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To the loyal handful of followers, thanks you make it worthwhile. And to new passers by. thanks for dropping in. It feels good to be sharing my joyful discovery painting mystery tour with you.

Continuing with the  ‘Spirit of Trees’ series, I took on an unfamiliar subject this time-  landscape/architectural. This painting is a lesson in overworking, and why it is so compelling, even though 9 times out of 1o it goes wrong. Below is a version I found ok but too fussy (with the detailed roof tiles). I wanted a yellow tree per se. And I wanted to keep it painterly and fresh. But I kept trying to get the whole thing looser, and eventually, I feel I lost the sunniness of this version. See painting under this one.

grandfather tree sunny copy

Grandfather tree sunny        50 x50 cm acrylic

 

grandfather tree greenish

Grandfather tree meets the walking dead

In my search to use my own colours rather than the given ones (see that the warm terracotta from the rooves is replaced by greens), I feel I lost something of the warmth of the first version. It kind of looks eerie, like the light before a bad storm moves in.

Between this phase of the painting and the previous one, I had also painted the sky soft yellow, you can see the remnants of that behind the buildings. That move killed it, so I reinstated the blue. You know what?, it began not to be fun any more, yet I’d started it with a wonderful sense of excitement. I’ve learned ( I hope!!!) to stop when the joy goes underground and painting becomes about trying to ‘correct’ something, or ‘get it right’. The fatal flaw in this painting was that I started with a concept (yellow tree) and didn’t listen enough to the subject or the painting.

A few days later, I got inspired by a photo I’d made of two onions on my work table. I took an old painting and drew right ontop of it, then started in painting rapidly, leaving some patches of background exposed. I loved it so much after the initial blocking in, that I didn’t dare to work on it any more.

onions1

Onions1 acrylic

So I put it aside and started a new one ontop of yet another old painting. I listened better this time and kept the freshness. It is mostly done, see below.

Here is what I learned, the lessons are particular to my own trajectory toward an intuitively sensed goal of where my truest work lies. So maybe they will be applicable to you, maybe not, but here they are:

  • let parts of the painting remain unfinished if that’s what looks right
  • cherish the roughness, don’t try to paint ‘beautifully’
  • don’t try to have everything make sense
  • follow the painting, not my original ideas about it when I started
  • don’t describe, dance.
  • the goal isn’t to get the subject right, but to get the painting to feel good, true

By the way, I feel that this tutorial taught me more in a few minutes than several advanced painting workshops I’ve taken. And buying a brush similar to the one this woman used was also a revelation! Materials help or hinder so much.

Here is the second onion painting, almost done. It makes me very happy.

onions2

Onions2 acrylic

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Taking risks as a painter

August 20, 2015

Beets from garden - oils 50 X 60 cm

Beets from garden – oils
50 X 60 cm

Have you ever attended a painting workshop and been given a chance to work completely outside of your habitual approach? You’re freed up, you make some pieces that really surprise you during the day, new possibilities suddenly seem endless. You go home on a ‘workshop high’ resolved to start working more freely from now on.

Here you are, back at the studio- there is a blank canvas in front of you, all your materials are there arranged as usual, your workspace is the same. The stimulation of the other people, the instructor, the unfamiliar environment, and above all the uninterrupted time just for you, are in the past. You try to recover that feeling of freedom, but before you know it, you are working as always, wondering how to get out of a rut.

So how does one integrate new insights and experiences into old work patterns and actually begin to let their work change and grow? Many of our habitual ways of working have grown with us and are an important part of making our unique kind of work. But sticking exclusively to one way of working doesn’t lead to the kind of risk taking that is needed for growth and renewal.

I’ll share a recent experience with some visuals which may help.

In my last post on artists needing play time, I spoke of Shaun McNiff’s suggestion to begin working, not out of a concept (the mind), but out of the body- using a movement or gesture and translating that into marks on the canvas. And then using the interaction with the materials to keep taking steps in developing the composition.

I’ve been working in oils commitedly for 4 years this month, completing around 15-20 paintings a year. Mostly I’ve been learning the medium, since in my career I worked mostly in watercolours, drawing and acrylics. I feel constrained by just realistic painting, and have been trying to free myself up to work more loosely, to let go of realistic portrayal and to use colour more intuitively.

