The journal of the process of making 'Painted Steps'
Within days of returning home to Victoria, Canada, after 7 weeks in Spain walking the Camino and visiting Madrid, I started “Painted Steps”, getting down on paper my visceral response to this rich experience.
I think of this blog as the Special Features extra of a DVD, a kind of ‘making of ‘ documentary, telling the back-story, revealing the mistakes, the pleasures and challenges of the project.
I will paint many more little pictures into the middle band, studies of the paintings of Goya and Bosch, it will include the yellow arrows and shell motif signage seen all along the Camino, elevation map, a trail map, place names.
When the painting is complete, the blog will stand as a kind of legend or key to the meaning of the painting.
I expect this painting to be complete in 6 months, slow travel, slower painting, much longer longer the time I spent walking the Camino....
Just as it takes longer to digest a feast than to eat it.
‘Painted Steps’ work-in-progress
Gouache on SOMERSET, grey/green printmaking paper, St Cuthberts Mill, England 30”h x 88i”w (2 sheets 30 x 44) 770cm x 2200cm
This is the state of the work as it stands so far ….. At the centre of the left panel is an illustration of the Dovecote- el palomar seen near Villalcazar de Sirga
I’ll walk you through the steps of getting to this point and take you along to the end of the painting.
Painted Steps, from the ‘ground’ up
I needed the painting to be ‘this’ wide, spreading out my arms - a wing span. I chose two sheets of a green/grey Somerset I’ve had in my shelf since the 1980’s.(saving them for this?) I laid the paper out on my long table, mixed a bunch of paint and started.
Using the convention of north at the top of the page, I paint east to west, right to left, beginning in St Jean Pied-de-Port, crossing the French border and traveling across Spain towards Santiago, working against the habitual current, the 'reading' right to left. I start with the Middle Band.
The Ground Colours In the Middle Band I paint my sense of the basic colour shift of the landscape from St.Jean to Leon.
Starting on the right, GREEN, all the richness of Basque country in the Pyrenees’ spring…
...moving towards the middle, crossing the divide between the Somerset sheets, the incredible SIENNA earth colours of the silt and clay of Rioja....
...then the high green-y GOLDS of Castile y Leon in the sharp sunrays of June on ripening wheat fields and adobe.
At The Top Band After 40 days walking the Camino, we stayed a week in Madrid in the Cuatros Caminos district. Our room was on the top floor of the Hostal Almansa a kind of ivory tower, peaceful in the city of 6 million, Watching the ceiling fan whirling madly, watching the sky storming- wind, thunder and lightning, trying to rain, but failing in the 39c heat. Intense and beautiful.
So Above the green, sienna, and gold area, I paint a band of blues and yellows: the Madrid sky, and above the sky, I leave a band of bare paper, conventionally a place for decorative elements.
At the bottom of the paper I make another wider band with little marks, little niches in yellow grey gold, reminders of the gilded grapevine trim on the retables /reredos / retables of the golden churches.
This band will be a place for my studies of paintings from the Prado, especially Goya, and Bosch- el Bosco.
Between the gestural bottom area and the brush stroke layers of green sienna gold, I painted a hard-edged strip of neutral grey running flatly, relentlessly, across the paper.
So now I have five distinct horizontal bands, a ground, a place, an arena, for the unfolding/plotting of this journal.
To paint all this I’ve had to move up and down the seven foot length of the piece….still walking the Camino!
*the quote at the beginning......... Robert Frost, New Hampshire,1923
Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is some mistake. The only other sound's the sweep Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep