Before you watch this, let me point out that the ‘action’ is speeded up five times actual speed and has the bits where nothing was happening edited out, which is a roundabout way of saying: I don’t paint this fast in real life and I don’t think you’d be interested in watching paint dry.
“Faced with a task, both the conscious and unconscious are called upon. … two individuals: the conscious one, intelligent and with a strong personality, dominates the shy and creative unconscious one. The conscious mind speaks ever louder and prevents the unconscious mind from expressing itself. Unless it is occupied with another task …
“The advice then? After hearing the problem to be solved, occupy your mind with a task that requires concentration, then get back to the problem. You will hopefully come up with innovative solutions.”
If there’s something in a painting that needs resolving but you’re not sure how, but it aside and do something else for a bit. It’s not giving up, it’s giving another part of your mind tim to ponder it, and hopefully figure it out.
<cue: Teddy Bear’s picnic music> If you go down to the woods today, beneath the trees where nobody sees, hide and seek as long as you please, ’cause that’s the way you slow down and really begin to see the colours and textures on individual trees.
One of the things I love about the Uig woodland in early spring is that the undergrowth hasn’t regrown yet, so it’s easy to step up to trees away from the path. Yesterday I found myself focusing on the colours and textures of tree trunks.
“When I’m painting a picture, yes I’m relying on my reference to guide me in the general terms of what goes where, but my aim is to apply paint in a variety of ways in order to create a lively and interesting paint surface.
“I try to fight the urge to render stuff in a straightforward or mannered approach, and instead search for oblique or unexpected solutions … My end goal is to produce a picture that may appear realistic when viewed from a distance, but is also interesting to observe up close as well.”
A painting that tells different stories from a distance and close up, rather than the same story, is far more interesting. The “rewarding close looking” works for abstract painting as well as it does for realism, and everything inbetween. It creates an interaction between the viewer and the painting as you step closer and see more. A painting that dissolves into smaller pieces of colour and marks the closer you get.
I’m delighted that so much enjoyment has been had looking closely at pebbles, seeing them as individuals rather than merely a tiny part of the foreground of a seascape. Thank you to everyone who’s shared their paintings this month. I’m sure you’re going to enjoy looking at the results as much as I have.
This was my first painting arranging the pebbles in a grid, done in my sketchbook:
“Making a painting is so hard it makes you crazy. You have to negotiate surface, tone, silhouette, line, space, zone, layer, scale, speed, and mass, while interacting with a meta-surface of meaning, text, sign, language, intention, concept, and history.
“You have to simultaneously diagnose the present, predict the future, and ignore the past—to both remember and forget. You have to love and hate your objects and subjects, to believe every shred of romantic and passionate mythos about painting, and at the same time cast your gimlet eye on it.
“Then comes color—even harder to negotiate.”
Amy Sillman, “On Color”, published in “Painting Beyond Itself: the Medium in the Post-Medium Condition”, Sternberg Press, 2016
If you’re thinking this quote isn’t exactly motivating, that it’s more inclined to make you give up painting that inspire you to fresh and new things, let me hasten to say that I have chosen it as a reminder that whilst painting can be extremely rewarding, it’s something with many facets to it and thus many challenges. If you’re finding it hard going on any particular day, not getting the results you see in your mind’s eye, cut yourself some slack.
This month’s painting project continues the seashore theme of March, focusing in on a detail on a beach rather than a wider view (as in February, August 2020 and June 2019). The reference photo is of some seaweed lying on the mixed black/white sand found on Skye, full of pattern and texture as well as “interesting greys“.
What appeals to me are the different textures, the deep darks in the seaweed, and the muted colours. I think it lends itself to exploring various things:
Transparent/opaque colours: being deliberate about choosing transparent colours to start building up layers of colours to get the sense of the depth and texture in the seaweed, then swapping to opaque colours for the topmost layers such as the grey stems. Use the white of the paper or canvas in the transparent layers rather than mixing in white. Use a thin glaze of opaque white as a layer to give a sense of water over elements.
Mixing colours: aim to mix every single colour, to not use any colour straight from the tube. To desaturate (mute) a colour, mix in a little of its complementary, so for yellows mix in purple. To get “interesting greys”, mixing complementaries together and explore the region of colour space where you’re in greys and browns. (I particularly enjoyed using dioxine purple acrylic inkwith yellows and oranges in my attempts at painting this.)
Granulating watercolour: The sand lends itself to granulating watercolour, where the pigment particles in the watercolour separate out rather and dry as specks of colour rather than smooth colour. Daniel Smith Lunar Black would be my starting point; mixed with any other watercolours it retains its strong granulating properties.
