JONATHAN BOWDEN

AN ARTIST'S WORKBOOK

Jonathan Bowden


The Symmetry of Three (The River in Flood, cont.)

When you are working on one painting, sometimes that painting suggests the possibility of another one or even several more.

With 'The River in Flood', I began to think of a series of panels as I was working on the first one. It seemed a shame to let this river flow away into infinity without capturing more of it, and so I began a second panel almost as soon as I had completed the first, standing on the same spot but looking further downstream.

When I had finished both panels I lined them up on the studio wall stepwise, as shown below, in order to reinforce the actuality of the water levels falling continuously downstream.      

copyright Jonathan Bowden

I soon realised the explanation they gave of the rapids was incomplete. It was quite hard to work out how the water got from one to the next so I decided I needed a third panel to go in between the first and second panels. In effect a triptych.

It was winter by the time I got back to the river, the light was much harsher and the willows had lost their leaves which explains the violence of the orange highlights in the water. Together with photos of the triptych hung in sequence I also show a 'colour beginning' which was made further down the same river but ten years earlier.

I include this because I think it explains how all of the panels were started using a minimal range of colours; white, black, green, dark and light blue and violet for the water, and a warm brown base for the rocks.

This 'underpainting' allows me to explore the drawing but also provides a pigment base which gives a warmth to the colours which are laid over the top of it.

Laying down one colour, fixing it, and applying a different but related colour over the base coat gives a glow to the pigment which cannot be achieved with a flat coat of pastel (or paint) however thick. This is especially true for pastel.

I apply the pigment in layers but without blending, working from a base of gesso, silica, and yoke of egg and fix with a fine aerosol spray or mist of water.

As the pigment dries, it is fixed from behind by the yolk of egg in the board and the egg gives the pigments a luminosity otherwise only associated with tempera. The lights remain light, but the dark colours become richer and darker.

This recipe has been used for centuries beginning with frescos, and a similar fix, (skim milk) was used by Degas, which is how he achieved those luminous colours.

I include photos of the triptych taken in close up from the side to show how successive fixed layers of pigment can give a three dimensional quality to the surface of the painting. This procedure which is only possible using a yolk of egg fixative for several successive layers of pigment also increases sensations of space, depth and surface movement within the painting.