Still life talking

December 31, 2012

The set up

The set up

(The title of this post’s reference to Pat Metheny incidental, though I love his music and that album)

Excitement in starting  a new painting. I did the acrylic under-painting and sketch yesterday, and couldn’t wait to get in the studio to start painting this morning.

I have paid a lot of attention to composition on this one, having learned much from the masters in recent exhibitions I’ve been to. The blue bottle, tangerine and lemon will form a triangle of attention, and the still life itself is set up in a traditional triangle composition- a wide base tapering up at the top.

When I started squeezing out the paints and smelled that wonderful warm scent of linseed oil, I felt as always, a big deep sigh, a letting go, a feeling of safety and homecoming, as if this is all I was ever meant to do. It seems so strange to me that this had to wait until my 60s.  Of course, with me it could all change again. But I hope it doesn’t. There seems to be a lifetime needed to explore all the possibilities opening up now.

This is how it feels when a painting is going well. I also know the agony, and it is ‘agony’,  Peter Howson  speaks of when a painting is not going well. That’s why I’m wary of making it my only focus. For my husband’s sake as much as my own!! 🙂

Here is this morning’s work. I usually only work for an hour or two a day on a painting, after that I can’t see it freshly any more and usually over work it.

First sketching in of colour in oils

First sketching in of colour in oils

such a beautiful tree

December 29, 2012

photo credit    focus groningen

photo credit focus groningen

O father of trees

you stand there in all your years

in your soaring dignity

and fresh green grace

your great tree soul

so generously


in our town square.

Decades of fragrant life,

life giving heart of wood,

hacked down for just a few days,

slowly dying.


Bottles progressing,  oil on canvas board

This one has been going so slowly, I thought I’d post a photo of it in progress. It is slightly lens distorted as you can see by the left hand bottle leaning toward the outside. What I’m happy about in this one is that the raw energy of the under-painting still comes through. You can see it in a previous post.

When I saw this on screen, I ran right up to the studio and wiped off the white highlights on the two dark green bottles. Because,what I’ve been liking about this painting is how it portrays glass without having to resort to the cliché of white highlights, (which can make anything look like glass, actually). The bottle on the far right, though,  has no colour of its own and the white there has a structural justification.

detail showing different paint application

detail showing different paint application

One thing I’ve learned through studying originals of great painters is that there isn’t any rule about how the canvas is covered. In paintings by my favourite painters- including Jeroen Krabbé, Elizabeth Blackadder, Cezanne, van Gogh, Monet- there are passages of impasto, some thick paint, some thin, but also areas where the canvas is scarcely covered.

The work that attracts me most isn’t about describing perfect realism,
but adapting the paint to fit the mood and purpose the painter wants to convey.

I tried applying more paint to the far right bottle, because in the photo there are some nice things going on there, but I really like the unfinished quality of it so I’m leaving it except for defining the edges more.

There is a sort of fork in the road where you have to choose whether to be faithful to the photo or to the way the canvas is evolving.

Being a natural draughtswoman myself, I have to learn to see and think this way. Each painting teaches me more and frees me from over perfectionism.

detail underpainting

detail with under-painting shining through

I’ve left this wild little patch of red and blue acrylic under-painting, and hope in the future to let more of the initial acrylic background come through. It has been painful sometimes to paint over that first wonderful background- it has informed the whole painting though, which you will see is a lot more spontaneously painted than the first bottles (which I still like a lot).

Any critique or suggestions from you painters out there are welcome, since I am still working on this.

paint strokes on present painting

paint strokes on present painting

Cologne cathedral in morning sun

Cologne cathedral in morning sun

I had a great 3 day getaway last week in Cologne. I  went specifically for the centennial  recreation of the 1912 “Sonderbund Exhibition”-  ‘the single most important presentation of European Modernism’. Artists including Cézanne, Gauguin, Macke, Munch, Nolde, Picasso, Schiele, Signac and van Gogh were represented; and the Wallraf-Richartz museum has re-collected many of these Post Impressionist and Expressionist masterpieces from all over the world to recreate the original exhibition.

