March 11, 2017
photo Rende Zoutewelle
Painting has been low key for awhile. I’ve tried showing up at the canvas anyway, but end up just rehashing stale ideas. It is a period where I need fresh input, so I’ll be giving it a rest until inspiration comes again.
Meanwhile, I’ve been working on the little guy above. I’m not quite sure what got me started on making felt birds. I had made a flock of them as brooches several years ago.
Maybe it is because the birds around here (northern Europe) lift my spirits. Not only do I regularly see blue cranes on my walks, but also flocks of geese stringing across the big skies chattering and calling to each other; and that rare treat, a swan family, whooping above with the wonderful whooshing of the wings. You just feel like you got blessed when they have passed by.
My husband has rigged up several bird feeders close to our large dining room windows and we’ve come to know the regular visitors well. Sparrows of course, coal tits like the one above, chaffinches, blue tits, ring doves, and English robins are the main ones. I just love the coal tits with their neat little black fronts and soft yellow bellies and sides. They like sunflower seeds best and will perch at the feeder tossing out everything else until they get to a prize, then they retreat to a higher branch and crack it open by holding it between their claws and pecking at it until they get to the meaty part. Chaffinches and robins will sit on the ground gratefully picking up the rejects thrown out by the coal tits. Watching the interactions between the birds is also entertaining.
So basically I made these birds to keep me company upstairs in my studio. The chaffinch is kind of crude, it was a first prototype . They definitely have some kind of presence, though, because our dog is jealous of them!
photo Rende Zoutewelle
If I do make more (not for awhile, they are So Much Work) I’d do a sparrow next. They are incredibly beautiful when you stop to look – with soft grey feathers and reddish chestnut caps and streaks of black, and various browns on the head and wings. There are also white accents, bringing out the contrast of all the different feathers. And did you know there are dozens of different types of sparrows? I didn’t until recently.
Anyway, the weather here is more springlike, so instead of sitting inside making felt birds, I’ll be out in the garden enjoying the real ones!
January 14, 2017
These two images were a departure of sorts for me, they are based on some photos I took in high summer last year. I don’t get inspired much by the idea of painting landscapes, it feels too limiting. But these two small format pieces on panel were done with a large brush to keep from getting caught up in details, and I like their freshness.
Every day I walk through these wide open Dutch skies and fields. There is a lot of water where we live, giving movement and direction to the flat, spread out landscape. I am constantly moved by the land here, how the light hits trees and fields, the changing colours throughout the day. It would be a natural painting subject if it weren’t milked ad infinitum by good and bad local painters. I have rarely found an ‘in’ to painting my surroundings because I like to use lots of colours and I need room for fantasy as well as reality.
Here is another realistic one from the same series:
This piece, done more recently, is more in line with what comes naturally to me. I love how the landscape elements creep into the still lifes, or is it the other way around? It is also large, 50 x 50 cm.
This one below was more successful to my eye, I knew more about where I wanted to go with it.
I love the small boat in the upper left corner, floating on a sewn sea with little red stitches. These pieces definitely have their own rhythm and structure if I step aside and follow where they want to go.
The latest in the series:
There were lots of surprises here, it is quite large, 50 x 70 cm. The little boat has returned to a more prominent place. The beet is kind of archetypal and the spirals please me.(There are elements reminiscent of some of Bob Knox’s work. A fellow artist from Findhorn who taught me by example, just how fun art could be. If you google him you’ll probably come up with a lot of his beautiful New Yorker covers.)
Leading on from here, ‘Garden’ is my new theme, I think. I’m totally inspired by our community edible garden and the work of Fritz Haeg.
December 7, 2016
I’m writing this one off the top of my head, no research, not a lot of links, etc., though I’ve written about the topic extensively in my book in progress.
A very young child appears on Idols or on YouTube and a talent is discovered. Take Jonathan, a three year old at the time the video of him was put online, ‘conducting’ a Beethoven symphony in the living room. It was hysterical, but also so fresh, so open and completely uninhibited. Picking his nose (gratefully most of that was cut out), and at the end, losing his balance and giggling uncontrollably on his back on the carpet as only a 3 year old can.
Couple of years later- Jonathan at 5 in a tux conducting a real orchestra, very serious.
