Monday Motivator: Paint is Liquid Thought

“Paint records the most delicate gesture and the most tense. It tells whether the painter sat, stood, or crouched in front of the canvas. Paint is a cast made of the painter’s movements, a portrait of the painter’s body and thoughts. …

“Painting is an unspoken and largely uncognized dialogue, where paint speaks silently in masses and colors and the artist responds in moods.

“All those meanings are intact in the paintings that hang in museums: they preserve the memory of the tired bodies that made them, the quick jabs, the exhausted truces, the careful nourishing gestures. Painters can sense those motions in the paint even before they notice what the paintings are about.

“Paint is water and stone, and it is also liquid thought. That is an essential fact that art history misses…”

James Elkins, What Painting Is

I think it’s possible to identify painters in an art gallery. They’re the people who also step to one side to look at the painted surface from an angle, which makes brushmarks and layers clearer. And often clasp their hands behind their back so as not to give into the temptation to touch. Paint is a non-verbal language that speaks across time.

First Gorse Study #2 painting
SOLD. First Gorse Study #2. 20x20cm

Monday Motivator: Humour is an Element of Creativity

Monsieur P big pencil

“… joy, humor, and overall goofiness are actually vital for creativity. They are the playful elements that lead to better creative thinking. …

“When teachers use humor (especially observational humor), they are modeling a certain kind of curiosity and a willingness to look at life from a different angle. While this might not seem like an inherently creative act, curiosity is often the starting point for creativity. At some point, you move from questioning and exploring into making.

” … play often inspires deeper creativity. … a relaxed, non-threatening way to question everything

“… if we choose to be creative in the small things — if we embrace the goofy and silly and ridiculous and humorous — we have embraced that mindset that allows us to be creative in the big things.”

John Spencer, Five Ways Humor Boosts Creative Thinking and Problem-Solving in the Classroom, 16 Sept 2019

Monsieur P big pencil
Monsieur P and the BIg Paint Tube

Monday Motivator: Uncertainty and the Search for Knowledge

“I believe that one of the greatest mistakes made by human beings is to want certainties when trying to understand something. The search for knowledge is not nourished by certainty: it is nourished by a radical absence of certainty.

“Thanks to the acute awareness of our ignorance, we are open to doubt and can continue to learn and to learn better. This has always been the strength of scientific thinking—thinking born of curiosity, revolt, change.”

Theoretical Physicist Carlo Rovelli, “Helgoland: Making Sense of the Quantum Revolution” (via Austin Kleon)

It may feel that knowing what the outcome will be before putting brush to paint to paper is the way to success, but it’s also the road to inhibition (hesitation in case you do it wrong), self-doubt (when you don’t get what you expected) and fear (of even trying).

Creative Ideas Overload

Monday Motivator: Ink vs Pencil

“Working in ink gives you two options — you can simply not draw, or you can draw and face whether or not your marks came out as you intended them to. There’s no in between.

“… Where success shows us where we are currently, failure shows us what our next steps might be.”

Irshad Karim, “Why Ink?“, Draw a Box

With pencil, you can change your mind and erase, you can doubt yourself and do a light line first. Ink forces you to keep going forwards, to respond and adapt, to live with mistakes and inperfections. Counter-intuitively, drawing with ink is easier than with pencil because you’re instantly committed, it reduces choices.

Van Gogh’s Other Sunflowers

Mention Van Gogh and sunflowers and you probably vidualise one of his still lifes of sunflowers in a vase (there were seven: five are in museums, one with a private collection, one lost in the Second World War). But there are other less-well-known, earlier paintings of his involving sunflowers:

Allotment with Sunflower“, Vincent van Gogh, Paris, July 1887, oil on canvas, 43.2 cm x 36.2 cm, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
Shed with Sunflowers, Vincent van Gogh, Paris, August-September 1887, pencil, pen and ink, watercolour, on paper, 31.6 cm x 24.1 cm, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
Sunflowers Gone to Seed“, Vincent van Gogh, Paris, August-September 1887, oil on cotton, 21.2 cm x 27.1 cm, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
Sunflowers, Vincent van Gogh, 1887, oil on canvas, (43.2 x 61 cm, Metropolitan Museum

