In the Studio: Process of Painting with Nick Brown

In this Process of a Painting, we follow painter Nick Brown through his creation of Gloaming which is part of his larger, ongoing series Ice House.

English-born and LA-based Nick Brown paints oversized and grandiose oil paintings of an unexpected LA subject: snow and ice. Journeying into surrounding mountain communities outside of Los Angeles, he photographs glimpses of what man has left behind to be re-subsumed by the earth…Architectural ruins, signs of old houses and lives once lived, and decaying wood burning ovens and chimneys all point to mother nature’s slow, yet beautiful decay. – Ellen C. Caldwell

Nick Brown |
Gloaming, 2013, oil on canvas, 96"x 72"x 19 1/2"

These photographs inspire his drawing and watercolor studies which serve as preparation for his final large-scale oil paintings. They are raw and wild – and invite you to ponder both the fleetingness of our existence and the permanence of nature in a beautifully aesthetic package.

In Brown’s own words, “this painting, Gloaming, is part of the ongoing Ice House series. The title comes from the pinkish colouration of the snow. It occurs from the light of the sunset reflecting on the snow. This acts as an additional symbolic element. The end of the day being poetically related to death. The snow is a seasonal metaphor for death…the paint is handled to create a state of transience. Basically, the work is a naturalistic vanitas.”

Preparatory Drawing: The drawing is made from a photograph that I have taken. I adjust elements from the photo to create a more dynamic composition. Ruler lines outside the frame of the drawing indicate how these elements are manipulated. This drawing is at a one inch-to-one foot scale for the final oil painting. 8"x 6" for the drawing and 8 feet x 6 feet for the oil.

Preparatory Watercolour: I make a watercolour from the drawing. I use this as a colour study and to help understand how the negative space will operate. Ultimately, the study is a finished piece in it's own right.

Drawing Canvas: Shows the unstretched canvas with the drawing transferred in oil paint.

The actual painting starts in thin watercolour-like washes. A two-foot step ladder in the foreground.

More thin washes.

Detail of washes.

Further development of thin areas. Negative space becoming apparent with drips being established to help represent dematerialization/ flux of the image.

Detail of water area.

Thin painting finished.

Detail establishing thicker paint work.

Palette with dollop of oil paint.

Detail of surface – slightly over an inch thick.

Detail of main subject. A stone chimney covered in snow. Rendered in a state of flux, mostly in negative space.

Nick Brown |
Gloaming, 2013, oil on canvas, 96"x 72"x 19 1/2"


Nick Brown was born in 1973 in Wolverhampton, England. He received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has taught at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY and currently teaches in the Department of the Arts at the UCLA Extension program in Los Angeles.  Brown's work has been shown at The Drawing Center, NY, NY; P.S. 122, NY, NY; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL; The Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL; as well as at galleries, both nationally and internationally.

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, writer, and editor.


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