Its mid October on the Greek island of Samos. From the terrace above my little Airbnb house in Palaio Karlovasi, the views are perfect in every direction for painting.
The mountains opposite have a dreamy layer of mist floating below the peaks. Below that olive trees grow in red earth, and to the right a whole forest flourishes. Its the next level below that, that really catches my eye. A glowing white, red roofed house has three black short-sleeved shirts paraded like flags below the balcony. A large church building, Aghios Isidoros, hides the rest of the foreground from view. I make the church of lesser importance, and bring the house with the washing line much closer, as that is really my main subject.
Today the sky is flecked with clouds looking like horizontal brushstrokes, so that is where I start after sketching out the main outlines.
This is a homely domestic scene. The teenager has an almost vacant, look, as she sits watching TV, and certainly doesn’t appear to be that happy. You can’t see what she is thinking, as she is wrapped up in her own little world. Its evening time, and in the top left hand corner of the painting, adjacent to a small plant, the little lamp on top of the wooden desk casts reflected colours onto the desk itself and the wall to the right, on which a painting of a child playing the violin hangs. The armchair on which she sits has a yellow cellular blanket draped over it, while the second armchair next to her is adorned with colourful cushions. On the far left is a patterned carpet/rug.
So many colours and patterns, yet somehow they all hang together!
Another painting from life , created ten years earlier than the one shown above, depicts Greek villagers going about their business in the summer of 1984
A photo is a moment in time, the shutter clicked to capture a subject that excites visually or emotionally, or it can simply be a notebook to record facts and ideas. Just as in photography, the choice of a subject for a painting can be made in a flash, or it can require slowly made decisions to choose that moment when the lighting is right and it all comes together. Before starting this painting, I walked all round the area, taking photos of potential subjects, then painted it on the spot, spread over two evenings, not finishing till almost nightfall. Below are some of the photos I took before choosing the painting that would emerge. The first three photos show what I did not choose to paint – but did consider – as they didn’t suit the size and proportions of my canvass, and it the case of the first photo, would work much better in graphic media, rather than oils.
I was walking back from shopping in Aegina town, having bought a microwave, kettle and two ring electric table top cooker – a surprise gift for my Airbnb hosts, when I decided to explore another path back to my Airbnb “home”. It took longer than I thought it would, so I tried to follow a little path through an orchard, as the shop would be delivering my purchases after they shut for midday. The path lead to a house so it was either a case of turning back and being super late , or cutting through their garden (naughty!). I reckoned as it was Greek midday quiet time, that they would all be sleeping, so decided to risk it . I ended up in a little dirt road , and there on the corner was the YELLOW HOUSE! I could immediately see the painting in my mind, but just hoped the light would still be in the right direction by the time I got back again later.
A painting starts with my eyes, as I choose the spot that will work in this size of canvass and light falling on the image. This choice of subject could come immediately , almost by magic, or after a few hour’s walk round the area, searching.
I add a turps-thinned oil-paint-wash to cover the stark white of the canvass, usually in a shade of blue, then while it is drying I lay out the palette with my paints – three or four of each colour reds, blues, yellows and several larger blobs of white. (Never any black or muddy tones of brown, , ochre, or mixable colours like green or orange). Then I sketch out the composition, either in charcoal or ultramarine thinned with turps: the lines and swirls that define the shapes and emotions of the subject. The limited palette and tinted background helps to balance the colours together in harmony, while each mark is deliberate and carefully planned.