Painting: Final Project

For our final project, we were assigned to paint something with the theme of place. It could not have any people in the scene, although it could imply people through objects, architecture, etc. It was also supposed to convey some kind of emotion.

Stylistically, we were tasked to make the painting looser and more gestural than our previous works. We were also supposed to focus on color, and not necessarily in a realistic fashion. These were paintings that we could do in a couple of sessions and he encouraged us to crank out more than one to turn in if we wanted.


Letting go feels good. With each successive painting I stepped a little further outside my comfort zone in terms of the subject and use of color. Initially, this was hard and I agonized over it. However, the more I did it, the better it felt and the more possibilities it began opening up for me, not only for this project, but for future work as well. The willingness to experiment, even if it didn’t work, was remarkably freeing and I think took me a step forward with my art in a way that even focusing on technical details would not have.

Project Details

For the first painting, I wanted to do something blue and that evoked feelings of calm. Water was, I thought, an obvious choice for this and so I started searching for reference images. However, what I found was that it was more difficult than I had expected to find a good water image that had the right blue I was looking for, but was at the same time calming. Most of the “calming” water images were more of a green or blue-green color. Finally, what I found was a picture of a small temple with blue roofs that was reflected in a swimming pool with light blue tile. It had the blue and it had the Zen I was looking for so I went with it.

Much like the portrait project, I Initially had some real problems letting go with producing something that was not part of the original photo reference. The original photo had out buildings that I ended up leaving out, but the hardest part was actually the flag. After I had “finished” the painting I just felt that something was missing. It needed another color somewhere to offset the palette of blues, greens, and browns.

I came up with the idea pretty quickly of adding a red flag to the top of the temple, but I froze. It wasn’t part of the reference photo. I sat there staring at the painting for almost fifteen minutes agonizing over whether or not to add it. It seems silly, but the flag would be an addition. I had never done that before, only subtractions. Would that be ok if I added something? Would it ruin the painting? Would the flag look silly? Finally, I just took the plunge and added it.

It made the painting. That slash of color is just the small element of drama it needed to offset the rest of the blended colors and textures of the rest of the work. It also emboldened me to take greater risks with the next painting.

While searching for reference photos I saw so many gorgeous photos with green as the dominant color that I wanted to use that as the primary color for my next piece. I also wanted to include some kind of ruin or ancient structure to anchor the theme of “place” and to compliment the temple from the previous photo. I ended up finding a great photo by Gavin Hardcastle of a spiral of stones on the island of Skye.

My first day of roughing it out produced these results:

Something interesting emerged from the rough, the maelstrom-look of the spiral. Over the next couple of days between class I thought about that concept and an idea began to form. Even still, when I sat down the next class period, I again stared at the painting, agonizing if I should execute my idea. Finally, I decided to embrace the risk and try it. I deviated from anything realistic and began to paint swirls of color, churning in the maelstrom lines. I imagined some ancient sacred place, with energy still there below the surface. The painting shows what only those of faith or the necessary will would be able to see.

It turned out great. One more class period to finalize some details and this was the result:

For the third painting, I was finally ready to let go and try a greater experiment. I threw out my idea of what “place” meant and used a NASA photo of the Centaurus galaxy cluster as a reference/inspiration. Despite the bright ball in the middle, there is a black hole at its core. It reminded me of all those biblical passages about devils being able to appear as angels of light as well as the book Heart of Darkness. At the suggestion of my teacher I used a rag to create the effect and it turned out well.

Together, the three paintings form a collection of places that connect us to the mystic and spiritual. More importantly, they served as a series of steps that opened me up to risk and experimentation.

What have been your breakthroughs? When did you first decide to experiment in your art? Did it come naturally to you? Or, like me, did you have to push your way through it? Comment and share below.