Because I’ll be starting my Higham Hall workshop with continuous line drawing and want participants to easily find these two videos, I’m putting them together in this blogpost. No doubt with the right cable I will be able to play them on the TV in the studio at Higham Hall, but this is the backup plan. Or maybe given my love of cables that’s the backup plan and this is Plan A.
This month we’re going to move from landscape to still life, to looking at something familiar and small, a tube of paint. It’s something we rarely pay much attention to, merely a container for the colour it contains. My thought is for this project to be about slowing down, seeing the familiar with fresh eyes, a reminder that we don’t need to be out chasing new experiences, there’s plenty right in front of us.
So dig out a tube of paint, and study it. Draw it, paint it, collage it, abstract it. Don’t spend too long deciding which is the perfect tube to use, they’re all good. How you juggle the realism/painterly/abstraction balance is up to you. The medium is up to you.
Start with one, explore the possibilities of a composition with a single element. Is the tube flat or rolled up, viewed from the top or side, cap on or off? How about a foreshortened view from the cap end? How many compositional choices do you have with a single tube?
For inspiration: Abstracted and more graphic approach to paint tubes, take a look at the paint-tube paintings by Joshua Starcher (a random find, his website doesn’t give any info about him) and the paint tube paintings by Duane Keiser (the original painting-a-day artist, whose painterly realism I greatly admire).
My paint-tube painting: For me the aim was to have a painterly painting, something that’s used paint to convey a sense of the subject, with parts that are detailed and parts that are suggestive. I wanted some evidence of the “hand of the artist”, some poetry not an academic treatise.
The photo above illustrates what my thinking. The small painted lettering isn’t readable, it’s squiggled lines not letters, but your eye wants to make it into words. You can see the brushmarks of paint on the tube, the edges aren’t blended out to make soft transitions in colour/tone. (Project subscribers will get to see step-by-step photos of this painting, and the one before it, on my Patreon.)
I chose this particular tube of paint because I wanted the challenge of the silvers of the metal tube. Silvers are but shades of grey. Though iridescent paint colours we have available to us work beautifully to add the glimmer of light catching on silver, resist these initially and focus on tone. Think three intially — dark, light, and medium. Black, white, and mixed.
The painting above wasn’t my starting point, though, I began with pencil drawings, then added watercolour to a pencil drawing, then got out the acrylics, then there were a couple before the one on the yellow which pleased me.
Initially I was drawing small than actual size, but then realised it would be easier if I did it the same size as the tube of paint. Remembering that the photos show a viewpoint from above, not what I’m seeing as I’m sat drawing.
Remember to send in your photos for March’s painting project (and previous months). I’m away teaching a workshop at Higham Hall, so the photo gallery won’t appear until the second week in April.
As I look ahead to Sunday’s workshop at Higham Hall, I’m excited and nervous, wondering who’ll be on it, who I’ll be meeting and working with, travelling with on a painting journey for which I’m the guide, whether the last two of the 12 spots will be taken by last-minute bookings, whether anyone will be wearing perfume that makes me sneeze, and what breakthrough moments there might be and what surprises. It’s both a joy and an anxiety.
Thankfully the latter is relieved and the former enhanced by having some participants who’ve done workshops with me before, and I look forward to travelling together for a few days again. I’ve some new worksheets, so don’t think you know exactly what to expect! To those doing a workshop with me for the first time, I hope you’ll be reassured that there are other participants who’re coming for the second and third time, so I must be doing something right. It’s going to be a fun, rewarding week, with time for hard work and relaxation, plus all the delicious food that Higham puts in front of us, thinking about which is making me hope it’ll include Pavlova one evening again.
“Not every idea has to be complete and completely defensible right from the beginning. It is because we question and push ideas that we make the progress that we do.”
— The Distrust of Intellectual Authority, Farnham Street
Substitite the word “idea” with “brushmark” or “pencil line” or “painting” or “drawing”.
Not knowing what the outcome will be, but allowing, and trusting, ourselves to undertake the journey into the not-entirely-known-nor-unknown, is part of the joy of painting and drawing, irrespective of style.
This quote is from an article about the distrust of knowledge, how life with technology has made it “harder to have the expertise necessary to navigate every arena in our lives independently“, even as education levels have risen. Does making toast using a toaster rather than over a fire give you more or less control? Most of us could, given matches, make a fire, but couldn’t make nor fix a toaster. Control is not the same as convenience. Yet convience does give us control of our time.
I have no idea where this train of thought is going; I don’t even eat toast. So let me divert to the sentences following the quoted two at the top: “Experts would do well to remember that they may be masters of their fields, but they are servants to society. Mastery means nothing without trust and engagement.” It seems to me like a definition of both a good teacher and a good student: trust and engagement.
Imagine there was a way you could go to one place and get a clickable list of what’s new on all your favourite websites. No more scrolling through notifications or having Facebook decide what it thinks you should see or hiding things because you’ve already seen it. No trolls, no adverts, just you and your personal library of links.
And, as I’m sure you knew, I’m now going to say you don’t have to imagine. It exists. It’s not new, predating social media. It’s called RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication. You don’t have to remember that. Just call it a Feed Reader — it feeds you things to read from different sources you choose. (See this Lifewire article on how it works.)
