The One painting that led to another painting which led to another which led to a whole lot of other paintings!



This next post will take you on a journey from South Wales to Iceland.  The trip to Iceland occurred because of a simple conversation between myself and someone I had met at the network meeting I had been invited to.  Said person had been paired with me during an introductory exercise.  After introducing ourselves and our work we had discussed an empty wall space they had in their house which they had struggled to fill.  He passed my details to his wife who then started following me on Instagram and Facebook.  We left it that I would get in touch with them to discuss a potential commission.

Our first meeting at their house was so enjoyable as we talked for ages about art, landscapes, seascapes and Iceland.  Whereas, I was coming to the table as an artist they were coming to the table as architects.  This pairing of professions has proved really interesting and at times extraordinarily helpful at exploring each other’s perspectives and the commissions that came thereafter.

What started out as one painting for one empty wall turned in to two paintings for two empty walls.  It was decided quite quickly that they needed a Big Wave in their house but they also had a tremendous sensitivity to the extraordinary colours and topography depicted in the Brecon Beacons and let’s face it I know there are limits to my geographical knowledge but I have yet to see a Big Wave in Brecon hence why two paintings were commissioned.

I met regularly with them both to discuss size, colours, composition and gave a regular photographic update of my progress on each painting.  Painting number 1 needed certain key factors considered:

  • Direction of the wave when the picture is in situ
  • Type of wave- i.e. rolling, crashing etc
  • Composition of the painting- rocks, headland or all seascape
  • Colour scheme

To help them consider these key variables I sent them small thumbnails paintings to suggest shape, composition and structure of the painting.

A composition was decided and the painting developed.  The painting was 80cm x 80cm. The painting was to be hung in a well lit hallway above a fixed table.

As the pictures try to suggest I build up the painting through a series of layers using predominantly palette knife and large bristle brushes.  The creation of a painting such as this involves considerable movement as I believe that to paint something that moves i.e water requires you to move quite powerfully with each sweep of the palette knife and brush.  Imagine you are the conductor of an orchestra!  Occasionally I will reinforce this sweeping technique with the use of a variety of household brushes to flick the paint over certain areas that represent the most fluidity and movement.  I do this with tremendous confidence and very little control to ensure I maintain something that resembles pure movement and not something contrived and precise.

The second painting took longer to develop as it was an unusual size and had to fit perfectly above a mantelpiece. This meant that I had to make the frame and stretch the canvas myself.   Whilst I used to make the frame due to tiredness and timing I now get my husband to make the frames and I have to admit they are better for it.  He has developed a fantastic technique for ensuring an extra large frame is strengthened to prevent warping.

Once the frame is made I then begin to cut the canvas and stretch it over the frame using tools (hammer, gripping pliers and tacks).

Between the time I actually painted this scene and the initial discussions I had visited Snowdonia National Park and really immersed myself in a Welsh mountainous landscape.  I spent considerable time just observing and getting to know what compositions worked and what colours were particular to Welsh mountainous topography.  I noticed as much as I could and explored first hand what plant and animal life thrived.  Whilst this was not Brecon it was a really useful exercise.  I had spent considerable time in the Brecon Beacons over the years and re-visited my images and those they had found themselves.  On my return we talked again and decided on a composition.  Key to all our discussions was a need to capture in their own words “that green that is so Brecon”.  They are referring here to that earthy green that you have to “see” to “know”.  It became the whole focus of the painting.  I had to ensure this painting captured a feeling that a colour evoked in them. It was a colour that almost smelt green! It was the green that the sheep left behind after grazing endlessly upon.  It was very exciting developing my palette.

The painting developed slowly as I had a large area to cover.

The frame was approx. 120cm x 80cm.

The second painting in situ.  We had a fright when I delivered it.  The painting looked like it was not going to fit the mantelpiece even though we had measured it so many time to ensure we got it right and I had gone on and on to my husband to ensure the frame was exactly the right measurements.  It was some kind of weird illusion that had caused this as once we placed the painting on the shelf it sat perfectly.  However, I will never forget the look that passed between us as we both saw the illusion!  PHEW!!


