Sunday morning, studio cat Ghost and I are sitting in the chair listening to Beethoven’s ninth and the birdsong, reading a ‘new’ book that arrived from a secondhand bookshop in the States.
I like these older books because they tend to have more in them, more thoughts and less how-to broken down to the nth. While the photos may be black and white, they’re full of gems that require “reading with a pencil”. Like this:
Painting yesterday at Staffin beach at low tide, I found myself enjoying the large boulders dotted around. When I later showed the in-house art critic my photos, he said my paintings looked postcard size. That’s when I realised that not only had I supersized the average rock I was painting, but that the pebbles I was using to hold down wet paintings were also bigger than normal. Do wonder what I might have painted if I’d had a bigger brush with me!
“If your work is original and if it draws deeply both from your imagination and from the world around you, your work will continue to have relevance. Take your inspiration first from your own experience. If you want to get fired up by the art of others, look at artists of the past or from other cultures, not your close contemporaries.” — James Gurney
Experience need not be far-flung. How long didn’t Monet paint his pond?
One of the hardest things for me when asked “what do you think of my painting” is not to hesitate too long before replying because this delay is invariably taken as a sign that I think it’s terrible rather than I’m thinking. Saying “let me gather my thoughts” to gain a few more seconds doesn’t reassure either.
We all want people to like our paintings, to be intrigued by them at least. Be patient and let someone have time to look.
While you’re waiting, think of a different question to ask. Be a bit more specific than “do you like it?” or “what do you think?”. Perhaps about something new you tried, the colour choices, how it fits with your other paintings. Start the conversation.
An interesting mix of paintings in response to April’s project, and thank you to everyone who’s shared theirs. I was a bit worried I’d put you off by setting a still life, and I do empathise with those of you who’re ambivalent about still life paintings. I often am too, but started loving them more when I met the still lifes of Giorgio Morandi, the way he plays with pattern and shape amongst the objects (such as this painting) his mastery of hatching (see example) creating form. Now still-life painting is a way to completely change pace when I need it. Enjoy the photos!
Which of these four photos shows ‘the truth’ of this painting?
Top left: Taken in my studio out of direct light (most of my photos are taken like this). Top right: Photo edited with ‘auto-adjust’ (subtle differences). Bottom left: Taken in my studio in direct sunlight. Bottom right: Taken in my studio with part of it in direct sunlight through the window
I think they’re all ‘true’ because what you see in a painting depends on the light. The more light there is, the more you’ll see down through the layers of colour; the less light there is, the less you see. That’s one of the joys of an original painting, what you see does change as the light changes through the day. One photo simply can’t convey it all.
Gorse adds a splash of colour before the greens return to the Skye landscape and continues flowering for weeks. Walking along a familiar path recently (more photos) I suddenly noticed this tree and the strip of stone wall, with the yellows across the hillside behind. There was something about the light at that moment that made my fingers itch to paint it, and so it’s the challenge for May.
For me the interesting things to explore are: 1. All those warm and cool greens: blue-greens of the grass and yellow-greens of the moss. An excuse to pull out all your blues and yellows to spend time colour mixing, and to also explore adding yellow and blue to tube greens.
2. The deep darks in the shadows: how dark can you make it with still having a suggestion of what’s going on. What colours to use, with perylene black feeling like an obvious choice as it makes also interesting greens when mixed with yellow. Alternatively, how colourful can you make this “dark”, or how purple (taking inspiration from the Impressionists).
3. How far across will the tree extend, which will partly be determined by shape of the composition, whether it’s square, portrait or landscape.
4. Compositional choices of things to leave out. The telephone pole seems a definite to me, but what about the fence behind it?
Medium, size and format are up to you. Have fun! I look forward to seeing what this inspires.
My first attempt I did using acrylic ink, one yellow and Payne’s grey only, with the aim of having a light touch, using lots of negative space. Working flat so the ink wouldn’t run.
I’ll be posting my thumbnails for this project and the notes I made on my potential to Patreon for project subscribers, along with a video of when I added the ink tree to a background done in acrylics, my third attempt at this. Become a subscriber here…
“When your utmost goal is simply to get better, all failures and successes are temporary because you will forever improve, given more time and more practice. You don’t define yourself by any single moment in time; you define yourself by an entire body of work in service of ongoing growth and development. Your pursuit ceases to be something you are aiming for and becomes a part of who you are.” — Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness 6 Principles to Crush in Life Without Burning Out
Don’t compare your paintings to last week’s, but to last year’s. Don’t destroy drawings that are unsatisfactory until at least a week has past, ideally more. Some will be as dire as you thought at the time, others will surprise you pleasantly or you’ll be in a mindset to see what they taught you.
Sitting in the sunshine at the shore looking out across the bay towards the Shiant Isles, that’s the inspiration behind this painting. It’s somewhere I often sketch, but haven’t done as a painting on a large canvas for some time.
If you’re wondering about the colour differences between these two photos, one was taken on my phone camera and the other on my SLR (“proper”) camera. In terms of which colour is truer to the original, it’s the first, but neither is perfect. What you see in a painting done with texture and multiple layers of paint changes with the light conditions too.
Here are a few work-in-progress photos from this painting:
“We often think of drawing as something that takes innate talent, but this kind of thinking stems from our misclassification of drawing as, primarily, an art form rather than a tool for learning.
“…Human beings have been drawing for 73,000 years. It’s an inextricable part of what it means to be human. We don’t have the strength of chimpanzees because we’ve given up brute strength to manipulate subtle instruments, like hammers, spears, and — later — pens and pencils.” — Matt Davis, Why drawing isn’t just an art