Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Reaching for the Moon

If I remember in time, I try to keep a photographic record of work in progress. It can be interesting to look back on and I know that other people sometimes enjoy seeing the stages of a painting or print as it progresses. If you are one of these people, then this post is for you! 

'The Ladder and the Moon'
acrylics on canvas (61cm x 61cm)

This painting really started with the small sketch shown below. It's a reasonably faithful recording of a small derelict outhouse that backs onto a railway line near to where I live. I'm a big fan of crumbling derelict buildings and this one is especially picturesque... 

'Ruined Building in Southchurch'
inks and acrylics on paper (18cm x 18cm)

Stages 1 & 2 
I've 'squared up' a copy of the sketch and will keep this as a reference as I paint. For this painting I've prepared the canvas with a base of dark red acrylic paint. My personal preference is always to avoid a white canvas wherever possible: the deep red will work well for the brickwork and provide a warmth to the final painting. I used a brush with Paynes Gray to draw directly onto the canvas and then worked up the image with thin washes.

Stages 3 & 4 
When I'm happy with the basic under-painting, I start to accentuate the form, detail and highlights of the building and introduce colour to the canvas in the form of thin transparent glazes. I'm aware at this stage of painting that something is going to happen to the image that will take it beyond the initial sketch but don't really know what that will be yet. This is probably my favourite part of the whole process!

Stages 5 & 6 
The colour glazing technique is something that I use extensively when painting with acrylics, it is a great way of subtly building up colour and it allows colours beneath to shine through. A painting like this could easily involve twenty to thirty separate glazes. The application of transparent glazes over darks and the use of more opaque colour for the lights is known as the Venetian Technique and goes right back to early 16th century Venice and painters such as Titian and Giorgione (who were then working with oils of course). The painting now starts to move away from the initial sketch with the introduction of an open sky and suggestion of an empty hillside behind the building. Before I know it, a full moon has risen over the ridge of the roof... 

Stage 7 and final painting 
An old wooden ladder is leant up against the dark side of the house and everything locks into place, including the title! The last stages of a painting like this probably take longest with the least to show for the amount of work involved: minor corrections, tightening up details, drinking copious amounts of tea, finalising aspects of light and shade and enhancing colours through further glazes. When that's done, the final hurdle is to actually stop, let go, and move on to the next painting!

If you are interested in the fate of the original building that this painting was based on, then take a look here:

All images copyright Manfred Hennessy. 
All rights reserved.


  1. Now completely collapsed - Nice work

  2. yes thank you! process blogposts are some of my favorites. I appreciate the breakdown. And, I like the painting a lot too. Very fun.

  3. I really like the monochrome inks and acrylic version:
    it reminds me of childhood storybooks ^_^