First of all, a disclaimer here- in J’s case, I think there is a genuine desire to conduct, and the hunt for fame and money doesn’t seem to be the motivator. There is truly music singing in this kids veins. So please, if any of his relatives see this, don’t be offended. I’m sure he’s maintained a lot of his original purity.
I’m actually thinking less of him and more of the kids that appear on Idols, with their pushy parents, greedy for the recognition and money the kids talent can be used to gain.
What I’m trying to point out here is that important things get lost when what starts out as a gift gets turned into a commodity.
Having the ability to sing, conduct, dance, etc is a gift. It is connected to intimate internal values like life path and purpose. It needs time to develop and mature and become one’s own. Gifts are connected as well to the larger whole, our gifts are gifts to our community as well as for ourselves. In many non Western societies, the gift is how money and goods move around, and there are clear guidelines for how a gift is handled. Is it kept or passed on? Is it used up, is it used as a diplomatic gesture? There are myriad ways a gift travels and as many ways it influences what it comes in contact with. Gifts are powerful, they can awaken forces which contain the potential to incite or heal, to create or break connections, and more. They engage the imagination and call to unseen powers to participate in the giving and receiving.
In many folklore tales, hoarding a gift for one’s own enrichment is often the first step on a road to calamity. And we feel this- we know why when something for the the good of the community is appropriated for personal use, it is wrong.
Lewis Hyde says that every artist labours with a gift. He names 3 ways an artist and gift interact: first is the gift of talent the artist has; the second gift aspect is developing the talent and engaging in the creative process, the artist moves to a new place; and third, the result or product of this process is also a gift. Hyde acknowledges that each artist needs at some point to find out how to keep the qualities of the gift amidst the inevitable pressure of interacting with a purely commercial system.
When young Idols winners, or young, undeveloped art talents are pushed into the spotlight before the talent has matured, before the person himself is mature enough to understand the nature and application of their gift, then we all lose something precious. The artist and their work become links in the commodity chain, and the values change from giving, gifting, freedom of expression, taking risks, doing something for the love of it- to ‘What do I get for it?’ We all know what that looks like and there is really nothing new to learn from it. Same old same old buy and sell.
But next time you see a conductor lost in the spirit of the music, leading his orchestra to new heights, or an artist working on a project making urban wildlife habitats purely out of love for the animals, or anyone at all using their hands and skills for love and/or betterment of something, try to see what that does to you.
My experience every time is that it opens a place of generosity and inspiration in myself.
Isn’t that what we really need more of?
March 19, 2016
Working on the sampler for Jude Hill’s online course I’m following (well, dipping into) is giving me insights into how I work generally. The idea here is to weave some fabric strips together as a base, and then work on the grid formed by the strips of cloth.
I chose the circle as a uniting theme, but the tree wanted to be there in the middle, and when it appeared, the work stopped being an exercise and connected with my heart.
Someone once commented that I should stop working in all those little rectangles in my art. But this way of working speaks to me, is actually a part of my personal visual vocabulary. I realise I feel most comfortable within defined spaces where I can play with edges, defining them, letting them fade, overlapping. And each square a little story of its own. If you look at Jude’s work, you see her breaking out of the grid repeatedly, but it is there as a strong basis to the design, holding all the separate parts together.
You can see in the next images, how I like to work. I used an old painting(shown upside down) below.
On the painting below, you can still see part of the neck of the greenish bottle (far right) showing if you look carefully. And other areas have been painted over letting parts of the background show through. Using an old painting as the background determines the palette a bit, and some of the movement.
But I got stuck fairly quickly on this one. It was too familiar and I wasn’t learning much by continuing with it. Using prompts from Flora Bowley’s book, mentioned in several previous posts, I decided to risk ruining/losing what I had in order to find something new. So I turned it upside down and treated it like a background.
Ah, trees again, they just wanted to be there. To orient between the old and new versions, look for the yellow sun on the painting above, and now you’ll see it peeking through behind the big tree on the left.
Here is a later stage.
So, for me, the textile work at teh top of the page, and painting are intimately related. They are both about layering, not planning overmuch, following where the work seems to want to go, and being patient with all the twists and turns on the way.
