Specially for you-know-who-you-are doing the you-know-where art project using you-know-what, here are some photos of the acrylic inks I’ve been using the last wee while.
Isn’t one of the rules of art that anything that’s supposedly an art rule is there to be broken? So why was I being so emphatic yesterday, asked the in-house art critic, about the no-kissing rule, using “should” rather than phrasing it as an option?
Well, it’s because some rules are more suggestions for pleasing results and others exist to prevent disruption. It’s like the difference between wearing odd socks and mismatched shoes.
What do you think? What rule would you always break and what never?
Too-neatly aligned. Just touching. Tentatively overlapped. Kissing.
It’s a venial sin of artistic composition.
Elements should either be definitely apart or definitely overlapping. No kissing please, as this creates a weak, connected shape which will distract the viewer’s eye, causing a momentary pause as they puzzle it out.
This example is from a series of paintings I did in the early noughts called “Heat”. My solution to the sun and land kissing in the top photo was to add a hill to the land in front of the sun, as seen in the lower photo. Other options could have been to add a definite gap between the sun and land, or move the sun down behind the hill or remove the white line so sun and land merged. It’s not that any of these would have been better, though the result would have felt different.
Save your kisses for elsewhere.
Some context: I’m a huge fan of Alan McGowan’s painting and have learnt a great deal from his art workshops. Alan wrote this on a Facebook thread and, with his permission, I’m reprinting it here. I think it’s important anyone wanting to learn to draw and paint doesn’t get stuck believing Western classical realism is the ‘right’ or ‘only’ way, there’s so much more to explore.
I had an interesting conversation with a young art student at the weekend … It seemed that she associated skills with a “classical” approach. What struck me was that there was no awareness of another way of doing it, that one could develop discipline and skills in drawing and in painting through other (lets call them “expressive”) approaches, that have been used for years by people like Schiele, Freud, Uglow, Jenny Saville, Rodin. That one needn’t draw “sight-size”, that Barque drawings are not the end point of drawing, that painting does not have to start with a grisaille… etc, etc.
That’s not to decry what the atelier system does, but to say that there has always been a dichotomy in representation between the classical (Raphael, Ingres) and the expressive (Michelangelo, Delacroix), and the understanding of these motivating, invigorating and oppositional forces is being lost. …
I’d say that there is more than one version of what “properly” means, and certainly there are a variety of different ways, techniques and teaching methods that one could use to try and achieve it. I would further argue that the methods one uses are intimately connected to the kind of results you aim for. So not every way is the same. I think this is important in the same way that art is important (moreso than the right way to do other things), because the diversity and choices within it reflect the diversity within people — there can’t be a single “proper” way any more than there can be a single proper way of being a person.
I believe in craft, and I hope my work shows that. I think the point I am trying to make is that not one system has a monopoly on craft; or that there is more than one idea of what constitutes craft.
I am not an expert on music but I think that there are other scales in say Japanese music, Asian music, the Blues scale etc which are not the same as the Western harmonic scale that Mozart used. Whether they are better, inferior or just different becomes a distinction that one makes, and as a musician would have to make. The definition of what is correct varies — as an example at one time idealised proportion was valued over realistic proportions in Neoclassical painting — it’s a different way of defining what is valuable and “correct”.
— Alan McGowan, on Facebook, 15 March 2018
The story has a familiar start: “Once upon a time there was a blank sheet of watercolour paper and a stretch of rocky seashore.”
All the potential in that pristine page waiting for the first mark. What would I choose?
Not worrying, really, because I have additional sheets.
Out with Payne’s grey acrylic ink, using the ink dropper itself to draw plus a rigger brush and a flat brush. It got me to a “don’t mess it up now” stage.
Not worrying, really, because I could always try again.
Watercolour added to the sea, using the flat brush. It got me past the previous “don’t mess it up” stage, to a new “don’t mess it up” stage.
Not worrying, really, because I could always start again and aim for this point again.
Two colours of acrylic ink added to the shore, to represent the seaweed. A little water sprayed to disperse the colour.
Not worrying, because I got there, I felt.
