“Compare yourself to yourself yesterday, not to younger people who aren’t you. Everyone progresses at a different rate, so don’t let anyone else make you feel behind. You probably don’t even know where exactly you’re going, so feeling behind doesn’t help.”
David Epstein, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World via Austin Kleon
Compare your paintings and drawings to yesterday’s, last month’s, last year’s.
Find the earlier work of an artist and track their progress, don’t unfairly compare a painting of yours to your favourite painting by them without looking at what they did to get to that point. Monet didn’t start with his now-much-loved Impressionist paintings, he started with charicature.
Monet’s lily-pond paintings evolved over the decades he painted them. Nearly 20 years separate the two below. In the second there aren’t elements that give context, no bridge, no horizon line, just abstracted pattern and colour. It’s the first painting with most of it cropped off.
Below is the earliest tree painting I have of mine, from when I was eleven, and my most recent, done this month. It makes me laugh to think how long I’ve been creating inadvertent pattern whilst trying to paint randomly spaced tree trunks. Inbetween there have been quite a few tree paintings.
This painting was inspired by a sunset a few days ago, where there’d been a storm blowing in from the north and blue sky in the south, as I looked west, out over the sea. I really enjoyed the colours, from light blue and yellow to darks, and the way the distant view disappears beneath the rain at the bottom of enormous cloud.
When it came to painting this, I reached for a canvas that had an unresolved painting on it, which I’d sanded down a few months ago to level off the texture paste. Although the texture on the canvas hadn’t been done with this scene in mind, I felt what was there would fit it. And it would save me having to wait for texture paste to dry.
This video is speeded up 10 times, and edited down to just over three-and-a-half minutes. Sometimes things just all come together in a painting!
If you don’t see the video above, click here to see it on my Vimeo channel.
The painting is a bit hard to photograph because of the iridescence and the low level of natural light this time of year. And it’s snowing today, so I’m not taking it out my studio to photograph in the garden.
“Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.”
D.H, Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Written after the First World War, initially privately published, then in an expurgated version in 1932, the full text of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published in England only in 1960, a year after the Obscene Publications Act which gave publishers the defence that the work was of literary merit and for the public good. Its publication led to a landmark obscenity trial, which Penguin Books won.
Finding a copy in my local library as a teenager was a surprise, given the censorship in apartheid-era South Africa. How I knew it was controversial, I don’t recall; maybe it said so on the back blurb. Reading it, I wondered what the fuss about it was. I far preferred Solzhenitsyn, though I’m not sure how these were there either, given they’re novels against an oppressive regime.
Access to art, literature, poetry, music is essential for true democracy, an equatable society. Lies and obfuscation are an anathema to democracy.
In a smallish library where new books were few, you do end up reading all sorts, especially as one of the three library cards had to be a non-fiction book. I remember the librarian who would sigh as I came in, again, and the one who’d ask enthusiastically what I’d enjoyed. When my brother went off to university, I suddenly had six library cards. My options doubled.
When I went to university, I soon learnt I couldn’t work in the library because I’d get distracted by the spine of a book on a shelf. The temptation of that undiscovered something, that next previously unknown little thing. The only place in the library I did work was the restricted books section, where there were no such distractions. You had to have permission to request certain books, and to sign for a book at the desk before going to sit at one of the tables to read it. Information forbidden to students not doing that course.
The Weekly Mail newspaper published with black blocks where things were censored, highlighting that there was more to be known, decisions being made about what we shouldn’t know. Little black blocks of hope that there was another story.
Lack of information is a danger. Misinformation is a danger. Lack of access is a danger. Lack of critical consideration of information is a danger.
Lack of hope is a danger.
In the present era of deliberate misinformation and lying without consequence by the Westminster government, as well as events in the USA, it’s hard to have new hopes, little hopes nevermind big. It’s easier to despair than hope. It’s hard to live through history when you have studied enough to recognise it’s a downwards spiral in history. Brexit is a nightmare that has only begun.
We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen. Learn to recognise the little joys, and let them add up. The tube of paint and blank canvas, the pencil and sketchbook, the painting from yesterday and the one from tomorrow. We fight for the light by creating and sharing our art, in all its forms, encouraging and motivating each other.
Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. — Dylan Thomas
The backstory to this is my ongoing interest in the use of line in paintings, my little pile of wood panels with plein-air oil paintings that aren’t resolved for one reason or another, plus the thought of using wood-carving tools to cut lines into the wood panel. Enter a basic set of woodcarving tools, several weeks of them sitting staring at me while I pondered, then a few goes to see what kind of mark I might get, a bit more pondering, and I set about carving “rock lines” in the foreground of this panel.
With the thought that acrylic paint would (theoretically) stick only to the bare wood and not the oil paint, I then brushed over some Payne’s grey acrylic paint, thinking a dark line might work. But the painting still felt lacking. So I carved some more lines (trying to destroy some of the inadvertent pattern I’d created), brushed some fluid gold acrylic paint over the whole painting and wiped it, with it sticking to the areas of bare wood.
I think the result has definite potential. The hardest thing was not following lines in the painting, but to ‘draw’ another fresh layer of cut marks on top of the area. Next I need to dig out my printmaking books to read up on woodblock carving and learn to use the tools better.
