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Lost in Translation - Documenting an Award-Winning Painting

Updated: Aug 4

For the Torbay Vision of Art show I wanted to create something a bit special, and thought it would be interesting to share a documented process across my most ambitious project to date.


I've worked on some fairly large canvases before but this will be the biggest, and based on the mock-ups, I'm expecting this be quite far detached from anything I've shared publicly (and maybe a bit of a tease as to where the third series is heading).


So first things first, materials! - Two beautiful 72 x 48" Loxely Gold Canvases, and about 5 liters of paint.


If I'm committing to a large commission piece or project I'll always grab double what I anticipate using. My expressive style of work doesn't benefit from restraint and projects like this are intimidating enough without the additional worry of waiting a week for new materials if you royally mess something up.



As with almost all my work, the first layer is the textured paste/undercoat. This is crucial for determining the visual and tactile structure of the piece, as well as informing what's to follow. Done correctly this will provide an almost leathery organic texture to the piece.




This takes a few days to dry and annoyingly has to be kept flat, less than ideal when the canvas takes up the whole room...


Next stage is the basecoat. Traditionally a basecoat "tones" or "grounds" a painting, and that's exactly what it's used for here. In this case I opt for a metallic gold, I love it when my work responds dynamically to different lighting, and metallic colours are a sure-fire way to ensure that any negative space remaining over the subsequent layers of paint brings something to the table.




With the basecoat applied it's time to make some decisions. Here I'll start planning the composition, tones and visual structure of the work. How do I want to balance the weight? Where do I want to apply accents of heavier sections within the piece? What's my colour palette? What mood am I shooting for? What has inspired me recently? The list goes on...


Don't want to spend too long though.. making the first mark on a piece this large is always a difficult and intimidating experience, so best get on with it.




What inevitably follows this starting point is a flurry of 6-8 hours of continuous painting. Turn the music up, put your phone on silent and just let it out. I'll frequently run long into the mornings with this first marathon stretch, not only to keep the momentum going, but managing drying times with various paints/mediums. It's a bit of a juggle but if everything goes well I'll be absolutely exhausted when it's finally time to turn the lights off and hit they hay. Rarely will I recognise the painting I wake up to, and this is an incredibly important step if I'm to distance myself from the work and view it from a fresh perspective.


Generally I'll spend a couple of days repeating this process. Building up layers upon layers of thick texture and colour. Effectively managing layers is absolutely the key to building depth in an artwork, and before I progress to the later stages I make absolutely sure there's as much visual engagement as I can fit on the canvas.




Once the primary layers are complete it's time to start what I consider the aggravating stages. This is where I'll metaphorically cut back into the work, repeated processes of paint application and removal in order to age/wear the presentation to create an engaging experience.




Using countless tools and application/removal processes eventually I'll land on something I'm happy with, but we're a long way from finished yet. Once the painting as a whole is (to me) aesthetically complete, it's time to break a painting into sections. Part of what makes pieces this large so visually engaging is the work I'll conduct in these touch-up stages. Often using small brushes, lots of different mediums and a lot of water I'll work back into each section to create something unique and enticing.






These delicate highlights are so incredibly rewarding to produce and vital to the overall quality of the piece. I need my work to operate successfully from a distance, while offering something unique and exciting to the eyes upon closer examination.




Once I'm happy that every section of the painting has something to share, i'll take a step back and live with the work for a few days. I call this stage the "week in the corridor", and it's crucial for me as an artist to re-discover the painting and learn to see it from a fresh perspective.


The corridor is a fantastic space to conduct this process as I'll only ever catch a glance at the work in passing. How I feel about the work over the following days determines whether I'm in love with it and ready to proceed, or perhaps need to spend some time reworking.


If I'm happy, it's time to finish up. Paint the sides of the canvas, apply any finishing touches, hand-sign the work before sealing in a protective varnish.


Next up is photography.


Typically I'll wait for a day with good natural light, take the piece outside and get on with it. A piece this large however needs to be photographed from such a distance all of the detail is lost, so Jacob at Artizan Gallery kindly offered to help.





With the high-resolution scans complete, it's time to box up the painting and deliver to it to the show! Not an easy task for a painting this size, so a van rental is a must. I've made the mistake of trying to carry large works to shows before- 2/10 experience, would not recommend.




And here we are. Ready to be showcased at Torbay Vision of Art. I should add at this point this event is judged, and I have never won an art award...


This piece was never intended to "win" anything, but as the project developed I'd be lying if I said the prospect hadn't began to creep into my peripheral vision.



Anyway, I won't attempt any dramatic build up. "Lost in Translation" won the New Elizabeth Bovill Trophy for best painting in show, and it was probably the best day of my life.


Gormless/overwhelmed expression aside, awarding the trophy in this photo is George Davies, my secondary school art teacher, and huge influence over my earliest years spent painting (check out his work at https://www.fgdavis.com/about)




And that just about wraps it up!


Lost in Translation became the titular piece in my third series of work, and occupied the poster for my first solo exhibition. I'm incredibly proud to have produced it, and look forward to seeing it to enjoyed by somebody as much as I enjoyed working on it.





Thanks for following this journey!


Lost in Translation is available for purchase at: https://www.williammills.co.uk/lost-in-translation


Will


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© William Mills