February - Painting Music (pt two)

For this first exercise I decided to try the Abstract Expressionist way. This means getting to know the rhythm of the song, seeing what interesting marks and gestures they create, being spontaneous and just letting go.  Not much thinking behind this one.

I've split the canvas into four pieces, so I can work on smaller areas later. I don't want to overwhelm myself with one large painting on my first try, but I need to work on a large area initially to allow myself "room to move"


I'm painting to Tom Chaplin's song "Still Waiting". I have my headphones on and the song on blissful repeat.

I begin by using chinagraph pencil, then chunky graphite sticks and then acrylic ink with a fan brush.

I simply move across the canvas allowing the medium in my hand to dance naturally with the music.  

I focus on different elements of the song with each medium.  Sometimes the vocal, sometimes the violin and piano, sometimes the drums and choir.

It turns out a bit chaotic, but I love some of the marks and energy and I definitely had fun!




I decide to knock back areas of black with some white to increase the depth and focus of each of the individual squares.

I also had some lovely green and blue tones on my palette I didn't want to waste, so I had a go at adding a bit of colour.

That worked nicely. 

However, I admit I was keen to keep going and continue the spontaneous painting, but I was losing sight of my intention, which was to paint the music. So I call it a day.

As part of my commitment to documenting this process, I posted this photo on instagram and Twitter.  I received some great encouraging messages from my fellow abstract artists - even had one from Tom Chaplin himself!   



In the next session, I decide to add more colour to tell the story of the music.

This is where my intention is good, but my process becomes confused.  In short, I forget I'm an Abstract Expressionist today and become distracted by "the rules" of art, namely composition.  [I've written a blog on composition for emotional impact. You can read it here].

I fear I suffered a little performance anxiety and began to over think it. 

The Abstract Expressionists may have had differing painting theories but were bed-fellows when it came to composition. Basically, there isn't one.  

Throw the rule book out of the window!  Pollock, Gorky, De Kooning et al had no focal point in their paintings. Their canvases overwhelmed the viewer, not only in the scale of their works, but in their restless pattern and line. The eye is given no direction on where to rest; we look and keep looking until we've examined every inch of the work. 

This isn't what I have in my mind as I begin my painting however...

I've tried not to research what writer Tom Chaplin has said about the song, but I know that he chose to begin the album with Still Waiting as it was the darkest track on the collection. I didn't realise how dark the song was until I attempted to add colour. 

I decide to draw upon my own interpretation of the song.  

I know that depression is something I have to learn to live with and manage; it's always lurking in the shadows, like a devil, waiting for an opportunity to be centre stage once again. I sometimes feel like I'm simply waiting for the next crippling attack.  In the meantime, I do my best to enjoy the daylight and keep him at bay.    


I'm still working in four segments and have mentally split the song into four sections also.

I block the colour (under-paint) to establish tone (the light and dark areas)

For some reason I use this hot magenta. Hmm.  I attempt to quieten it with a pale green and white. 

There is always - ALWAYS - a moment during any creative project when you think it sucks, it isn't working and you're close to scrapping it. That was this moment for me.


It's time to separate the four pieces and work on them individually.



This works better for me. I recapture the spontaneity and make playful marks with graphite and acrylic.  

When I place the four pieces together, they look less like an Abstract Expressionist piece and more reminiscent of the storytelling of the German and Russian Expressionists.  However, I'm [mostly*] happy with the works. I feel I have expressed something important to me.

I'll return to the Abstract Expressionist process again, but clearly the German and Russian Expressionists are calling to me.  In my next session, I'll look at how Kandinsky and Klee approached painting music.

*I'm unhappy with study four (entitled "I've Been Here Before") as I attempted to correct a mistake and made a mess instead. ho hum. However, I'm committed to sharing even the ugly paintings in this project.  I'll no doubt, keep fiddling with it in the next couple of days...

The finished four pieces.