Monday Motivator: Cézanne and Paper as the Central Protagonist

‘For Cézanne, paper equals paper. Mostly unpainted areas of creamy sheets form the paper labels on wine and liquor bottles. Arcs of color or pencil indicate how these paper rectangles bow to adhere to a rounded form …

‘Usually relegated to a supporting, or background, role—indeed the very terms for paper are “support” and “ground”—paper is instead the central protagonist in Cézanne’s still lifes. The nomenclature “work on paper” is similarly misleading. The work is not on paper, it is paper. Watercolor’s luminosity—its very being—is wholly dependent on the sheet on which it is painted; its tone, its brilliance, a balance between transparent pigment and the bright paper seen through.

‘… As an actor in Cézanne’s compositions, paper represents both opaque surfaces (from paper to cloth to porcelain) and translucent ones—those of glasses, carafes, and bottles.’

Jodi Hauptman, The Beauty and Life of Materiality: On Cézanne’s Drawings. in the exhibition catalogue “Cézanne Drawing

Monday Motivator: An Edge is Where Paint Changes Colour

“Pissarro was the subtlest of the leading Impressionists, devising ways of giving distinctive presence to each part of a painting, by, for example, defining the edges of objects with the paint that surrounded them.

“For him, an edge was a place where paint didn’t stop but only changed color.”

Peter Schjeldahl, “My Struggle with Cézanne“, The New Yorker 21 June 2021

Depicting an edge using what’s around it is not something I’ve consciously thought about, other than when using ’empty’ negative space. Another complication challenge to embrace.

Camille Pissarro, Self-Portrait, Etching, Art Institute Chicago

Monday Motivator: Go On and On

“This seems to me how I work, once I’ve started in a place I don’t find I want to move because I’m trying to do something and you’re never really satisfied with what you’re doing so you keep on trying and the more you try the more you keep on thinking of new ways of doing the particular subject and so you just go on and on.

“You might even turn round in the middle of doing a certain painting and you see something else, so, you run back and get another canvas and try and do that, but it’s still the same spot, really, and it’s probably the same feeling you are trying to grasp.”

Joan Eardley, Arts Council interview 1961 (quoted in “Joan Eardley: A Sense of Place” by Patrick Elliott)

If you’re stuck for what to paint, have another go at something you’ve painted before, perhaps a subject you haven’t painted for a while or a painting where you feel you didn’t quite do the subject justice. I’d avoid putting up the first version where you can see it as you paint so you’re not constantly comparing. Look at it, think about what you like and don’t, then put it aside and don’t peak at it again until you’ve finished your new painting.

Monday Motivator: Your Brain Didn’t Evolve to Make You Happy

“…your brain didn’t evolve to make you happy. Happiness is not its purpose. Its only goal is to keep you alive as long as possible, to survive. Anything that pushes against that very small comfort zone will automatically be suspected as dangerous.

“The brain is prone to interpret change as dangerous because all it knows is that, up until now, whatever you’re doing is working and is keeping you alive, so changing that path is not desirable. … This is why changing habits is so difficult …

“As you move through life, keep your eyes open. Be curious, be hungry, be excited. … Use fear as a means to guide you, and translate the fear and anxiety associated with change into excitement and curiosity.”

Miranda Meeks, “Always Keep Your Eyes Open“, Muddy Colors

There’s no doubt it’s frustrating to find yourself again doing the very thing you’ve been trying not to do when painting or drawing, whether it’s getting absorbed by small details when you’re trying to work in a loose and expressive style (and I’m thinking here of a friend who draws architecture with such ease) or doing gestural marks when you’d intended to be controlled (and I’m thinking here of myself). As with so many things in art, the answer lies in practice and persistence, much as we might wish that it would just happen now.

Monsieur P big pencil

Monday Motivator: The Act of Painting

“…the act of painting is not an intellectual act dictated by reason. It is an act that is swept very physically by the sensuality of the brushstroke.

“I’ve always felt that some kind of intellect, some kind of preordering, some kind of criticism of the thing before it is done, has always interfered with my ability to do a painting.”

