Reading: “Kyffin Williams: The Light and the Dark”

This monograph covers the sixty-odd years Kyffin Williams painted. Expect lots of moody Welsh landscapes, but also portraits (including bright red military uniforms), linocuts, drawings, and watercolours. The reproductions enable you to clearly see the texture of his impasto, knife-painting style and visualise individual strokes. The accompanying text is an engaging and accessible read about his painting, influences, and life.
• “Kyffin Williams: The Light and the Dark” is published by Lund Humphries

Monday Motivator: Intensively vs Extensively

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote
Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote

” … reading “intensively” [was] the common practice of most readers before the nineteenth century, when books, which were scarce and expensive, were often read aloud and many times over. As reading materials—not just books, but newspapers, magazines, and ephemera—proliferated, more recent centuries saw the rise of reading “extensively”: we read these materials once, often quickly, and move on.”

Mairead Small Staid, Reading in the Age of Constant Distraction, The Paris Review, 8 Feb 2019

I have favourite fiction books I have read many times, favourite films/series I have watched many times, and favourite reference books. Wearing my non-fiction editor hat, I read things at least three times, first for the gist, second to line-edit, third to check my edit. Maybe it’s inevitable that I revisit subjects and locations to paint them time and again, looping around and coming back to things with myself being the variable not the constant.

Random fact: “Extense” is an archaic word. “Intense” we still use.

Monet The Garden Paintings Exhibition

The Kunstmuseum Den Haag currently has a Monet exhibition centred around the restoration of their wisteria painting by him (info here). They’ve also produced this documentary which I enjoyed watching. (And an exhibition catalogue that has me repeating to myself: “don’t need another book on Monet, don’t need…“)

Claude Monet in front of his home in Giverny (detail), 1921 Autochrome, 18 x 24 cm, Musée d’Orsay.
Agence Rol (1904-1937), Claude Monet in his studio, 1926, gelatin silver print, 18 x 13 cm, Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), Paris
Claude Monet (1840-1926), Wisteria, 1917-1920, oil on canvas, 150,5 x 200,5 cm, Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

Monday Motivator: Assume You Don’t Need It

Monday motivator art quotes

Monday motivator art quotes

” …you can take the first draft of any poem and improve it 80% by lopping off the first and last stanzas.

“… with the first stanza we are struggling to get the creative juices flowing; by the end of the poem we are so enamored with what we are doing that we don’t want to stop

“… what do we agonize over most when writing a piece?  The first sentence, the first paragraph, the first scene.  Jump in, don’t worry about it; assume you’ll throw this part out when you revise, anyway.”

— John Lehman, Like Melting Ice, quoting an observation by Rod Jellema

Taking this into drawing and painting, I think it is: jump in and start anywhere; include less (in the composition and detail); stop sooner.

Monday Motivator: Skill or Talent?

Monday motivator art quotes“Being jealous of talents that are actually skills is a great way to let yourself off the hook and make yourself miserable at the same time.”
Seth Godin, One way to think about talent

“If even one person is able to learn it, if even one person is able to use effort and training to get good at something, it’s a skill.
Seth Godin, Skills vs. talents

Would you hold a cello for the first time and expect to be Jaqueline du Pré playing Elgar?

Did she ever stopped practising? Was she the only musician able to play that composition? There are many performances, all the same notes, all different.

So why pick up a watercolour brush and expect to instantly be Beatrix Potter?

Don’t deny yourself the journey that learning to paint is. The sights and sounds of the road, ups and downs, the sought-after and the serendipitous.

The Knife Painting of Kyffin Williams

Kyffin Williams (1918–2006) was a Welsh artist who mostly painted with a knife. Slatherings of oil paint, using a limited palette of muted colours and black outlines. His paintings range from minimalist and quite abstract to landscapes full of suggested detail as well as portraits. My favourites are his sheepdogs and seascapes, plus his stone walls.

You can browse a collection of 300-odd paintings on Art UK and many more, plus drawings and sketches, on the National Library of Wales’ centenary website.

Williams, Kyffin; Self Portrait; Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/self-portrait-120020
Williams, Kyffin; Coastal Sunset; Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/coastal-sunset-120543
Williams, Kyffin; Welsh Sheepdog; Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/welsh-sheepdog-120564
Williams, Kyffin; The Way to the Cottages; Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-way-to-the-cottages-120575

There’s a BBC documentary (“The Man Who Painted Wales”) on Kyffin Williams; if you look on YouTube you might find more clips.

