Water reflections in mist,Ireland

Light on Water II, ©John O’Grady, 2014

Oil on Panel, 8″x 8″


The first step is always the hardest, we’ve all heard that before and I think it applies to all of us when starting out on something new. It certainly applies to the writer facing the blank page or the painter facing the white of the canvas.

The truism holds true, but how does one take that painful first step?

Strategies I say.

Here’s what Hemingway has to say in “A Moveable Feast” to continue writing the following day:

“I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day.”
Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast – a book about his time in Paris in the 1920s.

Now I wouldn’t be at all keen on the hunting, bullfight loving Hemingway, but some of his prose is sublime and his strategy gave me food for thought.

At the end of my day’s work, I take a newly prepared panel and with the paint left on my palette I restrict myself to making colour combinations from what is there, without adding any further colours.

This restricted way of creating combinations opens up endless possibilities even with a limited palette.

I have ended up with the most marvellous warm and cool greys alongside each other.

I feel like I am fine tuning my sense of colour.

To use an exercise analogy, it is like warming down after the day’s work as it is pure enjoyment. I next apply the paint to the panel with a cloth or palette knife – No brush, it’s too fiddly.

This is done purely intuitively and not preordained. Often I rub or scrape off part of what I have put on, until the arrangement of a colour, tone, shape hold my interest. This is when I stop, excited at what I might see in the morning with fresh eyes.

Hemingway goes on to say:

“It was in that room too that I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started again the next day. That way my subconscious would be working on it”

When I go into my studio the following day, what I saw the previous night has often flown but new possibilities have arisen. A reminder of some place or colour arrangement that echoes in my memory, something I can refine.

Sometimes I see no entry into the piece at all, then it is time to put the painting down and look again in a few days’ time. The painting above was started in this way.

I would love to hear what you think.