“Empathy, like love, has a reputation for softness. It too often reads as compromise or pandering. But empathy, like love, can be radical. It asks everyone to give and see more than they may otherwise feel is possible …
“Art bends and distorts perceptions. It demands comfort with ambiguity, and in an ambiguous world, there may be no more valuable skill.”
There are no guarantees when you pick up a brush, yet we can do it with such hope, in anticipation of channelling our best version of our creative selves, this time. And the next, and the next. Hopes held together by threads of love and empathy for our creative selves .
A quaint cottage rented by a friend, a wild garden, sunshine, paper and paint. My idea of a perfect day. (Especially as I managed to silence the little voice muttering about my perspective drawing skills.)
I’ve had another round of painting that tall sunflower (see The Sunflower). This time I painted indoors using my previous drawings, memory, and photos as reference rather than being outdoors with the flower itself, because I needed a gentle day, not one squirrelling on the ground to paint.
First attempt was with the tallest piece of paper I have with me, a piece I’d previously concertina-ed. I started with Payne’s grey acrylic ink, which isn’t a surprise, but used a stick to apply it rather than the dropper, which produced a scratchy line. Then used watercolour and acrylic paint.
I had a go at reworking one of Sunday’s paintings. I don’t feel like I entirely resolved it, but like it better than it was.
I then tore a sheet of A2 watercolour paper in half, taped the edges, and got rid of the white by mixing up all the leftover paint and adding water so it became a lightish background colour. As I intended to use the same colours again in the sunflowers I was going to paint on these sheets, I knew the background colour would sit harmoniously.
I like parts of all the paintings. If I were to choose only one, I think it’d be the concertina one with its brighter colours.
How little is too little to convey the essence of a location, when have I stopped too early and where does it tip into being overworked? These are questions I found myself pondering on as I sat painting in the sunshine on the beach at Thorntonloch.
First attempt was with Payne’s grey ink.
I was tempted to add some colour to this, as it felt too uniform in tone, and I lost the white on the wave edges, but decided to let it dry, and then look at it again later. I suspect a little pale watercolour may be what it wants, and/or some coloured pencil lines, and/or white acrylic ink. I’ll decide when I look at it with fresh eyes.
Second attempt started with phthalo turquoise and Payne’s grey.
I stopped here because I liked it, but do wonder if it would benefit from a little colour in the sand in the foreground. Maybe a granulating watercolour like hematite genuine. The lack of drips and runs are because my spray water bottle stopped working, so I didn’t have to resist using it.
Third attempt I decided to use colour from the start. All was going well until I got too heavy handed with the rocks in the middle, (with tone and indenting the paper with the stick I was using to draw). I was using transparent colours and didn’t want to add white just yet
I decided to see if using more colours and making it a band of rocks would resolve it. So out came some purple (in addition to phthalo turquoise, Payne’s grey, and transparent orange).
I stopped here to let it dry, with the thought that I would have another round with some coloured pencil on the foreground and rock band. But that’s easier done on a table than sand.
“Rarely is a landscape painting simply a transcription of place, unmodified by any further element.
“In all representation of place there is an element of serious play with time. Either the depiction of a landscape as it was on one day incorporates elements of the changing patterns of light and weather all through the hours that were spent in the making of the painting, or the apparent capture of an instant appears to set time itself at defiance.”
Peter Davidson, introduction to exhibition catalogue “James Morrison: The Edge of Allegory“, July 2009
It’s not wasting paint, nor paper, nor time, nor opportunity. It’s using paint and paper and time to explore the unpredictable and unexpected, to let the materials lead you.
Knowing exactly how something is going to turn out is desirable when baking a cake. In painting the process can be more than enough of a reward in itself. A pleasing end result might happen, or it might not; that’s another chapter in the story.
This month’s painting project is similar to last month’s Arboreal Abstract Project, but working with rounded shapes rather than stripes. Trust the process (i.e. follow the steps in the instructions), don’t try to tightly control the outcome from the start but meander along towards a finishing point, and remind yourself that no single mark is critical.
YOU WILL NEED:
A sheet of watercolour paper (I suggest A3 in size)
Scissors or a knife, something that will scratch a line into the surface of the paper not merely indent it
Paint (I suggest watercolour, granulating colours if you have them, or ink or watery acrylics)
A white gel pen or rigger brush and white acrylic/gouache or white oil pastel
WHAT TO DO:
STEP 1: Scratch 15 roundish shapes of different sizes into the surface of the paper. Try to avoid sharp corners or points on the shapes. Yes it’s quite hard to see what you’re doing, but don’t skip this step. Do it decisively and don’t stress or second-guess it. I found it easiest to do it in two halves, like brackets ( ).
STEP 2: Mix up a brownish or greyish off-white (a “dirty water” or pale sandy colour) and cover the entire sheet with it. Don’t worry about getting it as an even colour, and vary the direction any visible brushmarks. Dampening the sheet with water before you start will make it easier. Allow to dry before moving on to the next step. (What the paint does where the scratched marks are will reveal why step 1 exists.)
STEP 3: Mix a midtone blue/purple-grey (mid-tone = not especially dark and not pale). Paint five rounded shapes somewhere on the sheet, in various sizes. Splatter a bit of this colour around the sheet too.
STEP 4: Mix three different earthy browns/yellow/oranges colours. With the first colour, add five rounded shapes, in various sizes. Splatter a little of this colour around too. Allow to dry. With the second colour, add seven rounded shapes. Allow to dry. With the third colour, add seven rounded shapes. Allow to dry. (I would mix a colour, use it, then add something to the leftovers to shift the colour, rather than mixing three separately.)
STEP 5: Using a dark pen or pencil, draw an outline around the shapes you see as the top-most layer. Then, on the shapes underneath these, draw an outline on those parts that are beyond these top shapes, that is stopping and restarting the outlines rather than going all the way around.
STEP 6: Using a white pen (or brush and paint, or an oil pastel if it gives a thin enough line), draw 25 rounded shapes as the final layer. Don’t outline existing shapes.
Allow some painted shapes to go off the edges. It gives the composition a sense of continuing beyond the edges of the paper rather than being constrained by the edges.
Overlap shapes, both within a layer and between layers.
Tape the edges of the sheet of paper before you start, then when you’ve finished peel it off and you’ve a white border to the painting.
Do versions with only transparent colours (except for the final white), with mixed opaque/transparent, and with only opaque.
Work without letting shapes dry before adding the next.
“Unlike the horizontal or vertical format, which imparts its own directional energy to the composition, the square tends to exert a uniform pressure on all sides. To suggest movement, therefore, a painter must rely entirely on the internal elements of the composition.”
A horizontal format leads our eye sideways, a vertical up and down. In a square we bounce off the equal-length edges as if we were in a pinball machine. It’s our composition’s job to guide our eye around in a calmer, controlled, interesting journey.