Monday Motivator: Subject Isn’t the Most Important Part of a Painting

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote

“If the subject matter were the most important part of a painting, then you would no longer need to paint.

“… everything under the sun has already been painted. The humble holly tree is not itself important, but how your perceptions are used to interpret those impressions through paint is what matters most.”
Suzanne Brooker, “Elements of Landscape Oil Painting”, p10

Worry Focus less about what you’re painting and more on how you’re painting it.

James Gurney (of Dinotopia fame) is a great inspiration with this, turning the everyday into art. See for example his snow pile behind a supermarket, parking lot entrance ramp, a road sign and a utility/phone pole. His skill at this is also a bit demotivating; just remember he has many, many miles under his brush.

Dancing a line with a brush

Monday Motivator: If You Can’t Quite Yet

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote

“If you can’t quite capture what you’re seeing yet, write down your observations. Draw an arrow pointing to the part of the drawing …  record what you are learning.”
Danny Gregory, How to Draw Without Talent, page 67

“Yet” is perhaps the most vital tool in our pencilbox. It shifts a negative into the optimistic: “I can’t”  vs  “I can’t, yet”.

It’s not a measure of time. It’s a statement of belief.

“Yet” may happen next week, next year, years from now, or tomorrow. Yet may take longer than we wish, or it may surprise us. There’s no way to know for certain, but if you leave off the “yet”, you leave off any possibility that it will happen, because believing in yourself is the first step.

We find it so easy to believe we’ll fail. Have the same degree of conviction in your “yet”.

Monday Motivator: The Value of a Messy Sketchbook

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote “…the vernacular of the sketchbook is the unintended, the improvised, the hasty, the un-fussy — the value of all that matures nicely and richly rewards looking back.

“…The more intimately you treat your sketchbook and the more uninhibited you are within it, the more value it will offer you. Accept that it will look very weird to spies.
Christopher Butler, on Twitter 15 Aug 19

A sketchbook is a repository, a thoughts/ideas/words/drawings bank. But not a dictionary, all the information lined up alphabetically in neat columns. It’s a reflection of life in all its influences, uncertainties, unclarifiable messy chaos.

People can ask to see it. You can offer it to others to page through. But you are not responsible for what others get from looking at it and don’t have to justify nor explain it.

Two Highland Cow Paintings from the McManus in Dundee

Highland cows painting by Gourlay Steel

The Victorian gallery at The McManus in Dundee, with its original curved red walls, vaulted glass ceiling, and ornamental plasterwork is impressive even before you start to absorb individual paintings. I was there in May, after being to the V&A Dundee (see photos).

Two paintings featuring Highland cows caught my attention. This one, A Highland Parting, was painted in 1885 by Gourlay Steell. Having looked him up, I now know he was a Royal Scottish academician, appointed in 1872 as the official painter of animals to Queen Victoria, succeeding Edwin Landseer (of Monarch of the Glen fame).

Highland cows painting by Gourlay Steel

This gives you an idea of the size of the painting. (I can’t recall what had caught my Ma’s attention to the left.) I like the rich colour, the brushwork creating the windsweptness of the cow’s hair, that there’s the full cow colour range, the contrast between meticulous and suggested, plus those sheep.

Highland cows painting by Gourlay Steel
Highland cows painting by Gourlay Steel
Highland cows painting by Gourlay Steel
Highland cows painting by Gourlay Steel
Detail of shepherd from Highland cows painting by Gourlay Steel
Detail of sheep from Highland cows painting by Gourlay Steel
Gallery label for Highland cows painting by Gourlay Steel

The other was Moorland and Mist by Peter Graham. The appeal wasn’t so much the photographic realism of the cows as the background lost in the mist. How so much of the composition has a tantalising feeling of the mist about to shift any minute and let you see more. Contrasting with the detailed foreground and cows, giving the viewer’s eye a respite from all the detail.

Highland cow painting by Peter Hraham
Detail from highland cow painting by Peter Hraham
Detail from highland cow painting by Peter Hraham
Gallery label for highland cow painting by Peter Hraham