Monday Motivator: Cézanne and Paper as the Central Protagonist

‘For Cézanne, paper equals paper. Mostly unpainted areas of creamy sheets form the paper labels on wine and liquor bottles. Arcs of color or pencil indicate how these paper rectangles bow to adhere to a rounded form …

‘Usually relegated to a supporting, or background, role—indeed the very terms for paper are “support” and “ground”—paper is instead the central protagonist in Cézanne’s still lifes. The nomenclature “work on paper” is similarly misleading. The work is not on paper, it is paper. Watercolor’s luminosity—its very being—is wholly dependent on the sheet on which it is painted; its tone, its brilliance, a balance between transparent pigment and the bright paper seen through.

‘… As an actor in Cézanne’s compositions, paper represents both opaque surfaces (from paper to cloth to porcelain) and translucent ones—those of glasses, carafes, and bottles.’

Jodi Hauptman, The Beauty and Life of Materiality: On Cézanne’s Drawings. in the exhibition catalogue “Cézanne Drawing

Smudge Cat

Smudge, the friendliest, purriest, tickle-my-tummyest, yellow-roses-are-the-tastiest of cats, has gone to chase butterflies with her brother Graphite.

Monday Motivator: An Edge is Where Paint Changes Colour

“Pissarro was the subtlest of the leading Impressionists, devising ways of giving distinctive presence to each part of a painting, by, for example, defining the edges of objects with the paint that surrounded them.

“For him, an edge was a place where paint didn’t stop but only changed color.”

Peter Schjeldahl, “My Struggle with Cézanne“, The New Yorker 21 June 2021

Depicting an edge using what’s around it is not something I’ve consciously thought about, other than when using ’empty’ negative space. Another complication challenge to embrace.

Camille Pissarro, Self-Portrait, Etching, Art Institute Chicago

Photos: Lealt Falls and Clouds

It’s only taken me 13 years to stop at the car park for Lealt Falls and take a look. It was fairly early (before seven) and I had to it myself (except for whoever was in the tent bigger than their car that was tucked around the corner from the main car park). I’d met up with someone in Portree at six to deliver a commissioned painting, and decided to drive home ‘the long way’ as it would be quiet.

What also caught my eye were the patterns in the clouds above the Trotternish Ridge, with patches of blue and sunlight. I can’t decide whether my favourite photo is the one with the ‘bump’ in the ridgeline or where it’s smooth like the clouds.

A bit further north, the light breaking through the clouds over the bay at Staffin compelled me to stop again.

Before Lealt Falls, I also stopped for a few snaps of the Storr and loch.

And what would a trip around the north end be without at least one sheep photo?This lamb’s striped socks caught my eye.

Monday Motivator: Go On and On

“This seems to me how I work, once I’ve started in a place I don’t find I want to move because I’m trying to do something and you’re never really satisfied with what you’re doing so you keep on trying and the more you try the more you keep on thinking of new ways of doing the particular subject and so you just go on and on.

“You might even turn round in the middle of doing a certain painting and you see something else, so, you run back and get another canvas and try and do that, but it’s still the same spot, really, and it’s probably the same feeling you are trying to grasp.”

Joan Eardley, Arts Council interview 1961 (quoted in “Joan Eardley: A Sense of Place” by Patrick Elliott)

If you’re stuck for what to paint, have another go at something you’ve painted before, perhaps a subject you haven’t painted for a while or a painting where you feel you didn’t quite do the subject justice. I’d avoid putting up the first version where you can see it as you paint so you’re not constantly comparing. Look at it, think about what you like and don’t, then put it aside and don’t peak at it again until you’ve finished your new painting.

Seascape Painting: Memories of Scottish Beaches

I painted this seascape for a friend in London who loves the sea, for a specific spot in her house where it’ll get some side lighting but couldn’t have too much blue in it. Which meant it was ideal for iridescent colours and the fun of mixing “interesting greys and silvers” whilst having a pop of colour in the foreground.

“Memories of Scottish Beaches: West and East”. Mixed media on wood panel. 59x84cm. (Don’t worry, it hasn’t been framed skew, it was still loose in the frame when I took this photo!)

Working on a wooden board primed with clear gesso, which lets the wood grain/colour be part of the painting, I started with Payne’s grey acrylic ink, for rocks in the foreground and islands on the horizon. I sprayed this with water, letting it drip, then swapped to oil paint to start adding colour to the rocky shore. The acrylic ink dried quickly as it was a relatively warm day.

The oil paint colours I used were Prussian blue, orange, lemon yellow, violet (PV23), and white. These mix to create beautiful grey, shifting from blue-greys to brown-greys (orange dominant in the mix) to pink or purple greys (violet dominant) and green greys (yellow).

At this stage the sky is still too bitty and busy, with too much of the same sized brushmark. But being oil paint I knew I could come back to it later to blend this and add more white.

I brushed some grey into the sea before moving outside as I wanted to thin some oil paint with solvent and splatter it. (Solvent needs good ventilation and I try never to use it inside my studio.)

