Diary of a painting – Helen G Blake 


Banquet, 2016, oil on linen, 36 x 45cm

Banquet, 2016, oil on linen, 36 x 45cm

I began work on this painting in early December 2015 and it was completed towards the end of May 2016.  Banquet was part of a new body of work for a solo exhibition which opened September 2016.
I work slowly; it’s a lengthy process of looking and contemplating, layering and allowing each layer to dry before I work further on it.  I keep detailed records of colours, pigments and mixing recipes, and I draw diagrams of what I’ve done.  Anyone looking at my notebooks might assume that I’ve made sketches and then produced paintings based on the sketches, but it’s actually the other way round – I never know how something will turn out; I work directly on the painting and then make notes and drawings recording what I did.  I work to various self-imposed rules, but the most important one is that I don’t allow myself to use anything on the painting other than paint, a brush, and my hand.


Because of the drying times involved I always have a number of paintings on the go at once and I move between them as each becomes dry enough to work on further.  Normally each piece evolves slowly over a long period of time, so Banquet was unusual in that from start to completion was only six months.
Banquet was begun in my own studio, and then worked on during a six week residency from mid-April till the end of May at The Model, Sligo, on the west coast of Ireland.  While there I was the sole occupant of the residency studio and apartment.  Slightly oddly, the bed was in the studio rather than the apartment, so I dreamed and breathed the work, and the paintings were the last thing I saw when I closed my eyes at night, and the first thing I saw when I opened them in the morning.  It was a fantastically intense and mostly solitary six weeks.
I had brought with me on residency all the work which was underway at that time; as far as I can remember there were already about four layers of paint on Banquet when I went there.  The first pigment used on this particular painting was Naples Yellow Dark, and the final colour areas painted were the warm grey central ‘squares’ (none of them is a true square); the grey is a mix of white and raw umber.  The squares completed the painting.
Materials used for the support:

o Medium grained linen (from Russell and Chapple)


o Planed doorstop, mitred on a Morsø guillotine, glued and underpinned on a Cassese underpinner

o Stainless steel panel pins

o Staples

o W&N White Gesso (on the surface which is to be painted)

o Pip Seymour Acrylic Size (on the sides)
List of pigments used on Banquet (all Michael Harding):

o Naples Yellow Dark

o Alizarin Claret

o Magenta

o Prussian Blue

o Cobalt Green Deep

o Unbleached Titanium Dioxide

o Indian Red

o Raw Umber

o Titanium White 2

o Warm White
Media used:

o Purified Linseed Oil

o Linseed Stand Oil

o Turpentine

o Low-odour Thinners

o Michael Harding Oil Paint Medium
Brushes used:

o D-R Georgian Short Flat no 14

o W&N Galeria Short Flat no 12

o W&N Galeria Short Flat no 8

o D-R Bristlewhite B36 no 2
Art books I was reading while on residency:

o Colour Recognition by David Tinker.

o Blake by Peter Ackroyd.

o Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy by Michael Baxandall.

o Painting the Unseen, catalogue of Hilma af Klint exhibition at The Serpentine Galleries, London.

o In the Age of Giorgione, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy of Arts, London.
Novels I was reading:

o Austerlitz by W G Sebald.

o Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.
Books I always have on hand to dip into:

o Renaissance Siena, Art for a City, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery London.

o Seventeenth Century English Verse (this belonged to my father, and surprisingly it doesn’t contain Donne’s ‘A Valediction Forbidding Mourning’, so Dad wrote the last four verses from it, “Our two souls therefore, which are one…”, onto the fly-leaf in his tiny writing).

o Several books which contain reproductions of 15th and early 16th century Northern European painting.
Some things visually taken in while on residency:

o The Garavogue River; I do a lot of my thinking while walking, and I walked some part of the river bank every day while in Sligo.

o Sligo Abbey, which has some exceptional stone carvings; on one occasion I had the place to myself for a couple of hours, bathed in late afternoon sunshine.

o Painting the Unseen, Hilma af Klint Exhibition at The Serpentine Galleries, London.

o The Age of Giorgione, Royal Academy of Arts, London (I had a very quick trip over to London during the residency).

o Adventure: Capital; and A Blow by Blow Account of Stonecarving in Oxford by Sean Lynch at The Model, Sligo.

o The Rules of Abstraction by Matthew Collings (watched on Youtube).
Listened to:

o I like to have silence when I’m looking at the work; thinking, deliberating and making decisions.

o When I’m actually painting I have the radio on quietly in the background; it will be music, but it could be absolutely anything.

Helen G Blake