The painting of beets opening this post is my most recent one, I liked where it was headed, but it was still too slavish to the photo I was working from. In the weekend, I did as McNiff suggested in his book and used all kinds of media and movement to do a series of free work. Here are the results below.

free expression drawings

free expression drawings

At the time I couldn’t see how to bring what I’d learned into my oil paintings. So I did a series of watercolour stick drawings, but first scribbled and sketched on the paper with white crayons. You can see the white lines showing up through the watercolour sticks since the white wax lines resist the water medium. I liked this effect, and the second one down, I loved for its subtlety and spontaneity.

watercolour sticks and crayon 3

watercolour sticks and crayon 3

watercoloursticks and crayon 2

watercoloursticks and crayon 2

watercolour sticks and wax crayons1

watercolour sticks and wax crayons1

What I wanted to do was bring in that same kind of spontaneous, airy spaciousness into my oil painting. The painting of the beets, by comparison to where I want to go, is very dense and concentrated.I like that but I want to be able to choose that look, not to do it because I can’t do anything else.

I started with a 50x70cm canvas board and began with movements and gestures while listening to music, only having a faint idea of where I might want to go with it (the subject is that Beets revisited). I didn’t do a drawing, just squiggled on some shapes with a brush.
I love the feel of it, I used oils thinned down and let them run. There will be beets and leaves and thicker paint, but it will be very different from the first one. I have no idea where it will end up. This is ‘trusting the process’.

Start of New Beets

Start of New Beets

One more thought to add. What inhibits most professional artists from doing this kind of risky experimentation (it is scary) is the need to stick to the things that sell. I’ll probably be producing substandard work for several months at least while I experiment with this new approach. Another inhibiting factor is your idea of yourself as a ‘good’ artist. Changing your approach is going to produce cr*p for a while. Accept it. It is the only way to move forward and go deeper.

later: I did a little more work on it and decided to just leave it as it is. The qualities it already has are enough for me right now, they remind me of where I’m headed and I didn’t want to overwork it and obscure them. 

Recent work

July 21, 2015

5 bottle still life, oils

5 bottle still life, oils

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.

Original September Bouquet, Ivon Hitchens

Original September Bouquet, Ivon Hitchens

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.

Copy of HItchens September bouquet, oils

Copy of Hitchens September bouquet, oils

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.

Bottles 5 late stage of development

Bottles 5 late stage of development

I’ve only recently begun to work simultaneously on two or three paintings.

And I’m discovering that there are numerous advantages for me in doing this.

First, I don’t obsess as much on one painting. Normally, I’ll spend a lot of time working into what I’ve set down initially to try to ‘get it right’. When, often what I had was already good and fresh, and I just should have left it alone! Having more paintings in the sidelines waiting for their turn, helps me detach (can you hear that sound of a suction cup letting go? Thwock)! and turn my beady eye on a new victim.

Secondly, each painting has its own character and demands a different approach in applying paint, colour, etc. (though I do try to work on paintings that have a similar palette). So it has happened that where I was getting too tight on one painting, and worked on one with a looser approach, getting back to the first one, I could let go a little easier. So far that has been the biggest advantage for me.

Third, trying to finish one painting in order to get to the next new one can put me in a frame of mind which isn’t optimal for taking the patient, caring steps needed to finish a work with honour. I am slightly bored with the end stages, I like the excitement of the first parts of the process best and have to discipline myself not to rush completion. So being able to work on several at the same time avoids the feeling of having to rush to get to the next one.

The one above is interesting, it is being worked on with others in the bottle series (see an earlier post):

5 bottles

5 bottles

 

Blue bottles still life present stage

Blue bottles still life present stage

Here was an earlier version of it:

Early stage bottles 5

Early stage bottles 5

I tried to keep those landscapey little blocks of green and pink in the background and background bottle, but just couldn’t pull it off. It was useful though, because those colours do shine through here and there in the present version (top of page) and liven it up.

I learned with this one that you can’t honour both intentions, realistic and abstract, at least I can’t – not yet. An artist friend, Eoin Mac Lochlainn, wrote in a recent conversation that it is tricky to straddle the line between realistic and abstract. He works in both sometimes and has shown them together. [Evidently I misunderstood a previous conversation Eoin and I were having, and he doesn’t consider the skies pure abstracts- see his comment below. Apologies, Eoin].Now that is tricky, but in this case I think he pulls it off. There is a clear intention there of showing the lovely empty skies with the abandoned fireplaces, and I feel they enrich one another.(Do look at the short video on his blog, and the music is wonderful).

I’m going to show some interim stages of paintings I’m working on. One reason is that I’m working on 5 at once and it is taking awhile to get to completion on any one piece. Also a factor is that there is lot of movement going on in the way I’m painting, and it is kind of exciting to share the process. Anyone who has been following my oil painting progress knows that from the beginning I’ve been working toward a looser approach- less drawing more painting.