“The benefits of play don’t disappear as soon as you become an adult. Even if we engage our curiosity in different ways as we grow up, a lot of learning and exploration still comes from analogous activities: things we do for the sheer fun of it.
“… Play is often the exploration of the unfamiliar. After all, if you knew what the result would be, it likely wouldn’t be considered play. When we play we take chances, we experiment, and we try new combinations just to see what happens. We do all of this in the pursuit of fun because it is the novelty that brings us pleasure and makes play rewarding.”
Do you remember how to draw a square with a dot in the centre without lifting up your pencil?* Drawing random, overlapping lines on a piece of paper and then colouring in the shapes with the rule that there couldn’t be any adjacent the same colour, which sometimes necessitated adding in another line?
What’s inhibiting your experimentation (aka play), the following of impulse and the “what if I” moments? Concern about the cost of materials, wasting time, lack of results, others laughing at you or complaining or insisting you should do something more ‘worthwhile’? Figure out what it is, and give yourself permission to not worry about it for a bit. Being “productive” is the anthithesis of play, and always being “productive” is ultimately counter-productive.
*The ‘trick’ is to fold over the corner of the sheet of paper into the centre of the square.
I needed to post an order for a copy of my Sheep Counting Book (destined for someone with a January birthday who loves sheep) so parked at the community hall in Uig and walked through the woodland to the post office. Lots of iced-up mud, bare branches, and vibrant greens.
“A painting consists of a collection of marks, a seemingly chaotic jumble of bits of color. When you study just one section, the marks make no sense on their own, but as you step back and take a wider view, they begin to form an image; those random bits of pigment come together to create a whole. And, just like that, out of chaos comes order and meaning, beauty and comprehension.”
This project is about going beyond the obvious in the everyday and finding the potential in the familiar, about the visual interest in the ordinary and changing how you’re looking at something. The subject is one I’m thinking many of us have in our hand regularly, an eggshell. The challenge is to get past the “it’s just an eggshell who’d want to paint that” and “I hate still life” reactions, and realise the potential in this seemingly simple subject.
IMPORTANT: Your painting or drawing should be done from life, not a photo (unless you’re allergic to eggs or can’t get hold of any). The reason for working from life is that you have do set up the arrangement of the eggshells yourself, figure out and decide a composition, and then ensure that you’re positioning yourself when you’re painting it so you’ve a consistent viewpoint. Submitted paintings for the project gallery should ideally be accompanied by a photo showing your still life setup.
TIPS: Use some poster putty or tape to hold the eggshells in position. If you put the eggshells on a piece of card, you can turn this around and see the setup from different angles.
COMPOSITION; With this relatively small object, a small shift in the angle or height at which you’re looking at it will change what you’re seeing quite a bit. In the three photos below, the eggshells haven’t moved at all, it’s my viewpoint that has, giving three quite different options.
But before I got to this, I had to decide how many eggshells I would have (three fitting the Rule of Odds) and decided to place them in a straight row. Part of the joy of still life painting is in the setting up of the subject, exploring the arrangement, looking at the light, deciding on a background and a viewpoint. The fun and challenges are not just about painting the thing.
COMPLICATED WHITE: Like snow, the white of an eggshell isn’t all straight-from-the-tube titanium white. It’s that range of colours that are are off-white or not-quite-white. If you’ve strong light, there’s the possibility for reflected colour too (light bouncing colour off a surface onto the subject), such as this orange from my bottle:
TAKING IT INTO ABSTRACTION: Besides painting this subject realistically, I think it invites explorations of pattern and shapes of colour. You might focus on the negative space around the eggshell. Or cut a stencil of the shapes of the eggshells and use this for layers of colour and pattern. Or create a grid of closeup details as in the Blocks of Abstraction Painting Project.
To have your painting included in the project gallery at the end of the month, email me a photo on art(at)marion(dot)scot ideally with a few sentences about it (think of the things you might say when talking to a friend about it). I’ll post photos with first names only, unless you ask me otherwise.
It comes with a list of corollaries to reinforce it, to remind and motivate me, such as:
Reading isn’t “doing nothing” nor “being lazy”.
Resting is doing something.
Just because I have my sketchbook with me doesn’t mean I have to use it; I may simply sit and watch the waves.
Paintings are never as bad as I think when I’m tired.
There will be days when I do little, days when I do lots, and days when I do “nothing”. I will not be committing to any of the “31 days of” challenges, nor the ones that are only a fortnight, nor any of the pandemic productivity prompts because I don’t need the pressure and I have more than enough to keep me going, not least my own monthly projects.
My aim remains to be in my studio (or on location painting when temperatures get back into double figures) more days than not, but I will not be ticking them off on a calendar. I will live in today with the in-house art critic, taking each as it comes, not wishing for yesterday or anticipating tomorrow’s fears. Now pass the Payne’s grey ink…
Being a bit late with November’s painting project photo gallery, I thought I’d be a bit early with Decembers and do them together. Enjoy!
These are my two paintings:
Thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s projects, and a special thank you to those who’ve shared photos of their paintings for us all to enjoy and project subscribers on Patreon. Here’s to 2021 being another creative year for us together!