A Murmur in the Trees III, ©John O’Grady, 2014
16″ x 16″, Oil on Panel




This is a visual diary of a painting.  It’s for my own records and also to look back and learn from documenting the process of making a painting.

I thought I’d share it with you as you may find it interesting.

Just scroll down to see how the painting changed over time. The final piece at the bottom of the blog post is the image you can see above but in a larger format.  I look forward to reading your comments.

1. I applied an initial wash of oil paint with burnt umber and ultramarine blue. I didn’t know what I was aiming at apart from having, in the back of my mind, a piece that showed little sky, a more intimate quiet painting as my previous paintings had been dramatic skyscapes.

After moving the wash around and lifting off paint with a rag, I left it. The following day, on re-entering the studio, I saw a misty day with a torrent and the deep shadows of trees.

2. Time to add colour. At this stage I did like the torrent, but it was not exactly a quiet painting. I blocked in some areas with shades of green and browns.  I quite liked the tiny amounts of sky blue coming through. Very Gothic I thought.

3. I needed to do something with the mass of shapeless green. The woods needed to be thinned out and shaped to let some light bleed into the foreground.

The water was still interesting me and I shaped its curve and flow. It ended up looking calmer but too much like a photograph of water on a long exposure.

The following day, it had to go. Time for big rag and big brush again.

4. As I wiped off the water, there emerged the rough shape of a track. This was my way in, a key had been found for the feel and atmosphere of the painting.

In the foreground, the dark marks showing through are from the underpainting.

Every painting I make eventually reveals its secret to me. I just have to be patient. This landscape picked up in momentum and I added areas and flecks of light paint to balance the tall dark silhouetted trees.

5. Everything was just going too well.  The lower half of the painting felt right, but again the following day it showed straight away weaknesses in the trees and the sky.  I didn’t know what these weaknesses were but if it doesn’t feel right, it has to go.

This time I sandpapered back into the dried paint surface. The trees became more amorphous and diffused with light. I agree with you if you are thinking stage 4 looked much better but breaking up this part of the painting gave me more freedom.

6. When I saw the painting the following day, it felt like Djouce Woods in County Wicklow where I used to go walking.

I worked on the shape and detail of the trees and the clouds blooming up seem to paint themselves once I darkened the sky.

I added more blue/purple into the lower left and in the centre just above the path – it sounds a bit crazy but I wanted to paint the air or the light that is particular to a forest, so quiet with just a “Murmur in the Trees”, a title I have to thank Emily Dickinson for.

7. The finished piece.

What do you think? Please leave a comment.