It was impressive, but I found the entourage cold and unwelcoming. And this affected my enjoyment of the paintings. I was actually glad to leave.

On the other hand, I accidentally bumped into the David Hockney ‘Big Picture’ show at the gorgeous modern Museum Ludwig, which had been originally shown at the Royal Academy, and this was worth the whole trip.  Hockney doesn’t permit unauthorised reproduction of his paintings, so I don’t have any images, but you can Google some.

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. I wish I had had another day, because room after room of paintings, watercolours, sketchbooks, videos showing him at work, videos showing a changing landscape, and more, were too much to take in on one visit. It was all good, all well drawn, all honest, all meaningful, relevant. And yet also decorative, unique and humorous.

I left the museum totally inspired. There is so much passion in his work, I feel an urgency there, that he knows he’s getting older and he still has so much- so very much to say. Being exposed to the collected works of someone like that works a magic in the viewer. The pure dedication, passion and mastery force one to ask,’What am I dedicated to in the same way?’, and ‘Am I using my time well to honour this?’. I came away with a renewed sense of purpose and the conviction that painting as a path is overflowing with meaning. That it is a worthy way to love the world and truly partake in this amazing dance of life.

market at night

Christmas market at night

Then there were the wonderful Christmas markets where people stood around socialising, with mulled wine and deep fried potato latkes bought from the stalls.  And the many Christmas wares for sale. The last picture is of a sweet breakfast café called Yummy, where you could put together your breakfast muesli from a bar with about 30 different cereals and toppings. It was very crafty and cute with great food.

I stayed at a fantastic new hostel around the corner from there. Check it out if you ever want to go to Cologne, a friendly, richly cultural city which I would highly recommend visiting.


Market stall Christmas market


‘Yummy’ muesli bar

 Book of Hours  Oil pastel collage SOLD

Book of Hours Oil   pastel collage SOLD

I’m feeling quite good because I’ve sold some of my art to a friend. Obviously it is heartening when someone likes your work enough to want to give it a place in their lives. But a lot of the satisfaction also comes from the fact that this has been accomplished without Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any promotional effort at all.

Because, after a long career as an exhibiting artist, I have chosen to now work outside the gallery system, and i don’t make a big effort to profile as a selling artist on the web,  I don’t sell much art. But when I do, it is usually a rewarding personal contact that leaves me feeling valued, and the buyer feeling happy to be walking away with an original creation which somehow has connected with his/her soul.

The people who buy my work also pay 30-50% less for my art than comparable work by other professionals who do work with galleries.

You might think that artists sell their work for the gallery price only during the exhibition. But the gallery owner will usually ask you to agree to pay the same commission on work that they’ve shown, even if you sell it privately later. I suppose it is to prevent friends from waiting until the show is over so they can buy directly from the artist and avoid paying the commission. However, most exhibiting artists choose to sell at the gallery rate to avoid having different prices for the same work.

In a recent BrushBuzz ( a great source for painting tips and marketing for artists), was the post, ‘The myth that Good art sells itself’.  I would argue that good work, combined with several other factors, eventually finds its way to the people who will value it and pay for it.  It isn’t that you can sit back and wait for the work to sell itself, of course that isn’t effective. But I’ve found that there are rules operating far outside the normal ideas of promotion and selling which often work in my life. They aren’t linear-‘if you do A, then B will happen’,  but operate sort of sideways. For instance, when I am working hard and consistently on one area of my art like my painting, I’ll often get a commission or sale from another area like calligraphy or instrument decoration. It is as if all that energy being put out there by focused effort somehow calls forth a response, but don’t ask me how it works. 🙂

Tuscan landscape-  oil pastel  SOLD

Tuscan landscape- oil pastel SOLD

Well, the last 5 posts have been a lot of talking about art, today, I’m finally getting a chance to DO some!

But first an update on my recent trip to the UK. Sorry no photos, I’ll bring my camera next time.

I took the train under the English Channel from the Netherlands to St Pancras, London via Brussels. I travelled by train up to Newcastle where I was an invited speaker at a round-table discussion on art in dementia care. We were about 13 artists from different disciplines, a wonderful inspiring group. I’ll be speaking more about that in another post.

