Diary of a Painting - Paula MacArthur

Paula MacArthur, I know it’s dark but do not fear, oil on linen, 100 x 100 cm, 2017ption

Primed linen 100x100cm

Primed again with 2 coats of Lefranc Bourgeois titanium white diluted & well mixed with a little Robeson's siccative to help it dry. It's hot, 30 degrees, but I'm short on time, only five days left on an artist residency in Switzerland.


Waiting for the primer to dry, drawing and painting on paper.


I've been contemplating and/or struggling with the relationship between the object and the ground in this new series of monochromatic paintings. Hoping this time the end result will be more satisfactory whilst holding onto the unfamiliar/weird/surprising qualities that the start of a new series brings.

Turps - a lot in a big yogurt pot
Brush - Jackson's black hog no.12 in my right hand & Jackson's black hog no. 6 in my left
Michael Harding's paint - Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue and Phthalocyanine Green Lake which I think I bought because it's a hell of a lot cheaper than Veridian - very roughly 4:1:1, all mixed together in a yogurt pot with a slosh of turps, 

Drawing a grid using barely dirty turps which divides the canvas into thirds and quarters. 25, 33.3, 50, 66.6 & 75cms.

I've edited several inkjet printed photos by blacking areas out with charcoal. It covers the photos well, has a similar matt quality and rubs off with fingers if I decide to reveal a little more. I draw a similar grid on this. 6, 8, 12, 16 & 18 cms

I like maths & geometry. Sometimes objects get distorted to 'fit' the grid; sometimes not, I’m not very strict with rules. It's an easy way to enlarge my source image and avoid using a projector which I have tried but drawing from a projection becomes too automatic and careless; it takes away some of the challenge, decision making & mistakes. Mistakes are often fruitful.

Start drawing with just turps to almost invisibly map the basic structure. 

Start drawing with the big brush in my right hand with mixed 'black' paint, much thicker than usual, almost no turps in the mix, except using the smaller brush with turps in my left hand to draw in the highlights.

Listening to and writing down lyrics as always, a title will appear
'We all fit together in puzzle pieces'
'We are all so over the moon'

The green hasn't mixed in very well. Annoying. Leave it for now, maybe it will turn out to be a happy accident - I doubt it. 

'I think you should'
'Do you ever stop to take a breath'

I'm standing, my feet are starting to ache, 5.15pm

'I'll take you back for sure'
'I know it's dark but do not fear'
'Take my hand and I will lead you out of here'

More tea 5.35pm.

Change the record.

'Does anything mean anything'
'Maybe you will say that you love me now'

A break for dinner.

New album.
Start again 7.25pm

Cake break
Look at 'The Triumph of Painting' will read the essays before going to sleep.

Another new album 
Start again 9.15pm

'I ask once again'
'To prove that I don't mind'

10.10 time for bed
Stand back for a final look at what I've done but I really need to do something about that bit the underneath of the object.

10.20 time for bed 


Didn’t read the essays last night but read them at breakfast.

Start again, adding little spheres by painting an area of black and washing away the highlights.
I wonder if starting with a wet, completely black canvas would be the way to go? Would it stay wet enough for long enough? I’ll have to figure out a way to keep the paint wet for longer.

Working on the background, floundering a bit, working it out. The background is 'black’. 
Back to my photo, I wipe away some of charcoal that I edited it with and uncover some of the photo which was hidden.
I use the contours of the original object to direct my mark making on the ground. Does that work? Contrived? Intentional?

A conversation with the other painter here; he tells me De Kooning added Safflower oil to slow drying, will add it to my shopping list & google 'de Kooning safflower oil'. I'm pleased it is de Kooning who might hold the answer.

'I'm going to stop pretending that I didn't break you heart'

The object seems to be hanging in space. Floating in a void though the brush strokes flatten the space somewhat. Not from this angle though; the light doesn't catch the brush marks, I can see the object with a 'flat' ground just by steping to the left a few paces. 

I move over to another canvas, already started, similarly nearly finished, the object is almost dry. With a two inch flat Edelstahl synthetic brush I paint in a smooth 'black' background, even vertical strokes just going over the edges of the object. Then drawing the edges back in by washing off the overlapping marks with generous amounts of cleanish turps. Faint dribbles of the ground veil the object and trails of turps run into the ground connect object and ground in a satisfying simple way.

Shall I give this painting the same treatment?

Hope it dries enough to survive the drive back home.

Paula MacArthur