Texture paste: The sand could also be done with some texture paste, and here I’m thinking something with small granules, such as glass beads, or black lava texture paste flooded with fluid colour which will sink inbetween the granules.
Exaggerated colour: As well as working with desaturated colours, explore how far you can push (exaggerate or emphasise) a colour and still have it read as real. Getting the tone right will help this. So if something is a blue-grey, push the blue. If it’s a purple-pink grey, push the purple.
Collage: Using different papers for the seaweeds, torn edges and cut. The ribbon seaweed in particular I think could work well as a cut piece of thin paper.
Abstraction: Move away from representation and realism into abstract, focusing on the shapes and working these into your own patterns. Perhaps using shapes of flat opaque colour in the style of Matisse (see example).
To share your painting of this month’s project, or any previous project (it’s never too late to do any ) in the project photo gallery, simply email it to me on art(a)marion.scot or share it with me on social media. I look forward to seeing the results. For extra project-related content and personal help with your painting, become a project subscriber on Patreon here.
I had been thinking about writing up a painting project called “50 Shades of White” for an April Fools, using a photo of Ghost sleeping on the shelf in my studio. I’d put the ‘bubble paper’, which an order of paint/ink had been wrapped in, on the shelf, thinking it could be useful for collage. Next thing he’s on the shelf and fast asleep.
With the whites of Ghost, the roll of paper, the tub of primer (Michael Harding’s non-absorbent acrylic primer, for those curious) and its reflection in my watercolour set, and the whites of the pages of the closed book (volume two of the Matisse biography by Hilary Spurling), and the blacks of the shadows, it could be an interesting challenge. But not one I’m in the mood for right now, hence the thought of doing it as an April Fools’ project.
Then over breakfast this morning, reading various things as I do through an RSS Reader, I came across a long illustrated article on the use of white in art by Vinciane Lacroix titled “Challenge #9 White“, which I thought was far more fun. Even if you’re not in the mood for a long read, I think it’s worth taking a look at the photos of the paintings to refresh our thoughts on white as a colour. And let’s try, as Vinciane says, to “not pass by a white without observing the shades that dress it“.
“We are in the habit of imagining our lives to be linear, a long march from birth to death in which we mass our powers, only to surrender them again, all the while slowly losing our youthful beauty. This is a brutal untruth.
“Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.”
Katherine May, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, (via BrainPickings)
Sometimes ideas are fresh and growing. At other times, hibernating and resting. Creativity is seasonal, and tidal. Relax into its rhythms and ride the waves.
This video painting demo could be titled “And Then I Changed My Mind” because, as you’ll see, I keep lifting off the paint I’ve just put down as I decide it’s not working. There isn’t a soundtrack on this video because it’d simply be me repeatedly saying “and then I reached for some paper towel to lift that off “.
An alternative title could be “Making It Up As I Go Along”. It’s an example of what happens when I have an idea in my head and attempt to translate it into paint without a clear idea of how I’m going to get there or having already made an attempt at it, but I know I’ll recognise it when I see it.
I was using acrylic ink and tube paint on an A4 wood panel that’s been primed with clear gesso. I knew I wanted to start with Payne’s grey to give a dark layer, and the colours I would use that would give me “seaweed colours”, but beyond that my plan was simply “layers of colours”. These were Payne’s grey, white (Schmincke’s opaque white ink), yellow (swapping from ink to cadmium yellow paint when I wanted it more opaque), orange (PO71 which is transparent), magenta, and dioxaxine purple (which is becoming a new favourite colour).
One of the decisions I was making all the way through was transparent or opaque colours, though I’d be hard pushed to explain my thinking once I’m beyond the initial steps other because I was following impulses based on the colours to hand and the results so far, rather than it being clearly thought out.
UltimatelyI got the painting to a point where it started coming together for me, though now it’s dried I am wondering if it needs some more tonal variation (darker darks/lighter lights). I also need to fix the bit in the middle where I scratched the paint off down to the wood layer, either by doing more of this or painting over it. I just need to pysch myself up to dare to do it rather than being worried I’m going to mess up what is now working.
While I wait for myself to that point — and it will happen — I had another go at a painting loosely based on this reference photo, on A3 watercolour paper.
The painting was still wet when I took the photo — if you look closely you can see a sheen on parts of the blue-ish colour at the bottom right — and it might have pulled into the paper somewhat as it has dried. Adding some white to the leftover paint with a lot of water and dabbing this on the left (and top right-hand) has worked, I think, to give a sense of sand and shallow water. I still haven’t got the “ribbon seaweed” working to my satisfaction, but I like this overall and ultimately only I will know what’s ‘missing’.
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