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My Painting Practice

I often get asked how I create something I've made whether an actual painting or a physical product. So here's a little bit more detail about how I create my paintings which is my fundamental starting point from where everything I make begins...

Start out with Painting

Currently I paint with gouache on paper. This doesn’t mean I am not open to using other paints and materials (I have tried many!) but this is where I am at the moment. Gouache is a pleasure to paint with. My work is quite pattern led, so I particularly like the opaque effect of gouache and the solid layering up of pattern and shape it allows me within a piece. It is also quite smooth and silky to work with so the actual process of brushing it on the paper is very enjoyable.

My Materials

I use 300gsm watercolour paper, mainly cold pressed but I do use hot pressed also. My paints are Winsor & Newton ‘Designers Gouache’ and the brushes are Cotman Winsor & Newton Watercolour brushes. I work quite small so my brushes are as small as you can get to achieve those teeny tiny marks and details.

Sian Summerhayes painting materials

Tackle the Blank Page

I usually have a clear image in my head of what I want to create way ahead of time. I can be quite impatient and don’t always want to sketch things out or practice my composition in a sketchbook beforehand! If I have an idea I am keen to try I usually just start without much planning - this can either be brilliant or a big mistake but I think I have to go through this part of the process regardless even if I have to go back and correct or start over. The main thing I need to do is just start. I will sketch out just a few outlines of the composition, dividing the foreground and background and an outline of the main subject. I may have practiced the shape of the main subject beforehand but literally getting the scale and outline shape right will do.

Sian Summerhayes painting practise

Adding Colour

Colour is a very significant part of the process and again I will already have an idea in my head of some colours I want to put together. I will paint in the main sections in blocked areas so there is no raw paper left. Even if I want to retain a light area I will paint it white at this point. Sometimes the paper can crinkle and curl up so once this first layer is dry I will flatten the paper between books or under something heavy and come back to it a bit later when it is flat.

Adding Detail - Creating a Story and Mood to the Piece

Next is the most freeing part where I will just freestyle painting in florals, trees, foliage etc….. I may look up photographs of certain plants or flowers to be sure to include signature details but mainly I just let it flow, get lost in it and see where it goes. I will work all over the piece but be mindful to leave some of the front to the end so I can layer these sections over what is happening in the background. I will repeatedly revisit the main part of my painting (e.g. the bird or animal that is the main subject) to add a level of detail in line with the rest of the piece so it feels balanced.

Sian Summerhayes Painting Process

There will absolutely be a point during this part where I start to hate what I'm creating! So I have to kind of adapt the image in my head and also take a break sometimes and revisit. But always I have to keep going and finish it regardless as it is this forcing through moment that often makes my painting better in the end (I hope!).

My Palette and Signature Colours

I do tend to have a few colours I always enjoy using and I return to the same ones time and time again. They don’t necessarily sum up my whole body of work as I do use many different colours (as I like my work to be bright, colourful and bold) but I do have my favourites that I rely on.

Among these are Yellow Ochre, Spectrum Red, Indigo, Olive Green and also something Coral / Orangey.

Sian Summerhayes Palette

My Subjects

Most of my paintings feature birds or animals among nature or are still life florals but I don’t feel limited to this if there is something else I want to try. I think I lean towards these subjects because I live in a village and this is more of my everyday reality than if I lived in a city. I depict birds or animals in different scenes, most often among flowers and foliage or if an indoor scene, there will be a floral pattern somewhere! 

Sian Summerhayes Robin painting

End Result

In some ways my paintings are never finished. But at some point I have to just stop adding details and dots or petals here and there and move on. To be able to then create products and prints etc, finishing an original is just the beginning in terms of what product it might then contribute to. It will need scanning, editing, formatting for it to be a Print, Greeting Card or whatever comes next (it could also be for a Tea Towel, Notebook, Cushion….. just depends what I’m making) but I find this part of the process just as enjoyable. I think it is the making and the process in general I enjoy - how something can go from a blank piece of paper to a physical item I use in my home or hang on my wall is really satisfying.

Sian x x x