July 21, 2015
This might look familiar to some of you, I’ve been working on a series of Rende’s photos of bottles in front of some of my still life paintings. I did 2 versions of this one, and the second is still in progress. This one tries to be true to the photo which I loved because of the contrast between the rich darks and glowing oranges. I took it with very little light in my studio, so it is hand held and out of focus (see the signature) . The bottles are quite clean and sharp in the original painting. I was especially happy with the right edge of the bowl seen through the blue bottle.
And now for something entirely different. I fell in love yet again with another of Ivon Hitchens’ paintings.
So I spent some happy days copying it. My version is a bit livelier qua colour, I like them both. Also, my canvas was a different proportion so I had to fudge the layout a little.
I just can’t imagine sitting in front of a vase, container (?) of flowers on a wood floor and producing something as gauzy and vague as this. It is a bouquet, yet there are hardly any greens except those nice two fresh strokes on the left.
What that shape is in the lower right corner, I have no idea. I can’t get inside this guys head in any way. If you see some of his other work, you’ll see that form isn’t the main thing with him. But I still love his nonchalance and in some of his other still lifes, the addition of scribbly outlines as well as decorative colour patches.
I’m getting up the nerve to do a painting of my own in his style; I’ve already done a preliminary watercolour study for it, but it is such an alien way of working for me. We’ll see.
I’ve been concentrating on developing my oil painting for nearly 5 years now. Having a long career as a fine artist, graphic designer and calligrapher up until then, I already had a good foundation of drawing and composition. So I didn’t have to start from scratch, luckily. It has been mostly about learning the medium, and I’ve shared that process here fairly regularly. This is my first painting after a several months interlude of copying the work of some other artists. I learned a lot from that process, mostly about paint application and relaxing a little.
Basically I’m satisfied with this painting, it is another step along the way. What I am sure of, though, is that this isn’t my destination- ie perfecting realistic representation. I’ll talk more about that in a minute. Meanwhile, this has a nice story behind it.
Awhile back, I took a photo of a bowl of nectarines at my mother in law’s home and did a few paintings from it.
It eventually landed downstairs near where Rende’s computer is. We moved my bottle collection out of our show window and they ended up in front of this still life. (You may recognise some of my first paintings of this collection from several years ago.)
So the bottles against the still life caught Rende’s magic eye, and he made several photos, they were so rich and juicy and deep, they nudged me out of my uninspired period- I had to paint them.
Painting something that is already beautiful is a major challenge! The question is, what can you add? The painting all the way at the top is a response to the richness of Rende’s photo, but it is also about mastering technique to capture what moved me. I liked the sharp clarity of the glass against the fuzzy background; a special challenge was muting the fruit still life behind the glass to make it look out of focus as it was in the photo.
But technique is never the end goal, it is simply a tool. My journey in paint is away from rendering to suggesting. But I don’t know how to do that, so I have to keep doing one piece at a time and let the work teach me. I don’t know if anyone can see the steps made since the first glass paintings, but I am moving closer to painting the way I feel.
Also important to me, not quite achieved in this last painting is letting go of form to the extent that the canvas surface becomes interesting in itself. The rhythm of the brush strokes, the layers of paint, the texture of thick and thinly applied colours all are more interesting to me than depicting a real object perfectly.
I want to paint that way NOW. But take it from me, this process of discovering your own vocabulary of marks can’t be rushed or forced. In ‘Art and Fear’, by Bayles and Orland, (super book by the way), I remember something about how important it is to develop pleasurable working habits, and that these somehow also help you to find your work. I think even the set up of your palette could influence how you use colour, for example. One person might place the cadmium yellow closer and another might place it at a far end, so it is less easy to reach- so you just end up using the colour closest to you.
I watched a video of David Hockney painting one of his landscapes from his show ‘a Bigger Picture’. All his years of daily work just flowed out of his brush like a guided dream. He did one complete painting a day, and it looks so easy! But watching him taught me about working from back to front (sky first, then branches) in a landscape. It completely changed my thinking, so this is the set up for the next painting, same subject slightly different crop. I’ve sketched in the masses in the background and foreground, and am aiming to suggest more and work even more loosely.