Monday Motivator: A Poem About Negative Space

Art motivational quoteThis poem by Peter Sheppard is dedicated to all budding artists looking forward to the future in search of inspiration.

Negative Space
When is a space not space, I’ve posed this question many times before,
Is it above or below a line, like between a ceiling and a floor.
Or, is it empty, or is it full,
or does consist of nothing at all

What does it weigh and what colour is it,
Is it yellow or is it blue — or green,
Or a pastel hue or an earth shade or
The colour of a birds wing, taking on a beautiful sheen

It’s transparent or opaque. Is it still or does it quake,,
Does it move like an echo around a hill.
Does it take you along on a very long river,
Like an eddy, a ripple or rill.

Does it sway from side to side, does it slip or does it slide
What if its narrow and fast or a mile wide, or does it go up a hill.
When it hits a solid barrier going faster than a harrier,
Does it stop, or go straight through, like porcupine quill.

Does it weigh more than an ounce.
Does it weigh heavy or nothing at all
Is it something off which your ideas can bounce?,
Can it lie flat, or is it something to stand up against the wall.

It seems to me that it is anything of these,
And in the places in between,
Solidity has it all its own way, it knows what it is and where it’s been,
Not like me sitting here, but regally as a queen.

My mind is going bonkers as I sit here in this place,
Heading like an Astronaut, vertically, and about to go into space
I’m retired now and I’m 68, I’d better take my pills,
With my pencils, brushes, paper and paint, I’m off to get my thrills.

Monday Motivator: Remembering

Art motivational quote

Sphagnum moss remembers. It recalls
the touchdown of each lark that tumbles
down upon its surface, the slightness of that weight
recorded in the tendrils of each stem.

— from Sphagnum Moss by Donald S Murray

Our fingers and hands remember. They recall
the touchdown of each brush
down upon the surface, the slight pull of that paint
recorded in the bristles.

Hitting that “I Can” Moment

There’s a special magic in that moment when someone who thinks they’re “not particularly creative” discovers that they do indeed have more of “it” in them than they had long thought. Believing creativity somehow skipped you isn’t something that happens overnight, it creeps in slowly, as expectations set by yourself and others aren’t met, yet another road towards the destination isn’t considered and so you give up on ever getting there.

We all have things we do better than most and things others do better than us, but the enjoyment in the doing of something is ours alone. The end result is something separate and should not as readily be the aspect judged when it comes to deciding whether it’s worth doing, or not. The enjoyment is reason aplenty.

From the sketchbook of a workshop participant: exploring ink, line and wet-on-wet, control vs serendipity.
The fun in the doing: photo from a workshop about exploring waterbased materials.


Monday Motivator: I Wandered Alone, Not Lonely

Art motivational quote

I wandered lonely alone as a Cloud an artist
That floats who walks on high o?er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd inspiration
A host of dancing Daffodils
& daisies & foxgloves & grasses & purple heather & autumnal leaves falling;
Along the Lake, beneath the trees,
Ten thousand dancing in the breeze.

The waves beside them danced, but the
Outdid the sparkling waves in glee:-
A Poet? An artist could not but be gay
In such a laughing company:
I gazed ? and gazed ? but little thought
What wealth the shew to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood.
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.

— (not quite) William Wordsworth

Autumn leaves Edinburgh

Monday Motivator: Value vs Tonality in a Painting

Art motivational quote

“While it is true that values and tonality are linked (a painting whose values are incorrect will not have a true sense of tonality), value can be demonstrated in a black and white photo, for example. Tonality cannot be demonstrated by any photo; it is the very color quality of light, shimmering, twinkling, changing — think veils — that envelops and surrounds everything.”

— Jerry Fresia The Importance Of Atmosphere In Plein-Air Painting

Tonality is one of those “the more you learn, the more you see it” things that make painting so rewarding and so frustrating. It takes patience to get to the lightbulb moment when it all falls into place, when rather than merely knowing it exists you’re indeed seeing it. (It can feel a bit like being with a group of birdwatchers all enthusing about a bird you can’t see no matter how hard you try and how much someone else points you towards it.)

