June 5, 2016
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.
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.
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.
May 4, 2016
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.
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.
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!
April 27, 2016
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.
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:
And the third one in progress is this little one:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
February 15, 2016
Well, I’m back. Words desert me when I try to say anything about the last 8 weeks. I came through a long and tough operation, and am recovering well, though more slowly than I would like.
My work mates in the municipal traffic project sent me a wonderful bouquet, but also a sweet card of a still life painting- by Matisse. I wasn’t familiar with this side of his work.
It is such a little gem that it somehow reached through the pain and leftover narcotic stupor to remind me that I was more than my physical situation. And I got the energy to get my paints out so I could copy the still life. I love that, like the original, it is kind of crudely painted (used palet knife on the background), but still holds together.
My painting was already undergoing some fundamental changes. I wrote about those in the last post. One current influence is Flora Bowley’s, ‘Brave intuitive painting’. After some free experimenting according to her suggestions, I find that my visual vocabulary demands a bit more structure than her layered free form approach. Still, I am learning a lot from trying some of her suggestions to free up the painting experience. Laying down a first layer, for instance, in cool colours, and painting on top with warm ones, letting areas of the underlayer show through. Also she encourages you to not get precious about what is already on the canvas, and to try new mark making on top of what you already have to push the painting in a new direction. Ruining the ‘good’ correct image to reveal more depth and expression.
That is what I’m in the process of doing with the painting here. It was inspired by a bunch of tulips wrapped in dark blue paper. But I felt the painting was a bit too pretty and confined by the realism.
So I’ve been breaking it down by using the palette knife in places and obscuring some of the bright colours and hard definition of form. It is still in progress.
One more thing I wanted to say about influences, I love the work of Jude Hill and am following a sewing, quilting, and appliqué course of hers online. It is all about layering there as well.
Her approach speaks to me- she doesn’t plan a piece out to the last detail, she has a spontaneous, ‘wait and see what happens’ attitude. It is really refreshing and something I could use more of. Also, she posts her work in progress and you watch it transform and grow. I could do that more.
And I wouldn’t be surprised to see the patchwork and painting starting to influence each other before to long.
More on other new paintings next time.
December 16, 2015
There is a lot of movement happening in my life, and it is reflected in my painting. I’m leaving old ways of seeing, and familiar approaches, and embarking on ‘The adventure of a lifetime’ (A plug for Coldplay’s new single YAY!!). The freedom I have in inventing when working in oil pastels has finally transferred to paint. I’m working in acrylics because I like layering and they dry fast.
I won’t take you on the complete journey, but this particular stream started months ago. I have mentioned that I do collages for relaxation and processing of any issues up for me. I always really like them, they surprise me and are fresh. So this one, with the painting by Alexey Kvaratskeheliya at center stage inspired me to try an oil pastel painting using the same kind of little shards of concentrated colour as Alexey K.
Which resulted in this piece:
Working with colour in this way feels very natural to me. (This piece is in our currently running show at Scherer design store. In a few days they will have our exhibit announced on the site.)
I wondered if I could work this way in paints, but it is different when you can reach for one of 121 concentrated oil pastel colours, or you have to mix them yourself and keep using clean brushes to apply them.
But one evening I took a little piece of cardboard, and intuitively began working in small colour areas. That freed me up to take another step- I took all the leftover colours on my palette and made a background on a previously painted canvas with the partly dried paint and palette knife:
Then I painted over it intending to work into the result below, but I like it so much I’m leaving it as is.
The next two happened around the same time:
They are both painted in acrylic over previous paintings, taking cues from the background and at the same time evolving their own unique forms.
This method of working really suits me. I work messily and spontaneously on an already painted canvas and things just happen.
Gee that Flora Bowley book mentioned in the last post must really work, I haven’t even read it yet and my work is undergoing a major reorientation!
All of the preceding are quite small format- around 30 x 30 cm. Then I retrieved one of the fairly free paintings from this summer where I was trying to lose form, and painted over it. The tree emerged, and I worked into it some, but not much. It captures the energy I need most to connect with now as I face major surgery tomorrow. Hopefully I can bring it into the hospital where I can see it.
December 5, 2015
A new blogger friend mentioned Flora Bowley’s book, ‘Brave intuitive painting’, and I was immediately curious. I looked at her video and knew this way of working would take me forward. In the last months, I kept hitting that edge of letting go, but somehow my training and conditioning wouldn’t let me do that on a canvas!! There was a strict division between the art I did personally, privately- collages to process some issues, or create visions and goals, and various watercolor fantasies. But set that canvas up on the easel, lay out the paints and brushes, and The Professional Artist persona quickly came in to direct the show. ‘We’ll do it like this’, she said. Well, I soon took care of her!
So then I could get on with it. The piece at the top of this page was inspired by an ornament my Tai Chi teacher and friend Lian gave me (you can just make out the little gold shape to the left of the painting up top). My previous attempts at working loosely were nice but quite chaotic and fragmented. This time, I wanted to work with a single simple shape, the plant reminds me of oleander, which has strong healing properties. I drew the plant on canvas board loosely with walnut ink (very water soluble after it dries) and worked into it with watercolour sticks and brush. I redrew the outlines with acrylic very quickly. Next step was to block in the colour, which I had an idea about before I started.
And finally I firmed up the colours. I wanted good rich earth colours at the bottom merging into lighter shades and finally some ethereal pastels lighting up the top where the flowers are. It is 30 x 50cm. Interesting proportion to work with. That’s pretty much how I’m going to leave it.