Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Speaking of Silence Series: The Process

Silence 11  24x24"  oil/cold wax on panel ©  2012 Janice Mason Steeves

In painting this series, I work (mostly) without using any tools or brushes.  I choose the colours I intend to work with, mix up many gradations and have them ready on the palette.  I wear latex gloves on my hands.  I've been going through many many pairs for each painting because I either have to wipe them carefully each time I change colours, or put on a new pair. Then I  put my fingers into the paint, rubbing my hands together to spread the paint evenly on my palms and fingers.  Sometimes I even mix the paint right on my hands…dipping say into one colour and then into another colour and then blending them as I rub my hands together.   I love the intensity of the physical contact with the paint and with the surface.  There is a quiet patting sound as I apply the paint.  The sound of silence perhaps.  I began my art career as a potter so getting my hands into my work comes naturally and it feels like the energy moves into the work more directly, without the intervention of the brush or other tools.

I work so intuitively that I never know how each painting will progress.  Sometimes I work a contrasting colour on the initial layer, letting that set up before I work other layers over top. But often I don't plan in advance and simply choose the colours I want to work with that day and begin. I have the panel flat on my worktable at first, gradually applying the layers and colours, blending and mixing them together.  Then as the painting progresses, I set the panel up on the easel and work on it more there, where I can get the distance from it to see how the composition is working. It goes up and down from the table to the easel and back countless times.  It's a physical process especially if I work on 60x60" panels!  There comes a time when the paint surface is quite thick, and it needs to set up overnight or for a few days.  So I set it aside and work on another painting in progress.  When I work on it again the next day or subsequent days, I find I can't just work on an area or section.   Most often I have to rework the entire surface to have the colours blending as I want them to.

I'm working in silence right now in my studio. Painting Silence and working in silence.  Often I listen to classical music as I paint.  Sometimes jazz.  But this series seems to demand that I paint in silence.

A friend mentioned to me that the paintings seem to be about breath.  Painted breath.  I love that idea.  Breath caught in an image, like your warm breath making fog on a cold winter day.  

Another friend came into my studio and before I told her what the series was called, she whispered, "These are so quiet.".  

 Silence. Breath. Another word for inspiration.

My show, Speaking of Silence, opens in Vancouver at Granville Fine Art, on Saturday, September 15th at 2pm.  The show runs until September 27th. I will be flying out for the opening.  Very excited!

“After a time I found that I could almost listen to the silence, which had a dimension all of its own. I started to attend to its strange and beautiful texture, which of course, it was impossible to express in words. I discovered that I felt at home and alive in the silence, which compelled me to enter my interior world and around there. Without the distraction of constant conversation, the words on the page began to speak directly to my inner self. They were no long expressing ideas that were simply interesting intellectually, but were talking directly to my own yearning and perplexity.” 


  1. Very interesting description of process and fantastic results in this layered and textural series.

    I resonate with the idea of working in silence--I do this often too. I ask myself, do I or don't I want the music on--it's not an automatic thing. Sometimes yes, I do--it energizes me somehow. But many times, no, I prefer the silence. Living in the country as you and I both do, we can experience such lovely silence, maybe an occasional nature noise or dog barking but that's it. That peacefulness is definitely coming through in your work.

  2. Thanks friend. People often ask me how living in the country inspires me. I don't think I had thought of that silence being such an important part of my process, but of course it is.

  3. You wrote so beautifully about your process and the intention of stillness that lay behind it. Thank you for taking me into the painting. I found the post haunting and wish I could get up to Vancouver to see the show.

    1. HI Judy,
      Thanks for your comments. I sometimes think that words can help us to enter paintings in a different or deeper way. I'm sorry too that you can't make it up to Vancouver.

  4. I never have music on in my studio. I live in the city and the noise of leaf blowers, construction trucks, garbage trucks, you name it is already noise overload. So I guess you could say, I paint in silence. Sort of.....

    1. Oh Roberta, that's awful. I guess you get used to it. I'm so used to silence now, living in the country for many years now, that I don't know if I could easily live in a city again.