Around sunrise and sunset, you can get what photographers call the “golden hour” when everything is covered by a warm, red-gold light. This is probably the easiest time to see tonality, light having a colour, because it’s so strong. Especially in the greens in the landscape, which shift towards yellow-green rather than blue-green.

For me the lightbulb moment seeing a purple shadow on a boabab tree near sundown. On the frosty February morning when I took the photo below that memory came back to me because of the blues in the colours where the grass tufts cast shadow. Part of the colour difference is of course because the weak winter sun had been up long enough to melt some of the frost but not where the grass tufts had cast shadow. I stood here for quite some time contemplating yellow, blue, and green. I should have sketched, but my fingers were too cold.

Colour of Light and Shadows

Using the Zeigarnik Effect: Start the Day with an Unfinished Painting

WIP: Sheep Layers

Instead of ending the day with a completed project, end with a work-in-progress. In the morning you can get straight back into a painting rather than having to start from a blank canvas. You’re already out of the starting blocks rather than having to make the decisions that happen before painting (format, size, composition, colours, etc), and your subconscious will also have been working on it overnight.

We remember something unfinished or uncompleted better than the details of something that’s done; that’s the Zeigarnik Effect in simplistic terms. (It comes to us from the Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, who described it in her 1927 doctoral thesis.)

Read more: A Brief History of the To-Do List and the Psychology of Its Success from Brain Pickings.

Monday Art Motivator: Create a Tangle of Line and Colour

Art motivational quote

“I realized, as time went on, that I would have a reasonable chance of creating something that is alive if I did not see water, mountains, and sky.

“If, on the other hand, I only saw what was before me as a tangle of line and color only, I might just get excited, as a visual artist, by what I saw.

“And if I got excited, some of that excitement, that life, might find its way to the canvas.”

— Contemporary Impressionist Jerry Fresia, “Get Past The Facts”

How do you stop seeing water, mountains and sky? Like so much else, through deliberate practice.

Take a small section of a subject and try to visualise it as a jigsaw of colour shapes, like a paint-by-numbers outline. You’re ultimately not aiming to create a drawing which you then colour in, but to hold these shapes in your mind’s eye while you paint them. The good news: it does get easier. The bad news: it doesn’t get easier as fast as you’d wish.

How do you not get small sections of white canvas or paper peeking out between colour shapes? By painting on a coloured ground, or by painting large shapes of colour first (blocking in) and then working on top of these. If you do end up with some white, glaze over areas rather than doing some fiddly colouring in with a tiny brush.

Photos: Summer Colours of Skye

Royal Mail Van Skye Scotland

An assortment of photos, of things that have caught my eye recently. Lots of foxgloves this year; apparently cold weather helps this profusion.

Monday Motivation: Information + Imagination

Art motivational quote

“A scene before me is information, and my thoughts about it is imagination. Those two are negotiated throughout the session.

“But I try never to forget that I’m making an interpretation called a painting first, then a record of what is there. As a result, I take great liberties with the scene. … It would be a shock to some to see where some of my best paintings were done.”

— Artist Lynn Boggess, from Interview with Lynn Boggess by Brad Teare

A painting needs poetry, a selection from the options presented. Convey the subject through your eyes, the artist’s eyes, rather than reproducing ‘everything you see’ on the canvas. (Think: a few words that say more than several long sentences, and engage your mind more too than long passages of descriptive prose.)

How do you decide what to include and what to exclude, what to emphasise, what colours to enhance? By trying and trying again, seeing how you feel about the result. By reducing detail, dancing between representation and suggestion, realism and abstract. By being willing to change things as you paint, rather than setting out everything rigidly before you pick up a brush. Judge the results from up close and from several metres away, as from a distance brushstrokes merge together and edges/shapes become more defined. Repeat.

Detail from Storm Warning painting

Minch Seascape Painting: Storm Warming
“Storm Warning”
Acrylic on canvas