John Ballantyne
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© John Ballantyne, 2008-16, all

I start with photos, lots of photos, up close, from afar, general and detail. I have already chosen the time of year and day. With all the photos, I start to penetrate the visible. If possible I return to the site to compare the photos and reality, all the time scanning the area. When I am happy with what I have, it is time to start the drawings.

At first the drawings are simple sketches, I use HB pencils almost exclusively. Then as the composition becomes known, I start more detailed drawings, at first the drawings tend towards the mechanical. I establish eye level and vanishing points; this often takes one or two false starts on the floor with long threads going off to distant vanishing points. At this time I am concentrating on proportions only. Once the architectural bones are on paper, I start creating the feeling. While my hand moves the pencil around, my mind is filling in the colours and emotions. I compare this process to rehearsals in a theater. Usually there will be one or two semi-finished drawings, followed by the finished clean drawing, This whole process takes about two weeks and is leading up to only one thing, the painting.

The painting process starts with cutting out a masonite board, or, making a sandwich panel out of birch veneer plywood. The larger paintings are always on panels because of their strength and solidity. The next step is to gesso the two sides. I use a mix of acrylic gesso matt medium and a little water. I brush on a least three coats on both sides. When dry the good surface is sanded to the desired finish. The finished drawing is then transferred to the panel, using a 9H pencil.

The painting process usually takes two months or more. I work with acrylics using every brush from cheap hog bristle to very expensive kolinsky sable. I start with thin washes, a mix of paint, matt medium and water and slowly or as fast as possible build up the desired colours. The process goes from loose, free strokes to a more exact and tight stroke of the brush. This process is very hit or miss at first as it is hard to really judge anything at this stage. In the painting process there are usually three stages; at first I set out with great optimism and what is really a false sense of greatness. Then I get lost, usually I try to be too sexy too fast and mistakes lead to errors and then loss of confidence and fear. This second phase has it’s own timetable based on my ability to work comfortably within this uncertainty. Some how in thrashing around in this limbo small good things start to happen and then; then I start to paint. Along the way I have redrawn the image with either a 5H or 9H pencil a few times. This third joyful phase is the real painting not under painting, every stroke counts, and now I rediscover the joy and optimism that was there in the first phase. Pretty well every painting follows this pattern with small variations. The painting is finished as Alex Colville wrote, when the errors are too small to find.

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