Monday Motivator: The Joy of Handling Paint

“Much of the joy of painting isn’t in matching colors–it’s in the actual handing of the paint, playing a thick area against a stained one, a wide stroke against a thin one, a curving line against an angular one. Remember: you’re a painter and should get pleasure out of the use of your materials.”

Emile Gruppè, Brushwork, page 15

If you don’t like the medium, don’t use it no matter how much you might feel it’s something a “real artist” would do. There are plenty of options, and you’re supposed to enjoy it. Before you’ve even put a brush into it or started applying it to paper. That spark of joy picking up a tube of a paint or bottle of ink, the feel of a particular brush in your hand, the anticipation of a sheet of paper. If you’re not, you’re using the wrong thing.

Monday Motivator: Value the Learning Not the Performance

“I do not only grade the end product, but instead, value the process it takes to get there. I ask students to describe how and why they did certain things. I collect the work product that precedes the final document. …

If we assume students want to learn – and I do – we should show our interest in their learning, rather than their performance”

John Warner, “ChatGPT Can’t Kill Anything Worth Preserving

If we want to learn, we should show interest in our learning rather than only our performance.

Give yourself permission to spend time learning, be generous to yourself with how much time you allocate, and with your assessment of what you’ve done. It might be learning how a particular art material behaves, trying different things with it to see what happens. It might be getting more analytical and systematic in learning to paint or draw a subject, figuring out what aspects are eluding you at the moment and how to fill that knowledge gap.

The last couple of days I’ve been seeing what clear gesso does when applied over Derwent Inktense pencil drawn on an unprimed wood panel. Why? Because I like how clear gesso lets the grain of the wood panel show through, rather than obscuring it as white gesso does. It also then seals the wood panel surface and creates a grabby surface for paint. Inktense pencil because I enjoy the strong colours, the lines I can draw rather than paint with a brush, and that it’s water soluble so I can ‘dissolve’ some of the line into painted marks. And Inktense as the first layer because I’m enjoying using line in a painting.

My aim was to see was how much the line would change by brushing over with gesso (changing it from a dry to a wet line) and how much would ‘dissolve’ compared to brushing over it with water (with the intention of it dissolving). As the photo below shows, the Inktense line got that ‘wet’ look, but spread only in areas where the line was thicker. I was using a coarse-hair brush, and it will probably spread less with a softer brush.

Once the gesso had dried overnight, I ran a wet brush over the Inktense to see if it would dissolve, and it didn’t. I drew a bit further with another Inktense colour, and enjoyed how it worked over the gesso, which has a grabbiness to it (I’m using Holbein clear gesso medium grain). I ran a wet brush over this and it dissolved as I expected, without disturbing the sealed layer. So now I know I can work with the Inktense pencil and ‘secure’ it. A clear acrylic medium would probably do similar but I like the grabby roughness of the clear gesso when painting.

Clear gesso over Inktense pencil on wood panel
Clear gesso applied over purple Inktense pencil on wood panel. The white bits of gesso where it’s slightly thicker will clear as it dries.

Monday Motivator: Circular Time

“Gardening situates you in a different kind of time, the antithesis of the agitating present of social media. Time becomes circular, not chronological; minutes stretch into hours; some actions don’t bear fruit for decades. The gardener is not immune to attrition and loss, but is daily confronted by the ongoing good news of fecundity. A peony returns, alien pink shoots thrusting from bare soil. The fennel self-seeds; there is an abundance of cosmos out of nowhere.”

Olivia Laing, extract from “Funny Weather: Derek Jarman’s Paradise”

“Painting and drawing situates you in a different kind of time … Time becomes circular, not chronological; minutes stretch into hours; some actions don’t bear fruit for decades.”

We don’t plant an apple tree thinking it’s going to give us apples every month. We anticipate. Enjoy the blossom for itself and for what it might become. Wait weeks for an apple to ripen. Attempt to eat it too early and you destroy it. One day it all comes together and it’s sweet magic. Then it’s back to anticipating, nurturing what creates the magic.

If only we had the same patience with our art.

Monday Motivator: Practising Your Boldness by Painting on Paper

“Working on paper is an energising process. Sometimes with canvases, when they’re not going where you want them to go, it can weigh you down. Making a change to a canvas can feel like an extreme or bold move.

… by first experimenting on the works on paper, you are practising your boldness for when you move to canvas. You take more chances because you feel like it isn’t the end of the world if they go wrong.”

