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A journey in paint

July 6, 2013

No, the title doesn’t refer to keeping a visual travelogue. Rather it is about discovering painting and discovering myself through the process.

I’ve been drawing and painting since childhood, and seriously pursuing oils during certain periods of my adult life. Previous to now, I’ve always hit a wall technically and quit.

But when I saw the Jeroen Krabbé retrospective in 2008(?) I decided to commit to painting. Once again, however, I hit a wall copying another artist and couldn’t move forward to find my own work.

The Elizabeth Blackadder show in 2011 was decisive. I made a promise to myself to not quit again. Both of those shows rang such a deep resonant bell in my artist’s soul, that I knew if I didn’t commit right then to my own painting I’d regret it for the rest of my life.

The first year  (2011-2012) was almost continuous frustration as I made myself learn to see not as a draughtsman but as a painter. My first paintings from this period are still exact renderings, or they are attempts to imitate the easy-going fantasy of my oil pastel work.

Dozens of canvasses and new insights later, the painting itself has led to discoveries not only in technique, but intent.
After 2 years of consistent work I am getting glimmer of what my painting wants to be. Instead of the search to get the subject on the canvas and solve the most immediate problems like composition, light and dark, perspective, etc., I’m getting a sense of where the colour could go, how the shadows could be handled for a more dramatic effect, how forms can be related, emphasised or diminished in service of the whole composition.

I think a lot of painters make these decisions intuitively, subconsciously, even. But as you work, your work teaches you. For example, I used to wonder why painters had so many brushes in different shapes; now, when I’m working, I reach for a round brush for one kind of stroke and a flat brush for a more blended colour.

Also switching media was a challenge. I was used to having a box of 121 oil pastel colours at my fingertips- at first I got frustrated at having to mix each colour and use separate brushes to apply them. But now with oils, I feel I have an infinite variety of colours at hand, and the unexpected mixtures which happen when a brush picks up a neighbouring colour or mixes with the colour underneath, only add excitement to the work.

How I paint, the decisions I make in the work also reflect to me where I am inside. Looking at earlier work, not just painting but design and drawing, there is a strong perfectionist streak in how things are rendered. The fight to let go in my work, perfectly reflects my life- the need to learn to trust more and not try to control everything.  As I let go more in painting- ie suggest an area instead of draw every detail, that same relaxation is evident in my life. And vice versa. It is hard to say which comes first, but I think they both influence each other.

It is 2 years since I saw Elizabeth Blackadder’s retrospective in Edinburgh and was struck not only by her work,-the whimsy and freedom and mastery, but by the dogged commitment to painting radiating out from the entire body of work.

I love setting out my paints, putting on my husband’s old shirt as a paint smock, and settling in for a session. The smell of the oils, the sight of the colours, the feel of the material, all of it.

The work is its own reward.

Latest painting:

Pears in sunlight    Oil on canvas board

Pears in sunlight Oil on canvas board   SOLD

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4 Responses to “A journey in paint”

  1. TinCanTraveler Says:

    I love “Pears in Sunlight”
    The warmth of the setting through the colors and companionship of the second bowl of fruit, so inviting!

    • Sarah Zoutewelle Says:

      Thanks Annie. It was done from a watercolor I did at Anne’s house in Pittsburgh. Well, I had a photo to refer to as well. I’m working on two more pieces inspired by this lovely warm kitchen and the sweet people in whose home I was welcome during the first part of my visit.


  2. I too love that bowl of pears painting and the feeling of a warm sunlighty glow.


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