Here is the piece that is sort of the bridge between the highly realistic work I’ve been doing and what I’m moving toward. It isn’t done yet, it’s missing some sparkly white highlights in the glass for one. But I did parts of it with a palette knife. I was going to do the whole thing with impasto, but I didn’t have enough control over the small areas and I was becoming unhappy with the assignment I’d given myself. So I went back to brush. Still, it has something fresh that I like, especially the blue bottle far right.

5 bottles

5 bottles

The next one below was one stage before where I am now. I’m including it because I love it. I just threw down the colours on there, and it has the freedom of some of the 37 minute work I did a few years ago. Even though there are some inaccuracies (shapes of the blue bottles, for ex.) I am sorry I didn’t just leave it as it was. I was especially sad to lose the wonderful rhythmic brush work on the clear bottle in the background.

Blue bottles stillife

Blue bottles stillife

 

Though I tried not to, I blended too much, with a result of a more polished, less raw feel.
The photo is also a bit too blue-green, the colours are truer in the one above.

Blue bottles still life present stage

Blue bottles still life present stage

I’ll also include Rende’s photo, and you can see that I’m starting to deviate from exact reproduction of the image. For example, the visual pun here, is that Rende has photographed the same bottles I used in the still life, in front of that still life. I’m not translating that literally because the fruit should be out of focus as part of the painting in the background. I like the painterly way I sketched it in there and am leaving it that way.

Bottle still life    Rende Zoutewelle

Bottle still life Rende Zoutewelle

I’m still working on my new series inspired by Rende’s photos of bottles placed in front of my still life paintings. I’ll skip the last two (nos. 3 & 4) for now because they are still in process and deserve a separate post.

The ones I’m working on now ( nos. 5  & 6) I’m excited about. They are closer to suggesting and further from explaining.
It feels to me like I’m in a process of ‘breaking my paintings open’, that seems the best way to explain it. Though photographic realism is a valid way to go for many artists, it isn’t my goal and limits me. I’m already a perfectionist and reproducing things exactly only encourages me to obsess even more!

Even in the last few bottle paintings, I’ve felt restrained by the subject matter. But my intuition tells me not to turn to more abstract/decorative work (like my oil pastels), but to find the freedom I want via realistic work. After all that is the work that speaks to me most by artists I admire, like Krabbé and Blackadder.

So breaking the painting open means that room is created for my own imagination. It means that colours and forms aren’t dictated by the objects in front of me but those objects become a departure point for my expression. It has taken me 5 years of steady work to get this far, (though I’ve been painting sporadically my whole life).

These two even started out differently- I had some ‘failed’ landscapes and abstract work lying around. So instead of gessoing them over, I sketched directly on them with charcoal, because they make colourful and unpredictable backgrounds. Also they encourage a looser approach to applying the paint. Here are the charcoal sketch and first blocking in for Bottles 6. And below that first stages of Bottles 5.

charcoal preliminary sketch

charcoal preliminary sketch

Blocking in colours and values

Blocking in colours and values

Early stage bottles 5

Early stage bottles 5

All about colour

May 21, 2015

Second in the bottles/ painting series

Second in the bottles/ painting series

This is the second oil painting in the series inspired by Rende’s photos of bottles against one of my previous still life paintings. See this post for the first one and some background info.

As I mentioned in the other post, painting something that is already beautiful is not my usual choice. But the richness he captured in the glass against the colourful painting spoke to me. I hadn’t worked with such saturated darks before, and I loved using them.

Nicholas Wilton’s latest post about colour is full of good practical information, a sort of Colour 101. And I appreciated that even though he gives workshops, he is generous about sharing his insights and knowledge for free as well. Basically he breaks down colour theory in painting to 3 main choices, and they all have to do with contrast. Are you going to use a dark or light colour next to your existing colour? Will it be saturated or diluted/toned down? And finally, will it be a cool or warm colour?

All these choices are going on instinctively while I paint. Even though I have a photo as reference, and this dictates my choices to some extent, effects, transparency, back and foreground can all be influenced by the 3 principles Wilton mentions. I’m starting on the third one now, a bit more ambitious as far as complexity. And it really does help to be more conscious of how the colour is going to work in the painting. Here are 2 previous phases of the finished painting above. In this one, after sketching in the approximate colours, I worked from dark to light and slightly more painterly than in number 1.

Set up for second painting

Set up for second painting

an in- between phase

an in- between phase