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The Wild Garden of Childhood

Acrylic on canvas: 100 x 70cms/40”x 67”

I made this painting in the spring of 2020 when suddenly the world had closed down and we were slowly getting used to the new normal of living life in a pandemic. I live alone so I knew I would have to dig deep to find strategies to stay strong, both physically and emotionally. My two happiest places in that Spring were my studio andmy garden. I began to write my story and looked back at photographs and memories of my childhood. At the same time, I began work on this painting.

Using my own garden as a model, I remembered back to an overgrown garden in Wales where as a solitary and imaginative child who loved stories, I spun a world for myself in the magical creatures and growth of my wild garden of childhood.


I selected a palette of the hot colours that I love and some random mark making tools. I so enjoy this stage of a painting, where nothing matters but the sheer joy of making marks and the breaking up of the white of the canvas. This outpouring of energetic mark making and application of joyful colour is the beginning point for the direction the painting will take.

I looked carefully at my chaotic playful beginning. Deciding how I would proceed, I went into my garden and considered the shapes, the shafts of light filtering through trees, the essence of a beautiful place. Although this was to be a garden from my past and my imagination, I could use my present garden as inspiration.

I took some photographs and made some sketchy drawings. I didn’t want to make a realistic painting, I wanted to capture the life and spirit of a moment in time.

My drawings were loose, playful, monochrome and abstract as I studied forms, movement, shadow and light.


Explore stage 1

A shape begins to emerge.

The drawings proved a very useful exercise. In this way I was able to remove from my mind the preconceived image of a garden, and instead search for shapes, movement and values, and working from my imagination. They also helped me proceed from playful to experimental and searching; the beginning of the explore stage of my painting. I wanted to retain much of the original warm palette, however I decided on a primarily dark background of greys, greens and blues, with dramatic shafts of light moving through.

At this stage I began to apply some collage. I love to introduce text to my work early on, so it becomes gradually incorporated into the layers of the work. The building process begins as I search for images meaningful to myself, apply them, rub back, and glaze, often elements applied in the early stages, become obliterated, only to show up later in the painting process after gentle sanding of the surface. Ghostly images of the under layers of the piece can resurface as whispers of information.

This process of layering becomes like a dance as I work to persuade the elements of the painting to relate to each other. Throughout there is always the question, “what if?” This is the time to experiment, to play with colours, forms, linear elements. Nothing is lost, on the contrary, this is the moment to search for treasures.

Explore stage 2.

I experiment with colours, glazes and forms.

Explore stage 3.

I begin to question which areas of the painting might be treasures

I consider values at this stage. I like the feeling of drama that is emerging.

Colours are adjusted.

Elements of light and interest are introduced to the now very dark background.

Treasures are established. Areas are knocked back by glazing.


Clarify stage 1

At this stage I have sorted out the elements I would like if possible to retain. I recognise that so far; my work lacks the geometric shapes that I love. Here I refer again to the shape of my garden; the winding brick paths, the water feature stone and the shrubs tumbling over raised beds. I decide to use these shapes to live alongside the organic elements already in place in my painting. I make a bold move which divides the image in two diagonally, with smaller geometric shapes either side. I am now happy with the structure. Now I see that the stark white shapes, though broken by texture, need softening.

I check the values by transferring a photograph into black and white. I see that I have a predominantly dark painting with light areas which are now too stark. I knew that and I decide to soften the whitish shapes at the final stages of the painting.

Clarify stage 2

I am nearing the concluding final stages of my “WILD GARDEN OF CHILDHOOD”. I want to introduce some surprise elements to soften the light areas. I thus make some collage papers using my gel plate and some very strong and fine acid free tissue paper. This I cut into organic shapes and apply to the surface of the painting; the effect is soft and fragile against the austere geometric light areas. I add some small drawn marks and transparent veiled areas. I further check the values of the piece. Finally, I adjust the hue of the background area by applying a soft blue glaze.


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