I’m away for the weekend for a little creative R&R, on a life drawing/painting workshop being led by Alan McGowan for Art Lochaber. Besides the creative stimulation (and break from the varnishing, stringing and admin for my forthcoming exhibition), I was hoping to build on what I’d done last November. I printed out my notes to myself from that workshop, and did today find myself mentally referring to some points (e.g. positioning the angle of the head by looking at where the mouth was in relation to a mental line drawing across the shoulders). I’m pleased with what I produced, especially the tonal ‘lift-off-the-paint’ Rembrandty one, but as for being less heavy handed with charcoal, well that’s still on my to-be-improved list. Apologies, the photos are mere phone snaps.
Crisp sunshine, ultramarine sky with fluffy white clouds, snow-dusted peaks, no wind… today was the northwest Highlands in tranquil mode. Calming, majestic, mesmerizing. Full of visual puzzles if you look at pieces rather than the whole. So many starting points for abstracted landscape paintings, using pattern and colour from reality rather than painting the postcard view.
“I believe that all great art holds the power to dissolve things: time, distance, difference, injustice, alienation, despair. I believe that all great art holds the power to mend things: join, comfort, inspire hope in fellowship, reconcile us to our selves. …
“We stand before a work of art and our spirit is lifted by it: amazing that someone is like us! We stand before a work of art and our spirit resists: amazing that someone is different!”
An artist friend and I were talking on the weekend about the inevitability of being influenced by the artwork of others, whether you fight against it or whether you absorb and make it something of your own, and how you might do either of these. We may differ in our approaches, but we agree that nothing lifts the spirit like art, both seeing it and creating it.
It being so sunny yesterday, I went a’wandering a bit, taking lots of snapshots of snow-covered bits of the Trotternish Ridge, ending up at Skyeworks where I couldn’t resist removing the wool from the paintings in progress. The results are intriguing, and definitely something I’ll do again, not least to see whether I can replicate an effect deliberately. Here are some photos of the results (here are the ‘before’ photos):
On Saturday at the ‘creation tables’ at the back of Skyeworks, I experimented with placing a piece of wool onto the canvas to restrict the spread of High Flow acrylics. I put it in places where I’d have drawn a line if I were working in pencil, for instance the top of a ridge or divide between sea and land.
Why wool and not string? No reason other than Skyeworks’ box of crafting bits contains wool not string. I also put masking tape around the edge of the canvas to create a “dam”, so the paint wouldn’t pour off the side if the canvas wasn’t flat. (Note to self: double-check it is stuck all the way around!)
The wool did constrain the paint as I’d hoped, allowing a little colour seepage if the canvas is kept flat, and more if tilted but not as much as if it wasn’t there. Where the wool is the paint dries speckled, as some is absorbed, which adds interesting texture. Bottom right photo shows the result; this was the first canvas I worked on and the paint was just about dry (it being cold, the acrylic dries slowly). The other three I managed to leave to dry thoroughly; it’s a tremendous temptation to tweak and fiddle and? peak under the wool. Top right has some coarse sea salt on it; same idea as with watercolour, that some of the paint will be absorbed to leave interest effects. Bottom? left I used gloss medium along with the paint, and it’s spread differently.
What happens next with these will depend on how I feel about them until I see them again (I left them at Skyeworks) when they’re dry. Might like the result totally, might work a layer or two over the top, might do a lot. I won’t know, which is part of the fun.
The setting: Big canvas lying on a plastic storage crate in the centre of the bit of open floorspace of my studio, so I could work flat on it with very fluid paint.
The problem: No space to walk around the canvas. Arms not long enough to reach top of canvas whilst sitting on floor.
The solution: Turn the canvas and paint clouds “upside down” onto the previously painted “dark sky” colour, starting at the top-but-now-the-bottom edge.
The happenstance: As the fluid paint spread it started to form a series of hills on the horizon, which could be the Outer Hebrides viewed over the sea or hills on the far side of a loch.
