“The world needs more and more compassionate creativity to solve difficult problems confronting us. Creative people do not have answers, but they habitually question the status quo and think about alternatives and improvements. They discover and invent possible answers. They habitually ask better questions. They have optimism. When combined with empathy and compassion, creativity is bound to be a force for good. Teaching creativity to everyone is vitally important if we desire a good life for all.”
Marvin Bartel, Teaching Creativity (2 June 2014)
We need to stop buying into the lie that creativity is a talent you’re born with or not, that it can’t be learnt and developed. Too many people are taught that they’re not creative, believe it, and lead smaller lives as a result. Socialised into fitting into the polite little box called “being a good girl” and “ladylike” and “don’t do it like that” and “bright colours aren’t suitable for winter”. Cue: The Logical Song and Warning.
It’s Mother’s Day in the UK, which entails squishy sentiments, flowers and chocolates. My Ma is all the squishy stuff, and then some. She may never have instilled her love for laboratory chemistry in me, but the many things I did get include curiosity, a love for reading and finding out, to knit and sew (by machine, not hand), paints/paper and letting me put up art exhibitions in the house, pyromania, cheating at board games, choosing a road simply because you haven’t yet been along it, going to see what was over the next hill, to laugh at yourself, and to prioritise coffee and cake.
That’s my Ma on the right, and her sister on the left. Edinburgh Castle above, Eilean Donan below. Neither shot was posed.
Looking at the drawings and painting and reading the comments, it’s clear a great deal of creative fun and energy was found channelling our inner Van Gogh! (You’ll find the project instructions here and the list of all the projects here.) Also that using the drawing to guide your mark making in the painting can work well, like a roadmap for brushstrokes. Thank you to everyone who’s shared their pieces. Enjoy!
“When dealing with art, intuition is best, but knowledge of physical phenomena enables us to work in a more reasoned fashion. Be tempted to learn about colour. Find out how to gain control of your palette. And then, once you have discovered the advantages of this logical approach, empty your mind and let yourself paint.”
I see “intuitive” as making choices without thinking much about them, making choices without worrying overly what the outcome might be but just to see what happens, and moving forward with whatever does result. The more materials I have to hand when I paint, the more intuitive the choice can be. The more knowledge I have of what my materials do, how they work and interact with one another and different surface, the more intuitive I can be.
If you struggle to make a choice when trying to work intuitively, try this: whenever you hesitate, then it’s time to change medium or technique. Continue working where you were but swap from say watercolour to coloured pencil or graphite, acrylic to oil pastel, using a brush to a palette knife, applying paint to lifting it.
Gaining “control of your palette” is rooted in knowing what the colours you’ve got on your palette do when mixed together. How to get a mixed colour again, and again, as well as avoiding unwanted results. The fewer colours you’ve got, the easier it is to learn this. Then add in another and learn what it does.
A few weeks ago I started using a violet on my oil painting palette, and I’ve had such fun exploring the results of mixing this with my favourites. But it’s done whilst wrapped in the security blanket of my known colours, that any new colour I mix I want to recreate comes from the violet plus one of those.
My thanks to Sarah W for sending me this quote and a bit about the book it’s from.
I have been thinking about the patterns in the sand on the beach (see my blog Photos: Seashore Abstracts) which led to thoughts about what a pattern transfer wheel might do, how it might give a line of dots in a painting on paper. These photos are from my first experiments with this idea, starting in my sketchbook and then on 350gsm watercolour paper.
Pricking holes in a drawing is a very old technique used to transfer a drawing onto another surface by making tiny holes in it and then dusting chalk or charcoal through the holes. In artspeak it’s called pouncing. (And another bit of art trivia: a full-sized drawing used for pouncing is called a cartoon. ) You can do it with a pin, but that’ll test my patience.
I tried running the wheel across the paper before I painted and while the watercolour was wet. The latter was more successful, possibly because the damp paper indented more. It “works” by the pigment collecting in the holes, making them darker in colour. (If you don’t see the short video below, click here to see it on my Vimeo page.)
Going back and forth, whilst rotating to the side, created a pattern that fanned out. Perhaps a little regular, but that would be easy to resolve by lifting the tool and repositioning it slightly.
Pressing hard resulted in holes in the paper in my sketchbook. Well, it is what the tool’s designed to do! This wasn’t unexpected, and opens up different possibilities (think: drawing with holes rather than dots).
After playing in my sketchbook for a bit, I decided to have a go at a ‘real picture’ and got out a piece of 350gsm paper. Being quite a thick paper, I was able to press quite hard without making holes through the paper.
I used it both before and after I applied the watercolour, and it definitely works better afterwards. The colour I’m using for the sand is a granulating watercolour, so it’ll dry ‘dotty’ anyway. What the pattern wheel has done is introduce pattern into it that I can control.
