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Getting back to whimsical

February 19, 2015

I think this is the last painting (scroll down to end of post for image)I will be copying for awhile. It is by a contemporary artist, and it feels a bit trickier than copying someone who is long gone and would never know you were using his/her work for study.

I’m only going to show the original this time, realising that the point isn’t whether my copy is good or bad. It turned out quite well actually. It was the painting process which was important. And copying a whimsical subject helped me to reconnect with that side of my own work.

First, here are a few small selections of work done over the years in oil pastel, oil pastel collage and oils. They all have an element of play and humor which somehow went underground when I began to do still lifes in oils.
(If you look back through this blog at my oil paintings from the past few years, you’ll see that they are mostly realistic.) That was what I wanted to do, I needed to learn the medium better, and paint rather than draw. I’m still learning this.

Moon village oil pastel

Moon village
oil pastel                            (all by S.Zoutewelle except last image)

Encounter   oil pastel

Encounter oil pastel

And finally, the work below is ‘In Shining Armour’ by Susan Bower. What made me want to copy it was her casual handling of the greenish background areas, and the wonderful perspective going back to those pastel houses and terracotta rooves.  I love the sketchiness of her painting and the looseness of the forms.

Susan Bower, 'In shining armour'

Susan Bower, ‘In shining armour’

So my next painting will probably be inspired by this last period of concentrating on other people’s approaches, but will be more my own choice of subject.
By the way, I read that Van Gogh copied madly during his development, and destroyed those attempts during his life- there were more than 400 drawings and paintings that were copies of other artist’s work!

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Oh just go ahead and copy!

February 8, 2015

Hitchens stillife, first sketch in watercolour crayon

Hitchens stillife, first sketch in watercolour crayon

What gets me painting is a tingling sensation, a momentary lifting of the heart when struck by something visual- a slant of light, two colours juxtaposed, the beautiful rounded form of fruit nestled in a bowl.
Though there has certainly been enough visual inspiration around, the drive to paint it has gone underground.

So I keep alert for that pinging, when my souls’ sounding has hit on treasure. Recently that has been happening with the work of other artists, so I follow where it leads.

First it was to the Isaac Israels portrait I did a few months ago. I just wanted to have the painting, not having 115,000 euros to buy it, I copied it and learned a lot by doing so.

Now I’m fired up by the more realistic work of Ivon Hitchens who worked in the middle of the last century. His abstracts are interesting, but it is the still lifes I gravitated towards. I saw my first one in ‘Flow’ magazine here in Holland (see below)  and have had it up in the studio for awhile.

Flowers, oil on canvas, Ivon Hitchens

Flowers, oil on canvas, Ivon Hitchens

I’m attracted to artists who somehow capture and release form simultaneously. I feel myself moving in that direction, and have been working that way in oil pastels for ages, but as soon as I pick up a brush things start having to be ‘right’. It is fine as a learning stage for these past 4 1/2 years of concentrated work on my painting, but slowly, I’m pulling out of that restriction and trying to find my own vocabulary.

So I really liked one of Hitchens’ still lifes, and made a spontaneous sketch of it with watercolour sticks (see opening image on this post). I bought some Caran d’ache ones in France and they are luscious.

Photo source

 

 

 

 

You draw with them and then go over your strokes with a brush and they dissolve into watercolour washes. I chose this medium because it was inexact and sketchy and would help me approach the feel of the original Hitchens painting below.

Still life by Ivon Hitchens

Still life by Ivon Hitchens

Then, after that preparatory watercolour crayon work, I did my own oil version below.

My copy of the Hitchens in oils

My copy of the Hitchens in oils

I love his greys, his greyed down greens, and the lovely warm orange pot. I also was charmed by the wonderful blue grey shadow shape running along the bottoms of those 3 white cups and the lighter grey negative shape it makes.

It was so nice to do, such a change from my usual way of working. So free and sketchy and painterly.

My next painting is also a copy. Giving myself permission to copy my favourite paintings is an unexpected gift. It gives me a chance to immerse myself in the world of some of my favourite artists, and to paint as if I were they. It takes away that yearning when I see a painting I wish I’d done, just to do it even though it is someone else’s style and discovery!! I know this is an important phase for me, opening possibilities in technique and content, so I’m going with it. It is also a lot of fun.

Cover

In 2011, my book ‘Chocolate Rain’ was published by Hawker Publications, UK. It has been received well and has steadily found its way into the hands of more and more relatives, carers and professionals who work with people with dementia.