There are various options available, with different features — look at this Lifewire list for free options. I use The Old Reader, which is simple, uncluttered, and free for 100 feeds. The only thing I don’t like are the pale grey scroll bars which don’t stand out against the background. To add a new website to the list, you just click on add a subscription, paste in the website URL (e.g. www.marion.scot) and it automatically hunts for the RSS feed URL ( www.marion.scot/feed ).
Some people set up their websites so only headlines appear in a feed reader, and you have to click on this and go to their website to read the piece. This is done simply to get traffic onto their website (reading the full article on a feed reader doesn’t give a page view on your website stats) and hopefully you’ll look around a bit too.
So what’s on my feed reader? I won’t list all 100 not least because it includes sites on search engine optimisation tips, but here are half a dozen:
- Brain Pickings (by Maria Popova, who is exceptional; buy her book Figuring too!)
- Hyperallergic (arts news)
- Gurney Journey (the Dinotopia creator)
- Photo Hebride s (my favourite Skye-based photographer)
- Paper Rainbow (Skye-based collage artist Morag Archer)
- Splashing Paint (Australian watercolourist John Lovett)
- I also follow my own blog, so I can check it’s working ok.
“Books are frozen voices, in the same way that musical scores are frozen music. The score is a way of transmitting the music to someone who can play it, releasing it into the air where it can once more be heard. And the black alphabet marks on the page represent words that were once spoken, if only in the writer’s head. They lie there inert until a reader comes along and transforms the letters into living sounds. The reader is the musician of the book: each reader may read the same text, just as each violinist plays the same piece, but each interpretation is different.”
Paintings are frozen voices, crossing time and distance. The brushmarks are a way of transmitting the artist’s interpretation of a vision, lying there inert until a viewer comes along and transforms the brushmarks into a story. Each viewer may see the same painting, but each interpretation is different.
Blooms, washbacks, backflow, cauliflowers … whatever you call it when you’re painting wet-into-wet watercolour and the colour you just applied pushes out the one already down, rather than making friends and sitting with it. There’s one rule to avoiding it (or to use if you deliberately want to get this result, much as watercolour purists might shudder at the thought). In the words of that skilled Australian watercolourist John Lovett:
If you are painting a soft edge into a wet wash, make sure there is more pigment in the color you are applying than is in the underlying wash or obvious blooms will be created.”
Source: John Lovett, Watercolour Edges
So how do you know whether you’ve got more pigment or not? Like everything, practice. It starts by deliberately considering it, and eventually it becomes ingrained knowledge, instinctive. If in doubt, add more pigment (“thick paint”). Or pull some of the water from the brush hairs by holding a piece of paper towel to the ferrule end of the hairs, a tip the artist Katie Lee taught me.
“…although his colours are the fruit of observation, [he] does not aim to make them passively appropriate.”
— Claire Rendell on the artist David Tress, in a catalogue from 2002 “David Tress”, p53
1. Passively appropriate would seem to suggest that actively inappropriate colour could also be a thing.
2. I guess the Expressionists were onto that already.
3. The in-house art critic and I keep reading his name as David Trees, not Tress.
There’s now one less thing to worry about when painting, and it’s how much water you can or should mix with acrylic paint without ruining its adhesion. Golden Artist Colors (a USA employee-owned company renowned for its artist’s quality paint and techical info) have updated their advice:
“For years our standard advice was that a 1:1 ratio was very safe for most of our paints and mediums; plus, it had the advantage of being easy to remember while greatly erring on the side of caution. However, our current testing shows you can go a lot further than that before encountering significant issues. Just how far? We think you will be surprised.”
The article gets into the specifics, but for me this is the takeaway:
“We got no adhesion failure of any of our paints, no matter how thinned down with water, when applied on top of acrylic gesso.”
In the FAQ on thinning acrylics I wrote for Painting.About.com in 2006 (my original version, as here, not the current surreal rewritten-by-who-knows-who version) I’d said this:
“When it comes to thinning acrylics, the only ‘rule’ is to not mix acrylic paint with more than 50 per cent water. Any more than this and it may loose its adhesive qualities and peel off at some stage. You can mix in as much acrylic medium (glazing, texture paste, etc) as you like because it’s got the acrylic resin in it that acts as the ‘glue’ that makes the paint ‘stick’. (Golden describe their mediums as ‘colorless paint’! )”
If painting on a large canvas, I tend to use glazing medium as well as water to thin paint because in addition to adding “glue” it also increases working time (slows drying). Mostly I simply don’t think about it, and merrily spray paint with water to make it drip and run.
Where I have encountered adhesion issues is with water-thinned acrylic ink lifting as I brush over it, despite being touch dry. Leaving it overnight helps, presumably as the paint binder then cures. I sometimes then also apply a layer of glazing medium with a soft brush, leaving this overnight again, before continuing on top. But mostly if I find it’s lifting — you see the colour appearing on the brush — I just keep going and deal with it.
“Successive stages of work can be tracked … abrades the surface to reveal the original white of the paper then makes further marks … This alternation of layering and tearing back suggests that he is not simply reducing an experience from three dimensions into two but also reaching for the fourth dimension — a sense of passing time.”
— Claire Rendell on the artist David Tress, in a catalogue from 2002 “David Tress”, p46
I like the thought of layers in a painting conveying a sense of the passing of time. I’m going to have to try tearing the surface of the paper — deliberately rather than accidentally — and see where that takes me. Wonder if my April workshop participants will be in for a milion-miles-from-comfort-zone activity?