The above was done on a piece I cut from an A3 sheet of watercolour. Last year the in-house art critic bought me a fabulous safety ruler that eliminates the worry of the knife slipping and my cutting my fingers. (When we were living in London many moons ago, the in-house art critic once offered to cut a cardboard mount for me which ended up with a trip to ER on the bus, and stitches.) He also bought me a beautiful orange craft knife, because being in love with your tools makes them easier to use, and a sharp blade is safer than a blunt one.
This month’s project takes the idea of a grid of small paintings from last May (details here and gallery) and uses it for pebbles to create a grid of little pebble portraits. Whether you include the whole pebble or part of the pebble, with or without drawn boxes, is up to you. Another option would be to paint the same pebble from different angles, and/or in different mediums.
I encourage you to paint from life, a pebble you can hold in your hand, view from different angles, watch the light fall on it and any shadows. Get to know a pebble as an individual, its specific characteristics rather than merely a generic pebble.
If you don’t have pebbles, take a small vegetable such as a mushroom or onion, something with pattern and texture that looks different from various angles. Cutting it in half, and sections, would be another series of views.
I appreciate that not everyone has access to a beach or river with beautiful pebbles to borrow for a bit, so here are closer-up photos of each of the nine pebbles in my grid. Click on a photo to get the biggest version of it.
Doing it as a monochrome, using black ink, charcoal, or pencil has potential too.
For my first attempt at this project, I used a pen with black ink and watercolour, on a page in my sketchbook. The ink is water soluble, so the lines softened a little as I brushed watercolour over them; how much varies on how thick the line was and how long it had dried.
I initially wasn’t going to add a background to my grid, but leave the pebbles against the white. However studio cat Ghost had other ideas: if you look at the bottom right image, to the left of the middle pebbles on the right, you’ll see the remants of a pawprint where he’d stood on my watercolour set and then neatly printed his paw on my painting. I tried to lift it, but the colour was one of those that stains the paper, so instead I added a background of hematite genuine, a granulating colour that works well as ‘sand’.
As always, to have your painting included in the project photo gallery, email me (on art[at]marion.scot) a photo along with a sentence or two about it. For individual help with your painting and extra project-related content, become a project subscriber on my Patreon. Remember, it’s never too late to do any of the projects!
“Do not rub out, if you can possibly help it, in drawings that aim at artistic expression. … it has a weakening effect, somewhat similar to that produced by a person stopping in the middle of a witty or brilliant remark to correct a word.
“If a wrong line is made, it is left in by the side of the right one in the drawing of many of the masters. “
When is a mistake not a mistake but part of the piece?
I’ve found that using pen rather than pencil has helped me focus on moving forward through and along with ‘mistakes’, because erasing isn’t an option. Not that it always ends up in a satisfying place, but it’s taught me to work with what’s happening rather than changing my mind and starting a bit again as happens when working with an eraser.
A set of photos taken at Staffin beach as I narrowed my attention to small sections. Pattern, texture, and colours. I took these after I’d walked along the beach and back; I don’t get to a beach and ignore the wide views and sea to focus in on smaller things immediately.
A stacked perspective is when, rather than relying on a vanishing point as in one- or two-point perspective (“the railway lines thing”), elements are piled (stacked) one above another in the composition to give the illusion of depth and distance. Or to put it in art speak: when objects are placed higher on the picture plane to create spacial illusion.
It’s easier to understand by looking at an example than reading about it. In the book “Japanese Prints : The Collection of Vincent van Gogh” I came across a fabulous example of stacked perspective in a print by Hiroshige. Van Gogh copied this print into the background of his “Portrait of Pere Tanguy” painting.
In the photo of the print below, start counting the stacks or elements with the white heron at the bottom, or Mount Fuji at the top. Then look at how the elements overlap, linking the parts of the composition whilst creating the sense of some things being behind others.
“Hiroshige’s composition is extremely sophisticated, involving a stacked perspective of seven ‘curtains’, starting with the white heron in the foreground, and ending with Mount Fuji in the distance.”
[Quote source: “Japanese Prints : The Collection of Vincent van Gogh” by Chris Uhlenbeck, Louis van Tilborgh, and Shigeru Oikawa, 2018, p. 108]
Calling the elements or layers “curtains” and imaginging transparent shower curtains with images printed on them, really works for me in terms of understanding “stacked perspective”.
The Van Gogh Museum website has a section on the Japanese prints that Vincent van Gogh collected, here.
“It’s all very well to talk piously about the painstaking act of seeing; the painter has to translate those pieties into a practice.
In place of Cézanne’s rectangular, latticed strokes, [Lucian] Freud composes with a strongly handled, shield-shaped mark—emphatic swiping enforced with a persistent diagonal rhythm, so that each sharp mark runs jagged to the next, like the tracks of skis.
White highlights, meanwhile, are nakedly laid on, not modulated from within the shade but splashed down impulsively.
Agitation is the signature mark, and angst the signature emotion.”