These two lines have been generating images in my mind since I came across them on the Scottish Poetry Library’s website. (Poetry is visual and emotional life put into words; it helps show the world anew. Like art, you have to hunt around for the bits that’ll resonate with you.)
In paint, there’d be a some “rain colour” in the sky, and some “sky colour” in the rain. Or perhaps a “mother color”, which is a color used in every mixed color in a painting (it may itself be mixed or a single pigment colour). I’m mostly seeing is as combinations of two favourite colours — Prussian blue and burnt umber. Together with white, these produce beautiful greys.
Adding a fourth colour will give a sense of season and time of day. Sounds like a series… Prussian blue, burnt umber, titanium white plus one other until I’ve worked my way through all my paint tubes. Or perhaps “plus one other and whatever yesterday’s other was”.
Delving into the tweeds my fabric stash I was reminded how mesmerizing the subtle colour variations in the threads and patterns are. I had to keep telling myself I was supposed to be in sewing mode not colour-study mode.
I ended up creating a handful of small tweed zip bags and a larger bag featuring a patchwork kitty I rediscovered. Most of my tweeds come from Harris, a few from Skye Weavers, and some from the mysterious depths of my stash.
As for the fluorescent zips, these and using different tweeds on either side are an attempt at a point of difference, rounded off with my new studio metal tags and fluorescent orange sew-in labels. Definitely not subtle colours.
Whenever you find yourself thinking “I can’t do it” or “I don’t know how” add a three-letter word to your mental dialogue. Add the word “yet”. Say “I can’t do it, yet” and “I don’t know how, yet“.
Give yourself permission to spend time learning, as well as to stumble and fail while you strive. Abandon the expectation that it ought to come easily (whatever that “it” is) and use the fear of failure as motivation to continue rather than quitting or not trying at all. Learn to “Fail better”1, be open to “what if I…” curiosity.
In the same interview that yesterday’s motivator quote was taken from, artist Alan McGowan mentions the Zen philosophy of a “beginners mind”, saying it is
“not easy to do and it’s quite scary because there’s always the chance that it will not work at all, that it will turn into a big mess… There can be an expectation from others that one should always be successful, that a picture should in some way be an expression of expertise, especially as I teach as well. But that’s a bit of a trap. The risk of failure is for me an important part of the whole process of painting (and drawing) and so you want to keep that possibility open; that it could all collapse.”
Stop caring so much about it looking to others as if you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re busy learning and discovering as you go along, so you do indeed not always know whether what you’re doing will be successful. But the end product (a “good painting”) isn’t the sole objective, and often not relevant at all. Having an intriguing and interesting journey is also an objective. A drawing/painting that’s about observation, about the process and techniques, not about ending up with a pretty picture.
A beginner’s mind means: 1. Focusing on the moment. What might be the next step in a painting’s creation. Not obsessing about what the finished painting will be.
2. Endurance. Sticking with it, layer after layer. Don’t be preciously protective about any “good bits” in every single drawing and painting. (Ideally none, but that’s near impossible.)
3. Embracing uncertainty and working through it. Don’t habitually erase and restart; go forwards not backwards.
4. Enjoying the journey. Enjoy the art materials you’re using and try different paints, papers, brushes, colours etc. to find new favourites and fall in love anew.
5. Being patient and impatient. Grant yourself time to learn while being constantly eager to learn more.
“When the light is coming and going it becomes more obvious that nothing is simple, and in fact what one is trying to do is actually impossible. Which I find a very liberating idea.
“It changes your relationship to notions about success and failure, ‘getting it right’ etc, it becomes more an idea of participation, of engagement and trying to make something which is authentic and ultimately an affecting image.”
Wanting to move away from the blues and greens of recent paintings, I decided I’d start a forest painting with a seriously intense colour, magenta. It does still tie into reality through foxgloves and pink-purple heathers, so there is a little landscape-painting logic behind the choice.
I started with adding some texture in thin vertical strips for tree trunks, then once this has dried I brushed over magenta. I added a little red to this for a bit of variation, then left it to dry before starting to layer in colour that will ultimately read as “tree trunks”. If you’re wondering about the background, I did this at Skyeworks Gallery.
This is still a work-in-progress. I have some idea of where I’ll go next (such as refining the darks), but have left the painting at Skyeworks so I’ll have to see if what I’ve in mind still applies when I see it again on Wednesday.
One comment so far from someone who’s seen it has been that it’s “tweed handbag colours”, referencing the bright pinks popular in modern tweeds. Any other suggestions?
“In order to truly see nature anew and not merely register it, habitual perception must be made more difficult…
“[by] merely suggesting rather than sharply delineating objects, emphasising ambiguity and openness, employing serial methods, and including the viewer in art [a painting] becomes an incarnation of the creative process.”
— Art historian Karin Sagner-Düchting writing about Monet’s late paintings, Monet and Modernism, page 29
Or put another way: look harder and don’t put in so much meticulous detail. Don’t tell everything in a painting, leave parts open to interpretation for people to determine their own story from it. Don’t have detail across the whole painting down to the single brush hair level, but let what looks real from a little distance dissolve into pieces of colour as you look closely. It’s far more interesting.
Thank you to everyone who came to the official opening of my Edges Exhibition last night for your support and enthusiasm, conversation and comments. I greatly appreciate it. Thanks also to Skye Baking Co for the delicious catering, including assorted mini-breads and the cupcakes themed to my paintings — sheep, daisies, and seascapes.
My Painting-in-Progress: Kilt Rock has been moved from my studio to Skyeworks Gallery for my Edges Exhibition. It’s still waiting for me to finish it and as the exhibition opening is tonight it won’t get the waterfall added in time never mind finished. But I thought some people might find it interesting to see a work-in-progress and I’m intrigued to see how people respond to it as it is right now (I consider it no more than two-thirds finished).