Last month I received wonderful news, my book had sold out of the first printing and is being reprinted because it had been chosen along with 24 others as part of Reading Well’s Book Prescription list for Dementia! I went to the official launch while I was in London, met a few friends there, John Killick and Richard Hawkins to name two, and was inspired to learn more about this initiative.

Reading well is a health initiative of the Reading Agency, a non profit that encourages people to read more. Their Books on Subscription project is brilliant in its simplicity. They team up with libraries, health professionals, and health organisations to make self-help books on common health problems widely available through libraries.

At the launch I was most impressed by the transdisciplinary collaboration that makes this project possible. Reading Well’s Book prescription list for Dementia is actively promoted by the Society of Chief Librarians, partly sponsored by the Arts Council England, and works closely with health organisations like the Alzheimer Association. The combined efforts of all of these bodies make general health information, in this case information about dementia, low threshold and easily available to everyone through their local public library. Particularly cool, I find, is that doctors and other professionals (therapists, social workers, etc) can prescribe these books to their patients so that they can become more empowered by becoming informed about their-, or a relative’s condition.

Last year the books were available in 95% of all the libraries in the UK.

In its first year, the scheme reached 275,000 people with accredited self-help reading, helping people to understand and manage common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Library issues of titles on the core book list have increased by 113% and around 7,000 health professionals are using the scheme on a regular basis to recommend books.

What it means for me and the other 24 authors, is that our books will get a huge boost in getting out to where they are needed. Last year’s book saw large sales increases as well, which is only good news to anyone who relies in part on royalties for their income.

My book is an activity/support for carers book, additionally there are books on Living well with dementia, including, ‘Dementia Positive’ by John Killick, Luath Press. In the category, Support for relatives and carers,  Graham Stoke’s much lauded,’And still the music plays’, published by Hawker. And in Personal stories, ‘The little girl in the radiator: mum, Alzheimer’s and me’ by Martin Slevin, (Monday books).

‘Chocolate Rain’ is available at the many Dementia and Care congresses organised by Hawker publications in the UK. And on line from Book depository, Amazon uk, etc., and directly from Hawker publications.

 

My much loved aunt Evelyn died at the beginning of the month. I’ve written of her beautiful piano playing here.

I attended the funeral, and my cousin graciously offered me the now vacant apartment in London for my stay. My aunt and uncle owned 2 Vuillards which hung in the sun-filled living room. During the nearly 2 weeks I stayed at the flat helping go through my aunt’s things, I was able to be in the presence of these two paintings in all lights, and to study their surfaces closely – without a museum guard jumping up to tell me I was too close!

One of the Vuillards hanging in my aunt's flat

One of the Vuillards hanging in my aunt’s flat

In a sad time, they gave me much joy. I read up on Vuillard while I was there and learned that he lived from about 1860 to 1940 and was a member of the Nabis or ‘prophets’. These artists, among them, Maurice Denis and Pierre Bonnard, were post-Impressionists, exploring new approaches to painting. They felt the Impressionists were too slavish to creating  paintings to ‘charm the senses’. Additionally, the Nabi painters were striving to break through the restrictions of copying nature and were looking for ways to use more fantasy in their work.

Reading about Vuillard’s work and life gave me a lot of courage in my own journey as a painter. He and his contemporaries were dealing with similar dilemmas we modern artists confront. For example, Vuillard’s instinct was to paint intimate scenes on small canvases, while his contemporaries were striving to create grand works taking years to complete. Equally important was that in the late 1890s, the current idea was that large mural decoration was a higher form of art than easel painting!

So what I love about Vuillard is how he quietly went his own way despite considerable pressure from his friends, his group and the times he was living in. He admits in his letters that it was a struggle to keep to his own path, but he did.

After an inner crisis about his life and work, which was described as a conflict between his intellect and his artist’s sensitivity, and which was ongoing,  he writes,

‘The only guide left to me was instinct, pleasure, satisfaction; the area in which I was quite certain of anything got smaller and smaller, all I could do was the simplest possible kind of work.’

‘The important thing was that I had a basis on which to go on painting pictures, this work brought results. It allowed me to put one or two ideas together in ways that didn’t too much violate my conviction that everything must be summoned forth from one’s own innermost being’.

-quoted from ‘Vuillard’, John Russell, Thames and Hudson, London 1971