“Faced with a task, both the conscious and unconscious are called upon. … two individuals: the conscious one, intelligent and with a strong personality, dominates the shy and creative unconscious one. The conscious mind speaks ever louder and prevents the unconscious mind from expressing itself. Unless it is occupied with another task …
“The advice then? After hearing the problem to be solved, occupy your mind with a task that requires concentration, then get back to the problem. You will hopefully come up with innovative solutions.”
If there’s something in a painting that needs resolving but you’re not sure how, but it aside and do something else for a bit. It’s not giving up, it’s giving another part of your mind tim to ponder it, and hopefully figure it out.
“Making a painting is so hard it makes you crazy. You have to negotiate surface, tone, silhouette, line, space, zone, layer, scale, speed, and mass, while interacting with a meta-surface of meaning, text, sign, language, intention, concept, and history.
“You have to simultaneously diagnose the present, predict the future, and ignore the past—to both remember and forget. You have to love and hate your objects and subjects, to believe every shred of romantic and passionate mythos about painting, and at the same time cast your gimlet eye on it.
“Then comes color—even harder to negotiate.”
Amy Sillman, “On Color”, published in “Painting Beyond Itself: the Medium in the Post-Medium Condition”, Sternberg Press, 2016
If you’re thinking this quote isn’t exactly motivating, that it’s more inclined to make you give up painting that inspire you to fresh and new things, let me hasten to say that I have chosen it as a reminder that whilst painting can be extremely rewarding, it’s something with many facets to it and thus many challenges. If you’re finding it hard going on any particular day, not getting the results you see in your mind’s eye, cut yourself some slack.
This video from the Van Gogh Museum is an interesting summary of what Vincent van Gogh adapted from Japanese prints in his own painting.
(If you don’t see the video above, go here and scroll down the page a bit.)
Also worth a look: the Van Gogh’s inspiration from Japan story from the Van Gogh Museum. If it tests your patience for scrolling and opening up pop-up boxes, there is also a book (Japanese Prints: The Collection of Vincent van Gogh by Axel Rüger and Marije Vellekoop).
I’ve really enjoyed looking at the paintings that have come from the eggshells painting project, which show how much can be done with such a apparently simple subject, from delicate realism to bold abstraction to letting your imagination run.
My eggshell paintings: I struggled with the curves and ellipses on my eggshells, making them too narrow and pointy, or flat. This led to the in-house art critic creating a “how to draw an egg” cheatsheet for me, which I shared with project subscribers on Patreon here. This was my best attempt, which I think is a bit weird, and the egg’s floating:
Moving my duck eggshells one morning to have another go at a painting, I suddenly noticed the pattern and lines with them stacked, and was far more inspired by this. The result isn’t perfect, but has possibilities.
My thanks to everyone who’s shared their paintings for us all to enjoy. Remember, it’s never too late to tackle any of the monthly painting projects. You’ll find the full list, with links to all the associated content, here.
“Imagination is interwoven and closely related to memory; in part it is a reshaping, or recombining, of memories in new and different ways.
Albert Handell and Leslie Trainor Handell, Intuitive Composition, p14
Memories from locations I visit regularly become a compilation, supplemented by unusual elements, such as seeing seals on the slipway at Camus Mor. What I remember isn’t what the in-house art critic recalls because we are forever experiencing things simultaneously but individually. We have always forgotten more than we can remember, and don’t always remember what we think we will. The station bench in Berlin with the human anatomy has outlasted the name of the museum.
The backstory to this is my ongoing interest in the use of line in paintings, my little pile of wood panels with plein-air oil paintings that aren’t resolved for one reason or another, plus the thought of using wood-carving tools to cut lines into the wood panel. Enter a basic set of woodcarving tools, several weeks of them sitting staring at me while I pondered, then a few goes to see what kind of mark I might get, a bit more pondering, and I set about carving “rock lines” in the foreground of this panel.
With the thought that acrylic paint would (theoretically) stick only to the bare wood and not the oil paint, I then brushed over some Payne’s grey acrylic paint, thinking a dark line might work. But the painting still felt lacking. So I carved some more lines (trying to destroy some of the inadvertent pattern I’d created), brushed some fluid gold acrylic paint over the whole painting and wiped it, with it sticking to the areas of bare wood.
I think the result has definite potential. The hardest thing was not following lines in the painting, but to ‘draw’ another fresh layer of cut marks on top of the area. Next I need to dig out my printmaking books to read up on woodblock carving and learn to use the tools better.
