Monday Motivator: The Tyranny of the Vanishing Point

Monday Motivator quote
Monday Motivator quote

“Have you ever thought about the cultural hegemony of the act of placing the vanishing point on your paper? There you are, drawing so as to solve a problem. You draw to think.

And then, plink. You place a vanishing point, or two, or even three, on your paper. And once you place the point(s), suddenly your entire drawing mindset changes.

With the vanishing point on the paper, suddenly now all lines need to radiate out from the point … you find yourself now working to “make it look right’.”

Kurt Ofer, Eliminate the Vanishing Point


Vanish the vanishing point.

Perspective in train track

Monday Motivator: Delight

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote
Monday Motivator quote

“Delight, unlike pleasure, contains an element of surprise, an unexpected frisson. And delight, unlike pleasure, leaves no bitter aftertaste. You never saw the delight coming so you don’t miss it when it’s gone.

… Appreciating life’s small, fleeting pleasures demands a loose grip. Hold them too tightly and they break.”

Eric Weiner on Reading Sei Shōnagon

Anticipate and enjoy, like the moment before dandelion seeds fly on a puff of air.

Monday Motivator: Experience Creates Specific Questions

Monday Motivator quote
Monday Motivator quote

“We keep coming back to learn more and more as we go along …We don’t load up facts and then spew out painting after painting because we had all the necessary information ready at hand. Try it first, decipher it next. We are explorers. …

“I teach my students that they must dive in while they learn basics. That way, they come back from the experience with specific questions, not just general thoughts like, “how do I get better?” or “what’s the right color?'”

Gregory Manchess, 10 Things…Color

Try first, then read the manual.

(Exception to the rule: flatpack furniture!)

Exploring Colour Mixing

Interesting Greys

Grey days, with low cloud or haar (sea mist), when there’s minimal colour in the landscape are not “dull days” to me, but “interesting greys”. A challenge to find the subtle changes of colour, the gentle variations in tone (value).

I started thinking of “interesting greys” after looking at paintings by Whistler in the Tate Britain gallery in London one visit, where the whole painting is dominated by shades of grey. For example:
Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Chelsea,
Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge, and
Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Cremorne Lights

Paintings I’d most likely walked past before, but spoke to me then, and still do.

I know it was at least 11 years ago now, because in October 2009 I did a Painting.About.com project in the style Whistler (see it on the web archive here).

In his Ten O’Clock Lecture of 20 February 1885, Whistler wrote: “He [the artist] does not confine himself to purposeless copying, without thought, each blade of grass, as commended by the inconsequent, but, in the long curve of the narrow leaf, corrected by the straight tall stem, he learns how grace is wedded to dignity, how strength enhances sweetness, that elegance shall be the result.

Taking this to greys, I think it’s not confining ourselves to neutral greys, to greys mixed with black and white, but to explore those greys that have a touch of blue, green, yellow, pink, purple. The greys that happen when we mix complementary colours together — yellow/purple, red/green, and my favourite orange/blue — and can happen when we scrape remnant colours together on our palette (depending on what’s there). Add lots and lots of white to get pale interesting greys.

It’s important to make notes about what colours youre using for your interesting greys so that you can replicate them. Imperfectly mixing colours on the canvas/paper, rather than on the palette, can give compelling variations, as in this sheet done by a participant in one of my Higham Hall workshops.

Mixing Interesting Greys

Think of grey not as a constant hue, but a variable.

Greys Days sheep
SOLD “Greys Days”. 76x76cm.

Monday Motivator: Why Work From a Live Subject

Monday Motivator quote
Monday Motivator quote

“As an artist you can’t be afraid to change angles and poke and prod. This is why we work from a live subject. If you work from a photograph you only get one angle and you can’t touch your subject. But when we work from life we can really get in there and do some in depth investigation.

“…think about art not as an act of creation but as an act of deep observation.”

