The Making of 'The Seventh Gate'

The genesis of this painting started a year ago when I was originally working on the fourth painting in the series. It was going to be called 'Don't Think of Pink Elephants'.

Did an image of a pink elephant pop into your head just then?

I'd be surprised if not because it is pretty much impossible to tell yourself not to think about something. The painting was all about obsessional thoughts and the difficulty one has in controlling them. I wanted to paint an image of 365 creatures that were all identical. As I've written before, the repetition necessary for the meaning of the painting to have an impact gave me severe hand pain. So the project had to be shelved. But for the first time here are some photos of from the development of the idea:

The design of the creature was based on the idea of a whirlpool constantly twisting around on itself. Here are a few shots from the iterative design process to show you the subtle evolution:

For the first time, here is a photo of how far I actually got with the painting:

As you can see I only managed to paint the bottom left hand corner, about 20% of the image, before my hand gave way. During the painting process, I thought it would be great to render the creature at a larger scale. Really great. But this thought went away for a while...

Leaving obsession, I decided to work on other things. I completed the paintings 'Stiff Upper Lip', 'Skin the Shine of the Rain' and 'I Will Walk Into Your Parlour'.

But eventually, when I came to the final painting, obsession reared its little head again and I decided to resurrect an old creature. Finally I was able to paint it at a much larger scale.

As usual, I started with some free association and from there I decided on the best location in Doncaster to visit to gain inspiration. In this case it happened to be the Doncaster Royal Infirmary. I set off armed with my camera and went looking for interesting architectural features.

Okay, maybe they aren't the most interesting architectural features for the general public, but they suited me just fine.

I also wanted the final image to be symmetrical forcing the viewer to the centre of the composition. This also brought the series back full circle to match the (almost) symmetry of the first painting:

So with these elements in place I set to work in Photoshop planning out the main composition:

One feature that I included in the final plan that never made it into the painting was the crowds at the bottom. I liked them because they showed the scale of the creatures but didn't quite fit in with the overall theme. So I ditched them. I also corrected the perspective on the creatures in the final image.

The next stage was to decide on a colour scheme.

I knew I wanted the red light in the centre so that was fixed from the start but I was open to the colours surrounding it. These are the three colour schemes I thought about and even from this small test, I preferred the middle one; it was the most unsettling. Even so, I tried out a few colour schemes on my plan. Suffice to say, the middle one was still the best.

The painting process was fairly straightforward for this painting. The main problem (and it was a huge one) was the symmetrical nature of the image. The boards I work on are 76cm long. So when I was painting, I was constantly pushing the board from side to side: a few brush strokes on this sides, slide the board over, the same few brush strokes but mirrored on the other side, slide it back and repeat. And repeat. I'm surprised the board didn't set on fire from the friction with the easel. I was glad when I got to paint the centre of the image. It meant the board could stay still for once.

The other problem with the symmetry was it hampered the fluidity of my painting. I couldn't spend an hour or so on one side, seeing where the paint took me, and then replicate this on the other side; it would have been too different. So I had to paint in a very disjointed and methodical way. Not my favourite experience and one of the reasons this painting took longer than normal.

Another decision I had to make was the perspective on the creatures. I wanted repetition in the painting but should every creature look identical as if the image was taken with a very long lens? Or do I have the viewpoint right in amongst the creatures and have them in the same position, but painted from a different perspective? I went back to the theme of the painting and the viewer definitely had to be right in the thick of the action. Cue lots of reference photos of my wife stood on a step-ladder doing the various arm poses. She had to be raised up to give the right viewpoint and make the creatures look huge.

The only other real problem was the painting of the black tower. I had to gradually change from a dark red, blending all the way through to black and then subtly head towards red again at the bottom. Seems tricky, but not too bad. Mmmm. An hour's work, make a small mistake, try to correct it by remixing a previous colour, find out this is stupidly difficult, find out that the blending isn't smooth enough, and it's back to the start and time to try again. Repeat this six or seven times for a fun-filled experience.

And that's the creation of this series done. All finished. It's been a long job but I've enjoyed the ups and the downs. I've learned many, many things from this series of seven paintings and I'm looking forward to starting my next project. Thank you very much for reading and I'll be back soon with the full meaning behind this painting.

If you have any questions or comments please leave them in the box below. I'd love to know what you think about this painting and the process I went through.

For the meaning behind this painting, Click Here.


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