There being understated and minimal. The equivalent of a short poem about staring at a rocky shore rather than a field-guide to shorelines.
A comment about the painting I shared on Friday reminded me how paintings I regard as successful are frequently built on ones I regard as lacking.
“Such movement, yet so simple, and not overworked. How you do it is a marvel.” — L.
My response was:
“What you don’t see is the previous overworked one that taught me to do this one.”
And here’s a photo of it for everyone to see. Of course I had intended for the first drawing, the one on the left, to be successful too. But I ruined it by being heavy-handed with the ink.
The damage started with an inadvertent splodge of Payne’s grey on the headland, where there should be vertical columns of rock with only some of it in shade. Being on dry paper the ink wasn’t keen to lift off, and then much of it was wind-dried before I’d decided what to do, and, and, and I can keep making excuses but the truth if I messed it up at this point.
If I’d had opaque white with me I could have mixed it with my inks and worked over the top, but I didn’t. Instead I tried to keep going with it, make the other areas more solid, but it didn’t help.
Time to put it aside, and try again. Instead of repeating the composition, trying to include the whole bay, I allowed myself to focus on the bit I was really enjoying, the pattern on the shore. Faced with a beautiful location, I tend to have a compulsion to “include it all”, but of course we needn’t. Slices of it are beautiful too.
Second time lucky. Or practice makes perfect.
Now I’m sure that at least one person is going to prefer the painting on the left to the more abstracted one on the right. So let me pre-empt and say I do like bits of it, but it’s not close to what I was wanting to achieve on that particular occasion. When I look at it weeks from now I might like it more or make a plan to take it further. And that’s why I don’t tear things up on the same day I paint them.
On the ‘other’ side of the waterbreak large bands of waves were crashing in, the result of the previous day’s strong north wind. (Larger than they look in this photo because I’m looking down on a steep shore.)
Moving to a favourite picnic table, overlooking the shore, the large boulders exposed, only small waves lapping through bands of seaweed. I’ve been here many times in the nearly 10 years we’ve been on Skye, but I think this was the lowest I’ve ever seen the tide.
I realised that for once I wasn’t staring into the distance, but was being mesmerized by the pattern on the shore. So out came the black ink, followed by a pot of an opaque fluid-acrylic orange that I grabbed as I headed out my studio from where it’s been sitting waiting to be tried for the first time.
Yes, I am applying it with a stick. It gives a randomness to the marks. And, yes, this stick does live in my pencil box because sticks can be hard to find in some locations.
Then, some “sea colours”, in acrylic inks. Payne’s grey, marine blue. A splash of acid yellow-green. Watercolour paper, 350gsm, A3 size.
It’s abstract, but I like it. For me it’s got a sense of location (though seashore, not necessarily Camus Mor) and the breeze in my hair. What others will see and feel, I can only guess.
While I think it’s nearly impossible to answer to the question “How long does it take to make a painting”, I do believe there are five definite stages every painting goes through as I’m making it. Not every painting or drawing spends equal time at each stage, and some never get all the way through. I divide it as follows:
Stage 1. Anything is Possible
Stage 2. So Far So Good
Stage 3. The Ugly Stage
Stage 4. Don’t Mess It Up
Stage 5. Are We There Yet?
1. Anything is Possible
The very first step is simultaneously stimulating and intimidating. That moment you overcome the fear of a blank canvas, your hesitation to make that first mark, and start translating the image in your mind into paint. At this stage, anything and everything is possible, and it’s up to you to decide which steps to take. It’s about narrowing down the options, choosing from all the possibilities, and stepping boldly onto the path even though you’re not entirely sure where it’ll lead.
2: So Far So Good
Once you’ve made a start (whether it’s by blocking-in colours as I like to do or working on establishing shapes or whichever of the approaches for creating a painting you prefer) you quickly get a feel for whether the foundation for the painting you’ve in your mind’s eye has been laid, or not. So far so good… though exactly how far this is varies for each of us.
