Monday Motivator: Embrace Influence

“All artists’ work, if it ever sees the light of public day, enters that public domain to invite the response of a public among which artists themselves are numbered. And all artists are creatures of their time and place, and the art alike of past and present is not to be banished. Bound by no oath of creative isolation, they are entirely free to take from the work of others just what they find useful, or stimulating, or necessary to the work of the moment. The artist who admits no influence, betrays no curiosity, claims the uniqueness of his vision, is hardly an artist at all.”

William Packer, “Tain-Shan Schierenberg”, 2005, page 14

Whether we hate a painting (“what were they thinking?”) or love it (“wish I’d painted that”) or are intimidated by it (“I could never do that”), looking at other people’s art expands our own in ways that are unpredictable. It’s like trying different mediums; the outcome is rarely what you think beforehand and delights can come from unexpected directions.

Creating a copy of a painting has a long tradition in Western art. Besides the technical aspects of paint manipulation, it makes you spend more time looking at a painting that we typically do. If you’re working from a postcard you bought in the gallery shop, you’ll have to extrapolate to create a larger painting because the information isn’t there. If you’re working from a zoomable photo on a museum website, you could stress far too much time trying to replicate every single brushstroke. Be like Goldilocks and find a middle point that sees you painting your own version informed and inspired by the original but not trying to be an art forger.

Claude Monet (1840-1926), Wisteria, 1917-1920, oil on canvas, 150,5 x 200,5 cm, Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

My Attempts at the Furrow Patterns Painting Project

The patterns of the ploughed fields that are the inspiration for this month’s painting project (details here) have continued to capture my attention even as in real life they’ve become a different pattern with the greens of crops growing and present all sorts of other possible paintings. I’ve had a few attempts, feel that I’m getting closer each time to a result that pleases me as a whole not only in parts, but aren’t there yet.

For my first attempt, I absolutely had to use black lava paste to convey the sculptural and textural sense, but neglected the perspective in my, urm, let’s call it enthusiasm. After applying the texture paste, and without waiting for it to dry, I dropped acrylic ink onto the surface and sprayed this with water to get it to spread, then left it overnight to dry.

Acrylic on board, 30x30cm

This is what the painting looked like when I conceded defeat, and lectured myself about why a bit of planning and thumbnailing can go a long way. I won’t repeat what the in-house art critic nor the peanut gallery had to say.

I like the effect the black lava paste gives, but need to have the patience to scratch in the perspective lines more carefully. Once it’s dry it’s not an easy thing to change. To help myself with this, I created a photo collage with various other reference photos, ready for the day I slow down with my sketchbook and make a considered study of the shapes, angles, and perspective. At the moment I’m procrastinating by calling it a project for winter.

My second attempt was mixed media on paper, trying to get a sense of the broken-up section adjacent to the furrows. The weather in my painting turned rather stormy, perhaps a reflection of my mood as things didn’t come quite come together for me.

Mixed media on A3 watercolour paper (watercolour, acrylic ink, acrylic paint, coloured pencil)

My third attempt was also mixed media on watercolour paper, but I started by applying some gesso to paper to help create texture. This is a technique I tend to forget about, maybe because my bottle of gesso isn’t next to my paint tubes, but can be very effective. I decided to make more of the hedgerow on the left so the composition had more colour in the lower area.

Watercolour and acrylic on A3 watercolour paper

Much of it was worked wet into wet, spraying acrylic ink to encourage it to spread, but also trying not to obscure all of the already dried Payne’s grey ink lines of where the hedge separates the two fields. I was pleased with where I got to with this painting, and stopped to let it dry overnight with the thought of adding a small farmhouse in the distance the next day. That hasn’t happened yet; I’m procrastinating by telling myself I need to practice some farmhouses first to ensure I don’t ruin this painting. Or maybe I’ll decide it doesn’t need it.

Monday Motivator: Observe but Transform

“When I make a painting, I observe, but I also transform. You’re observing that they are this color, this shape, this size. They look like this, they feel like this, they smell like this. And then you try to put those things together in a painting.

“… You’re always frightened to start—you don’t want to because it’s too difficult. It’s much easier to look out of the window or read a book. But then, when you’re actually in it, you escape from everything.”