Then I trained over to Liverpool for another meeting. That was useful for orientation in participatory arts in Britain, but there wasn’t much concrete for me in the way of support for this in Holland. Still, I had fun at the Liverpool Tate where there was a great installation by Doug Aitken.

Though I visited art galleries and museums in both Newcastle and Liverpool, the creative high point for me personally was the National Gallery in London,- specifically two rooms containing Impressionists and post -Impressionists.  I’d been reading Rilke’s, ‘Letters on Cezanne’ and was yearning to see one of Cezanne’s still-lifes up close. They didn’t have those on display but some of his mountain landscapes were there, along with other icons of art history like Seurat’s ‘The bathers’, one of van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Degas’ dancers.

I think as far as paint application and strength of the image go, I love Sargeant the best.  Still, it was just amazing to stand in front of these canvasses and feel the artist’s presence in every brush stroke.

I came back inspired and nourished, from all the art, and spending time with my mother’s sister, the concert pianist. And from the cities, and all the meetings with other artists and travellers. This was a big contrast with our northern Dutch village life, which occasionally feels claustrophobic.

I started on a large painting yesterday. Wanting more texture and freedom, I applied a thick layer of acrylic as under painting, partly with brush partly with palette knife.

Acrylic under painting with charcoal sketch

Acrylic under painting with charcoal sketch on top       50 x 70cm

And here is one step further with some glazing. Loving how the colours glow through.

Thin oil paint glazes added

Thin oil paint glazes added

I suppose some people would stop here, but I have a vision for this painting of a fairly loosely painted rendering of transparent bottles in their beautiful pale aquas, lime greens and olive greens. There is also some deep plummy tints which will ground the composition. It feels great to be painting again.

To start at the beginning of this extended book review of Between Grace and Fear by W. Cleveland and P Shifferd follow this link. To see previous post, scroll down page.

The last posts dealt with devaluing of the arts and marginalising of artists; what artists need to change in order to do something about the situation; and what it is that artists contribute to positive societal change.

In this concluding post I’ll talk about community arts – this topic was actually the strongest binding factor throughout the interviews in the book. It is here that the socially engaged arts are most visible, and acknowledged as being of great value. And perhaps it is also where the arts are most needed.

Repeatedly as a theme in the interviews, it was stressed that the artist can no longer be seen as an isolated individual with no relationship to- and no responsibility to the surrounding community. In community projects across the globe, artists are working with conflicting cultures, underprivileged groups, and war torn villages. Creating a safe and inspiring space for individuals to express themselves through dance, painting, theatre, song, story-  the artists are helping a community bring forth its creative impulse so it can make its needs and dreams more tangible.

This is different from artists going in to ‘educate’ a community about art. In Holland I often see an attitude toward participatory arts which is oriented first around the artist- a sense of the artist going in to show people what culture is. An exception to this is the HEIM2012 community performance project done by some friends of mine at Moving Arts (Dutch language site).

Whereas in the UK and USA the emphasis is on discovering with the community what the need is, and bringing in one’s creative skills to help those people heal, vitalise and enable themselves. By giving people means to tell their stories and to give them form through the arts,  the arts are helping people move from being passive to being empowered.

Listening and responsiveness need to be at the core of connected art. For an artist to really make a difference over the long term, strategies need to be created with and by people deeply involved in the situation.

‘Committed art activism provides a context for others to take action’.

Between Grace and Fear is a courageous and ambitious book. It is one of several pioneering efforts happening now which will help put art back in the middle of life. The people interviewed  are from diverse backgrounds and disciplines and are each inspiring. I found it at times more of a study book than a relaxing read, but that is because it is so densely packed with ideas and information. It is a wonderful resource for new directions in art and new perspectives about what art is and what artists are here for.

Cleveland ends the book with a bang! Chapter 31 is called ‘Bridges, translations and Change: The arts as infrastructure in a changing world’. It is an amazing and inspiring list of recommendations, actions, and ideas for integrating the arts into all our systems and daily life where they can do their much needed healing and transformative work. I’ll excerpt that some other time.