3: The Ugly Stage
At some point, nearly every painting takes a turn for the worst, you doubt what you’ve done, and wonder whether it will turn out okay or if you’ve ruined it. Accept it, keep going, and don’t give up yet. It can be ever so tempting to throw your brushes down in despair at the mess you’ve made, but it’s only by continuing, pushing on and through this, that you develop your artistic skills and persistence. I might not do it until tomorrow when I’ve a little emotional distance from it, but I’ve learnt that “doing something dramatic” can lead to a better and unexpected result (though there’s no guarantee).
4: Don’t Mess It Up
For me, this is the most stressful stage of a painting’s creation. Where lots of things are working well,but there’s still some way to go to bring all aspects of the painting to the same level. The potential for ruining it looms overhead, intimidating me into hesitation. I start second-guessing myself, my colours, the brushwork, and can end up desperately trying to preserve “the good bits” while “fixing the rest”. The solution is to either stop completely (which if you do every time means you’ll never finish a painting!) or to be bold. Trust in your ability, in what you’ve learnt and your experience, that you’re not a one-trick pony, and keep going. Don’t try to protect bits, but try to paint as if there were no “good bits” to protect.
5: Are We There Yet?
Deciding whether a painting is finished or not can be tricky, but it’s always better to stop too early than too late. Come back to it tomorrow with fresh eyes and decide if you still think it needs that tweak. I try (note: try, I don’t always succeed) to stop when I find myself fiddling, thinking “I’ll just quickly” or “this little bit” and to continue only if I’ve something definite, decisive in mind. If you’re uncertain, it’s time to stop and put down the brush for now. Sometimes it’s very obvious when I get back to a painting what needs to be done, sometimes it’s still not clear, and on rare occasions I can’t think what I thought might still need doing and like it as it already is.
The antithesis of a creative block is creative overload. Too many ideas and possibilities can be equally as paralysing as an ideas drought, because you’re spending your time bouncing thoughts around and not following any of them through.
It’s something that happens to me far more than a creative block, yet I rarely mention it because it feels like a brag: “I’ve so many ideas I don’t know what to do with them all.” But, I’m discovering, idea overload is another of those artistic elephants in the room, often masquerading as “Oh I don’t know, I just like to paint everything“.
So how, amidst the noise of ideas, do you find focus? Here’s what I do:
Creativity Overload Tip 1: Empty Your Brain of Ideas
Create an ideas sketchbook, one in which you write and/or sketch all those ideas buzzing around. It gets it out of your head and means you won’t loose it (though you may forget it and rediscover it when you page through your sketchbook. It can help clarify an idea as you move it from thought to paper.
Creativity Overload Tip 2: Pick One Idea, Any One
At some stage you’re going to have to choose, so just pick one idea and run with it for a while. Don’t overcomplicate the choice, choose something, anything, and get painting. If need be, open your ideas sketchbook at random and jab your finger down on a page and use that idea. (And by a while I mean weeks, not hours.)
Creativity Overload Tip 3: Tick Two Boxes
Simply because you’ve got going with one thing, doesn’t mean you can’t change. You can tick two or three different art boxes, be it subject, style, medium, and swap between these. But don’t go at it like a yo-yo, back and forth rapidly and constantly. Give yourself time to pursue, develop, fail, continue before changing gear. Conversely, if you find yourself bored and fiddling, swap to the other box. I tend to do it with mediums (paint vs pencil vs sewing) and surfaces (canvas vs paper) before subject.
You know that perspective rule with the railway lines, where they get further and further apart as they come towards you? Usually stated as the lines getting closer and closer together as they recede into the distance, meeting at a vanishing point on the horizon?
Well, it’s not true for the reflection of the sun or moon in sea.*
So please stop painting reflections getting wider and wider in a neat band as it comes towards you, because it doesn’t follow that perspective rule. The distances are too great. Movement in the water, ripples and cross currents, can also have an impact on how the reflection appears.
This photo might seem to prove this:
But it’s more complicated than that because, when I took the photo, nature was playing optical illusions. The sun is in fact still fairly high above the horizon, hidden by cloud, and what’s reflected in the sea is both the sun and the band of light coming towards you (not getting wider).
*Same is true for reflections of trees, and shadows cast by sunlight and moonlight. Though your camera will lie to you and show it otherwise if it’s set on any kind of wide angle.