The act of painting for me is a strange mix of bliss mixed with incredible torture. With most of my paintings I want to give up a thousand times. It really is punishment, mistake after mistake. I’m constantly saying to myself “What did I do that for?”… “Anh, you’re an idiot!”… “Oh dear, that’s REALLY bad”.
But I keep going, and more times than not, the end result is something I’m quite okay with. So painting teaches me to keep going. For me it’s a metaphor for life. … if you just keep going and accept that the doubt, the fear, the mistakes are all part of the journey, you give yourself permission to be at peace with the ups, the downs and the in-betweens.”
This month the challenge is to go through your paintings from the past year (or longer) and sort them into three categories: to keep, to continue, and to destroy. The aim is to remind yourself of what you’ve painted and to give yourself a direction to head in January.
1 Go through the “to keep” pile and make a list (mental or physical) of what you enjoy about these paintings and what you’d like to do more of next year. It could be the medium, size, subject, mark making, colours, style, a lesson learnt or medium tried. Treat yourself by framing up one and hanging it on the wall.
A “to keep” painting doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something someone else would think was your best; why it’s a keeper can be very personal.
2 Gently look through the second pile of paintings-in-progress, abandoned, neglected and unfinished pieces. Write down your thoughts on where you might go with each, what you still want to do or change. If they’re done on paper, write a note on the back, like the next steps in a recipe, so that when you come back to it at a later date you’ve got a plan.
3 On to the pile of duds and frustrations. If they’re on paper, it can be very cathartic to rip these up and throw them in recycling. But first check there isn’t a section that deserves to be in one of the other piles if you cropped it a bit. Or that would make a card, or gift tags, or bits for a future piece with collage. If they’re on canvas, consider overpainting with a transparent dark purple to give a starting point for a painting done from dark to light (rather than overpainting wth white or gesso).
If in doubt, put it in the “to continue” pile. Rather wait and live with a piece for a while longer. And by a while I mean like six months.
Don’t beat yourself up for what you didn’t do, didn’t achieve, didn’t finish. Celebrate what you did, and where you might head next year.
My sunflower painting has been sitting nearly finished for some weeks now. I still want to tweak the background blue a bit, with some gentle colour and tone variations.
Thanks to Bee, Cathi, and Sarah for sharing your sunflower pieces. The full list of monthly projects and related content can be found here, and remember it’s never too late to give something a go. If you’d like individual help with your painting, sign up either as a project subscriber or for individual mentorship through my Patreon page here.
“Artists are experts at drawing inspiration from details which might otherwise go unnoticed. It’s not always about achieving perfection or a masterpiece; sketching is as much about process as it is about results. ”
I’ve written before about taking closeup photos of aloes in Addo national park in South Africa, somewhere you’d visit in order to see elephants not aloes (see “Monday Motivator: To Be an Artist“) . Coming across the quote above made me think of it again, of walking in the rest camp in the late afternoon, the patterns of light and shadow, colours and shapes that were mesmerising up close.
“I think what art can do is to tune you up. I mean, if you think of an out-of-tune violin, and tuning it up so that it’s in tune, I think that’s what art is, and that’s what art does.
“And good art, good poems, is making people more human, making them more intelligent, making them more sensitive and emotionally pure than they might otherwise be.
“. … the English critic Cyril Connolly … compared the arts to a little gland in the body, like the pituitary gland, which is at the base of the spine. And it seems very small and unimportant, but when it’s removed, the body dies.”
If art weren’t a core part of being human, why have we done it for millennia?
If poetry weren’t a core part of being human, why have we done it for millennia?
Click through to the interview this quote is from and scroll down to the part about his poem “The Ice-Cream Man” and the letter the poet received from the mother of the murdered ice cream man.
Art and literature are powerful. Politicians restricting what may be in libraries and galleries know this. Politicians withdrawing funding for the arts know this. It’s not about a lack of money. It’s never about protecting you. It’s about stopping you thinking and questioning.
“Right at the start I said that at night I could listen to pebbles being made, but it would be more accurate to say that I hear them being destroyed, as they’re slowly ground down to sand by the waves.
“Could it be that, perhaps without really knowing why, we take pebbles home with us to preserve them, like helping a hedgehog cross a busy road?
“By taking pebbles away from the beach, we arrest an otherwise ineluctable process of dissolution and decay. It’s as if we are trying to stop time on its tracks.”
“… every painting will have any number of ‘answers that work’, layer by layer as the painting evolves, and you can decide which you will keep.
It also means that when you call a painting done, there are infinite other possibilities where that would also have been true. … although it can take time to gain the skills and the confidence to stand by your conviction.”
My workshops at Higham Hall (near Cockermouth in the Lake District in northwest England) run from the evening meal on the first day to breakfast on the last, with four full days for painting inbetween. Higham Hall is a characterful, historic building on top of a hill, with gardens stretching to either side.
My workshops are held in the studio off the back courtyard, what was once the stables. Here’s a short video of the studio, when I’d set up my painting space and shop but before any workshop participants arrived, to give you an idea of the space. (The plans Higham have to make the studio fully accessible were unfortunately set back by the pandemic lockdown, which saw the funds for this used to keep things going, so it’ll be a few more years before the studio’s step free.)
(If you don’t see the video above, click here to see it on my Vimeo channel)
The first evening session in the studio is getting settled in, doing a little painting, and a chance for me to talk to everyone individually. The days that follow are a combination of exercises on expressive techniques and colour mixing, plus plenty of time to work on your own paintings with my help and to enjoy what everyone else is painting. The studio becomes alive with creative energy and all sorts of paintings emerge.
I did a demo one evening, showing how I’d paint if I started with a coloured ground (rather than white of the canvas) and how much things can change whilst I paint if I follow an impulse (in this instance, moving from stormy sky to sunnier weather). Acrylics on A2-size watercolour paper. This is what the painting looked like at the end of the demo, with the orange still very visible beneath the sea:
And this is what it looked like at the end of the workshop after I’d painted on it some more:
For the dates of my forthcoming workshops at Higham Hall, see my Art Workshops page. You can ask Higham to be put on the list for a forthcoming workshop if it’s not yet open to bookings, which will put you amongst the first to be notified when bookings do start. If you’ve any questions, get in touch.
This painting project has sea blues and landscape greens, patterns and architecture. It’s a view of a tiny village hugging the coast called Crovie, taken from the viewing spot on the hillside above it. You can walk from this village along a path at the edge of the sea to Gardenstown.
It offers quite a few composition choices:
Include the road or not, likewise the straight lines of the seawall providing a little shelter for boats, and the bright yellow van
Meticulously count and plot out the houses, or convey a sense of these and the pattern of shapes and colours
Should the headland tip be in the middle of the composition as in the photo, which theoretically divides a composition in half, or further across either left or right?
Is the cloud in the distance a distraction from the foreground, or does it add a sense of distance?
Do the few bits of rock emerging from the sea add to the sense of location and story, or look like random dark bits that confuse the eye?
I can see this as a richly coloured painting done in acrylics or oils, or with layers of transparent watercolour, or pastels. But equally done in ink in black and white only, or ink pen with some loosely painted watercolour. The prominent ripples in the sea lend itself to texture paste or collage with some tissue paper. I suggest picking your favourite medium and letting your enjoyment of this feed into your painting. And for a second painting, picking something you work with less often.
As always with my monthly painting projects, do email me a photo to share in the project photo gallery. And if you’d like help with your painting as you’re working on it or feedback when it’s done, this is available to project subscribers via Patreon (details here).