In a multi-day workshop, I usually include some time for colour studies, exploring colour mixing with some underlying focus but mostly for the sheer joy of colour, of seeing what happens. The most common response is what fun it is and why don’t we do it more often when we’re by ourselves? I suspect the answer lies in that we get too fixated on “creating a painting” and forget it is time well spent to practice our scales.
When I sat down at my favourite picnic bench in the Uig woodland, I had intended to do a watercolour version of the sketch I’d made a few days before. But after the first tree trunk was painted, impulse led me to trying various colour combinations in search of the ‘perfect recipe’. An hour or so later, I had this:
This photo is a bit blown out. In the middle is my favourite:
lunar black + cobalt blue + serpentine green
I know what the colour are because I remembered to make notes! Not the proportions of each, just the ingredients.
‘I discourage any elaborate drawing-in of the motif to be painted, either with pencil, pen or brush. This produces a fear of the pigment or paint; a kind of dry, joyless “working up to the edges,” and leads subsequently to a kind of “colored drawings”.’ — John F. Carlson, Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting, page 42
Are you painting between your security-blanket lines or outside the lines?
It’s only taken me 10 years to go up the path in the bit of the Uig woodland that follows the River Rha rather than the River Conon. Why I haven’t been before is hard to put into words: I knew there was a waterfall there, but I wasn’t ready for it yet, I was still busy looking at what I’d already been in. It’s not that I think I’ve finished looking at this, more that I felt able to add to it. If you’re thinking “what is she going on about”, I’ll throw in the concept of “slow looking” and stop there.
I had it all to myself. It felt so familiar, like two kloofs I grew up with, Disa Gorge and Koffie Kloof n the Hottentots Holland Mountains. Though the water was even colder.
The Woodland Trust have built a sturdy path, with steps for long-legs.
Looking down river:
This contrast between broad and green / twiggy and brown could be interesting to explore as an abstracted, textured painting.
Enjoying the big boulders I was reminded of a workshop participant who said “I think you’ve cured me of my fear of rocks” and wondered how she’d respond to these moss-draped monsters.
My first drawing was a semi-continuous line looking at the rocks and trees, in pencil. Sketchbook is A3 size. The drawing ultimately covered both pages.
Sitting in the same spot as above, but turned to the right.
My fourth drawing, in ink. I messed up the drawn lines when I dabbed at some ink with a piece of paper towel (that “turn it to a clean piece so you don’t inadvertently stamp on ink” error) and then tried to rescue it with some darker ink on the lower waterfall rocks. I’m okay with the result, but liked the earlier version more.
When the in-house art critic first saw the drawing he was looking at it sideways, generating a cautious “uh-huh, urm, what?” response until I turned the sketchbook ninety degrees. Think I need to add a “this way up” arrow to the page!
A little late because I was off-island for a workshop without my computer, but here are some Word Prompt Drawing Charts for October. My thanks to everyone for sharing, it really is fascinating looking at all the drawings, all the ideas from the same word. My favourites include Eddie’s #18 Jam-packed, Tessa’s #14 Stranger, Amelie’s #8 Hedgehog and #24 Beanstalk, and Margaret’s #28 Phonia. That one of the #12 chickens is presented as dinner also caught my eye!
From Eddie, who said: “Some of these had me scratching my head.”
From Tessa, working in black ink “with touches of colour”.
And from Amelie (age 7), Tessa’s granddaughter:
From Margaret, who said: “Struggled with phobia until I realised that there were quite a few items on the sheet that could be phobias — so the pink squiggly thing is supposed to be a brain.”
If you’d like to have a go with November’s word prompt chart, you can download it here. I also still have some copies of my book version available, buy online here.
Many things come up during a multi-day workshop, and last week’s at Higham Hall was no exception. It’s part of the fun. That said, though I could possibly have anticipated imposter syndrome being discussed, I certainly didn’t anticipate emotional vampires.
Imposter syndrome is that nagging voice of doubt that someone is going to expose you as not being a “real artist”, to point a finger and declare that you clearly don’t know what you’re doing and you should stop pretending that you do. (Quite who that someone might be is never clear.)Thing is, it’s the doubt that makes you question and assess what you’re doing, and thus grow artistically rather than stagnating. Embrace it, but don’t wallow in it, and use it as a motivator.
Emotional vampires are those folk who suck the energy and joy from you. That person who’s always insisting how you ought to be painting something for it to be right (and almost always this means “detailed realism”), the one always after reassurance that their painting is good (by which they mean better than other people’s), the one perpetually armed with two L-bits of card to crop your composition to fix it. Your opinions and preferences are not invalid. Different is not inherently wrong. An urgent need to wash a paint brush will get you away from emotional vampires.
Looking through my draft blog posts I found this quote, which I’d saved back in January. It feels apt as I start looking through my email and all the other things put on “pause” while I was at Higham Hall in a tranquil bubble of creativity:
“While we do not get to curate the realities of the external world, the barrage of news, or our social media, we do decide the parameters of our reactions. We decide the size of each reaction, each thought. We decide how long each thought is allowed to stay, how much space it is given, how much power it will have.”
“Thoughts are visitors we invite into our minds.” — Reema Zaman
And, like visitors, some thoughts are more welcome than others, some overstay their welcome, others don’t visit often enough.
The light at the end of the tunnel is finding ways to encourage the latter. For me it lies in painting.
‘The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind.
…In the beginner’s mind there is no thought “I have attained something.” All self-centered thoughts limit our vast mind. When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something. The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless.’
I’ve been practising for next week’s workshop at Higham Hall near Cockermouth. I’ve been trying to get a bit more systematic and specific about what I do so I can explain it, making a list of what individual layers are or might be because “be intuitive” isn’t a sufficiently helpful instruction. Also with the aim to have some examples of “layered paintings” “informed by” (based on) the photos in my new photo reference book (which workshop participants get) as well as some that combine elements from various photos.
Here are two of my paintings. Each has bits I like and things I don’t think are resolved, yet, or I would do differently next time. When I was telling the in-house art critic how I felt about them, when he finally got a word in edgeways, his response was that I was being way too harsh. He might be is right, and only I can see the gap between what was in my head and what’s on the paper.
Here they are with the reference photos alongside. 350gsm, A3-size, NOT watercolour paper, using pencil, coloured pencil, acrylic ink, acrylic paint, and oil pastel.