The photos: Top is how I was seeing it as I was painting it. Bottom is the canvas turned right way up. (Detail photos, not the whole width.)
I was using Golden’s High Flow Acrylic paint, which I’ve really been enjoying the past few weeks. While it’s not cheap paint it is top artist’s quality (though some pigments do head up into the “gulp” range); the intensity of the colours is astounding and the consistency unlike anything else. It flows yet has a surface tension that holds it, so it behaves differently to acrylic ink. The paint also doesn’t create bubbles when you shake it, which I’ve found happens with DIY flow paint created using flow medium + water + paint.
I’ve been using the paint straight from the bottle, enjoying the intensity of colour and the interactions between colours as they spread and mix into one another. Spraying water over the top encourages the paint to spread, and rapidly shows how level a canvas is, or not! Sticking some masking tape around the sides creates a ‘dam’ to stop the paint dripping off the side.
I can also see great potential for glazing with High Flow acrylics. Some colours in the range are transparent, some opaque; not only do the labels tell you, but on the bigger bottles the nozzle is clear or opaque too, a clever bit of packaging design. But right now I’m entranced by it “straight from the bottle”, and mixing colours in empty bottles.
Remember the painting with the little yellow tree on the riverbank that had been in “pondering mode” for some time (see Does This Painting Need More Sunshine)? Well, it stayed in pondering mode until last week. In the end I did very little too it, only adding some extra white to the river. I found that as the days got longer and mid-winter darkness receded, the painting revealed more and more colour, and it was indeed nearly finished.
Now all it needs is a title; I’m hearing “The Little Tree That Could” in my head for not-quite fathomable reasons, but think that something like “Flowing Past” would be a better fit for my “Flow” exhibition. Any suggestions? But please not “A River Flows Through It”; when I worked as sub-editor at Getaway travel magazine photojournalists loved that almost as much as the word “experience” (as in “dining experience”, “bush experience”, “4×4 experience”).
Here’s a photo of the painting overall, and below that a detail that’s about lifesize (click on it to see the photo bigger).
“Chaos in nature is immediately challenging and forces a good artist to impose some type of order on his or her perception of a site. When I find a scene that provides that type of challenge, I return to it over and over again, both physically and mentally in the studio, continually searching for new insights.?
— Wolf Kahn
Quote source: ?A studio visit with Wolf Kahn?, American Artist, May 1997
The position of the sun on its annual and daily geographical journeys, the density or absence of clouds, whether these are loaded with drizzle, rain, sleet, snow or merely threatening as they are driven along the Minch by wind, how fast the wind changes the patterns of light and shadow… the windows I look through every day may show the same bit of landscape but it is never the same. There are similar conditions and occasions, but never identical. Familiar but different, both in the looking and painting.
New images and emotional responses are added to my memories. My starting inspiration changes. In the icy weather we’ve been having I’ve seen a tantalizing cobalt teal layer on the sea, over dark Prussian blue depths and below clouds that become bottom-heavy with deep greys (Prussian blue + burnt umber + titanium white) then streak down, hiding the sea in a glaze of sleet. As I write this there’s low cloud hiding the horizon, the divide between sea and sky; if I were painting it’d be time to reach for some more titanium white to lighten the grey.
I’ve been painting miniatures, most of which will become brooches and pendants in my Wearable Art range. I had a mishap with the fluorescent orange paint, it coming out the container a little too enthusiastically, resulting in a puddle of it on one brooch, which is why the two polar bears ended up that colour.
In case you were wondering about the surface I’m working on, it’s the back of a canvas still wrapped in plastic. Why is not some great mystery (nor connected to polar bears in some sort of obscure Lost reference); it’s simply that it was within reach when I needed a flat surface. And the polar bears won’t remain orange, they’ll be overpainted with iridescent white so there’s only a hint of it.
There’s one brooch with black that looks like a Rorschach test to me (photo below). It may well get another layer of paint or it may be one I keep, depending on how I feel about it tomorrow when the paint’s dry.