Flour Part 1.
Updated: Dec 1, 2020
Flour is the inspiration behind my latest painting. I really enjoy cooking and baking and lately, maybe because we are heading into the cooler months, I have become just a little bit obsessed with tracking down the best pizza dough recipe, making pasta from scratch and even making my own bagels. Side note - This bagel recipe from the Sophisticated Gourmet website is great and surprisingly fast which works for me. https://www.sophisticatedgourmet.com/2009/10/new-york-style-bagel-recipe/ .
One day, while making pizza dough, I began to wonder - how I could create a painting that embodied what flour meant to me, what I associate it with, how does it look, feel, smell and what memories and imagery does in conjure. The more I thought about this the more I realised just how much I wanted to pull as many of these ideas I could onto the surface of a canvas.
In a purely sensory way I love the way the ingredients smell and how this changes as the recipe progresses, the way that when I am mixing dough by hand I feel connected with the tradition of bread making and how frustratingly there always seems to be a stray piece of hair that falls down and annoyingly tickles my nose.
Above is the first sketch I made while brainstorming these ideas. I covered the page with all the words that I associated with flour so that I could start to build the 'feeling' that I wanted this painting to capture. I thought about what my colour palette was going to be - pale cool greys, warm greys, white, cream, pale blues and warm umbers.
My strongest flour related childhood memory is my Dad baking us bread. He only ever made it whenever mum went out, which wasn't that often, so it was a bit of a treat....it was either bread or homemade fries. The house would fill with the smell of fresh bread and we, my sisters and I, could hardly wait for it to be cool enough to eat. It needed a lot of butter because as yummy as it smelt it was also a bit heavy! Sorry Dad :]
I guess in more recent times I have been inspired by the exceptional quality of baked goods found in cafes around New Zealand. A favourite when visiting Auckland has always been 'Little and Friday'. They have a very cool understated vibe and the most amazing food.
The next step was to find a model and have a photo session in my studio. I have another 'slight' obsession with linen aprons - well aprons of all sorts so I chose the one I felt was closest to what I wanted knowing that it could potentially change as the painting evolved. Charlotte was perfect for the shoot and didn't even complain when I covered her in flour.
I work from photos so it is important that I get loads of reference images. I usually take about 60 photos and choose 2 or 3 to work from. When photographing a model I have to consider both direct and ambient lighting - I don't always get this right so some time is spent in post using photoshop to correct and even out lighting and tone.
They are a reference only though as I tend to leave them at a mid point in the work when the character of the painting begins to emerge. At this stage I shift into a different gear and am driven by the painting itself and the relationship I have with it.
After preparing the canvas which is a large one, for me at least - 100 cm x 85 cm, I transfer the initial sketch to the canvas. I then work in the details with pencil making sure I have the main features locked in. At this stage I don't have the painting completely resolved in my head as I leave surrounding elements and details to the second phase of the painting - once I am comfortable with my character and know the tone of the piece.
This painting will take some time as all big pieces do. I will be working on small works alongside it also but I find it keeps the work fresh and avoids over saturation if I have several paintings going at once.
I have reached a point where I am happy with the form of my character. It has taken several layers/passes to get to this point - the last being the light pass. The light pass is making sure that the lights and darks are describing the form properly. I have to step back a bit here and look at the piece as a whole. Using the reference I have to match the way the light hits the figure as closely as I can to the model. This part always feels a bit like sculpting - imagining the figure as if it inhabits a 3D space. I want there to be enough information here so that I am not resolving form issues when applying colour as that can be a painful and frustrating process...trust me I have done it many times when I have plowed ahead in flurry of creative enthusiasm.
I also like to have enough paint at this stage to create a smooth and consistent surface for the next step which will be adding layers of colour, working on the background colours and to bring those colours into the figure as ambient tones. You will see that I haven't quite resolved the base of the bowl and hands as I am leaving some room to tidy up and finish the underlying fabric of the apron.
I have broken this painting into two stages so that you don't have to scroll down forever.
You can read read Flour Part 2. here.