“The benefits of play don’t disappear as soon as you become an adult. Even if we engage our curiosity in different ways as we grow up, a lot of learning and exploration still comes from analogous activities: things we do for the sheer fun of it.
“… Play is often the exploration of the unfamiliar. After all, if you knew what the result would be, it likely wouldn’t be considered play. When we play we take chances, we experiment, and we try new combinations just to see what happens. We do all of this in the pursuit of fun because it is the novelty that brings us pleasure and makes play rewarding.”
Do you remember how to draw a square with a dot in the centre without lifting up your pencil?* Drawing random, overlapping lines on a piece of paper and then colouring in the shapes with the rule that there couldn’t be any adjacent the same colour, which sometimes necessitated adding in another line?
What’s inhibiting your experimentation (aka play), the following of impulse and the “what if I” moments? Concern about the cost of materials, wasting time, lack of results, others laughing at you or complaining or insisting you should do something more ‘worthwhile’? Figure out what it is, and give yourself permission to not worry about it for a bit. Being “productive” is the anthithesis of play, and always being “productive” is ultimately counter-productive.
*The ‘trick’ is to fold over the corner of the sheet of paper into the centre of the square.
“A painting consists of a collection of marks, a seemingly chaotic jumble of bits of color. When you study just one section, the marks make no sense on their own, but as you step back and take a wider view, they begin to form an image; those random bits of pigment come together to create a whole. And, just like that, out of chaos comes order and meaning, beauty and comprehension.”
This project is about going beyond the obvious in the everyday and finding the potential in the familiar, about the visual interest in the ordinary and changing how you’re looking at something. The subject is one I’m thinking many of us have in our hand regularly, an eggshell. The challenge is to get past the “it’s just an eggshell who’d want to paint that” and “I hate still life” reactions, and realise the potential in this seemingly simple subject.
IMPORTANT: Your painting or drawing should be done from life, not a photo (unless you’re allergic to eggs or can’t get hold of any). The reason for working from life is that you have do set up the arrangement of the eggshells yourself, figure out and decide a composition, and then ensure that you’re positioning yourself when you’re painting it so you’ve a consistent viewpoint. Submitted paintings for the project gallery should ideally be accompanied by a photo showing your still life setup.
TIPS: Use some poster putty or tape to hold the eggshells in position. If you put the eggshells on a piece of card, you can turn this around and see the setup from different angles.
COMPOSITION; With this relatively small object, a small shift in the angle or height at which you’re looking at it will change what you’re seeing quite a bit. In the three photos below, the eggshells haven’t moved at all, it’s my viewpoint that has, giving three quite different options.
But before I got to this, I had to decide how many eggshells I would have (three fitting the Rule of Odds) and decided to place them in a straight row. Part of the joy of still life painting is in the setting up of the subject, exploring the arrangement, looking at the light, deciding on a background and a viewpoint. The fun and challenges are not just about painting the thing.
COMPLICATED WHITE: Like snow, the white of an eggshell isn’t all straight-from-the-tube titanium white. It’s that range of colours that are are off-white or not-quite-white. If you’ve strong light, there’s the possibility for reflected colour too (light bouncing colour off a surface onto the subject), such as this orange from my bottle:
TAKING IT INTO ABSTRACTION: Besides painting this subject realistically, I think it invites explorations of pattern and shapes of colour. You might focus on the negative space around the eggshell. Or cut a stencil of the shapes of the eggshells and use this for layers of colour and pattern. Or create a grid of closeup details as in the Blocks of Abstraction Painting Project.
To have your painting included in the project gallery at the end of the month, email me a photo on art(at)marion(dot)scot ideally with a few sentences about it (think of the things you might say when talking to a friend about it). I’ll post photos with first names only, unless you ask me otherwise.
It comes with a list of corollaries to reinforce it, to remind and motivate me, such as:
Reading isn’t “doing nothing” nor “being lazy”.
Resting is doing something.
Just because I have my sketchbook with me doesn’t mean I have to use it; I may simply sit and watch the waves.
Paintings are never as bad as I think when I’m tired.
There will be days when I do little, days when I do lots, and days when I do “nothing”. I will not be committing to any of the “31 days of” challenges, nor the ones that are only a fortnight, nor any of the pandemic productivity prompts because I don’t need the pressure and I have more than enough to keep me going, not least my own monthly projects.
My aim remains to be in my studio (or on location painting when temperatures get back into double figures) more days than not, but I will not be ticking them off on a calendar. I will live in today with the in-house art critic, taking each as it comes, not wishing for yesterday or anticipating tomorrow’s fears. Now pass the Payne’s grey ink…