Inspired by this winter’s storms and the non-arrival of spring. The paint is still drying in places where it’s particularly thick, so to remove the temptation of poking at it (“Are you dry yet…?!“) it’s now propped on the bookshelves in the in-house art critic’s office.
Wandering around the gardens at Armadale Castle on Sunday felt like I was walking through a palette of colours for painting springtime Skye. The intensity of colours, the variations in light and shade, the different species… I could have spent all day looking. These snapshots were taken when I encountered particularly irresistible moments. Think colour, pattern and texture.
“If we are to see beyond the periphery, we must first learn to let go of self-seriousness and relearn the art of play. … If you can learn to tap into your true motivations and passions, then your creative drive will automatically follow. But to find those driving forces you’ll need to loosen the reins and take on the mantle of mischief.”
Nick Bantock, “The Trickster’s Hat”, page 6
Talking to a craftmaker yesterday, she expressed envy at kids playing amongst some trees with their dogs, saying she wished she could still play. When I asked why she’d stopped, she thought then said she didn’t know. My guess was someone probably told her it was time she became a “responsible adult” (along with the impact of making your own way in the world, earning a living).
Why is being “adult” is interpreted by so many as meaning you need to be weighed down by life, never expecting it to be otherwise? You can be responsible and serious while remaining playful, curious, joyful, creative, whimsical.
It’s not about having a “sense of humour”, it’s about taking delight in everyday things, about following the “what if I…” impulses, poking at buttons to see what they do before reading the instructions manual, not knowing the outcome before you start, colouring-in outside the lines.
Let your aim be to choose to laugh rather than to cry, not only in public but when you’re by yourself too. And suppress the expectation that it ought to be easy.
I came across a description of the difference between pottery that was art and pottery that was craft as being that the former is something that’s not made to be used. It’s been bouncing around my mind, and I’ve been trying to crystallize why I disagree. I think it’s because of the underlying concept that art doesn’t have a use, how “use” is defined. For me “use” isn’t synonymous with “functional”.
If a painting I’ve got makes me smile as I go past it, then its ‘use’ was to engender joy. If might also remind me of the artist who created it, or the person who gave it to me, or where/what/when I was when I painted it, or of an idea/technique, or a personal artistic achievement.
To take but one example from the artwork in our home, a painting of a cat by mixed media artist Morag Archer, called A Place to Rest: some days it makes me smile for the cat depicted, others for memories of cats in my life; occasionally the conversation Morag and I had about it; sometimes I stop and take a look at the detail or contemplate how it was made. All these “uses” are part of keeping my mental batteries charged.
The desire to differentiate between art and craft is a long-standing and ongoing one. (Rather like the one on the definitions of a drawing vs a painting.) To me it’s an artificial divide, one that denies the skill and creativity to be found in great craft work. It should be Arts AND Crafts, not Arts OR Crafts. More than 130 years since the emergence of the Arts & Crafts Movement it’s still a divide which many can’t or won’t bridge.
Life is a pure flame, and we live
by an invisible sun within us.
Thomas Browne, Hydriotaphia (1658)
The sun does, of course, blind or burn us at times with its intensity. But far rather risk this than live in fear the light, with suppressed passion, stifled emotion, unexpressed creativity.
These are a few of the studies I’ve done recently; in each I was trying something specific or remind myself of something. Often I work on a pair together, aiming to push the one a little further than the other. I find mounting makes me see the piece more objectively and assess it more critically, not least because you have to decide where to crop the painting with that sharp, stark mount edge.
In this sheep study I was trying to work wet-on-wet in the clouds, letting the white paper do its thing. The danger is my tendency to overwork it, then needing to use white acrylic or gouache to rescue it. The very dark bit of blue echoing the shape of a bird (or perhaps sheep’s ears?) was a ‘happy accident’.
With this woodland study I was again working wet-on-wet, trying to use the white of the paper as an integral part of the painting, rather than covering it all up as I would do when painting on canvas. I was also trying to use cobalt blue for sky, rather than my more usual Prussian blue. Overall the colours are? softer and softer than my ‘usual’, like colours muted by mist (hence the title).
With these two tree studies I started with a layer of thin quinacridone gold, which gives the glowing light gold in the background and the deeper orange-golds on the trunks. I wanted to create a sense of wintry sunlight where in the afternoon it turns the landscape gold but it’s not exactly warm. So warmth from the quinacridone gold background and cold from the top layer of blues on the edges of the trees. The second study I used more blue; still deciding if it’s too much. Colours:? quinacridone gold, cadmium red, perelyne green, Prussian blue, cobalt blue, titanium white.
