reflected light (top left).

My research into the works of Gerhard Richter has completely reenergised my desire to paint. In particular I have gone back to placing an emphasis on exploring materials, processes and learning how various effects can achieved using a variety of brushes and tools and by improvising e.g. using tools intended for other purposes such as grouting or solid objects such as twigs which make interesting marks.

I am inspired by Richter’s drive to have faith in paint as a medium for communication energised by the human performance of painting. In his large abstract works, 2009 he claims to eradicate anything which emerges that is remotely familiar thereby allowing paintings to evolve into something individual and fresh. Working on a large scale is like magnifying the relationships which develop on the canvas or board (between paint, forms, lines, harmonies and tensions and colours).

It is the relationships between all things that is played out on the ground (the stage) which includes every new layer of a paint. The final surface layer of paint represents a topical map of the artist’s response to the work as it evolved (this includes all its component pieces e.g. materials, equipment, processes and emotions).


The evolution of a painting is a moment by moment unfolding of relationships. Ultimately, an abstract painting represents tracings of an artists’ relationships with all the multifaceted elements included in the performance of painting. The purpose of painting an abstract picture is therefore to generate a visual image of the traces of the performance of painting knowing that the final surface image is the final curtain when the show has finished.

Thus, it occurs to me that making films of the generation of abstract paintings appears to be necessary not as documentation but to record a performance which is otherwise lost. What parameters would an artist need to put around such a film? Judicious editing might leave out pauses significant to the development of the artist’s relationship with the picture as it evolves. Would making a film cast the artist in the roles of actor, director and film maker which include management and technological skills? Would the development of such roles result in better performances as an artist (publically and professionally), or performances as a painter (that is, as a generator of paintings)? Logic would nudge us to conclude that to be a more accomplished painter an artist would need to spend more time painting rather than film making. However, making a film would provide a degree of dissociation which can be helpful.
Richter acknowledged to film Director Corinna Belz that he struggled with the act of painting while the cameras were recording and with filmmakers being present. Dancers, musicians and actors rehearse specific performances whereas abstract painters do not. Performers other than painters are generally given a script or score or choreographed sequence to learn and are directed to perform in certain ways. A painter is however, everything other than the materials he/she selects to use during his/her performance of painting.

If the performance of painting is punctuated by observation of the stages as they evolve, what impact would this have on the dynamics of each painting session representing as it does a one off performance?

Richter’s work is always on the cusp e.g. between painting as act and accident; and between composition as a result of the chance encounters of materials and structure and composition as the tracing of residual intentionality.

Next steps:
Film the making of a section of an abstract painting.

Create a reflective journal and maintain during part of the evolution of one abstract painting. This would slow the evolution down but might revel something otherwise unnoticed.

Re-examine points of interest noted in research into Gerhard Richter and other artists – reflect on and develop the ideas which still strongly resonate.

Find an environment in which to paint of a large scale horizontally and vertically.