Courtney Clinton, Rokeby Museum Distance Drawing Course Week 1: Vision

“From life” doesn’t mean “outdoors”, it means “not a photo”, something you can hold and turn, or walk around, to see the ‘other side’. So not a photo of a vase with flowers, but flowers you can touch and smell and that will droop and drop their petals if you take too long to paint them. Not that flowers past their prime can’t be a painting.

“Sunflowers Gone to Seed” by Vincent van Gogh, 1887, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Monday Motivator: Investing Creativity

Monday motivator art quotes
Monday motivator art quotes

“Building relationships is like investing a small percentage of our happiness in this other person, and receiving an investment of some of their happiness in us in return. This allows us to diversify our happiness across many people in many different aspects of life. And this diversification makes our own emotional health more resilient when difficulties in life come.”

Mark Manson, 5 Ways to Build Resilience and Conquer Adversity

Substiute “creativity” and “art/painting” for “happiness” and “relationships”, and we get:

Creating art is like investing a small percentage of our creativity in every painting, and receiving an investment of some of its creative energy in us in return. This allows us to diversify our creativity across many pieces in many different aspects of painting. And this diversification makes our own creative health more resilient when difficulties in painting come.

Monday Motivator: Continuous vs Dramatic Improvement

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote
Monday Motivator quote

“So often we convince ourselves that change is only meaningful if there is some large, visible outcome associated with it. … we often put pressure on ourselves to make some earth-shattering improvement that everyone will talk about. Meanwhile, improving by just 1 percent isn’t notable (and sometimes it isn’t even noticeable). But it can be just as meaningful, especially in the long run.”

James Clear, Continuous Improvement:

We know the tortoise beats the hare, eventually. The hard part is having the patience to plod.

Free quilt pattern scallop tortoise
Temperance the Tortoise, a scallop quilt I made in 2010

Monday Motivator: Paintings Are Not Poor Cameras

Monday Motivator quote
Monday Motivator quote

“There is a natural distortion that occurs in every painting. Very few paintings are accurate to what we see with our eyes verses what the camera records. … a painter is looking to create a piece to communicate beyond a mere record … expression goes beyond accuracy.

“We tolerate inaccuracies in paintings because of two reasons. One, we simply know it’s not a technical reproduction; second, we accept that the painter is telling us something as an expression. Paintings are not poor excuses for a lack of a camera.”

Gregory Manchess, “10 Things…Painting Portraits” on Muddy Colors 22 April 2020

The skills for painting realism are not the pinnacle, they’re base camp supplies.

Monday Motivator: Connected Colour

Monday Motivator quote

“We are able to hear a single tone.

But we amost never (that is, without special devices) see a single color unconnected and unrelated to other colors.

Colors present themselves in continuous flux, contantly related to changing neighbors and changing conditions.”

Josef Albers, “Interaction of Color“, page 5

Stop worrying about getting one colour absolutely right and spending ages mixing it. That colour is going to look different when you put your next ‘absolutely right’ colour next to it anyway. So go with ‘more or less right’ and adjust once there are lots of colours in play. Interaction is the name of the game.

Monday Motivator: How Many Questions Did You Ask Today?

Monday Motivator quote
Monday Motivator quote

“… researchers logging questions asked by children aged 14 months to five years found they asked an average of 107 questions an hour.

… high-performing students … saw curiosity as a risk to their results. The questions they asked were aimed at improving their results, whereas the questions asked by more curious students were aimed at understanding a topic more deeply.”

Wendy Berliner, “Schools are Killing Curiosity“, The Guardian 28 January 2020

Being results driven when painting means we’re asking:”How do I get this predetermined result?”. Deviations from the path are judged to be mistakes.

Being curiosity driven when painting means we’re asking:” What happens if I do XYZ”, then responding to the result. Deviations are possibilities.

Be curious until a result emerges, using the rules of art and characteristics of different materials as ingredients not a recipe. A perpetual voyage of discovery.