Tulip time

April 18, 2014

third stage of acrylic underpainting

halfway through the third stage of acrylic underpainting, showing the neutral background and grey values

At the moment I’m working on two paintings at the same time. I have another one of the same subject as above at a further stage of development, but I just started this one today and wanted to record this part of the process in case it is of any help to other painters.

The subject is deliciously complex, with two patterned fabrics intertwining on a background cloth, with 3 vases of tulips. In the above picture, there are actually 3 stages of underpainting shown.

  1. First is a neutral light blue coat, (ultramarine and white with a good amount of heavy gel mixed in). I chose this colour carefully having learned from my work in oil pastels that the background colour can make certain colours glow and kill others dead. See in the example below, how the pinks and oranges come to life on the blue paper. In the painting I’m working on, there are some hot greens and vibrating turquoises that I want to keep alive, as well as the oranges and pinks of the tulips, so the neutral greyish blue undercoat will allow that.Tulip and lily fantasy
  2. The folds of cloth with the pattern following them is so complex that I needed to establish values and contours before I started in with the oil colours. So I mixed some cobalt blue and burnt sienna into a dark grey and sketched in shadows and folds.
  3. After that, I mixed some bright colours with gel to form transparent glazes (so I didn’t cover up all my previous work getting the contours!!), and painted in fun colours, keeping complements in mind. Oranges layered over that acid green will make the tulips dance off the canvas. And the purply pinks will glow here and there through the green leaves, giving them depth.

    Acrylic layer ready for the first coat of oils

    Acrylic layer ready for the first coat of oils

I enjoy painting the oils over a supportive layer of acrylic colour, unexpected things happen, happy accidents of one colour against another, or letting the background colour show as a contour to give a subtle painterly effect. From previous paintings, I’ve learned to put the darkest colours where my lightest values are going to come. So that dark browny purple behind the middle tulip vase is actually waiting to receive a beautiful honeyed orange light. The blue cloth on the left will, in the end, be hot pink, gold and blue. It takes patience to work this way, but doing it like this is also a way to familiarise myself with the subject before I start applying the oil paint, so that stage proceeds with more confidence.

I will be following the dark values on this painting, something I haven’t done before, usually I let the lightest point lead the eye into and around the composition. But it happens that in this one, the darkest areas lead into the painting in a nice curving path that the eye can follow easely (pun intended, sorry). ūüôā








Reflections in oils

April 8, 2014




And now for something completely different.

This painting is done from a photo of Rende’s. Normally I avoid working from his beautiful photos, since he has already made all the aesthetic decisions, there doesn’t seem to be any challenge in just copying them.¬† But I needed a break from fruit (!) and the rippling water with reflections and that lovely red edge of the boat fascinated me.

I used oils but first painted an acrylic ground of that heightened turquoise which shines through most of the painting. My broad, synthetic brushes worked really well getting the large areas of water down, and frankly, this went quickly and more easily than my still lifes. I left a lot of it just as I first sketched it in, and am happy not to have overworked this one.

For more of Rende’s reflection photos, see this book.



organising thoughts on bulletin board

organising thoughts on bulletin board

This is being reposted with new material, featuring the next writer, Laura Burns.

Thanks to Cat Lupton for inviting me to take part in a writing process blog tour.  Different bloggers talk about how and why they write, and it is a kind of online relay. The idea is to create a continuous chain of writers.
Unfortunately, the people I asked couldn’t participate, so one of the forward branches ends here, well not entirely. This is a bit late, but Laura Burns is carrying the baton from here. I came across Laura’s work some time ago and knew immediately that this kind of artist is breaking ground for an entirely new kind of engaged art. She is a writer and performer interested in responding to environmental crisis. Her work spans performance storytelling, poetry, movement practices and visual arts. She is interested in the intersections of orality and text, movement and writing and mythology as ecology; she is currently looking at the ways in which re-connecting to our bodies might affect re-connecting to the earth around us.¬† Her post will be up at her blog on April 7th.
You can also follow some links backward and pick up a new branch forward.
Try these: Emily Wilkinson , and Jeppe Graugaard.
Or sideways*.

We’re following a model of answering 4 questions concerning our writing process, here goes:

1 What am I working on?

Aside from regular blogging, and the occasional guest blog, there is no active writing project on the table at the moment.

For the past 10 years I’ve had a book in the works about the emergence of new art forms in times of transition.¬† I keep hitting unsolvable problems so have shelved it for now.

2 How does my work differ from  others of its genre?

Since I’m a visual artist who also writes, my primary focus is art and it is hard for me to judge how my work does or doesn’t stand out from other non fiction writing. I’d like to think that my unique mix of life experiences and the issues I care most about combine to create an individual voice.

3 Why do I write what I do?

Usually¬† there is some kind of urgency when I sit down to write- there is¬† question or issue up for me that I want to get clarity on. Or I write to digest new material that has come to me through someone else’s writing.

I also write to  share my inner thoughts in the hopes they may help someone else gain insight on similar dilemmas.

4 How does my writing process work?

A lot of my writing is easy, I just, ‘stare at the page until little drops of blood form on my forehead’.

No, seriously, I seem to have two modes of writing-   Flow, and Struggle.

My book, ‘Chocolate rain, 100 ideas for a creative approach to activities in dementia care’ was written in a continuous flow over 18 months. First thing in the morning, I simply sat down to write for an hour or more, and the book emerged with very little revision.¬† However, I have to add that this productive period was preceded by attempts spanning 5 years, to try to find the right tone. But as soon as I found the balance between ‘too academic’ and ‘too personal’, the book just about wrote itself.

The good kind of struggle is part of every creative process. You hit a wall, get pushed beyond your comfort zone, solve it, and come out the other side with  a sense of achievement.

But there is also negative struggle. In recent attempts to progress with my book on the arts, I’ve become intimately acquainted with this type of internal battle. No matter how much discipline, optimism, or hard work you throw at the page, you stay stuck. It is like quicksand.

I’ve been learning to discern between the constructive and the negative kinds of struggle, and to disengage from the latter.
I understand now that writing can’t be forced, and things will fall in place when they are ready to. I’ve realised that despite the willingness to turn up at the page,( surrounded by copious research notes and outlines), if I haven’t connected with the soul of the book or its reason for being written, nothing I can do can make it progress.

Occasionally an idea comes to us that is so far outside our current frame of reference,¬† we have to fundamentally change before that idea can take shape through us. So I’m experiencing that the writing process can be a sort of alchemy that transforms the creator as well as the material she is giving form to.

* (And if¬† you are interested, I just ran across a past post of mine, ‘Why posting every day might not always be such a good idea’, inspired by Jonathan Harris, which addresses some issues related to blogging, story, creative process,¬† and living our lives publicly on the internet).