Questions on Process of Practice

Published
Montage of Noel Hefele Paintings

I answer some of Curator Joanna O’Donovan’s questions about my process

Do you paint on site or in a studio?

Montage of Noel Hefele Paintings

I paint my larger paintings in a studio. Painting on site is a different, and somehow more complex process, with different results. I also paint in a studio during the colder times of year. I look forward to painting on site this spring as I work out my theoretical approach.

You work on large canvases, what do you like about working on this scale?


I like working on larger canvases with landscapes especially. I feel that size is important in trying to convey large expanses of space and atmosphere. I like to have landscapes that you can almost step into. I tend to distort the perspective and exaggerate in an attempt to place the viewer closer to the scene – like your feet would be standing very close to the bottom of the paintings of the milk factory and the nursery. The other two paintings have a large sky portion, which almost feels more optimistic and speaks of potential.

I am attracted to a square canvas for landscape painting as a challenge to break away from the horizontal format. It provides an interesting approach to solving compositional problems as you need to anchor all four sides somewhat equally. It also avoids panoramic views, and forces a kind of focus on a place.

My particular mark style and brushwork is well suited for larger canvases. I have a bit of a shakey hand and can’t quite paint with a fine resolution. The larger surface allows space for an energetic and chunky brush mark that coheres when you stand at a distance.

What do you look for in a site to paint?


Intrigue. I paint what I know, things familiar to me in my local landscape.  I chase that intrigue and try to uncover further layers of relationships to the land.  I look for expressions of culture and expressions of nature co-existing in an evolving state of tension. I am also interested in reading these sites as expressions of ideology.

I look for change and I try to make paintings that can be a point of reflection along a path of change.

Do you work from memory, sketches, photographs or a mix?

I take a lot of photographs when I find a site I like.  I play around with these photographs on a computer, and when I use them for painting, I have them on screen in front of me.

I work perhaps ‘with’ memory rather than from memory, and when people who know the site respond to the paintings, they also are activated by some memory of that place.  The photographs are a way of externalising the memory into a tangible object.

Many of my former teachers would be upset with this, but I don’t sketch all that much these days.  Sometimes I think that my photographic work has become a sort of sketching – a sketching of ideas.  I have over 15,000 photographs on my four-year-old computer, so I have become  a sort of digital sketcher who can’t draw as well as he used to.

What is it you like about painting with oils?


Nothing beats them in terms of sculptural and light quality.  By sculptural, I mean that oils make it feel like I carve the forms out in the painting.  Light quality – the layering of oil paints is so scrumptious!  I tend to layer many disparate colours on top of each other in transparent washes.

I like that they don’t dry quickly … when a painting surface is ‘alive’ you can move the colours around and mix colours on the surface in a really fun way.

I would say oils are the most eloquent medium of paint for me.

How do you start your paintings?


I block in large swaths of approximate colour with a thin wash.  I like to cover the canvas as quickly as possible to get a general sense of the composition.  I can then capture and refine smaller areas by pushing and pulling the colour values layering upon that initial ground.  I use as large of a brush as I can get away with well into developing a painting.   I work from the general to the specific.   The general phrasing needs to ‘work’ before moving on the specific embellishments.

How long does the average painting take you to develop?

Totnes East Gate painting in progress

This is always a curious question for me.  I have tried to track the actual hours that go into a work, but I inevitably enter that odd timeless period.  I would estimate that I spent about 60-80 hours on each painting in this show.  All I can definitively say is these four paintings took about eight weeks to complete, working at a fairly rapid pace.

By Noel Hefele

Noel Hefele is an artist living in the Bronx

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