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  • Writer's pictureBeverley Johnson

The role of chance in a painting

Yesterday, I had one last go at a painting I’d been planning to abandon. The colours were muddy and there was too much going on. You just didn’t know where to look. It had started with some lovely bright under layers, so it was all the more disappointing that it became dirty. I was ready to put it on the scrapheap.

It had started with some lovely, bright under layers

The day before, I had been working on a small painting that had also become too busy. Inspired by glancing through photos on my phone, I’d livened it up with some passages of bright cadmium red. I decided some passages of red might bring unity to the large painting too.

A large painting needs lots of paint. I’d been watching a video about extending your paint with mediums so took the opportunity to try this out by adding gloss gel to some paint from an old tube of red I was keen to use up. I also decided to use an enormous brush – 20cm wide – that I’d unearthed from my garage clutter.

All this put me in the mood to experiment freely. It was no longer about whether the painting was good or bad, but about having fun while I tried out a new material and a long-lost brush.

The wide strokes of red immediately brought the painting together - it had promise again.

While the paint was drying, I looked at images of water and decided to give the painting a watery feel. I wanted to add dark areas and chose to use glazes to encourage the feeling of looking through the surface of the painting, like looking through water. A glaze is a layer of water/medium with a little paint mixed in. It’s transparent, which allows you to see the layers of paint underneath. I made a glaze from deep purple paint mixed with plenty of water and a small amount of my gloss gel – just enough to give the glaze a slight sheen, like the surface of a lake.

Then I painted thin layers of the glaze over parts of the painting, leaving some of the red and the interesting background still showing. While the glaze was drying on my easel, I sprayed water onto a few areas to encourage drips. Some drips were purple from the glaze, others were clear water which ran through the glaze revealing stripes of the colour underneath.

The painting isn’t finished, but it is more cohesive and interesting than when my painting session began. The red has brought it to life. The purple has given it depth. There are mini compositions in the details, which may inspire new, smaller, simpler paintings.

These mini compositions happened by accident. It’s much more difficult to achieve such effects when you’re trying. It was by experimenting with materials and equipment and just letting the paint do its own thing that a more interesting result came about. So often we try to control our paintings and our lives, but many of the best things happen by chance.


What role does chance play in your life and work? Do you thrive on happy accidents? Do you find the best things happen when you’re not trying?

Please let me know in the comments.

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Apr 07, 2021

I love the things that your 'play' brought out in this painting! I feel like much of my work is a result of 'happy accidents' and am hopeful that over time, I'll be able to direct it a bit more LOL!

Beverley Johnson
Beverley Johnson
Apr 07, 2021
Replying to

Thank you, Tamara.

It seems that when we try to direct a painting, we kill the life in it.

In my next layer, I will probably try to nudge it in a direction again, which may or may not work! Then it will be back to a layer of experimentation. Back and forth until eventually, hopefully, something works

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