Perhaps Being Over-Ambitious (Part 2)

(You’ll find Part One here.)

Painting River Rha WaterfallSo having stared at my painting-in-progress on and off, pondered it and where I might go with it a lot, visited the location again, I decided I liked the brushwork on the painting too much to risk messing it up and so would not continue working on it. Just yet, anyway.

Instead, I would start another painting on the same subject, and push this further, using layers of line along with brushmarks. And while I was feeling brave and bold, I’d do it big, so set up two 100x100cm canvases on side-by-side easels. (It did mean the In-House Art Critic was temporarily unable to get easily to the chair in the Studio Reading Corner.)

Work in progress

These painting-in-progress photos are unfortunately a little out of focus (taken in the low winter light at the end of the day).
painting in progress

I liked where I’d got to, but felt I’d lost the energy of my original layers of mark making and it lacked line. So implementing my rule of “be dramatic, you can’t tweak a painting into working”, I took a handful of acrylic paint markers and worked a layer of line over the painting, trying to do it as freely as I would if I were drawing in an initial layer of continous line. It was both frightening and liberating, and the further I went, the freer I became.

I deliberately stopped to take a photo of the purple line I added to the waterfall rocks, which is where I started adding the line layers, so I’d have photographic evidence a reminder. It felt over-the-top when I started, but had additional line layers of darker colours on top of this.

Studio Cat Ghost also helped.

I don’t have any other progress photos, but it involved overpainting some of the line to knock it back, some glazing to enrich colours, and just generally “some more”, until I started to think I was happy with it. I showed the In-House Art Critic, who told me to stop. I was surprised as I’d thought he’d say I should hide more of the line, but he said that he liked how the painting reveals more and more mark making as you get closer.

“Never Still”. Diptych 200x100cm (two panels of 100x100cm).

A few detail photos:

And the full painting, showing you where the details come from:

The title “Never Still” comes from my friend Lisbeth in Australia who, when I sent her photos, said: “I think the lines, and the colours you’ve chosen for them, give the painting a dynamism that real life has — nothing is really ever still, even rocks. Nothing is still inside us as well.

Monday Motivator: Surrender to the Song

Jerry Fresia art quote

Monday Motivator Motivation Quote

“It is not especially easy, but when we turn off that little critical voice and when we really don’t look for results, we are far more able to surrender to that song from within.

“The irony, of course, is that when all this energy pours through us, the process becomes that wonderful state of being that makes art possible. The results are so much better. And paintings are just those things that happen as we discover and create who we are.”

Jerry Fresia, Pretend You Are Dancing a Painting

Jerry Fresia art quote

Jerry’s philosophy is “complete at every stage“: “I am suggesting that we ought to think of a painting (and making art generally) less as a manufactured product and more of something alive that grows and moves in unexpected directions, not unlike jazz improvisation or even like the growth of a child.”

He explains it in his book “The Practice and Philosophy of French Impressionism” (follow the link from his website and click on preview).

Perhaps Being Over-Ambitious (Part 1)

Painting River Rha Waterfall

Let me start by saying this story has a happy ending, in the shape of the largest painting I have ever created 200x100cm (78×39″). A painting I love, as does the in-house art critic and and the close friends I have sent photos to, and my Mum.

The story starts with my intoxication by the double waterfall and River Rha tumbling through the rocks (see photos) which I visited for the first time last month and then did multiple times thanks to a stretch of dry weather. I enthused so the in-house art critic came along once, together with his pastels, to sit in temperatures <6°C in the icy fine spray off the waterfall. That’s love!

River Rha Pastels

My fingers itched to paint the location, to translate my sketches and mental images onto canvas. But wasn’t I being over ambitious the voice-of-doubt kept whispering? How would I be able to convey the sense of water when the colours of the river were the same as the hillside? The only “water colour” was the white of the waterfall and rapids. Would I be able to get the layers upon layers of vegetation, the sense of the steep hillside, the stillness, the presence of the rocks? All these doubts, despite the fact that I had sketches that I was pleased with, that could lead the way.

Sketchbook Marion Boddy-Evans

Sketchbook Marion Boddy-Evans

Sketchbook Marion Boddy-Evans

Sketchbook Marion Boddy-Evans

What’s wrong with being over ambitious occasionally, I kept telling myself. I might just pull it off, and how wonderful wouldn’t that be. I decided to work over a painting that hadn’t gone anywhere, removing the pressure of a pristine canvas, whilst stimultaneously giving me a starting layer for the hillside. The long format also echoed the format of my sketchbook. Here’s what it looked like when I started adding the first reworking layer, in Prussian blue.

Painting River Rha Waterfall

Prussian blue favourite colour

A bit later:
Painting River Rha Waterfall

My palette, which will make more sense to those I’ve had conversations with about putting minimal paint out at any one time:
Palette of Marion Boddy-Evans

And a bit later still:
Painting River Rha Waterfall

Detail:
Painting River Rha Waterfall

Problem now was that I really liked where I was with this, but could see various directions I could go with it. (Also known as the “don’t mess it up stage“.) Which would I choose? Stick with brushwork only? Add a layer of line, my current enthusiasm? Texture? How far towards detailed realism? Which would I be able to pull off most successfully, which would lead to disaster?

Unable to decide, I stopped. Time for pondering, and working up courage.
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Sketching River Rha

If a Paint Tube Cap Breaks

“I have a question regarding acrylic paint in tubes. When the lid breaks, as it so often does on a new tube, is it okay to keep the paint in a small glass jar and should I add water to it to keep it from going solid.” — Lyn

Yes, and if the lid is airtight you shouldn’t have to add water to it. You’ll easily tell if it’s drying though, and then a little water does the trick, just don’t leave it for weeks before you check! If in doubt, put a piece of clingfilm over the top before screwing on the lid for a tighter seal.

