Crowded stilllifes

October 23, 2016


underpainting and first forms sketched in        acrylic 40 x 50cm

HI folks, this is a continuation of the series I’m working on which seems to be about dancing between realism and abstraction. I needed to keep the freshness of this  underpainting and sketch, so I let go of certain givens, like making the yellow ball (which was a pomegranate) bright rose red. When faced with a decision, I chose for ‘feels good’ for the whole painting, rather than ‘right’. Looking at this now, I can also see how landscape is coming in, through the patches of green, like crops seen from the sky. (The red and yellow stripe are the Dutch bulb fields🙂 ).


Crowded still life 1    acrylic 40 x 50 cm

Above is the ‘finished’ piece. It simply means where I chose to stop working on it. Some things aren’t ‘completed’. But it is the imperfections I love so much in others’ work so I left them in mine.

The next piece was quite different. I wanted to work with more neutral colours. It is painted over a few portrait studies I did,  you can see a face peeking out behind the small dropper bottle at the upper right.


Neutral underpainting    acrylic 40 x 50cm

Without really thinking about it consciously, I started painting this with glazes rather than solid colour. I think that I was quite intimidated at first by the strong and dominating shadows, and this was a way to approach them cautiously.I really loved the black broken lines of the charcoal sketch, so with dry-brush I imitated them in places.


Crowded still life 2  acrylic 40 x 50cm

For some reason one of my favourite areas in this painting is the little rectangle with the orange and greenish blue plum on the lower right just next to the plate with radishes. I also like the shallots.

It would be tempting to ‘fill in’ everything (see bottle and dropper bottle upper right), but my instinct was to leave it. These paintings are done in a spirit of following where the painting leads. There are lots of open areas, spatially as well as in content. I like the surprises I got while painting it. Things happened which  could never be planned. When you’re in that kind of flow, each painting opens out naturally into another one. I don’t have a subject yet, but this exploration will definitely continue.

Next post will be about Matisse. ah lovely.


airy still life       acrylic    40 x 50cm approx.

One of my present challenges with painting is to distil some basic elements out of a crowded composition.

I don’t like to set up still lifes these days, they strike me as too formal. So when certain aspects of our messy kitchen counter caught my eye, I took a picture and decided to work with it purely as a starting point. This first piece above wasn’t entirely to my satisfaction composition wise, but I liked that I was able to break out of slavishly following the actual photo.


Later, I revisited this set up from another angle. This time I used a specific underpainting which was a previous failed work. Last post I talked about using some of my oil pastel drawings as models to kick start my painting. Take a look at the lower left panel of this piece below.

I decided to enlarge that as a separate painting. It didn’t have enough design elements to hold interest, but it made a great underpainting for the next still life I did.

I let the composition and colours of the underpainting lead my decisions in this still life. Finally, my two ways of working seem to be coming together- the realistic, and the freer, fantasy approach. I need the everyday objects to anchor and engage my attention. But  I also need the room to be able to play with colour and light. I also enjoy the freedom of not having to explain everything. Areas are left out of focus and a little mysterious.

That’s why I feel that the approach to painting which speaks most to me is as poetry. Distilling the essence of something without explaining the magic away.

A lot of realistic painting bores me because of the intellectual approach. Just imitating the likeness of something even if technically well done isn’t necessarily art. As either viewer or maker, it doesn’t bring me anywhere new, it doesn’t open any doors in my heart or soul.

Here is a merged photo of the still life over the under painting.


More in this series coming soon.

Back to work

October 1, 2016

It has been a challenging summer dealing with various health issues. But now I have energy again to share some of my life with anyone interested.

Making artwork has never really stopped. Some weeks after the op, I was already painting a copy of a  Matisse stillife. Spring inspired me to paint trees, then I got sick in June and things ground to a halt for awhile. Around that time I started sewing a quilt by hand, having bought 2 packs of beautiful Tilda cotton squares on sale. I liked the slow pace and the kind of mindless precise work.

Fall brought new inspiration. My last post had been in June and, with the onion paintings, I had broken through to a new way of working, .


Onions2 acrylic

It was kind of intimidating to try and pick that up again, I’d tried and failed a few times. So I decided to ease into painting again by doing something familiar. I feel most comfortable working in defined areas, like patchwork really. My oil pastel drawings tend to begin as grids, so I chose a few of my favourites and began copying them in acrylics.