Poet Derek Walcott, interview “The Art of Poetry No. 37” in Paris Review, Issue 101, Winter 1986

It’s a fine line dividing decisions-whilst-painting from making judgements on the overall outcome or result as we’re still wrist-deep in creating the piece. Making judgements about what we’re doing as we doing it is part of painting and impacts what we do next. Do I swap to a smaller or larger brush? Add more X to this colour to make it more Y? What do I do to get that bit to where I want it to be.

Monday Motivator: Mark Making

“Mark-making is the broad term used to include all marks that are made visible as a manifestation of applied or gestural energy.

“… There are an infinite number of marks possible, and our nomenclature for them is very limited–lines, dots, dashes, smudges, etc. …

“A drawing is… a trail of contained energy, incorporating the history of its own making.”

“Drawing Projects” by Nick Maslen and Jack Southern, p20

Deliberate and considered, desired or unwanted, accidental and unintentional, delicate or bold, closely observed or generalised .. the list of words we can use to describe types of marks is perhaps longer than the list describing their shape and texture. But ultimately mark making is simply artspeak for everything that’s put onto what started as a blank sheet of paper.

I wonder what the collective noun would be: “A portfolio of mark making? A concert? A festival? A murmuration?

Monday Motivator: Set Your Drawing Up For Success

“If you have only recently started to draw, then try to avoid symmetrical machine-made objects if possible, Your drawings of them will probably be inhibited, and they will tend to signal that you have failed to master their precise symmetry.

“…choose objects that are flexible, and give license to make mistakes without it making a great deal of difference.”

“Drawing Projects” by Nick Maslen and Jack Southern, page 44

As an example of not-quite-symmetrical objects, take a look at your fingers. I can, at times, get perhaps-too-absorbed looking at the differences between the two sides of a finger (looking at them with my palm down) and between fingers. The most symmetrical are my forefingers; the least my middle and there the lefthand one skews at the top joint . Ultimately a drawing of my hand just needs to feel plausible, and most of all enjoyed in the making thereof.

Monday Motivator: Painting a Memory Landscape

“When I need a break from whatever project I’m working on, I often like to paint small. And I like to paint from memory.

“A small piece painted from memory doesn’t ask for detail. It simply asks for shapes and contours and changes in value.

“For me, as a landscape painter, it asks me to remember impressions, the way I felt in a place. I can invent the color and the way the light moves across these imagined landscapes. Trees grow where I want them to grow and I get to decide what time of day it is.”

Lyn Asselta, Saturdays at the Cove, 1 May 2021

Monday Motivator: Don’t Think About the Outcome

“You can’t make your best work when you’re concerned about success or failure.

“The very act of thinking about the outcome creates an anxiety that holds you back from a daring move, that makes you afraid to touch a good-bit, or more likely, unwilling to stop when it’s truly great.

“… We’re training our hand skills by running this marathon, but we’re also training our judgement. The more pieces you do in a row, the more shots-on-goal. The more likely you’ll learn to recognize when it’s time to push something – or – when you need to stop and let something stand as you’ve made it.

Marc Taro Holmes, “Sketch vs. Painting

If you never overwork a painting, you’re stopping yourself from discovering what else you might achieve. Dare to stop later and later.

If you never underwork a painting, you’re stopping yourself from discovering what you might convey with less. Dare to stop earlier and earlier.


Monday Motivator: The Paint Becomes the Weather

[Joan] Eardley, the high priestess of bad weather, was drawn to rough seas … her broad urgent handling fashions an equivalent for what she has seen: the paint becomes the weather.

“… The paint is often wildly applied but controlled, its energy corralled into offering an equivalent to the thing seen.

” … Her work is courageously non-naturalistic and yet firmly anchored in her experience of elemental nature, its harshness and power.”

Andrew Lambert, in “Jeremy Gardiner: South by Southwest“, page 26

Paint can be calm weather too, of course, though perhaps stormy weather is easier to imagine in terms of brushstrokes and piling on paint thickly. But a gentle breeze tickling leaves could be little flicks of paint created by running the very tip of a rigger through still-wet paint.

Joan Eardley Paintings in McManus Museum, Dundee