It’s worth saving caps from used-up tubes as spares (in wherever you put your tubes, not in a never-to-be-found-again safe place). Also check the size of other things with caps, starting with your toothpaste, as often while the cap itself is bigger overall than a paint tube’s but the screw thread is the same size.

If you’re in a hurry, invert the tube in a container with a little water, enough to cover the broken cap.

Paint Tubes From My Stash Skye Artist

Photos: Word Prompt Charts for November

Word Prompt Drawings November

Another month of intriguing and imaginative drawings in response to the word prompts! My thanks to Tessa, Eddie and Margaret for sharing your creativity and tenacity.

Tessa’s chart. I love how dancing (19) extends into the other blocks, extending the joy of dancing across rigid lines.
Word Prompt Drawings

From Eddie: “Here is my attempt for this month. Some were quite challenging but all were fun.” I love the black ink used in (2) and (3) for the sense of smoke, making my mind wonder whether it was the candle that caused the fire that led to the smoke. I think my favourite is (13) camouflage though, as it made me look really closely!
Word Prompt Drawings

From Margaret: “I think my rabbit (28) is off on an adventure. Deliberately went carton like on the fire engine (4) and steam train (17). Took some time to come up with the idea for the reflective (14) but felt very clever when I did.”
Word Prompt Drawings November
I agree, Margaret, an inspired and clever 14! I hadn’t realised the potential at all when I created the grid. I also love Rabbit (28) + Several (27).

There’s still time to get started with December’s chart!

Monday Motivator: Value the Slow in the Age of Speed

Monday Motivator Motivation Quote

Monday Motivator Motivation Quote

“Today’s cult of convenience fails to acknowledge that difficulty is a constitutive feature of human experience. Convenience is all destination and no journey.

“But climbing a mountain is different from taking the tram to the top, even if you end up at the same place. We are becoming people who care mainly or only about outcomes. We are at risk of making most of our life experiences a series of trolley rides.”
— Tim Wu The Tyranny of Convenience, (NY Times Opinion 16 February 2018)

Being impatient for results we feel we ought to produce denies us the journey of getting there.

A painting driven by process, by the doing, is a different creature to one driven by having a finished product.

If instant gratification is what you need, stick to photography for now, where you can get a “finished photo”* in seconds.

(*Not the same as an award-winning shot.)

When is a Painting in an “Interesting Place”?

I’ve been pondering how you might define an “interesting place” in terms of a painting-in-progress, whether you could ever be reassured that it was a sufficiently interesting place. Or whether you just have to decide to decide and not contemplate what might lie further ahead this time. (I’m thinking of the story my Mother has about camping in desert dust because the sun was going down and what they found a little way further the next morning.)

It started with a comment on yesterday’s blog by Jim Meanders, who wrote: ‘Paul Gardner said, “A painting is never finished — it simply stops in interesting places.” I had this quote on the wall in the painting studio when I was teaching. I constantly tried to teach students to pay attention to every brush stroke.’

(The closest I have come to finding a source for this quote is an article saying it was quoted in “The Artists Way” by Julia Cameron. If you can verify this, do please let me know.)

An “interesting place” feels tied to what you regard as a “good painting” in terms of the level of finish/refinement (thinking how Impressionists were regarded as unfinished), but also in mark-making. Ever-moving as what interests me changes. Also inextricably tied to painting across the whole canvas, progressing every area simultaneously, not finishing one part while other areas remain blank.

Maybe it’s a measure of the relationship with a painting, that spot where I no longer feel energised working on it. Which ties into my thoughts on how you can’t tweak a painting into being finished.

You can’t ever know for certain that what’s interesting to you is to others. Trying to have certainty is a recipe for second-guessing yourself, and sucking out the joy in the making. Embrace the uncertainty and see what the response is.

At the moment I am enjoying exploring line as part of a painting. I added line using acrylic-paint marker pens to this work-in-progress.

It could have been interesting enough to stop here, but I had done it with the thought that I would subdue the hecticness of the line with further layers of paint.

Monday Motivator: Habit is Persistence in Practice

motivator quote octavia butler

Monday Motivator Motivation Quote

“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”

“Forget talent. If you have it, fine. Use it. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter. As habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent.”

— Octavia Butler, “Bloodchild: And Other Stories” 1995 (via Quote Investigator)

The word “habit” tends to have negative connotations, as in “bad habits” rather than “good habits”. Call it routine or ritual if you prefer.

Brushing your hair is a habit, though we don’t tend to call it that or think of it as such. It’s simply part of the routine of daily life, things done without question as part of getting ready for something else. Some days I do a better job of it than others (though living in a windy climate it can be hard to tell).

Same with painting, all the unseen, uncounted brushmarks that go into making the ones you finally see. Some days I do a better job of it than others (though by the time I declare a painting finished I’d like to believe others couldn’t tell).

motivator quote octavia butler

Reference Photo Conundrum

Look at this photo quickly and tell me which direction the sun was coming from when I took it. Left or right or behind?

Answers:
1. The shadows cast by the trees fall to the right, so the sun must be on the left.

2. Rocks in the river have golden highlights on the right, so the sun must be on the right.

Or
3. Reflected light on rocks wet from river spray, telling a contradictory story.

The sun was low to my left, catching the northern edge of the river gorge. This photo is looking further to the left.

A little later the sun had moved enough to shine onto some of the river rocks from the left (the red > in photo below), while the reflected light remained in the shadow.

Much as I love sunshine, diffused light (“soft northern light”) does simplify matters.