Rose Wylie, “Reading Upside Down: A Conversation with Rose Wylie” by Emily Stokes in Paris Review, 7 December 2021

Take a piece of paper and a pencil or pen or some paint and begin. Somewhere, anywhere. The less you feel able to because of world / national / personal events, the more it’s probably time well spent. Start anyway, setting aside the expectation and desire for a worthy result. Give yourself 15 minutes to push through the anguish, then put it aside and start again.

Monday Motivator: Just What Colour is ‘Sky Blue’?

“A serious pitfall when reading thousand-year-old Arabic texts is to assume that colour words then meant the same things then as they do now. This can completely throw off an investigation into art materials.

The most vivid example is ahmar, one of the first words anyone learns in Arabic, meaning red. It has always meant red, but the concept of red has not always been the same. In the 11th century, brown was seen as a shade of red … as for green, akhdar, beware of assuming it necessarily describes colour … because it’s equally likely to signify “fresh” …

“Sky blue” is not necessarily a light blue: in the clear dry air of the Middle-East, where sunlight is intense, the sky can look as dark as lapis lazuli, and the two are often equated. Today’s “blue”, azraq, which describes some ink recipes, may have simply meant they’re “shiny”, not blue at all.

Joumana Medlej, “Inks and Paints of the Middle East“, page 13

Jourmana Medlej is a London-based, Beirut-born artist who specializes in new and historical Kufic calligraphy (the origin of all Arabic calligraphy), and in preparing natural art materials. Her Twitter feed and Instagram are among my favourite reads; a guide into cultural styles, history, art and calligraphy I know so little about. And then there’s her treasure boxes…!

Ploughed Field Painting by Vincent van Gogh

Thinking about this month’s furrows painting project (instructions here), and how Vincent van Gogh might have painted “interesting browns”, led me to searching the Van Gogh Museum website where I came across this painting which I think fits the project rather well:

Ploughed Fields (‘The Furrows’) by Vincent van Gogh 1888, oil on canvas, 72.5 cm x 92.5 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

In his letter to his brother Theo of 25 September 1888, Van Gogh drew a sketch of his painting, describing it as “canvas of ploughed fields.. A blue sky with white clouds. An immense field of an ashy lilac, furrows, innumerable clods of earth, the horizon of blue hills and green bushes and small farmsteads with orange-coloured roofs.

He mentions it again in another letter to Theo written the next day: “the clods of earth were soft in colour, like a pair of clogs … with the forget-me-not sky with its flecks of white cloud.” In a letter a few days later he describes the painting as “calmer than some other canvases.”

On the Van Gogh Museum website you can zoom right in on the painting to really see the colours (click here, then use the icons towards the right of the page). Below is a detail from one area:

The colours are all desaturated (that is muted, not intensely colourful), but look at the variety used to paint the ploughed soil. It’s the variety of colours that makes it visually interesting, along with the brushwork (look at the size of brushstrokes as well as the directions). Browns that lean into yellow, orange, red, and green, plus blue- and green-greys. Individually the colours may not sing a strong tune, but collectively they’re melodious.

Don’t aim to mix one ‘perfect brown’ that you’d then use for all the ploughed earth, but to create a range of ‘nearly brown’. Squint at the photo and you’ll see there’s a limited tonal range; it’s all about the gently variations in colour.

Monday Motivator: Change and Difference

“Each work joins the next in a line that defines the passage of my life, marking and accounting for my time and creating a momentus which gives me a strong sense of anticipation for the future. Each piece is individual, but I also see the line combined as a single work.

“Time and change are connected to place. Real change is best understood by staying in one place. When I travel, I see differences rather than change.”

Andy Goldsworthy, “Time”, page 7

Sometimes an idea sparks a tangential line as we try something different; sometimes it’s a permanent change in direction.

uig woodland backlit leaves

Seascape Painting: Tempestuously

This painting came from walking along the sea wall and beach at Gardenstown, in northeastern Scotland, watching the tide coming in over the rocks. The title of the painting, “Tempestuously”, came from an early morning discussion I had with artist Liza Hawthorne, and it’s up to you to decide whether it applies to the weather, sea, or the artist.

