Painting interiors

 Drawing and painting interiors

Another huge area for study!

Interiors are not subjects which I am particularly interested in drawing and so I needed to find a way into this genre.  With all my work I try to find a voice – either, what is this subject saying to me or what do I want to say about this.  I am not really interested in simply a representational reproduction.  This is a continual struggle and most subjects for me seem to need a lot of delving below the surface before I feel to have something to say. The limitation of what the tools and medium will express is also a factor at the moment.  So it all remains something of a mystery……….

I began this section by looking at some of the artists whose work I really enjoy to see what it was that spoke to me about their work in painting interiors. Interestingly, I found it quite difficult to find interiors without figures in them. This may be because, in the limited selection of paintings that I looked at, the figures provide the action or the story and the interior scene is just that  – a backdrop!  Where there are no figures the interior itself carries all the ‘action’.  It becomes almost a ‘still life’!  As I thought about this in the context of my own work in painting an interior, I became really interested in the powerful story an interior without figures could tell. Perhaps it is that the interior speaks of the people who usually occupy it or who have occupied it – perhaps it speaks of a past atmosphere – perhaps it speaks of emptiness – or perhaps it is left for the viewer to occupy the empty space.  All of these questions came to me as I began searching for a way forward…

Susan Ryder’s Interiors:

1. The Dressing Room       2. Green Jug     3. Coffee and Claret            4.  Lamps and Tulips

I love the work of Susan Ryder mainly through her use of paint. She seems to be able to express a liquid feel to it as though it has spread by its own volition and no human hand is involved. The surfaces are awash with an incredible number of colours, tones, all coming together to produce images of such peace and tranquility. And her expression of light is amazing…..

I also gained inspiration from the paintings of  three other of my favourite artists:  Philip Sutton, Edward Sego and Fred Cuming

Philip Sutton: The Blue Porch with Jesse

This painting is full of light.  The composition is so simple. I feel that the restricted palette adds to the amosphere and I am very interested in using colour in this way.  I don’t find it easy to move away from the actual colours of an image but this work inspires me.

Edward Sego: The White Kitchen

Edward Sego is one of my favourite artists in respect of landscape painting and it was great to discover this interior.  Once again the scene has such simplicity – just an ordinary scene with nothing obviously ‘set up’.  But you can feel the light coming in and with that a sense of warmth in an otherwise empty space.  A limited palette again and this seems to emphasise the emptiness But he has done so much with the white!

Fred Cuming – The Cresent Moon

I love this painting!  It just speaks.  Like the other examples, the artist has left a space  for me to fill

–      people but no people, uncluttered with a distant view full of colour and promise but nothing define

except the cresent moon.

SO I began to explore interiors myself…

In a recent trip to Australia, we had visited an extraordinary old (in Australian terms!) mining town called Sofala.  There are sketches of buildings from this place in my sketchbook.  The old town consisted of just two short streets comprised of very dilapidated buildings, built from the most basic materials and it was easy to capture the sense of a place which had grown up virtually over night during the gold rush and then had been left to ruin when the ‘rush’ was over. One of the buildings was a café and we went in to have coffee.  The interior was extraordinary – galvanized tin walls with tables covered in white table cloths and brightly coloured cloths. The bar consisted of bookcases full of books and glasses just left out on the cupboard top for people to help themselves.  Paintings hung on the galvanized tin walls. Interestingly, the coffee was delicious!

I decided to work with this scene and see what it would reveal.  I began with rough sketches of a closeup of the tin walls and then a longer view of the café in context. I then started on a group of 4 paintings, starting with a fairly representational image and then pushing the image further and further to try to extract meaning.  I also experimented with materials using paint, ink, pastels and collage.  In order to get away from representation I limited my palette to just 2 colours in the last paintings and found this quite freeing.

In these first first sketches I was trying to bring out the ‘ordinary – ness’ of the interior at the same time as expressing its extraordinary raw quality – tin walls in dull grey with prints hanging on it!


  1. I really enjoyed getting into the subject.  I find the more I draw an image, the more it takes over.  After three or four times I can almost paint it from memory and then there is great freedom.  The challenge however is to keep in view what you are trying to say and the essential elements of the experience.
  2. I found the collage an interesting starting point and I feel that this proved quite successful for this image.  It proved also to be an excellent way to free up the picture from the start.
  3. There is a continual challenge of ‘composition’ for me…what to leave out…what to change. I don’t feel I make those kind of conscious decisions enough and I am often disappointed with the final composition.  It always feels too busy!  I think these decisions need to happen early on with the initial sketches.
  4. None of the paintings are what I want to say.  There are elements in all of them which I really like but I see them all as learning experiences.

About pbfarrar

I am an Australian living permanently in England. I have recently retired from the position of Principal of an independent school and have taken up the study of Fine Art with the OCA.
This entry was posted in Log notes - OCA - Painting 1. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Painting interiors

  1. Susan Ryder says:

    I am Susan Ryder! And I love your comments. You have so understood why I paint empty rooms, the feel that they are almost still lives , and most extraordinary of all, the fact that I’m not thinking of how I paint but concentrating on what I’m painting and somehow it seems to pour off the end of my brush.
    Thank you for such thoughtful writing,
    Best wishes Sue

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