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.
“…the emphatic quality of the artist’s brushwork … allows the spectator to recreate how the artist, in touching the depicted object in the act of painting it, imaginatively touches the real object itself, or brings it within reach.”
Source: Interpreting Cézanne by Paul Smith, page 63
If you’re undecided as to the direction brushmarks should go when painting something, imagine holding the object and visualise the direction of your fingers. That’s your answer.
What about a tree, I hear you ask? Well, on a small tree I’m likely to try to see if I can wrap my hand around the whole trunk. On a tall tree, I’m probably first going to put my hand on the trunk with my fingers pointed upwards as you look at how tall it is, then turn my hand sideways and pull it around the trunk as I look at how wide it is.
What about a mountain, I hear you ask? Well, if I were to climb it, my fingers would be going up; if I were walking around the lower reaches, my hands will be at ninety degree to the summit.
What about my coffee cup when I’m holding it by the handle, I hear you ask? Well, take a look and see.
“To be an artist is to have a particular orientation to the world — the interior world and the exterior world — the exact composition of which is somewhat like temperature, impossible to deconstruct into individual phenomenological components without ceasing to be itself.”
I once got seduced by a row of aloes, which weren’t even in flower.
(Cue: Urm, okay.)
In a national park devoted to elephants.
(Cue: Can I rather see your ellie photos?)
It was in the rest camp, where I’d set out to walk to the waterhole viewing platform but didn’t get that far for a while. These aloes stopped me.
(Cue: And? What’s so special?)
As a group, it’s easy to glance, judge it to be a row of plants, and keep going. Close up though, there’s a world of pattern and shape and colour and shadow to investigate.
While I was taking the photos, several adults walked past, giving me that “What on earth is she doing?” look. A young boy came along, watched me for a bit, and then asked: “What are you looking at?” I explained, let him see it through my camera, we chatted a bit, and off he bounced.
Asking “What are you doing?” carries the voice of authority and judgement of an action. Asking “What are you seeing?” carries the unspoken “that I am not” and invites sharing. Give in to your curiosity, don’t walk on by forever wondering.
When I eventually got to the watering hole, there wasn’t an elephant in sight. We didn’t see one at driving around the park (Addo Elephant Park) because it had rained recently and the elephants then don’t need to come to the watering holes. So here’s an favourite ellie photo from another trip:
“A reliance on repeated happy accidents is indeed a slim reed to lean on, and the phenomenonalistic painter must exert as much unobtrusive control as he can to capitalize on accidents and to arrange or predict what might happen as a result of various manipulations of surface and medium.”
Edward Betts, Creative Landscape Painting, p102
Note to self: “remember ‘phenomenonalistic’ to throw into a conversation about happy accidents in painting”.
“…as artists we should be primarily involved with picture-making rather than what we see in postcard views
“…a painting should take precedence over its subject matter
“…the painter Jack Tworkov [said]: ‘To ask for paintings which are understandable to all people everywhere, is to ask of the artist infinitely less than what he is capable of doing.'” — Edward Betts, “Master Class in Watermedia”, page 13
Betts goes on to say how important it is to develop “the finest technique possible” but that this is not the ultimate goal, it’s a means to an end, a point of departure.
There’s a tremendous satisfaction in realism — the close looking, the details, the technical challenges — but for me there also needs to be poetry mixed with the paint — colour, mark making, hand of the artist — and it not stop at “like a photo” real.
I think the ultimate goal is a painting that shows the world filtered through a particular person’s eyes and mind, not one that could have been done by a subset of artists. How do we get distinctive? As always, practise, curiosity, and persistence.
“Orient your shading lines such that they show the path that a raindrop on the rock would take across the surface (down) and horizontal for a flat surface. If the plane is not facing straight toward the viewer, down will not be vertical but at an angle.”
— John Muir Laws, How to Draw Rocks
Another one I know, though I can’t remember from where, is it visualise how your fingers curve if you pick up an object, and make your lines/brushmarks follow that.
“The creative journey is not one in which at the end you wake up in some mythical, happy, foreign land. The creative journey is one in which you wake up every day, like Phil*, with more work to do.” — Austin Kleon, Want to be an artist? Watch Groundhog Day, 13 July 2017
[*in the film “Groundhog Day”]
It’s not that you get a report card on yesterday that says “could do better/could try harder/not living up to potential/not applying yourself fully” but more like a reset button, a “have another go” card. We can’t change what we did or didn’t do yesterday, but we haven’t yet done or not done what we will today.
“Let go of the thing that you’re trying to be (the noun), and focus on the actual work you need to be doing (the verb).”
— Austin Kleon, The Noun and the Verb
This is a quote that’s a strong motivator for me. It’s similar to another long-time favourite: “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water” (poet Rabindranath Tagore).
If you want to be a artist, you have to draw and paint and make, not merely be in love with the idea of being creative.
Do I paint and draw every single day? No, I don’t. Some days days I even have lazy or lazy-ish days, what others might call “weekend”.
But this can lead to guilt of not “being productive”, so I often keep my fingers busy with something, most often wire. Yesterday I made this fish (necklace) while watching the first part of the Lord of the Rings (for the umpteenth time). It’ll join the shaol I am creating for Skyeworks Gallery‘s Fish exhibition opening just before Easter. For some reason I keep hearing Gandalf shouting “swim” when I look at it.
“One has to be receptive but instead of giving in and being a slave to all kinds of influences, one should digest them quietly and sift them, and then, I think, they come out as a new strength in the work.”
— Barbara Hepworth, in “Writing and Conversations”
For something to have an influence, you must have have noticed it, seen things you like and/or wish you’d done, been intrigued enough to look longer or more closely, and to remember it. Filter, digest, and transform to make it your own.
Remain as curious as a studio cat, perpetually looking and poking at things, interspersed by spells of sleeping on it.
Quote source: ‘Ideas and the Artist: An Interview with Barbara hepworth’, Ideas of To-Day, London, Nov/Dec 1952, vol 2 no 4, quoted on page 73 of “Barbara Hepworth: Writing and Conversations edited by Sophie Bowness