Sunflowers, Vincent van Gogh,1889, oil on canvas, 95 cm x 73 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
Sunflowers, Vincent van Gogh, 1890, pencil on paper, 13.4 cm x 8.5 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
Sunflowers, Vincent van Gogh,1890, pencil on paper, 13.4 cm x 8.5 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
Vincent van Gogh Painting Sunflowers” by Paul Gauguin, 1888, oil on canvas, 73 cm x 91 cm, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

The colours in Van Gogh’s famous still lifes have changed over time, “mainly caused by a certain type of red paint (geranium lake) fading and a certain type of yellow paint (chrome yellow) darkening” (source: Conservation treatment ‘Sunflowers‘, Van Gogh Museum). If you don’t see the video below, click here.

Monday Motivator: The Gap Between Anything and Nothing

“The stupidest possible creative act is still a creative act. … And once they’ve done it, they can do it again, and they could work on getting it better. 

“There is a spectrum between mediocre work and good work, and as anybody who’s worked as an artist or a creator knows, it’s a spectrum you’re constantly struggling to get on top of. The gap is between doing anything and doing nothing.”

Clay Shirky, How Cognitive Surplus Will Change the World, TED June 2010

Your very worst painting is more of a painting than the brilliant one you’re still thinking of doing.

Higham Hall Workshop: Sunset painting
This painting was done by a participant of one of my Higham Hall workshops, using of one of my reference photos as inspiration. (And I still love this painting C., and still haven’t tackled my own version!)

Monday Motivator: Empathy

“Empathy, like love, has a reputation for softness. It too often reads as compromise or pandering. But empathy, like love, can be radical. It asks everyone to give and see more than they may otherwise feel is possible …

“Art bends and distorts perceptions. It demands comfort with ambiguity, and in an ambiguous world, there may be no more valuable skill.”

Sam Ramos, “Why Connecting Legal and Medical Professionals to Art is Essential“, 24/8/21

There are no guarantees when you pick up a brush, yet we can do it with such hope, in anticipation of channelling our best version of our creative selves, this time. And the next, and the next. Hopes held together by threads of love and empathy for our creative selves .

Seaglass wirework bracelet
Wirework bracelet using some of sea glass I found

Monday Motivator: Depiction of Time in a Landscape Painting

“Rarely is a landscape painting simply a transcription of place, unmodified by any further element.

“In all representation of place there is an element of serious play with time. Either the depiction of a landscape as it was on one day incorporates elements of the changing patterns of light and weather all through the hours that were spent in the making of the painting, or the apparent capture of an instant appears to set time itself at defiance.”

Peter Davidson, introduction to exhibition catalogue “James Morrison: The Edge of Allegory“, July 2009

It’s your painting, you get to decide.

Clock with hands drawn in with a pen

Monday Motivator: Activate a Loss of Control When Painting

“I like working abstractly, or trying new experimental methods just to see what happens, because it helps me just… get paint on the paper. It helps me explore.

“… More than just letting go of control, the goal was almost to activate a loss of control at times, and then ride the wave and see where it took me.

“Little paintings … are great, because if I screw it up I don’t care. That’ allows for a lot of room to play.”

Stephen Berry, Summer Art Experiments

It’s not wasting paint, nor paper, nor time, nor opportunity. It’s using paint and paper and time to explore the unpredictable and unexpected, to let the materials lead you.

Knowing exactly how something is going to turn out is desirable when baking a cake. In painting the process can be more than enough of a reward in itself. A pleasing end result might happen, or it might not; that’s another chapter in the story.

Work in progress. Ink on paper, wet-into-wet (water brushed onto areas of the paper before applying ink).

Monday Motivator: The Square

“Unlike the horizontal or vertical format, which imparts its own directional energy to the composition, the square tends to exert a uniform pressure on all sides. To suggest movement, therefore, a painter must rely entirely on the internal elements of the composition.”

Mitchell Albala, Movement in Composition

A horizontal format leads our eye sideways, a vertical up and down. In a square we bounce off the equal-length edges as if we were in a pinball machine. It’s our composition’s job to guide our eye around in a calmer, controlled, interesting journey.

Daffodil Studies #1 to #4 paintings Marion Boddy-Evans
Daffodil Studies #1 #2 #3 #4. 15x15cm