Wrapping up warmly, I took my big camera out to enjoy this morning’s frost. These photos are a selection of what caught my eye. They are about enjoying my garden in late autumn, the way frost changes the appearance of things and catches the sunlight. I am not thinking of them as leading directly to paintings at the moment, though the patterns and strong lines have been added to other memories from the garden.
“An esthetic warning: always think twice before using white. It can give your pictures a chalky look. If you want to lighten a color, sometimes try using another color instead of white. If you want your pictures to have brilliance, think in terms of more color, not lighter color.Paul Strisik, “The Art of Landscape Painting”, page 13
I think the default setting ought to be “as often as possible” try something other than white, not “sometimes”.
Also a combination of something else and a little white rather than only white.
Not forgetting that if you’re painting on a white ground with acrylics or oils this can be used with a thin application of a transparent colour to ‘lighten’ the colour as you’d do with watercolour and paper. Or if the whole canvas is covered, you can paint an area white and then glaze over the top with a transparent colour.
And remembering that when a subject is white, it’s rarely “tube white” all over. Not even daisies.
“It is only the amateur who expects success. It is not possible to succeed. The mastery of one’s means is technique, and this can be attained, but the exhaustive expression of the inexhaustible suggestion of nature can never be attained.
“Yet we may form a sort of grammar of standards by which we may judge the coherency with which the language of art is spoken. I know no other way of judging a picture than by three rules or qualities–the originality of the conception based on the possibilities of that subject, the sense of beauty, the technical achievement.”Maria Oakey Dewing, “Flower Painters and What the Flower Offers to Art” in Art and Progress Vol. 6, No. 8 (Jun., 1915), pp. 255-262
Note to self: it wasn’t a dud flower painting, it was but another step in the “exhaustive expression of the inexhaustible suggestion of nature”.
If you’re striving for the unattainable, then what you judge to be unsuccessful results aren’t failures because you weren’t supposed to be able to do it anyway.
I couldn’t resist going out with my ‘big camera’ to a patch of trees at the bottom of the village where the autumnal leaf-fall is like walking into one of Klimt’s woodland paintings. I first discovered that the northeast did autumnal colours beautifully in 2014, heading back to Skye from Gardenstown (see this blog) and it’s a joy to now have it on my doorstep.
I did get asked twice what I was photographing, once by a cyclist and the other a farmer who drove up and told me he was looking for an escaped bull, to which my first thought was that this was what crofters tell wanderers on Skye too, but then I realised that the bull I’d seen in the neighbouring field this morning wasn’t there. I did manage not to enthuse to either of them about Klimt and limited myself to a simple “the colours of the leaves” explanation.
“Thinking you have no talent can be a self-fufilling prophecy. …
A positive attitude accelerates your development as a creative artist. … Emphasize the joy of creating, rather than the achievement of results. … Skills build confidence, so work to improve your drawing and refine your painting techniques …
While you’re working, notice the good things you’ve done — don’t dwell on mistakes. Set achievable goals: a confident line, effective use of values, interesting shapes.”Nita Leland, “The Creative Artist”, page 7
I know not to do it, yet I still do it on occasion. That back-and-forth motion with a pencil when drawing a line in the (mistaken) belief it’ll magically become a better line if I have numerous goes at it rather than putting it down in one swipe across the paper. I call it a “hedge-your-bets line”, where making a decision about what will be the “right” line feels impossible, so you create a variety of possibilities.
Saying you ought to draw a confident or decisive line when you lack confidence in your drawing doesn’t help. What if instead we go with “pick a line, any line, and draw in in one go from a starting point to an end point and then see what it turns out like”. Any line progresses a drawing. It may not end up as you’d envisaged but it may equally end up beyond what you’d thought you could do.
Drawing with pencil invites indecisiveness because you can reach for an eraser after any and every line. Drawing with pen has the advantage that you have to keep going, responding to what you’ve put down on the paper whether you like it or not. Drawing with watersoluble ink or watercolour pencils might be the comfort zone you’re looking for because you can ‘dissolve’ lines with a brush afterwards.
“I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me—and remembered feelings of them, which of course become transformed. I could certainly never mirror nature. I would like more to paint what it leaves me with.”Joan Mitchell, letter written in 1958
(in John I.H. Baur, Nature in Abstraction: The Relation of Abstract Painting and Sculpture to Nature in Twentieth-Century American Art, via David Zimmer)
Remembered from a single occasion.
Remembered from multiple occasions.
Remembered from visits years apart and remembered from frequent visits.
Remembered by telling someone else.
Remembered through listening to someone else’s remembering.
The layers of memory as layers in a painting.
Each memory in a different medium? A different type of mark?
“Since painting is a complex process, you need to be patient with yourself as you learn to master the craft. Your persistence is important, in order to move past your failures and frustrations. And finally, it is your passion…that propels you forward.”
Suzanne Brooker, “The Elements of Landscape Oil Painting”, page 195
The Three P’s of Painting: Patience, Persistence, Passion
Passion, enthuasiasm, desire … perhaps the easiest to have in abundance.
Persistence, endurance, determination … it’s a long-distance event not a sprint. Pace yourself.
Patience … the hardest as we expect to learn in less time than is reaistic. Think about how many years it took you to learn to read and write, how we start one letter at a time not with five-syllable words such as phthalocyanine (aka phthalo, as in the blue).
“… if in the process of doing [creative exercises] you don’t make at least one thing that you’re too embarrassed to show anyone, then you’re probably doing it wrong. As hard as it can be, the goal is to let go and let things flow. You’re likely to make some genuinely bad stuff along the way, but I’d wager that the benefits will end up outweighing all that.”
Steven Belledin, ‘Exercise Those Chops‘ on Muddy Colors
Your “bad stuff” may not be someone else’s idea of “bad”.
Your “bad stuff” today may be better than your “good stuff” from a few years ago.
Don’t focus on comparison but on personal exploration, discovery, development. Focus less on and care less about outcome than process.
At worst you’ll end up with a ruin.
” Concentration is so hard to achieve, and even harder to maintain for hours. The key for me is to solve one set of problems at a time. I try to maintain a constructive level of dissatisfaction, and to hang in there until I really feel it can’t be improved.”
Note his words “constructive level”. None of that sweeping “it’s all rubbish” defeatist thinking.
Flavour what you’re doing with both spice and sugar, pessimism and optimism, not-yet-achieved and achieved.
…when you’re drawing, the pencil is responding to what is going on just around it. When you’re doing a drawing, at any moment the pencil is at one particular point on the paper and you’re thinking: ‘where am I going to go next?’
…A drawing is fundamentally improvisatory, in the sense that one is continually finding a way forward in response to what is going on around.Tim Ingold, “Lines, Drawings, the Human Condition“, Drawing Matter, 13 October 2021
A drawing is a series of decisions and practice is what makes these decisions instinctive. As you learn to know what will happen when you do something, and what to do in order to get a particular result, you think less about how to do it and simply get on with the doing thereof.
Every drawing starts with deciding what pencil to use. The choice of how soft or hard the lead in that pencil is, which in turn in a decision made when you acquired it. Sometimes it seems the decision is made for you in that you can find only one pencil, but this is based in the decision about where you keep your pencils.
Will you sharpen the point or use it as it is? How are you holding the pencil? As you would for writing or gripping it like a DIY brush for painting a wall. Right at the point or a bit further back? How hard will you press the pencil against the paper?
Things you are consciously thinking about in your drawing at the moment can become as instinctive as these fundamental choices. There is no short cut, just practice, over time, until the decision making becomes so fast you don’t truly realise you are making decisions.