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.

Colourful corner

Colourful corner

My writing time has been going into my book. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy making things with my hands as well as my head. Above is my favourite corner in the studio right now. And below, the wall above my work table showing some abstract acrylic paintings I’ve been working on, and a collection of crocheted mandalas mostly done for their colour combinations.

Wall above worktable

Wall above worktable

The rag rug has a story directly related to my book in progress.

The book is about the changes I’ve experienced and observed in the arts in the 40 years of my visual arts career. One thread is about my personal journey away from the life of an exhibiting artist and graphic designer towards a more socially engaged art. The second thread is about the role of the arts in times of transition and how the arts are changing to meet the needs of society now.

In the course of the writing and research, I’ve stumbled upon several wonderful examples of artists practising the new arts. Some are old heroes like Lily Yeh, but others are new to me and have in their own ways, ignited my imagination.

One of these people is Fritz Haeg whose work I came across when researching new art trainings and landed at the Mildred’s Lane site. Haeg trained as an architect but early on became deeply involved in questions of how we live, and how we create ‘home’ with what is around us.

This is short video is a good intro to his work. I was inspired by his huge rugs, finger crocheted from used clothes and textiles. They are 30m across, tour some of the major museums, and have been added to by people at each location. These warm objects invite sitting, reclining and meeting in an often otherwise sterile modern museum environment. People are invited to bring other home crafts related to food and gardening- what is growing in the garden that day, flowers found outside, preserved fruits, dried herbs. All are displayed on the rug, forming an intimate environment and what Haeg calls a ceremony in domestic living.

His other projects are as compelling- Edible estates was about turning unproductive suburban lawns into edible gardens and community meeting places. That is for another post.

Haeg says that his art is about creating at least part of an ideal life he doesn’t have (and which doesn’t exist in our society) yet. For me, and I think for him, too, that has to do with more nature in our daily lives, being closer to our food sources, and belonging to a close knit community.

I identify with this, and must say that by making a smaller version of his rag rugs myself, I feel like that ideal life is just a bit closer. Sitting on the floor of my studio, ripping strips of cloth to weave into my rag rug, I feel connected to his work in active way. And of course my friends and acquaintances are exposed to this as well so the inspiration keeps rippling outward.

Close up of cotton yarns and rag rug

Close up of cotton yarns and rag rug

Lucie, our fox terrier went immediately to my smaller crocheted rag rug in progress.

Lucie on rag rug in progress

Lucie on rag rug in progress

She looks innocent doesn’t she, but she occasionally has continence problems and when she got up, the rug was soaked through. Luckily it survived machine washing and drying. So now we know that.

And she’s not allowed on them any more.

Here is a detail of the crocheted one a few steps further along. They are so much fun to do. See Fritz’s tutorial to make your own. (The one shown below is not in the tutorial, but is just a simple crocheted spiral using narrow strips of cloth instead of yarn. It is really easy.)

Small crocheted rag rug

Small crocheted rag rug

Woman in front of sunflowers, by Isaac Israels

Woman in front of van Gogh’s sunflowers, by Isaac Israels

I first came across this painting several years ago in a magazine. Attracted by its simplicity and the freedom of the brushwork, I cut it out and put it up where I could see it daily. It has migrated from downstairs where I once had my little shop, to upstairs in my studio, and has survived any number of cullings and rearrangements.

At first,  I wasn’t that crazy about the subject matter, (although it was fascinating to find out recently that Israels had borrowed several of van Gogh’s sunflower paintings to study them, and had used them as backgrounds for several of his paintings beside this one). But it has grown on me to such an extent that I’m making a copy of it to learn as much as I can by reproducing it.

Slightly frustrated by having only a magazine photograph and a web image to refer to, I was longing to see the original.  It is in Holland at a well- known auctioneer, but at the moment it is too long a trip to make for one painting. Instead, I went to visit the Groninger Museum’s collection  in the hopes that I could find a similar painter from the same period to study.

I was delighted beyond words to actually find an Israels in the current display of part of the Groninger musem’s permanent collection. It seemed so coincidental, but I’m almost ashamed to admit, not being a great art history scholar, that I hadn’t realised that Israels was Dutch and a respected figure in the Amsterdam Impressionists group. The painting was a rather drab portrait of Aletta Jacobs, a well known Dutch doctor and feminist, but it was a prayer answered to be able to get up close and see the real colours and actual brushstrokes.

Copying a painting, for me, can be a spiritual experience of actually inhabiting the soul of the artist. By trying to reproduce the essence of the painting, you have to get inside the painter’s head and metaphorically strip layer by layer of time and pigment down to the beginnings, where he set it up, adjusted the light, and made the first sketch.

With Israels, this has been relatively easy. His work is so honest and transparent and somehow close to my own sensibility, not necessarily in technique but in intent,  it is fairly easy to imitate his technique. I’ll be showing the whole process soon.



Colour beyond vision

March 14, 2014

Purple apple

Purple apple,   oil on canvas board

This is the painting started in February. It features a beautiful CD cupboard Rende made. Plus, to the left,  the arm of a couch he made for us a long time ago.

