Desperately seeking the picture within a picture… or a cloud’s silver lining?

This post is intentionally brief. Partly due to pressures of time, but moreso because there’s only so much wallowing in self-pity I can indulge in!

Feeling buoyed by last week’s efforts, I felt bold enough to take on a scene that I’ve long wanted to paint but never felt up to. Last year we camped at Rettorick Mill campsite near Mawgan Porth in Cornwall. One of the unexpected highlights of our stay was an old barn that had been converted into a bar / restaurant, but in a characteristic and slightly ramshackle fashion. What wasn’t ramshackle however was the amazing food that came out of the open plan kitchen that was situated at one end of the converted barn. It was run by a tremendously hard-working couple, Scott and Babs; Scott in the kitchen and Babs front of house. Light flooded through a hotchpotch arrangement of windows and doors that ran the full height of the barn whilst a few dedicated chefs prepared the most amazing food that people travelled from far and wide to savour. It was great to seen them at 7.00am with a local fishmonger choosing the lobsters and crabs for the evening meal – or the fresh poultry that would be slowly barbecued outside over an enormous arrangement of halved oil drums. It was truly wonderful to see how passionate they were about their food, and humbling to see how hard they worked to prepare it for people’s enjoyment. Over the course of our stay, I took dozens of photos and did quite a few pencil sketches to try to capture this scene. Pictured below are the three reference photos that I decided to work from for my painting.

The only changes I really made when composing my painting was to try to position the figures against the light to get the best contrast. Aside from that, I set out to capture the overall scene of the everything that was in the photograph, and especially the strong light and the frenetic busy-ness of this amazing kitchen.

I drew this out on a half imperial sheet of paper. Even before I’d finished sketching it out I was beginning to wonder whether I’d bitten off more than I could comfortably chew! Long before I’d reached the stage shown in the painting below, I’d already decided that I was flogging a dead horse and had tried to concentrate my increasingly futile efforts on the central area.

Scott and Babs’ kitchen at Rettorick Mill

Sometimes I find it hard to know where to begin with my own debriefing on a painting. On this occasion, I think my main takeaway is to make sure I’m looking for what matters. What’s really telling the story. I was seduced by all the clutter – but what I actually needed was to look for it’s simplicity. The more I worked on this, the more I realised that I was trying to fill the image with periphery details. I’d long realised that this was going to be an exercise piece – but I was deeply frustrated that I’d had to spend so long on a glorified sketch!

I had a spare mount lying around and started to use this over the image to try to find a detail, a different crop, a silver lining…

Seeking the picture within the picture

The images below show some alternative crops that I should have/could have considered at the outset: a good lesson learnt the hard way! (I’d be interested to hear anyone’s thoughts on these – or other crops that I could also have considered.)

I’m sorry if this week’s post feels a bit doom and gloom. It’s not un-remittingly negative. I liked little bits of this painting, the fruit bowl for instance, or some aspects of the main figure, but overall, I’m glad to get this one off the easel and tucked away out of sight.

The fruit bowl

With more practice, and more consideration, I like to imagine that there’ll be a day when I return to this subject. But I doubt very much that it’ll be any time soon!


Thoughts on Desperately seeking the picture within a picture… or a cloud’s silver lining?

9 thoughts on “Desperately seeking the picture within a picture… or a cloud’s silver lining?”

  1. Pingback: Mending the nets (or 241!)

  2. I would crop it as an approximate square…from the two panes (as mentioned above) on the right to the edge of the stove pipe… I like the play of light on the red…apples/tomatoes on the left.

    1. Ah yes, I can see how that would work too! Thanks so much for taking the time to look, consider and respond to this. As I’m sure you gathered from my post, I was a bit despondent when I wrote it but comments like yours have really helped me to see it in a more positive light, so thanks very much, I really appreciate it!

  3. I actually rather like the mood and scene you’ve created here… and you’re right… the fruit bowl is fabulous. I love the light and windows, but do like your cropped version more as it adds focus. If both panes of the window in the top right could be seen (just before the white orb), it would be more balanced. I’m charmed by this slice of life… I think it turned out well!

    1. Thanks so much for such a positive response to what I found quite a chastening experience! With a bit more distance, I am now able to see a few chinks of light in this painting – and I’m really pleased that you thought it turned out well – thanks so much for letting me know Charlie – It’s much appreciated!

  4. I think you made a wise decision. The acid test is…would I want to hang it on the sitting room wall?
    Best wishes. Peter

    1. Thanks Peter and you’re quite right about the acid test! Far from making it onto the sitting room wall – this one’s going to a very darkened place! Shall try to learn from it and come back stronger next time!

  5. I like the crop titled seeking picture within picture because it tells the story of a busy kitchen and I like the colours of the fruits. They added interest.

I'd love to hear any thoughts you have about this

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