This photo shows the splattered paint more clearly. I’m trying to do with oil paint what I do with acrylics. One big difference is the length of time I have to wait for it to dry before continuining, but I’m getting better at having the patience for this. You can also see that I’ve added colour to the islands on the horizon.

I don’t have any more in-progress photos, but what I did next was decide there needed to be more dark in the foreground and so added some more Payne’s grey acrylic ink to the area and sprayed it, knowing it would stay only where there wasn’t oil paint.

The vertical lines you can see are from the clear gesso, applied with a coarse-hair brush.

Lastly I splattered some iridescent silver acrylic over the sea, then ran a brush through sections of it.

I like the way the dripped ink from the very first layer shows through; to me it gives a sense of movement and weather. Lastly, when it was all dry to the touch, I added a layer of gloss Gamvar varnish to protect the painting.

“Memories of Scottish Beaches: West and East”, 59x84cm. SOLD

Monday Motivator: Your Brain Didn’t Evolve to Make You Happy

“…your brain didn’t evolve to make you happy. Happiness is not its purpose. Its only goal is to keep you alive as long as possible, to survive. Anything that pushes against that very small comfort zone will automatically be suspected as dangerous.

“The brain is prone to interpret change as dangerous because all it knows is that, up until now, whatever you’re doing is working and is keeping you alive, so changing that path is not desirable. … This is why changing habits is so difficult …

“As you move through life, keep your eyes open. Be curious, be hungry, be excited. … Use fear as a means to guide you, and translate the fear and anxiety associated with change into excitement and curiosity.”

Miranda Meeks, “Always Keep Your Eyes Open“, Muddy Colors

There’s no doubt it’s frustrating to find yourself again doing the very thing you’ve been trying not to do when painting or drawing, whether it’s getting absorbed by small details when you’re trying to work in a loose and expressive style (and I’m thinking here of a friend who draws architecture with such ease) or doing gestural marks when you’d intended to be controlled (and I’m thinking here of myself). As with so many things in art, the answer lies in practice and persistence, much as we might wish that it would just happen now.

Monsieur P big pencil

July’s Painting Project: Rain Shower at Thorntonloch Beach

I took the photo that is the starting point for this month’s project on the beach at Thorntonloch on the southern east coast of Scotland, near Dunbar. I think the contrast between the clear blue sky on the right and the incoming rain from the left holds all sorts of possibilities for a painting.

The original photo, with the rain blowing in from the north.

Whilst it’s the edge of the rain that is the most appealing to me, you could create a composition that doesn’t have any rain at all, or one that’s mainly sky or all about the greens in the foreground. It could be a moody Turner-influenced skyscape with layers of transparent glazes, or a wildly expressive drawing in the style of Joan Eardley (see “Approaching Storm” and “Stormy Sky“) or with strong opaque colours in the skye as in her paintings (“Boats on the Shore“).

I think it could be a wonderfully moody black-and-white painting — I’d be tempted to try it with black ink, working wet into wet — or one with minimal colour, say a touch of Prussian blue and a splash of green in the foreground.

The photo converted to black and white, and shadows increased to emphasise the drama in th sky
The photo edited to increase the light, showing more of the colours in the foreground. The reflected blue-greys of the sky in the puddles of water could be a way to lead the eye through a composition from the foreground to the sky.

For me the starting point would be deciding what appeals most to you in the photo, followed by deciding on format (square, horizontal/landscape or vertical/portrait) and then thumbnailing compositions to ensure that you’re not being distracted away from what you decided was the focus or key element. Happy painting!

As always, you’re invited to share a photo of your painting(s) for inclusion in the next project photo gallery. And if you’d like help with your painting and/or feedback, sign up as a project subscriber on my Patreon page here.

Monday Motivator: The Act of Painting

“…the act of painting is not an intellectual act dictated by reason. It is an act that is swept very physically by the sensuality of the brushstroke.

“I’ve always felt that some kind of intellect, some kind of preordering, some kind of criticism of the thing before it is done, has always interfered with my ability to do a painting.”

Poet Derek Walcott, interview “The Art of Poetry No. 37” in Paris Review, Issue 101, Winter 1986

It’s a fine line dividing decisions-whilst-painting from making judgements on the overall outcome or result as we’re still wrist-deep in creating the piece. Making judgements about what we’re doing as we doing it is part of painting and impacts what we do next. Do I swap to a smaller or larger brush? Add more X to this colour to make it more Y? What do I do to get that bit to where I want it to be.

Monday Motivator: Mark Making

“Mark-making is the broad term used to include all marks that are made visible as a manifestation of applied or gestural energy.

“… There are an infinite number of marks possible, and our nomenclature for them is very limited–lines, dots, dashes, smudges, etc. …

“A drawing is… a trail of contained energy, incorporating the history of its own making.”

“Drawing Projects” by Nick Maslen and Jack Southern, p20

Deliberate and considered, desired or unwanted, accidental and unintentional, delicate or bold, closely observed or generalised .. the list of words we can use to describe types of marks is perhaps longer than the list describing their shape and texture. But ultimately mark making is simply artspeak for everything that’s put onto what started as a blank sheet of paper.

I wonder what the collective noun would be: “A portfolio of mark making? A concert? A festival? A murmuration?