The challenge for me in this painting was to keep the spirit of the first inspiration. There are some unresolved areas in it still, but in all the painters I admire, this is true. If you try to get everything too ‘finished’, or ‘right’, the life goes right out of it. It is a balance of honouring the first moment of vision, and working on it to enhance that rather than take it over with what the mind thinks it should be. That is why there is a magical element in creating. It is a letting go so that something unexpected and uncontrolled may enter, just as much as a skilful manipulation of technique.

No way was I going to lose that cocky little purple apple. The other fruits gained more conventional colouring, but I left this as a reminder of the worlds of colour just beyond vision. And that a painting can be anything you want it to be.

Here are the first stages of this painting:

I spent 5 days in London during the worst weather one could imagine.  There was massive flooding in Southwest England, there were rain and gale force winds in the city.  I traded the parks for the galleries and tried to make the best of it.

The undisturbed time spent with the Impressionists, but most of all the Cézannes, must have shifted some things for me, because I came home with new inspiration. What I learned most from spending time in their presence, sometimes almost  putting my nose practically on the surfaces of his canvases, and sometimes looking from further away, was that there are no tricks or formulas or secrets to good painting. Rilke, in his ‘Letters on Cézanne’, speaks about the straightforward purity of Cézanne’s search, and of the absence of any interfering concepts, ego, or ideology laid on top of the work. It simply is.

Today I went to see his pictures again: it’s remarkable what an environment they create. Without looking at a particular one, standing in the middle between the two rooms one feels their presence drawing together in a colossal reality. As if these colours could heal one of indecision once and for all. The good conscience of these reds, these blues,, their simple truthfulness, it educates you;and if you stand beneath them as acceptingly as possible,, it’s as if they were doing something for you….

It is as if the integrity of his struggle with his work releases one to be oneself. I looked at some of the strokes in his still lifes, and they are simply done- to cover the area, to get a tone in, nothing is polished up, made pretty, smoothed over in any way. He attends more meticulously to some of the fabrics and surfaces, but what one gets from the original work is that it is above all, painted. And the mark- making, rhythms, and choices are completely idiosyncratic to this one individual. Which once again gives a clue to how to paint- paint like yourself, warts and all. Don’t think too much.

The still life I’m working on now is informed by all these insights and experiences. It is from the same series as the previous one below, but has entered a new realm.


Instead of doing the acrylic underpainting in one solid colour, I followed my former mentor’s advice and loosely painted all the areas in their complementary hues. While I was doing that I let that brief go as well, and started to just use colours  I liked. Then I made a radical departure from my other realistic work, and decided to keep true to my own, rather than the ‘correct’ colours. I am still working with balances of light and dark and cool and warm, but there is suddenly much more room for me.

January fruit bowl in oils

January 31, 2014

where I stopped

January fruit  2014

This is where I stopped, I could have done more, but liked the slightly raw quality. The photo is more contrasty than the painting, it was hard to capture-  it is actually dark and muted, not quite so harsh as it is here, especially the reds and ochres. The format is largish-
around 50 x 50cm.

It was difficult for me to not continue working and put in the pattern on the fabric. It was a good decision and is part of letting go and making one’s own choices about what to put in and what to leave out. It was good to go for the larger lines and not fuss over every detail.

Here is a peek at the fabric:


Following the colour wheel

January 20, 2014

Had a good morning working in luscious honeyed yellows, oranges, and vermilions.  The fruit is handled in the way I hope to eventually be able to paint everything, I ‘know’ it from within, and only have to enjoy following the colours and contours. My old teacher and mentor Abe Weiner told me that when painting apples, for instance, you can follow the contours with colours as they are arranged on the colour wheel. So your reds will be next to oranges, which will merge into yellows, and these will lead to the greens. It is a good guide for dealing with the myriad shades in apples and pears. Although, sometimes the greens will be right next to the reds, which makes for some visual excitement.

A little bit of the white edge of the bowl is sketched in, have to work into that more later.
I’ve been following Cezanne on this part only so far as he often uses very dark or black outlines to sharply define certain edges. I have been applying this to see how it feels to me. So far I like it but am not sure if this will be part of my own working method. Basically I’m only taking a few hints from the examples I have of his set up in the studio, I like, for example his lack of blending on certain areas. and I like the slightly raw quality that gives. But mostly I’m following my own instincts on this part because I’m more sure of myself, having recently had about 8 months straight of painting fruit! Not to mention numerous still lifes from my previous painting history.

Last week friends came over for dinner and just before leaving late that night, came up to the studio to see my recent oil paintings. They have been loyal followers and collectors of my art from several periods, and they hadn’t seen this recent development. Turned out, they couldn’t leave without ‘Pears in Sunlight’.

Pears in sunlight    Oil on canvas board

Pears in sunlight Oil on canvas board  SOLD

So that is my first oil painting sale from this recent period of work. It feels wonderful and vindicates my feeling that one can sell according to one’s own convictions, and circumvent the galleries and internet selling sites. The price made sense to both parties (without the 40-50% gallery mark-up). It was sold in the atmosphere of personal connection between friends, and a painting of mine will now continue its life as part of theirs.