A beginning artist questions me on my working processes

A friend who is beginning to make her own creative artwork came up with some interesting questions about my working processes, which she found useful for her own practice of making art. My friend M. suggested that I could publish our Q&A in my blog…

Hi Liz, I really admire your work, as you know, so thank you so much for letting me into your artistic world. I have seen sketches that you have made, so I am guessing that you continue to use your sketchbook (as well as taking reference photos?)

Liz – “I prefer to work from sketches, but take photos also, when I remember. I feel my work is more authentic if I work from drawings made in situ, and that working from a photo is like working from a second hand interpretation of reality”

M. – Your work bridges abstract and representational work, is that right?

Liz – I tend to see my work as representational, but perhaps my use of colour leads to ambiguity in terms of how particular shapes are interpreted, which can seem like abstraction. I find it interesting when some kind of new or ambiguous form emerges, perhaps forcing the viewer to look more carefully at the painting.

M. – Do you focus on including main ‘identifiable features’ or recognizable elements of the scene you are working on?

Liz – Probably if I were painting a scene with a building as the main focus, I may skirt around it for a while, maybe start painting some other features… all parts of the painting must have a colour presence as soon as possible, and then I’d start changing the colours here and there as they’re mostly not the final colours it ends up with. The selection of colour is a bit random at the beginning.. I’d start blocking in areas, perhaps starting with something like a blue, or purple, and paint a bit too much in that colour, forcing me to overpaint areas with new colours quite early on.

M. … and then allow yourself to ‘bend’ the image to one that allows you the freedom to play with those elements in a way that pleases you?

Liz – I’ve not consciously bent an image though 😁, well not after the initial drawing! (This is where the sometimes ambiguous forms start to emerge perhaps..).

M. – Do you ever use collage or stencils for those features?

Liz – I used to use collage all the time, but never use it now. I spend a lot of time overpainting instead! I do have a few stencils which I bought from Amazon…(as well as some I have since made myself) and have used bubble wrap of course, as in the painting Tavira. The stencils work as a textural device for me, as I don’t use a brush for texture normally. Preferring areas of flat colour, which is an influence of the Pop Art movement, and Japanese art.

M. – I have been learning a lot about limiting the pallet. How do you choose which colours to use?

Liz – I really struggle with limiting my palette. when I went to the UK recently, I took a small canvas and a few tubes of paint, but quickly got tired of the possibilities. The painting is still unfinished. After the initial blocking in colour, I think I’d go for something almost complementary so, if started with blue, go for an orange, pink, or red.

M. – Do you mix colours or do you buy lots of tubes?

Liz- I have all the main colours, so with blues, Cobalt, Ultramarine, Cerulean, Cyan, Phthalo turquoise, and probs another turquoise, as well as Indigo and Prussian blue. Same for the other primaries, then Cadmium orange, raw umber… Lemon yellow, cadmium yellow, medium and dark hues, yellow ochre. Rose pink, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium red, light and deep, Cobalt violet; purple, and magenta. Paynes grey, but rarely use black. Hooker’s green, (no idea why, I think I just thought I’d give it a go.) Viridian, Phthalo green. Generally green is better made from yellows and blues, (except perhaps for Viridian and Phthalo), you can make quite a range as you probably know by now. White of course. Some people use mixing white, but I prefer Zinc white. I have a few iridescent colours, gold, silver and copper metallic.

M. – Do you use pure acrylic? or do you use gouache acrylic? Do you mix with any mediums?.

Liz – I don’t mix the acrylic with other types of paint, but do use oil paint, recently tried water based oil paint.

M.- The multi-coloured spots…. are they freehand or do you use a stencil?

Liz – Usually freehand, I enjoy painting spots, and small stripes and any kind of pattern. You’ve just given me an idea…!

M. – What are your favourite tools?

Liz – Pro Arte Sterling brushes in all sizes, and some of those thin liner brushes. The brushes need to be very firm not soggy.

M. – What are you working on now? Do you work on more than one piece at a time?

Liz – I’ve got into the bad (?) habit of working on a lot of paintings at once, particularly if one gets stuck in an ongoing crisis (every painting has a ‘crisis’ point, but usually I work it through fairly quickly, though some go on and on.). At the moment, I don’t think I’m dealing with the crisis stages very well, and find the painting gets stuck. I’ve also been trying out some other approaches like not using a drawing or photo, but this usually ends in disaster. I need something to work from, it seems.

“I devour nature ceaselessly. I exaggerate, sometimes I make changes in the subject; but still I don’t invent the whole picture. On the contrary, I find it already there. It’s a question of picking out what one wants from nature.”

Vincent van Gogh, Douglas Cooper (1938). “Van Gogh on Art and Artists: Letters to Emile Bernard”, 



M. – Well, I think that we have enough questions for now….. there may be more so you will have to let me know when you have had enough.

View from the Centro de Saude, Monchique, oil on canvas, 40 x 30cm 2021

Published by lizallenartist

Artist living and working near Monchique, Portugal

2 thoughts on “A beginning artist questions me on my working processes

    1. Thank you Andrew. I found it interesting to see my work from someone else’s perspective, through the questions which were asked. It made me examine how I actually go about making my work.

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