Painterly Challenge

I have been doing underpainting on two canvases. I like to paint on site but that is not always possible so I gather photographic reminders. I rarely sketch or draw on my canvas except to capture rudimentary placement of forms. I do however routinely start with an underpainting which gives me the beginnings of depth and positioning for the development of the painting. Underpaintings are kind of like looking at an ultrasound of a baby in the womb when you don’t know the parents… not very interesting. So if you find this post rather boring – I won’t be offended. Come back tomorrow. It will be something different.

You may wonder how I choose what to paint (besides the obvious of a theme for solo Exhibition Sea, Land and Time at the beginning of September). Long ago I decided that rarely would I paint something that I felt I had fully captured with photography. My painting in is an intuitive relationship with my subject. I want to give to the painting something beyond what is in the seeing. In addition to a compelling subject, I also decide what to paint by choosing a painterly challenge – something I want to explore or a skill I want to strengthen.

For “Sea” my challenge is to be able to create depth in the water while capturing the waves on the surface… I want the viewer to be able to look at the painting and feel as if the water is still moving, wave after wave. Starting with an almost blank canvas, I begin.

Stopping as the underpainting becomes too saturated to allow new colours and shapes to emerge without erasing earlier ones.

With paint still palette, I decide to begin a second underpainting for “rocks and mussels” to address the challenge of giving bulk to something that is dark on the top and light on the middle and bottom… the mussels are added in to keep me amused and give me a break when the rocks become tiresome and frustrating.

I am reminded of a passage in Emily Carr’s painting journal on July 27, 1933 where she writes:

“Oh, these mountains! They won’t bulk up. They are thin and papery. They won’t brood like great sitting hens, squatting immovable, unperturbed, staring, guarding their precious secrets till something happens. At ‘em again, old girl, they’re worth the big struggle.”

My rocks are only little sitting hens – but getting them to “sit” is still my end goal. We shall see over the weeks ahead what we can do with them.

Sprout Question: What specific creative challenges are you setting for yourself right now?

Bonus: An interview with me posted today by Stacey Curnow at Midwife For Your Life Blog “Walking in the Sunshine of My Soul: Special Shoes Not Required.”

© 2010 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.

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Creative Potager – where imagination rules. Be inspired.

From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

16 thoughts on “Painterly Challenge

  1. Terrill – I am completely drawn into your process. I had no idea what takes places behind the scenes!

    Sprout Question: What creative challenges are you setting for yourself right now?

    As a writer, my creative challenge is twofold: brevity (less is more); and to SHOW my readers, rather than TELL them. To paint verbal pictures with delicious descriptors that are oh-so-engaging for the reader.

    • Yes Laurie this I think must be the most esteemed writing challenge. Words are most often written to be read… I’m reading “The Shadow of the Wind” (translation by Lucia Graves 2004) by Carlos Ruiz Zafon right now. The first section is called “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books” and it is where books go when the library doesn’t want them or a bookstore closes. “In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader’s hands.” I like to image there is such a place… where the hard work of writers can be found by a new reader.

    • Jerry I like the example of artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec you gave in “30 Times Same Same” about observing where painting and drawing met.

      I remember how relieved and excited I was when I discovered that charcoal could be moved like paint on the page… I wasn’t stuck with lines but rather marks and shadows which would gradually reveal the image. I admire your lines Jerry… no more than that I covet your ability to capture so much in a few well executed lines. Readers, please have a look at Jerry’s drawing a day on flickr and you will know what I mean

      Thanks Jerry:)

  2. specific creative challenges … to be able to loosen up and to do more art work. I think, in order to do so, I need to allow myself to create without the self-induced pressure of creating a “great piece.”
    I like your sprout questions, Terrill, as they cause me to think and evaluate what I am doing and what I would like to be doing. In doing so, I am able to solidify my goals which then opens the door towards a course of action.

    • Good to hear Sue. I ask a question I myself need to answer or am in the process of answering. The part about loosing up and “the self-induced pressure of creating a ‘great piece'” – oh do I know this one… “no use wasting time and supplies” I mutter to myself. Now whose voice in my head might that be? This is one thing I love about Creative Potager – it attracts creative people willing to engage and share their process. Always makes me smile when I see your name and I know you have sprouted a comment:) It is become a nice way to connect between you and me and our busy lives.

    • Warning Laurie… it has little reviews all over it about it being scary – I haven’t been scared yet but it is building towards the kind of book you don’t want to read late at night when home alone. However, scary or not, it is a lover of words and authors’ book – so keep your dictionary handy… unless you have a very large vocabulary of small and odd words.

  3. It’s a fascinating process you present here, and I don’t find it boring in the least, especially as I feel I am learning something. But the later pictures here are beautiful.

    As to the sprout question, I’ll apply it to the work at the blog, where I hope to write more on the current cultural scenes, especially with recently-seen operas and Broadway shows. But it’s a challenge, as you always feel you are being pulled in different directions, in this case a big family and my teaching position.

    • Thanks for your feedback and sprout response Sam. This thing called living we do is always going to pull us I think. I remember being told one time. “Do it. Just do it anyway.” Now I am going to pass these words on to you and whoever else feels they will be of benefit.

      I recently made a public commitment here on Creative Potager to paint 30 paintings before the end of 2010. Some did a quick math calculation and said… do you realize that means you need to paint X number of paintings each week until the end of the year. I shrugged and said “it is only a commitment to a goal that sets me in the right direction.” If I succeed great. If I don’t I can tell you I will have painted more paintings then if I hadn’t made the commitment. So for now I paint. I want to have every part of my being know what it is like to greet each day as a painter. When I am not motivated to paint I shall write – I shall take photographs. We can count how many paintings, words and images at the end of the year but it really is not important. What is important is that I did what I set out to do… a little each day adds up to a lot.

  4. I enjoy process and background so your post was very interesting to me.

    Ocean paintings have always fascinated me. My father’s dad (who I don’t remember meeting) was an artist and we always had one of his paintings of an ocean storm hanging in the house growing up. I used to stare at the painting and think what that scene would be like.

    My challenge now with little ones is time management–being able to maximize the effectiveness of whatever time I am granted for daily creativity. It is a work in progress.

    • Slamdunk I can appreciate your comment about “it is a work in progress.” Thinking of results sometimes leads us away from living our vision in the moment. You seem to be cognizance of that tension between your intention and your practice. I suspect it serves you well. I’m pleased you enjoyed my sharing of the process.

  5. This was utterly fascinating, Terrill. I did not even know that underpainting existed. It’s like preparing the soil, isn’t it? Interesting that “preparing the soil” of canvass may not be so interesting…but it is so important for the success of the work.

    Like Laurie, I have been attempting to show rather than tell my readers–to paint word pictures–specifically on my blog Simply Here ( and in all other writings. Except Lake Superior Spirit ( is more of a chatty everyday space.

    Have been infusing a lot of silent time in between bursts of creativity. Every day that’s a challenge: to dedicate hours of simply BEING without words in between the creation of words.

    P.S. Loved that book, Shadow of the Wind!

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