Celebrating mark making

Many of my intuitive paintings begin with a building up and layering of marks using a variety of tools. I use all kinds of items from around the house from toothpaste lids to slithers of wood to pencils to twigs, anything that will make a mark that is different to conventional tools like paint brushes. Of course I use these as well but the key with selecting different tools is that it’s possible to create variation in shape, thickness of line and mark density.

Acrylic paint lends itself to this way of painting as it dries quickly so it’s easy to achieve a rich base or back ground for work. The process enables a very free style of expression and as these photos show each little section of marks could become a painting in its own right. I usually alternate layers of warm colours and cool colours to maintain vibrancy and follow this by adding in contrast and translucence. I keep going in this way until I either want to commit to forms by searching for imagery hiding in the marks or I impose it if there is a message I am contemplating as I paint. It’s often a mixture of teasing out form and structure and a subliminal thought process where memories and emotions start to emerge.

Colourful marks

Colourful marks

Some of this is conscious and sometimes I am surprised by the elements that jump out and add an entirely intuitive dimension to the work. I had for many years avoided figurative work because I found it difficult and was disappointed when an attempt looked nothing like the person I was trying to paint or draw.

Since working intuitively I have moved beyond this fear because the figures are imagined rather than drawn on reality. It doesn’t matter if the faces, bodies or features are representational because what I am trying to communicate is often based on the emotional or allegory rather than the representational.

Woman with tangled hair

Woman with tangled hair

Mark making as a starting point has presented a new freedom and opened up the subjects I now feel confident to include in my paintings.

In this painting I worked on plywood which is more forgiving than canvas in the mark making stage. It’s possible to really press hard with pointy tools without worrying about making holes in the surface as is the case with canvas. The painting is all about the hair, a real bed head mess, that has offered a magical opportunity to pay with colour, line and texture.

The Reader’s Dream

This painting is a powerful metaphor for the way reading can transport us into the imaginings of others and to places we may never see and people we will never meet. As I started to bring out the imagery I was thinking about how for me the planning stages of any journey are as pleasurable as the journey itself.


This has been an incredibly inspiring year as I have taken on new challenges in my painting and tried to hone my style using intuitive processes. I have been very fortunate to take several trips to three Mediterranean islands, return to my favourite Portuguese fishing town and visit two new cities, Madrid and Lisbon. It has been extraordinary and the impact of the memories, the landscapes, the colours, the food, the wine, the people, the smells – the sensuous experiential that comes from being somewhere different that fuels the imagination and inspires the soul.

I don’t always paint exactly what I have seen but the experiences are all imbued into the emotions and messages that my paintings evoke. I think that as well as being an intuitive painter I am starting to tell stories in each painting that emerge as magically as the imagery evolves.

In ‘the Readers Dream’ I have followed the intuitive process, building a rich background of colours and marks using many tools as well as traditional paint brushes. I have then picked out imagery and developed the story of the central figure.


Close up of marks

The sky is exploding in a meteor storm with one of the stars landing on the book, perhaps a metaphor here – symbolising that dreams can become a reality and that reading helps us to form those dreams and to plan them and make them happen.

Meteor storm detail

Meteor storm detail

She is reading a book with the word dream picked and scratched into the paint and painted on and washed over.

Detail - a page of dreams

Detail – a page of dreams

Maybe she is dreaming about her next trip. The headdress which is becoming a trademark just lately is all about the way we have our minds filled with so much – in this case her mind is filled with the colour and tribal references that merge with the meteors in the sky. It represents her imagination.

A headdress of dreams

A headdress of dreams

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The Backpacker

Well I had no idea that the backpacker would emerge in this painting and that is part of the magic of the intuitive process. 

The Backpacker – acrylic on canvas – 76 x 76cms

Starting off with the building up of layers of acrylic in a variety of marks and colours as I have been doing for much of this year it was a surprise but certainly testament to how this process utilises the subliminal.

At first the painting was all about palm trees and I thought it would be a jungle painting. I had set it aside for a couple of months and returning to it decided to bring in better tonality. I have also recently been painting figures which is such a big departure for me. I think that making this departure into the figurative has stemmed from stopping worrying about a figure having to look accurate or to actually be someone. 

The figure was not initially a backpacker – she was going to be a tribal goddess with a fantastical palmtree headdress. But then I saw a shape that started to come out at me that was her backpack. 

This presented the opportunity to start thinking about what travel means to me. The headdress has become a symbol for the way travel opens up new worlds and colours, expanding the mind and growing new insights. The merging of the figure into the landscape is a metaphor for blending in to new environments and adapting to surroundings and respecting culture.  The backpack is covered in little symbols representing sites and experiences – a rich bag filled with memories.

How memory becomes a painting

Details from ‘Memories of Sardinia’

Memory has always played an important part in my choice of imagery. I love to travel and always take sketch and notebooks  with me. Moleskine notebooks and little postcard sketchbooks are portable and make it easy to do quick sketches without weighting down bags. I also use the brushes and paper 53 drawing apps on my iPad.

