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).
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.
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.
“…what happens at about the age of 5, when people enter the school system, is that drawing and writing become split. That’s when there’s some idea that those two things need to be moved away from each other. Even to the point, you know, where we start looking at books that have more words than pictures.” — Lynda Barry. Drawing ‘Has To Come Out Of Your Body’
Use words in your sketchbook. Bring back the integration of words and pictures that’s so enjoyable in illustrated books, comics, graphic novels. Don’t believe that sketchbooks are for images only.
Sometimes I mostly use words. It doesn’t turn my sketchbook into a diary, it just means I was in a words mood not a drawing mood.
“Afraid is a country where they issue us passports at birth and hope we never seek citizenship in any other country. The face of afraid keeps changing constantly, and I can count on that change. Audre Lorde, 18 February 1984 diary entry, A Burst of Light and Other Essays, via Brainpickings
Uncertainty is a certainty of life.
Uncertainty is a certainty of art.
Being afraid to try, being afraid of failure, being afraid of letting ourselves down is so much easier than hoping for success, hoping for discovery, hoping to enjoy the process of learning. Choose hope over fear, and find like-minded people rather than naysayers.
“There is, has been, and will always be a certain group of people whom inspiration visits. It’s made up of all those who’ve consciously chosen their calling and do their job with love and imagination.
“… Difficulties and setbacks never quell their curiosity. A swarm of new questions emerges from every problem they solve.
“Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous “I don’t know.
“…This is why I value that little phrase “I don’t know” so highly. It’s small, but it flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include the spaces within us as well as those outer expanses in which our tiny Earth hangs suspended. ”
“…there are three qualities you need to develop as a painter: patience, persistence, and passion.
“Since painting is a complex process, you need to be patient with yourself as you learn to master the craft. Your persistence is important, in order to move past your failures and frustrations. And finally, it is your passion…that propels you forward.”
The Three P’s of Painting: Patience, Persistence, Passion
Passion, enthuasiasm, desire … perhaps the easiest to have in abundance.
Persistence, endurance, determination … it’s a long-distance event not a sprint. Pace yourself.
Patience … the hardest as we expect to learn in less time than is reaistic. Think about how many years it took you to learn to read and write, how we start one letter at a time not with five-syllable words such as phthalocyanine (aka phthalo, as in the blue).
“… if in the process of doing [creative exercises] you don’t make at least one thing that you’re too embarrassed to show anyone, then you’re probably doing it wrong. As hard as it can be, the goal is to let go and let things flow. You’re likely to make some genuinely bad stuff along the way, but I’d wager that the benefits will end up outweighing all that.”
“One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.” — Anne Lamott, from introduction to “Bird by Bird”
Substitute “painter” for “writer”.
Remember that “places” need not be far away, nor unfamiliar (think Monet and his pond).
A few days in the year, the view from my studio has snow in the foreground, not only on the hilltops of Harris, changing the dominant colours. And then it’s gone, thanks to the Gulf Stream, though it sometimes lingers in the sheltered field between the trees.
” Concentration is so hard to achieve, and even harder to maintain for hours. The key for me is to solve one set of problems at a time. I try to maintain a constructive level of dissatisfaction, and to hang in there until I really feel it can’t be improved.”
Walking around the Scottish National Portrait in Edinburgh with a friend recently, it was interesting seeing which portraits caught our attention, which we both liked and disliked. We do enjoy similar things in art — expressive over tight realism, bright colour over gloom — and it’s fun to share and compare without getting too serious.
This self portrait by Scottish Colourist Cadell caught my eye for how much of it is “unfinished”. Notice how he’s painted his features and his painting behind him, leaving the rest as unimportant but still a hint of colour still on his palette. His pipe melds inextricably into the still life. The shadow from the ornate frame is annoying, and you can see a better photo on the gallery’s website (here) that you can zoom in on .
“Figure out what you want to commit to doing ahead of time. When it comes time to do it, your brain will start using that classic addict’s tactic of bargaining. Don’t let it negotiate. You decided already, no questioning that decision. Just do it. Let yourself revisit that decision later, after you’ve done it and when you’re in a place to decide, not when you’re facing discomfort and wanting to get out of it.”
Facing that “why did I think this was a good idea” moment when all I want to do is run away screaming silently, lasting through it, and coming out the other side more often than not pleasantly surprised that what had originally prompted me was right after all.
Such as my standing in for an artist friend who’d volunteered to do stone painting with kids at a charity stand at a big local summer event but then had a family emergency. I’d watched her Facebook post where she’d asked but no-one was offering (several people who might have were already doing something) and in the end I messaged her to offer. I didn’t tell anyone beforehand other than the in-house art critic so friends didn’t turn up just to see the unprecedented scene of me and a bunch of kids (or to find that anxiety had won and I’d left already).
As it turned out, it was an inspiring day. The kids who wanted to do the activity preselected themselves as interested in painting, and I persuaded most of their accompanying adults to have a go too. The latter’s joy in reconnecting with painting and making was infectious. I suspect many a set of acrylic paint markers were bought soon thereafter.