This sequence of photos takes you from the beginning of the painting, where I started adding blues over the underpainting of magenta, orange, and yellow, to the finished painting.

The finished painting, plus a couple of detail photos

“Tempestuously”, 100x100cm (39×39 inches), acrylic on canvas, £795, available from my studio

Monday Motivator: Storms

Monsieur P Artiste Monday Motivator from Marion Boddy-Evans Isle of Skye art Studio
Monsieur P Artiste Monday Motivator from Marion Boddy-Evans Isle of Skye art Studio

“Storms can be seen and drawn in two ways: firstly as a subject and secondly as a gestural storm on the paper. The very nature of both is turmoil and an interweaving of elements, inks, makes, water, and tossed objects.”

Sarah Simblet, The Drawing Book, page 200

Vincent van Gogh might be said to symbolize a third storm, that of the artist’s temperament, our emotional weather.

In 1890 he wrote to his mother about a painting with a stormy sky he’d done: “And while my illness was at its worst, I still painted, among other things a reminiscence of Brabant, cottages with mossy roofs and beech hedges on an autumn evening with a stormy sky, the sun setting red in reddish clouds.

Reminiscence of Brabant” by VIncent van Gogh. 1890, oil on canvas on panel, 29.4 cm x 36.5 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Painting Project: Furrow Patterns

It’s time for a new painting project and this month it’s a subject that’s got strong pattern plus the added challenge of making a colour not known for its vibrancy into something visually intriguing. That is, to mix “interesting browns”.

Here’s the reference photo that is the starting point (click on photo to enlarge). I took it on one of the numerous small roads between Cuminestown and Gardenstown in Aberdeenshire. The dominant element is the stripes of the ploughed field. But there’s also the splash of green fields, the yellow of gorse bushes along the edge, dots of sheep, and part of a farmhouse towards the right. Plus the march of fence posts, electricity poles, and in the distance a wind turbine.

Pattern of ploughed furrows in brown soil Scotland

COLOUR: How to make a large area of one colour, albeit varying tones, visually interesting? You might do it with variations of brown, all those earth colours, plus strong dark such as a sepia. You might exaggerate colour, using purple or deep reds for the darker tones. Vary the mark making as well as colours, to suggest texture. Maybe use some texture paste?

PERSPECTIVE: There’s the challenge of getting the perspective on the furrows working, with them narrowing into the distance and changing direction with the curves of the hillside. The pattern of light and dark on the furrows, as well as one of texture with them being smooth on the top and rough in the bottom.


COMPOSITION:

  • Maybe crop the photo top and bottom, eliminating some of the sky and foreground. Consider a square format as well as a vertical.
  • Might you leave out the poles and/or the wind turbine as these might distract the eye too much from the pattern of the furrows?
  • Give the green field on the left more space in the overall composition, letting it be a larger element to increase its colour dominance to balance out the browns

If you’d like your painting to be included in the project photo gallery, email me a photo with a few sentences about your painting or share it via social media by the end of the month.

For individual help with these painting projects, and feedback on your final painting, sign up on my Patreon page here.

Monday Motivator: Confirming by Misjudging

“An artist’s early work is inevitably made up of a mixture of tendencies and interests, some of which are compatible and some of which are in conflict with each other. As the artist picks his way, rejecting and accepting as he goes, certain patterns of enquiry emerge. His failures are as valuable as his successes, in that by misjudging one thing he confirms something else, even if at the time he does not know what that something else is.”

Bridget Riley, “Mondrian Perceived, 1997”, in “The Eye’s Mind: Bridget Riley Collected Writings 1965-2019”, page 378

I remember a figure-painting evening class, back when I was living in London, in which you picked three colours and used these for light, medium and dark tones, then chose another three colours to overpaint and refine the tones. My painting went from bad to worse to dire. The tutor tried hard to be encouraging about it, but at the end of the session I could but laugh at my painting and we ended up agreeing it clearly wasn’t an approach that was working for me. Eventually I’d realise my issue was that I get seduced by colour regardless of tone, and start to deliberately add darker tone as a step in creating a painting.