I’ve been in the mood for tackling another large flower painting, along the lines of Listening to Daisies. These two studies were intended to remind me of how I’d painted that: the layering, the colours,the refining detail from chaos. The second one I tried to add stronger darks, for more tonal contract, something I ought to have done at a lower layer.
These paintings are all now at Skyeworks Gallery (?49 each).
Not shown are the other half dozen studies that ended up as a muddy confused mess or didn’t get anywhere near anything sensible that are still pinned to my easel. I’ll have another round with some, overworking with opaque or semi-opaque colours; the rest I’ll
save for when I need something to rip up in frustration abandon.
“I did the first two figures that I painted this year just the same way as I tried last year ? drawing first and then filling in the outline. That?s what I would call the dry manner. In the other manner one in fact does the drawing last and begins work by first seeking the tones without worrying much about it, about the drawing, just trying to put the tones roughly in their place in one go and to gradually define the form and the subdivision of the colours. Then one gets more of that effect of the figure coming out as if it?s surrounded by air, and it takes on a softer quality. While the colours become more delicate, because one goes over them often and sweeps one colour through another.”
Vincent van Gogh Letter to Theo, 3 August 1883
“This was the first time VanGogh let go of the drawing as his foundation and guide.”
Van Gogh at Work, by Marije Vellekoop page 64
Are you so attached to a way of working that it’s become a security blanket you can’t let go of? “But it works” I hear you say, and I’m sure it does, but you’ll never discover what else might work too, what might be added and incorporated to your current approach that might enhance it, if you never try other things. Think of it as putting your security blanket in the wash, it’s not gone forever, only temporarily.
Ask yourself: If you can carefully draw a composition in pencil before putting paint onto it, why not skip that step and ‘draw’ it with the paint and a brush? (Note: I’m not talking about paintings in which the pencil is an integral, visible part if the final result.)
Then, how about reducing how much you draw and move towards a minimal painted sketch of the composition, a framework for blocking in colour? Start with broad areas of colour and refine it more and more, working towards detail in layers rather than working in tiny jigsaw pieces alongside one another. A blocked-in area of colour is but a stepping stone in the journey, not the destination; that unfolds and gets clearer the further along the journey you travel.
Here are four photos taken while I was working on a painting of Kilt Rock. The composition was briefly sketched using Prussian blue, then some green added to hilltops and grey to cliff and rocky shore (top left photo). I worked onto this, refining it layer by layer to the final painting. The approach allows me to work expressively rather than tightly filling in tiny bits right from start. The layers give a richness and depth to the colour, and there’s an energy to the result.
There’s a temporary ferry running between Uig and Stornoway whilst work is being done on the ferry terminal at Ullapool, presenting the opportunity to do a journey and?to see bits of seascape I couldn’t usually. All I needed was a “ferry weather” day, i.e. sunshine and little wind so the sea would be calm. That day was Friday. The in-house art critic’s comment: “Someone who’s not a good sailor,?subjecting themselves to a six-hour boat trip, must be seriously keen to see the view.”
It was a beautiful journey, calming and mesmerizing, intriguing and familiar, inspiring and overwhelming. I took lots of snapshots of bits of coastline, the view down over Skye to the Cuillin, the snow-topped mainland mountains, the various small islands, the open water…
The sea makes a tired sound
That’s always stopping though it never stops.
“Fetching Cows” by Norman MacCaig
I’ve been exploring an idea related to the incoming tide, those tentacles of water that slither up the beach reaching further and further while simultaneously always sliding back. Always stopping but never stopped. Paint that is always drying but never dry if I keep adding to a painting.
These four related studies are now
at Skyeworks sold.
There’s something incredibly special about someone surprising themselves with what they can do when they start to explore using art materials. It happened again yesterday during an introduction to drawing and painting workshop I did at Skyeworks, for a group of four friends. The day started with pencil and ended up with acrylic via watercolour, water-soluble pencils, black ink applied with a stick and/or brush, working wet onto dry and wet into wet, how to turn a circle into the illusion of a 3D sphere, using feathers and apples as props.
The subject of perhaps doing a regular workshop at Minginish (Portnalong) came up; if you’re interested do let me know by posting a comment below or emailing. I’m thinking it could perhaps be a day’s workshop, with a taught technique/skill session in the morning and working on a personal project in the medium of your choice in the afternoon.