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In-Depth Painting Review: Levitate and Adrift

I didn't know before starting that these two paintings that they would become a pair, it was a bit of a natural evolution leading from one to the other (and then back again, as I'll later explain).

I had not painted something big for about two years and I remember wanting to paint something that was for me. Adrift grew to be an expression of how I was feeling about my art at the time. I had been feeling frustrated as a graphic designer, unable to express my own thoughts and ideas.

Don’t get me wrong, graphic design has been very fulfilling in many ways, I’ve had a very successful career thus far, but in terms of self-expression and personal creativity, this was one aspect it just wasn’t fulfilling. It also wasn't obvious to me at the time that my lack of self-expression was actually the cause of my unhappiness so this painting became a way for me to work through some those feelings.

Adrift painting in acrylic on canvas
Adrift - acrylic on canvas

The planning and painting phases of Adrift were difficult. I agonised over obscure details but after I painted it, I felt a real sense of relief and accomplishment. Adrift became the first painting I had done in years that really felt like a piece of me was being released. I wasn't copying anything the way I had in art school and I wasn't working to someone else's brief - this was all me.

Shortly after this, I felt inspired to do more and so I started working digitally. I got a Huion Drawing Tablet (1060 plus) for Christmas from my husband and just got started. I've used Photoshop since I was about sixteen and I’ve previously dabbled in Corel Painter X and painting on my iPad but I had never used it to actually paint anything from scratch so I loved the process of learning to use an old medium in a new way.

Levitate happened in a different way to Adrift. I had really enjoyed painting Adrift and didn’t feel like I was quite done with the idea so Levitate became a natural companion for it. The rough sketch and planning still happened on paper but once I dived into the digital painting phase, it quickly unraveled on me and was pretty disastrous. I nearly abandoned it entirely but I'm glad I didn't. Instead of just deleting it, I put it to one side for a few months and when I visited it again, I adjusted the proportions, spent a load more time focussing on the lighting and suddenly started to see my way through what I now call the ‘ugly phase’.

The ugly phase is that point in a painting when you’re not quite sure if it’s going to work the way you want but you press on anyway. If I keep working at it, it starts to take on a look I’m happy with, I regain some lost confidence and I then feel a load better about carrying on (turns out painting is more emotionally turbulent then I remember!).

I wasn’t particularly focused on discovering or creating a hidden meaning with Levitate but it became clearer to me later that Levitate revealed my feelings of liberation and happiness about embracing the inner-creative I’d been neglecting.

Adrift (left) Levitate (Right)
Adrift (left) Levitate (Right)

The pair now felt more complete but it bugged me I had now done each of them differently. I wondered how differently Adrift would come out if done digitally too so I decided to redo it and got started almost immediately after finishing Levitate.

I'd left off some crucial details out in the painted version and took the opportunity to add them back to the digital edition. The addition of multiple arms, getting the mask right and the figure floating in a murky obscure space were all important elements for expressing my confusion, hidden desire for expression and general feelings of agitation.

Both figures were intentionally left almost nude. Firstly because I didn't want to clothe them with anything distracting and secondly I have always relished the challenge of painting the human form. All my sketchbooks are filled with practice sketches of hands, faces, bodies and full poses. I’ve always loved the sense of achievement when I get something right and it never stops challenges me so it's what I draw almost exclusively.

Adrift - digital (left), Levitate (right)

I’m pretty happy with them both now and at this stage I’m not sure if there will be more to add to this series, I hope so! Let me know what you thought when you first saw them both, I'm always intrigued to know how others interpret my work and if you have any questions or tips that I could consider in future, please comment below. Constructive critique is always welcome!

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