It is so true that just working, regardless of being inspired or not, most always opens up the next step.

Even though I stopped again after completing these 2 below, doing them launched me into a new phase in my painting. More about that in the next post. Meanwhile…

When stuck in one medium it is often helpful to go to another. I decided to make collages out of some old oil pastel drawings. I did one a day for a week, here they are:

take care, til next time.


To the loyal handful of followers, thanks you make it worthwhile. And to new passers by. thanks for dropping in. It feels good to be sharing my joyful discovery painting mystery tour with you.

Continuing with the  ‘Spirit of Trees’ series, I took on an unfamiliar subject this time-  landscape/architectural. This painting is a lesson in overworking, and why it is so compelling, even though 9 times out of 1o it goes wrong. Below is a version I found ok but too fussy (with the detailed roof tiles). I wanted a yellow tree per se. And I wanted to keep it painterly and fresh. But I kept trying to get the whole thing looser, and eventually, I feel I lost the sunniness of this version. See painting under this one.

grandfather tree sunny copy

Grandfather tree sunny        50 x50 cm acrylic


grandfather tree greenish

Grandfather tree meets the walking dead

In my search to use my own colours rather than the given ones (see that the warm terracotta from the rooves is replaced by greens), I feel I lost something of the warmth of the first version. It kind of looks eerie, like the light before a bad storm moves in.

Between this phase of the painting and the previous one, I had also painted the sky soft yellow, you can see the remnants of that behind the buildings. That move killed it, so I reinstated the blue. You know what?, it began not to be fun any more, yet I’d started it with a wonderful sense of excitement. I’ve learned ( I hope!!!) to stop when the joy goes underground and painting becomes about trying to ‘correct’ something, or ‘get it right’. The fatal flaw in this painting was that I started with a concept (yellow tree) and didn’t listen enough to the subject or the painting.

A few days later, I got inspired by a photo I’d made of two onions on my work table. I took an old painting and drew right ontop of it, then started in painting rapidly, leaving some patches of background exposed. I loved it so much after the initial blocking in, that I didn’t dare to work on it any more.


Onions1 acrylic

So I put it aside and started a new one ontop of yet another old painting. I listened better this time and kept the freshness. It is mostly done, see below.

Here is what I learned, the lessons are particular to my own trajectory toward an intuitively sensed goal of where my truest work lies. So maybe they will be applicable to you, maybe not, but here they are:

  • let parts of the painting remain unfinished if that’s what looks right
  • cherish the roughness, don’t try to paint ‘beautifully’
  • don’t try to have everything make sense
  • follow the painting, not my original ideas about it when I started
  • don’t describe, dance.
  • the goal isn’t to get the subject right, but to get the painting to feel good, true

By the way, I feel that this tutorial taught me more in a few minutes than several advanced painting workshops I’ve taken. And buying a brush similar to the one this woman used was also a revelation! Materials help or hinder so much.

Here is the second onion painting, almost done. It makes me very happy.


Onions2 acrylic

It feels like grace when a group of paintings becomes a series. I don’t have to start from scratch with each canvas –  the theme is decided, there is fresh inspiration, and one painting leads to the next.

Spirit of Trees is a new series, started last winter during illness, continuing now into spring with new energy and wellness. It has a particular significance to me, giving me a way to express my connection with nature- my feeling of being held/protected by it and at its mercy as well. A healthy kind of humility, I would think.

With the dog, I walk the same paths a lot here locally. Sometimes I get bored with the familiar scenery, but lately I’ve been trying to look at things with fresh eyes. Looking at trees with new affection has increased my awareness of their beautiful forms, alone and in relationship. There was a recent book here (in NL) by a forest ranger who feels keenly the emotions of trees. His lifelong association with trees has convinced him that they do form relationships, communicate with, and protect each other. I also sense different personalities in trees and enjoy communing with them.

The next painting in the series is a small study, completed in one sitting.

spirit of trees 001

new branches

It was done on top of an old painting- once again the background determines the feel of the new image. I’ve left parts of the original painting showing through.

I like this one, but wanted to take the subject further. I had a clear idea that I wanted to do it in the style of David Hockney, feeling the need for sharp colour delineation and a more decorative approach.

