“Successive stages of work can be tracked … abrades the surface to reveal the original white of the paper then makes further marks … This alternation of layering and tearing back suggests that he is not simply reducing an experience from three dimensions into two but also reaching for the fourth dimension — a sense of passing time.” — Claire Rendell on the artist David Tress, in a catalogue from 2002 “David Tress”, p46
I like the thought of layers in a painting conveying a sense of the passing of time. I’m going to have to try tearing the surface of the paper — deliberately rather than accidentally — and see where that takes me. Wonder if my April workshop participants will be in for a milion-miles-from-comfort-zone activity?
“…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.
“The brushstroke is not simply a record. It is a unit of experience: calibrated, targeted, cogitated, yet pulsing, vexing, responding to its neighbours like a rhythm or a beat. The building of the painting is both planned and extemporized. The sensations are in sync.”
— Alex Danchev, writing about Cézanne
(in “Cézanne: A Life”, page 340; quoted in “A Writer of Our Time: The Life and Work of John Berger” by Joshua Sperling, p144)
If this feels like too much to assign to a single brushstroke, think about how we learn to use a brush, how it moves from feeling unfamiliar to controlled, yet simultaneously a moment’s distraction or shake can take the paint where we don’t want it.
Not being able to do something does not invalidate everything you can already do.
There will always be someone who appears to do it easier, faster, better. At times you’re that person to someone else.
Learning as a shared journey is a recipe for discovery and intrigue, spiced with angst and frustration. Helping one another to not over-season, nor only pick out the cherries from the fruitcake, is part of it.
“…creativity is antithetical to the way artificial intelligence works. We develop machine learning by feeding in data about the way people react in certain situations.
… Creativity is looking at a situation many other people have faced and trying something entirely new.
“Whether the source of creativity is a mistake of the eye, influences from childhood manifested as counterintuitive insight, or a random mash-up of life experiences, we’ll never fully understand creativity’s origin…”
When painting, you can jump tangentially with “what if I…?” impulses, not just follow the rules. If it’s not working, reach out of the box for a different medium, brush, colour, something that’s “not done”.
“Imagine a fly walking on a surface. If the fly walked across a line and disappeared by going around a corner, then that line should be heavy. If the fly walked across a line which marked a change in material in the same plane then it should be light.” Brian Ramsey, “Trade Secrets”
Or if flies give you the heebie-jeebies, perhaps imagine an ant.
Or a caterpillar, though not a very hungry one like Eric Carle’s.
“Even art created solely in pursuit of pleasure arises from the imperative that pleasure, too, deserves space—like outrage or grief, pleasure is something artists can make.” — Helen Betya Rubinstein,
“Praise, Like Criticism, Can Make Us Forget What Art Is For”
Give yourself permission to yourself enjoy your art without guilt (whether it’s ‘wasting’ time and money, or imposter syndrome). Create happiness for yourself, and others.
“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:
Investigate, explore, follow the “what if I” impulses.
Try what intimidates or eludes you. It needn’t be a leap all the way across, it can be a step in a direction. “What if I don’t do as detailed a drawing first before I paint?” rather than “What if I don’t do a pencil drawing at all before I paint?”