David Mankin, “Remembering in Paint” by Kate Reeve-Edwards, page 53

Another thing about a painting on canvas is that you can’t crop off a bit unless you take it off the stretchers. You’re stuck with the proportions and size of the canvas you picked. If it’s a painting card or paper all you need is a pair of scissors or a blade and ruler.

A year or so ago the in-house art critic bought me the safety ruler shown in the photo below so I can crop paintings and not my finger tips.

Painting Project: Sea Texture in Gesso

The challenge of this project is to use gesso to create texture in a seascape, to add an extra layer of mark making to the painting. The texture is used to enhance the sense of movement in the sea, of waves rippling, breaking or crashing on the shore.

Using white gesso gives the potential of letting paint flow into the depths of the texture and leaving the ridges white like sea foam. Also to wipe the ridges clear of paint, or drybrush over just the tips of the texture.

I used a silicone tool to create the stripes in the gesso, which is why there’re so uniformly spaced.

Because gesso is hard to remove once it’s dry (short of taking sandpaper to it), this technique requires a bit of planning of your composition so you don’t end up with texture in an undesired spot, or texture that contradicts what the colour is doing (the subject). You can, of course, add more, but because white gesso is opaque* it will hide what you’ve already painted. (*Transparent gesso does exist.)

Reference Photos for this Painting Project:
I’ve chosen three photos, and encourage you to create a composition that takes elements from all rather than work from one photo only. They’re photos I think have interesting wave patterns and shapes, strong lights and darks, with a sense of waves marching to shore but also a lot of interest in the shallow water. All three photos were taken on the coast nearest to me in Aberdeenshire, at Gardenstown and the rocky bay a bit further east.

• Acrylic gesso or primer (i.e. water-based gesso not oil-based primer). Acrylic texture pastes will also work, but may not dry to a surface absorbent enough for watercolour to stick
• A coarse-haired brush or similar to apply the gesso, something that will leave brushmarks in the gesso
• A sheet of watercolour or acrylic painting paper
• Watercolours and/or acrylic paint/ink
• Water in a spray bottle to encourage paint to spread (optional)
• Paper towel to wipe unwanted paint from the ridges of the texture

Start by doing a loose sketch in pencil or pen of your composition, where the shore is, where the waves are. Think about the direction of movement of the water, and how you’ll convey this through marks in the gesso. Maybe sketch the directions in with a pencil before you apply the gesso so the decisions have been made before you start applying it. Gesso doesn’t dry instantly, so you’ve a little time to rework it, but don’t take too long. A coarse-haired brush works well, but don’t use a good one as gesso is hard on brushes. What kind of marks will you make on the shore, whether it’s sand or pebbles? Might you leave some of this area without gesso?

Leave the gesso to dry, because you don’t want to flatten any of the texture by painting over it before it’s dry. It can be hard to see what’s where when using white gesso on white paper, but if you hold it at an angle to the light you’ll see it better. A workaround is to first paint the paper a colour, leave this to dry and then apply the white gesso, which will then show clearly. (I prefer not to do this because the degree of uncertainty in not quite being able to make out where I applied the gesso adds a sense of discovery and energy as I respond to what’s revealed and where the paint goes.)

Start with fluid or watery paint, not thick, so it spreads out into the crevices and dips in the gesso texture. While this paint is still wet, flick in some darker and/or lighter colours; the splatter will spread slightly where it hits damp areas and remain as hard edges dots of paint on dry areas. Tilt the sheet of paper to encourage drips to run in various directions. Use paper towel to remove paint from the tops of texture ridges and soak up excessive puddles of paint.

Consider the lights and darks in the sea, which bits of water are darker and which lighter (use the reference photos for this information). Watch out for every area being the same colour and/or tone.

When you get to a point you think you’re happy, or get frustrated, lie the sheet of paper flat and let the paint dry. This will encourage any still-wet paint to settle into the grooves. When it’s dry, take a look at the ridges of the texture and consider whether you want to try to remove any paint from these (a bit of aggressive rubbing with a damp piece of paper towel usually does the job for me, but be careful!) or use a dry brush to apply paint to the ridges only (that is a brush with only a little stiff paint on it, held quite horizontal to the surface and pulled across so it just touches or tickles the ridges).

REMEMBER: If you’d like personal help with creating your project painting and/or a critique on your finished painting, this is available to all my project subscribers via my Patreon site. Have fun, and remember to send me a photo of your painting for inclusion in the project gallery for us all to enjoy or share it in the Community Section of my Patreon site.

