Painting Ireland Bog
The Valley of Lights, ©John O’Grady,2013
Oil on Panel, 16″x 16″


A friend recently asked me why and how I do what I do so I thought you could find the stage by stage process I’m detailing below interesting. Please read on to find out how I got from stage 1  to stage 6

Stage 1:


I chose to use a decorator’s paintbrush to apply the first wash to keep it fluid.

I wanted to keep it loose and had no preconceived idea of what I might end up with.

When I finished, the wash covered most of the blank surface and had what looked like a sheet or veil of rain falling at the top right.

This was my entry into the piece.

Stage 2:

Paint Study-The Valley of Lights-Stage 2

I imagined seeing light emerging on the horizon almost glowing through mist so I added touches of white where I thought the horizon might be.  (You will see all that changed later on.)

Then, I added a wash of deeper violet and cool blue and below that a dark brown to give a feeling of depth to the piece.

The mark on the top right was a trial of dark colour over the veil of rain to deepen it and start to give a little bit of contrast and drama.

Stage 3:

Paint Study-Valley of Lights-Stage 3

As you can see, things are still not precious. I  keep things moving around to see possible further openings.

The horizon line has moved upwards, so I could make the cloud and mist stand out more.

More colours are worked into the sky to give movement, contrast and cool and warmth.

This is done by laying down one colour, then responding to that in an intuitive way, trusting the process of trial and error. Sometimes it works and other times not.

The new horizon line is a coolish light blue/green to give it more depth.

Stage 4:

Paint Study-Valley of Lights-Stage 4

At this stage, I was feeling okay about the sky but didn’t like the middle and foreground.

I quite liked what seemed to be mist floating on the land that you often see in the morning.

I added a deep rich dark brown and violet to build the contrast with the mist and clouds and scratched lines into the foreground to give diagonal direction.

Still not happy though. I was looking for a loose foreground that captured a balance between representation and abstraction.

Stage 5:

Paint Study-Valley of Lights-Stage 5

The biggest change so far.

The painting has taken on a whole series of greens. In the sky I have added a range of turquoises and paynes grey (blue black) to unify the top and bottom of the painting.

The light that appears on the ground adds to the feeling of depth all the way back to the horizon where the addition of a thickish light yellow paint makes it stand out.

Humming and hawing thinking the painting might be finished, I have learnt to leave well alone for a few days and come back with a fresh eye.

Stage 6:

Painting Study Valley of Lights Stage 6

A few days later I just couldn’t live with that overall greenish tinge.

It was time for decisive action.

When I am inclined to be precious, I challenge myself to make the same drastic changes whether it’s at stage 6 or at stage 1.

I scraped the paint off the foreground and attacked it with a BIG palette knife in large, bold movements with browns, violet, deep blue, deep reds to achieve a rich black. Then, I found I needed to balance light and dark.

The addition of light yellow into the light falling on the land and more contrast into the clouds did it.

What do you make of the breakdown of my process?

I’d love to read your comments.