Moleskine sketchbook – View from the terrace at Porto Taverna – Sardinia

Little sketches fuel later paintings often subconsciously. Sketching allows real engagement with imagery, you are just there with your materials responding to something in front of you. 

paper 53 app drawing of ancient stone wall in Menorca

Drawings do not have to be photographic or representative in realistic detail to be useful. Sometimes the way your hand moves in response to what you are drawing or the marks made to represent something inform the way you later paint as those movements and marks repeat in memory.

view acros the lagoon at Porto Taverna – Sardinia

Photographs are useful too. Here I have responded to the sunlight on an old stone wall. Not a great photo in terms of composition but the way these old walls make me feel is what this is all about. The way the stones are crushed up against each other and covered with growth integrating  the human made with nature.

The painting below shows the first few layers. Like the previous post http://artistintheshed.com/2015/06/28/new-painting-from-old/ I have reviewed an unloved painting and used the base of marks as a  jumping off point. It is easy to see here how memory is kicking in with shapes of rocks emerging against a backdrop of cerulean and emerald sea.

early layers of ‘Memories of Sardinia’

Reviewing some photos from several trips this year I have been fascinated by the history residing in the ancient stone walls that weave across the Mediterranean islands of Menorca, Majorca and Sardinia. 

Dry stone walls on the walk to Cala Deia in Majorca

Dry stone walls near Valdemossa – Majorca

Hard dry stoney land that has been cleared and segmented by human made walls covering hundreds if not thousands of miles. The walls often re absorbed by their natural landscape of hardy scrubby plants like cacti and sun burned grasses, aromatic herbs like wild fennel and rosemary, colour bursts of vermillion, lemon and orange from oleander and juicy citrus trees and shade cast by olive groves.


cacti plant – Sardinia


These shapes, colours and sense of place fill the memory that stirs the emotion that inspires me to paint. There is so much inspiration in the contours of the snuggled rocks, the bursts of colour and the variation of plant shapes.

Memories of Sardinia

 Memories of a landscape at sunset when the world is set alight in luscious pink and orange – this inspires the Fauvist colour that I love to emulate.

New painting from old

Sometimes looking at an old painting that you never really liked is a great opportunity to reinvent and start afresh without having to confront the scary blank canvas.


I had this garden painting hanging on the wall for ages but had never really felt that it was finished or ‘resolved’ with its two clumsy white spots, an excuse for introducing some tonality to the blue meadow inspired imagery.


So I took it into the shed and started to paint over it in warm contrasting colours to see what I could do to refresh and renew and make something beautiful out of something I had fallen out of love with.

Sticking with the intuitive process that has dominated my art this year especially, I kept at it, adding colours and marks with varying tools to arrive at a stage where the original painting had not disappeared but provided a backdrop for some new exciting things to emerge and start happening.


Slowly I began to see the outline of a face suggested in the marks and I worked with this. 


The meadow of the original painting was still there in essence so I started to think about how I could incorporate the two elements to create a figure immersed in landscape. The headdress morphed several times, at one point a bird was flying out of it, but I preferred the organic flowery, feathery, meadow suggestions and brought these kinds of imagery into sharper focus. 


I’m learning the power of tonal depth, something that my colourful offerings have lacked so much in the past. Flora Bowley showed me how what she calls value contrast adds to the overall cohesiveness of a painting. For this painting deepening the outline of the figure and introducing translucence to the dress has I think brought some tonal contrast to colour explosion that is her headdress.


My subliminal inspiration for this painting is a vintage 1970s print bought in a charity shop, some photos that I took on a trip to Bali about 30 years ago and drawings of meadows in Branscombe. I love how different aspects of life and memory can impact on how a painting becomes what it is. There are also shades of inspiration from Girl with a pearl earring by Vermeer.



I will be getting prints done of this painting for sale in my Etsy shop in the near future.

Girl with meadow headdress – mixed media on canvas



Paint Mojo with Tracy Verdugo in Brighton

The Paint Mojo experience with Tracy Verdugo was my first ever art workshop. Where I have I been all my life? Along with 20 other artists who had travelled from different parts of the UK I enjoyed a two day journey into Tracy’s process for intuitive painting at Brighton’s Hannover Centre.

I had come across Tracy’s book ‘Paint Mojo’ at around the same time as discovering the work of Flora Bowley. Having just been through Flora’s wonderful e-course I was wondering what similarities there might be, especially as Tracy told us that her first art workshop was with Flora a few years back.

Both artists start with encouraging you to break rules, to be brave and not to worry about perfection or comparison. There is a similar sense that you need to trust in process and not get too hung up on end results. 

What I loved about Tracey’s workshop was the emphasis on creating a backdrop embedded with personal symbols that we were all encouraged to keep bringing back into the paintings as we progressed. 