Monday Motivator: Tom Phillips on Likeness in Portraiture

“Getting a likeness is not the problem: any professional should be able to achieve that in a couple of sessions. The problem seems to be in reconciling a set of possible likenesses into a unity that has the feel of the subject’s actually being there. The great test, as HWK Callom says, is to turn the picture to the wall and see if it seems that someone has suddenly left the room. …

“Portraiture, I grow more and more to feel, is a very special category of painting and a very particular art of art: it involves two people in a room one of whom is trying to be painted by the other”

Tom Phillips, “The Portrait Works”, National Portrait Gallery Publications 1989 page 13

Tom Phillips, who died on 28 November, is an artist who was defeats classification, “part of a generation who allowed themselves to work in all and any genres” (The Art Newspaper obituary). His Twitter profile describes him as “picturesmith, wordsmith & occasional musicsmith”. That he’s not as well known as Hockney defies reason.

I encountered Tom Phillips’ paintings through an exhibition of his portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 1989, not realising at the time how unusual it was for a living artist to have a solo exhibition there. I was captivated by his use of words in his paintings, as well as his series of altered book pages, published as “A Humument” in various editions. The online version lets you see all the different versions of the same page as well as the original page.

Monday Motivator: Lighten a Colour by Using More Colour Not White

“An esthetic warning: always think twice before using white. It can give your pictures a chalky look. If you want to lighten a color, sometimes try using another color instead of white. If you want your pictures to have brilliance, think in terms of more color, not lighter color.

Paul Strisik, “The Art of Landscape Painting”, page 13

I think the default setting ought to be “as often as possible” try something other than white, not “sometimes”.

Also a combination of something else and a little white rather than only white.

Not forgetting that if you’re painting on a white ground with acrylics or oils this can be used with a thin application of a transparent colour to ‘lighten’ the colour as you’d do with watercolour and paper. Or if the whole canvas is covered, you can paint an area white and then glaze over the top with a transparent colour.

And remembering that when a subject is white, it’s rarely “tube white” all over. Not even daisies.

Monday Motivator: The Attainable in Art is Technique

“It is only the amateur who expects success. It is not possible to succeed. The mastery of one’s means is technique, and this can be attained, but the exhaustive expression of the inexhaustible suggestion of nature can never be attained.

“Yet we may form a sort of grammar of standards by which we may judge the coherency with which the language of art is spoken. I know no other way of judging a picture than by three rules or qualities–the originality of the conception based on the possibilities of that subject, the sense of beauty, the technical achievement.”

Maria Oakey Dewing, “Flower Painters and What the Flower Offers to Art” in Art and Progress Vol. 6, No. 8 (Jun., 1915), pp. 255-262

Note to self: it wasn’t a dud flower painting, it was but another step in the “exhaustive expression of the inexhaustible suggestion of nature”.

If you’re striving for the unattainable, then what you judge to be unsuccessful results aren’t failures because you weren’t supposed to be able to do it anyway.

Monday Motivator: Landscapes We Carry

Monday Motivator quote

“I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me—and remembered feelings of them, which of course become transformed. I could certainly never mirror nature. I would like more to paint what it leaves me with.”

Joan Mitchell, letter written in 1958
(in John I.H. Baur, Nature in Abstraction: The Relation of Abstract Painting and Sculpture to  Nature in Twentieth-Century American Art, via David Zimmer)

Remembered from a single occasion.
Remembered from multiple occasions.
Remembered from visits years apart and remembered from frequent visits.
Remembered by telling someone else.
Remembered through listening to someone else’s remembering.

The layers of memory as layers in a painting.
Each memory in a different medium? A different type of mark?

Monday Motivator: The Three P’s of Painting

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote“…there are three qualities you need to develop as a painter:  patience, persistence, and passion.

“Since painting is a complex process, you need to be patient with yourself as you learn to master the craft. Your persistence is important, in order to move past your failures and frustrations. And finally, it is your passion…that propels you forward.”

Suzanne Brooker, “The Elements of Landscape Oil Painting”, page 195

The Three P’s of Painting: Patience, Persistence, Passion

Passion, enthuasiasm, desire … perhaps the easiest to have in abundance.

Persistence, endurance, determination … it’s a long-distance event not a sprint. Pace yourself.

Patience … the hardest as we expect to learn in less time than is reaistic. Think about how many years it took you to learn to read and write, how we start one letter at a time not with five-syllable words such as phthalocyanine (aka phthalo, as in the blue).