Now David Hockney is a whole other topic. I still get blissed out when I remember stumbling by accident into his ‘The Big Picture’ exhibition in Cologne while I was there for another show. I wrote about it here. Excerpt below:

The show was a total immersion experience in the art and life of this artist of stature. I’ve always liked Hockney’s work, but these huge composite canvasses of as many as 18 paintings making up one whole wall of landscape were just awe inspiring. It was a privilege just to see this work… It was all good, all well drawn, all honest, all meaningful, relevant. And yet also decorative, unique and humorous.

I came away from that show wanting to paint in the same spirit as Hockney,( not necessarily with the same technique). At any rate, I’ve noticed that when I get gob-smacked by some inspirational visual art and am longing to have some of the same kind of qualities in my work,it rarely works to try to appropriate part of another artist’s ‘language’. For me that dead-ends after awhile because you are lifting elements out of context, and are missing the whole energy base/story/context which led to them in the first place. They grew out of someone else’s life and a living creative process intimately bound with that person’s story. So copying someone else’s line, gesture, colours-unless they connect with something vital in your own work, will lead only to empty gestures and superficial effects.

I’ve found that if I trust and let go of wanting my work to look a certain way, years later, some influence will emerge naturally in my painting that recalls another artist, but finally has been translated into my own marks and meanings.

spirit of trees 006

tree inspiration

This painting was started very much with Hockney’s series of landscape/ tree paintings in mind, but is not a slavish copy. Temporarily borrowing another artist’s way of seeing or handling subject matter opens new doors of perception for me. There were a series of ahas about how to handle layers of foreground and background, and how to make essentially brown and green trees light up! Google ‘The big picture’ and look at some of the work.

David Hockney, landscape around Yorkshire

What a vitality, and how directly and with what a sure hand they are painted!  Can’t wait to get back to work, cheers!



Grandfather tree

April 27, 2016

opa tree

Grandfather trees    acrylic on canvas board

I’ve been working on the Spirit of Trees series. Though none of these are finished, I thought I’d show them in progress anyway. These guys above are massive trees, beeches, I think (?), growing on our neighbour’s patio. They have such presence.


colour samples      inspired by Alexey Kvaratskeheliya


Above are colour experiments inspired by the art of Alexey Kvaratskeheliya, see a previous post of mine for details. I’m inspired by the combinations and you can see I’ve been trying out some of them on the foreground of ‘Grandfather trees’.

I’ve worked further on ‘Before trees’, here below:

before trees3

And the third one in progress is this little one:

pastel trees

Pastel trees


Before trees

March 19, 2016

Working on the sampler for Jude Hill’s online course I’m following (well, dipping into) is giving me insights into how I work generally.  The idea here is to weave some fabric strips together as a base, and then work on the grid formed by the strips of cloth.


spiritcloth sampler, in progress

I chose the circle as a uniting theme, but the tree wanted to be there in the middle, and when it appeared, the work stopped being an exercise and connected with my heart.

Someone once commented that I should stop working in all those little rectangles in my art. But this way of working speaks to me, is actually a part of my personal visual vocabulary. I realise I feel most comfortable within defined spaces where I can play with edges, defining them, letting them fade, overlapping. And each square a little story of its own. If you look at Jude’s work, you see her breaking out of the grid repeatedly, but it is there as a strong basis to the design, holding all the separate parts together.

You can see in the next images, how I like to work. I used an old painting(shown upside down) below.

background painting before trees

old painting used as background for Before trees

On the painting below, you can still see part of the neck of the greenish bottle (far right) showing if you look carefully. And other areas have been painted over letting parts of the background show through. Using an old painting as the background determines the palette a bit, and some of the movement.

before trees

Before trees

But I got stuck fairly quickly on this one. It was too familiar and I wasn’t learning much  by continuing with it. Using prompts from Flora Bowley’s book, mentioned in several previous posts, I decided to risk ruining/losing what I had in order to find something new. So I turned it upside down and treated it like a background.

Ah, trees again, they just wanted to be there. To orient between the old and new versions, look for the yellow sun on the painting above, and now you’ll see it peeking through behind the big tree on the left.

before trees2

Before trees, worked on further

Here is a later stage.
So, for me, the textile work at teh top of the page,  and painting are intimately related. They are both about layering, not planning overmuch, following where the work seems to want to go, and being patient with all the twists and turns on the way.

before trees1

Before trees, more definition