Planning and Preparation- Operation Iceland

By the time I delivered the second painting the decision to go to Iceland had already been made and the plans and preparations were already in place.  Every single time we had met or chatted the subject of Iceland as a truly inspirational landscape that had blown them away on their visits kept coming up in conversation.  They talked about the light, the colours and said fascinating things such as:

“Iceland has a very muted landscape. The architecture stands stark against it.  We found this interesting as Architects since we’re trained to “merge” structure in to the environment as much as possible”

This provided a brilliant distinction helping me appreciate the need for a visual reaction between any built structures and the landscape that they would sit in if I were to ever paint such a scene.  Artists talk of vibrating boundaries and optical illusions and warm / cool contrasts and harmonious / vanishing boundaries.  Distinctions like these and those of an architect sparked so much interest in me and our conversations got more and more focussed on Iceland as a project to develop.  The final decision had come the day I had delivered the first painting.  They were thrilled and the excitement led to a decision being made there and then.

Iceland was on!  It all went a bit mad from then on.  We spoke with the Travel Agent, we began believing it would happen and would happen sooner rather than later.  We decided we needed to go before the weather got too difficult for exploring the landscape.  We chose a time of year that would mean we could see the colours of the landscape  as well as experience the snow.

We borrowed cameras and bits of winter clothing from good friends who helped us prepare for our adventure as a family.  We sat with friends who had been to Iceland before and asked lots of questions like “Can we travel from top to bottom in one day?”  They advised us of places to break our journey and advised us on food and how to manage the cost.  They helped us find bunkhouses to stay in in the remotest of spots.  They encouraged us to read books that would help us get a taste of the Icelandic culture and Nordic history.  I mostly read the fiction my husband mostly read the guide books. I had a good idea of what I wanted to see but my husband had the sense to plan a route unlike me who had planned to wake up each day and just drive!  Yeah right! Like that was going to work!

I had ordered two fiction books from the library and read them avidly before we went, soaking up the horrors they depicted of such a bleak landscape.  My sensitivities to the sagas and harsh realities this landscape had offered visitors and local inhabitants over hundreds of years made me begin to think we might not return!

Once tickets had been sorted and details finalised we just had to pack. I started packing by creating a pile for each of us.  We had been warned of how cold it was going to be and how the wind chill would be phenomenal.  We packed scarves, thermals, two pairs of socks for each day, tissues for the constantly dripping nose we would have apparently, asthma pumps, treats etc.  Things that where straightforward were piled up first (pants, socks waterproofs etc) then a new and more interesting pile started to form:

Paints (some gouache and water colour), brushes, paper, pallete knife, sketchbooks for me and for the children, coloured graphite blocks and inktense charcoal blocks, inks and fine liners and pencils.  Fingerless gloves for working outside.  Now we are talking!  Plenty of memory cards for the cameras and batteries.

To add to the tension of planning a holiday we had just adopted our gorgeous dog from a rescue centre a month before and couldn’t bear the thought of putting her in a kennel so soon after having released her from one.  Our lovely friends offered to have her for the 5 days we would be away.  This was such a relief and made the whole adventure so much more enjoyable.  So so grateful!  Our trip was interspersed with lovely photos sent via whatsapp of our dog enjoying her holiday.


We travelled on the 19th October 2017 we set off from home at 9am


And travelled to Birmingham airport to catch an Icelandair flight to Reykavik.

I had so many expectations and was ready for whatever Iceland threw at us.   I wanted to be a part of it even if it was just for a brief moment.   If I could capture and interpret just a tiny bit of how that experience felt from the perspective of someone who will look and look and hear and feel and smell and look some more and make every effort to introduce herself to the landscape, and at worst only shake hands with it but at best may get herself invited in by the landscape and at the very very best get a Cwtch out of it!  I guess I had better be careful what I wish for as there are volcanoes that could consume me and Geysirs and waterfalls that could spit at me and craters and tectonic plates that could split me in two and of course lagoons that can swallow me.   OR taking a more positive approach:  there are volcanoes that can speak to me and Geysirs and waterfall that would cleanse me, tectonic plates and craters that will stretch me and lagoons that will wrap themselves warmly around me.  That’s better not so scary!!

More to follow soon.  Thanks,

Francine xx

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