I had given this a little bit of thought before the workshop began, almost like doing homework, and prepared a selection of symbols that are reoccurring images in many of my own paintings. These included palm trees (my obsession), flowers, leaves, palm fronds, twigs, pebbles, grass, seeds, seed heads, water symbols including waves, flowing rivers and rain… so there is a bit of a theme going on here around growth and life and so on.

The course introduced me to a new mark maker, a bamboo skewer – I’ve always used a range of tools but this was a first and lovely for teasing out tiny delicate lines from dribbled acrylic ink. I am astounded that I had not used this medium before…the colours are so vibrant – they give a depth to the acrylic paints and come in a wonderful selection of colours.


I went off piste towards the end of the first day when we were encouraged to calm the paintings down and block out marks with  opaque colours – the painting was looking a bit lifeless suddenly so I just reintroduced more marks and colours.

On the second day we returned to our paintings and at this point we were encouraged to search for imagery that we could develop. It’s amazing what you can find if you stare hard enough at an abstraction of randomness. 

Tracy then showed us how she defines imagery using an ink dropper to draw in motifs and then a wash brush to bring the motifs into sharp focus. Her painting demo was an underwater theme that she is currently using as a series and it was lovely to watch how this really accomplished artist gently feels her way around the canvas, looking out for little bits of magic to start happening, happy accidents of colour juxtapositions just waiting to be found.


I’m so glad I went on this course. I made friends with lovely intuitive artist Clare Wassermann who I had been following on Instagram who had been travelling a similar artistic journey for the past year or so. Read more about Clare’s beautiful work on her blog here. http://clarewassermannart.com

I came away from the course feeling uplifted and inspired yet very conscious that there are elements to take away and elements to leave behind. The  intuitive process as defined by Verdugo and Bowley has it’s basis in mark making and freeing up followed by ‘calming the canvas down and looking for images (Verdugo) and ‘working with what’s working’ (Bowley). Details about Tracy Verdugo workshops can be found here. http://tracyverdugo.com

I still think you can paint intuitively without it all being so random and also with your subject in front of you and this is where I think I am going to be taking my work during it’s next phase.

Here is my almost finished painting from the course and another canvas that I worked on during the following couple of days.

‘Flowers for an Angel’ 76 x 76 cm mixed media on canvas


‘Discovering love’ 30 x 30 cm mixed media on canvas


Brave Intuitive Painting – Flora Bowley – be inspired

Messing around on the net looking for artists to inspire me I stumbled across Flora Bowley about  six months ago. I think I typed ‘intuitive painting’ into Google and her name popped up. Her influence on my way of working since has been such an incredibly joyful experience.

I now know that Flora Bowley is at the top of the game in this genre but at that time I had never heard of her – hooray for the internet! Her paintings are an astounding blend of movement, colour, imagery and freedom of spirit. And then there was this beautiful video Flora Bowley ~ Brave Intuitive Painting on Vimeo https://vimeo.com/58224937 – I had to find out more!

Two weeks later Flora’s book ‘Brave Intuitive Painting’ dropped onto the doormat. 


I read it cover to cover the day it arrived and then spruced up a space in the house. It was winter and although I call myself artistintheshed it was basically too chilly to paint outside. I had been thinking about painting but not actually doing much. There was pretty much something on the go all the time but I wasn’t on much of a roll.

Things were about to change. I thought I would just try some techniques suggested in the book. Prior to this I had been working intuitively by making movements of paint onto canvas until something started to subliminally suggest itself. Usually the images would be linked back to memories of holidays or sometimes plants or flowers. 

My paintings have always been intuitive. Here is an example of a painting created about four years ago. 


This was painted in the garden on a summers day, using plants for inspiration but as usually happens in my work the imagery moved on quickly from the starting point as I became immersed in shape and colour. 

But I needed to move my work forward and to get away from using two dominant colours – I just needed some direction.

Brave intuitive painting gives many prompts and is so much more than a painting manual – it gently invites you to embrace a new way of being – it’s almost like being shown to how to wake up to the world around you and refresh the way you see things. The last time an art book made me think like this was John Berger’s amazing Ways of Seeing.

Flora’s mantra ‘Let go. Be bold. Unfold’ invites you to explore intuitively ‘to embrace the unknown’ and ‘make space for the unexpected’.

Here are a few examples of where my paintings went when I started to trust in the power of intuition.


 Using some of the prompts in the book I started by making marks using tools found from around the house, to drip paint and to consciously layer acrylic to build depth. I was introduced to sponge paint brushes – now a real favourite -and the marvels of the water spray bottle! And I was reintroduced to the playful joy of finger painting.

Flora shares some of her techniques to help you free up and move away from the fear of the white canvas and paper. The book also invites you to get out into the world and to be inspired combining this with prompts to encourage you to think creatively and work towards exploring your own unique voice.

My verdict is a resounding 10/10 for this book and since reading it I have been lucky to take part in Flora’s Bloomtrue e-course. I will be reviewing the impact of that experience on my painting in a later post.