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The thing about tutorials

January 17, 2018

Just musing here for a bit. I’ve been immersing myself in some oil painting tutorials, wondering if I want to switch back to oils again after 2 years of acrylic work (and several years of working in oils before that). In the last post I shared some of my recent work on a garden theme. I was feeling that I needed to develop a more painterly approach to complement my tendency to perfectionist draughtsmanship.

charcoal garden study

Charcoal value study of garden scene

Most of the tutorials out there I find too slick. There are tips offered, but often they are only tricks on, ‘how to paint trees, fruit, dogs, kittens, mountain views water’ and so forth. I avoid those.

I settled on Colley Whisson’s work because of the ease with which he handles the paint and complex subject matter. But as I got deeper into trying some of his approaches out in my own work, I found that I was moving away from my own truth and toward someone else’s way of working. This might be necessary up to a point when trying to learn new skills, but I notice now that I’m trying to paint like Colley, not like me.

I never wanted to make realistic landscapes or scenes. And actually, I think the woollen-felt pieces I did in response to Piet Oudolf’s gardens are closer to my soul than the paintings I’ve done of the same subject. The more I’ve followed the tutorials, the closer my work has been getting to conventional landscapes. The challenge for me is in the technique, but the intention of the painting is getting lost, since it is pulling me in a direction that I don’t want to move in.

Take a painter I’m moved by- Jeroen Krabbé.  His joyful, decorative approach is totally unique to him (while many of the online oil painters are interchangeable to my eye). I’ve studied his work and seen his originals for the last 10 years and they always bring me somewhere new- in how I see, and in the possibilities of paint. The medium here is not so relevant, he works in oils, but his paintings would work equally well in acrylics. He’s a colour person like me.

images.duckduckgo.com

Jeroen Krabbé, from his site  

Oils are messy, they are stinking up my studio where I also spend a lot of time doing yoga, reading etc., and the clean up, despite not using terps or other traditional paint thinners, takes longer. I think I’ll finish up the one that is on the easel and put the oils back in storage for now and get back to the natural progressive process my work was moving in before I took this side trip. It was a fun trip, though.

Back to work

October 1, 2016

It has been a challenging summer dealing with various health issues. But now I have energy again to share some of my life with anyone interested.

Making artwork has never really stopped. Some weeks after the op, I was already painting a copy of a  Matisse stillife. Spring inspired me to paint trees, then I got sick in June and things ground to a halt for awhile. Around that time I started sewing a quilt by hand, having bought 2 packs of beautiful Tilda cotton squares on sale. I liked the slow pace and the kind of mindless precise work.

Fall brought new inspiration. My last post had been in June and, with the onion paintings, I had broken through to a new way of working, .

onions2

Onions2 acrylic

It was kind of intimidating to try and pick that up again, I’d tried and failed a few times. So I decided to ease into painting again by doing something familiar. I feel most comfortable working in defined areas, like patchwork really. My oil pastel drawings tend to begin as grids, so I chose a few of my favourites and began copying them in acrylics.

It is so true that just working, regardless of being inspired or not, most always opens up the next step.

Even though I stopped again after completing these 2 below, doing them launched me into a new phase in my painting. More about that in the next post. Meanwhile…

When stuck in one medium it is often helpful to go to another. I decided to make collages out of some old oil pastel drawings. I did one a day for a week, here they are:


take care, til next time.

 

Grandfather tree

April 27, 2016

opa tree

Grandfather trees    acrylic on canvas board

I’ve been working on the Spirit of Trees series. Though none of these are finished, I thought I’d show them in progress anyway. These guys above are massive trees, beeches, I think (?), growing on our neighbour’s patio. They have such presence.

colorsamples

colour samples      inspired by Alexey Kvaratskeheliya

 

Above are colour experiments inspired by the art of Alexey Kvaratskeheliya, see a previous post of mine for details. I’m inspired by the combinations and you can see I’ve been trying out some of them on the foreground of ‘Grandfather trees’.

I’ve worked further on ‘Before trees’, here below:

before trees3

And the third one in progress is this little one:

pastel trees

Pastel trees

 

Before trees

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.

spiritclothsampler2

spiritcloth sampler, in progress

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.

background painting before trees

old painting used as background for Before trees

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.

before trees

Before trees

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.

before trees2

Before trees, worked on further

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.

before trees1

Before trees, more definition

Back again

February 15, 2016

Well, I’m back. Words desert me when I try to say anything about the last 8 weeks. I came through a long and tough operation, and am recovering well, though more slowly than I would like.

My work mates in the municipal traffic project sent me a wonderful bouquet, but also a sweet card of a still life painting- by Matisse. I wasn’t familiar with this side of his work.

Matisse still life copy, acrylic on canvas board

Matisse still life copy, acrylic on canvas board

It is such a little gem that it somehow reached through the pain and leftover narcotic stupor to remind me that I was more than my physical situation. And I got the energy to get my paints out so I could copy the still life. I love that, like the original, it is kind of crudely painted (used palet knife on the background), but still holds together.

My painting was already undergoing some fundamental changes. I wrote about those in the last post. One current influence is Flora Bowley’s, ‘Brave intuitive painting’. After some free experimenting according to her suggestions, I find that my  visual vocabulary demands a bit more structure than her layered free form approach. Still, I am learning a lot from trying some of her suggestions to free up the painting experience. Laying down a first layer, for instance, in cool colours, and painting on top with warm ones, letting areas of the underlayer show through. Also she encourages you to not get precious about what is already on the canvas, and to try new mark making on top of what you already have to push the painting in a new direction. Ruining the ‘good’ correct image to reveal more depth and expression.

That is what I’m in the process of doing with the painting here. It was inspired by a bunch of tulips wrapped in dark blue paper. But I felt the painting was a bit too pretty and confined by the realism.

Tulips in blue paper acrylic on canvas board

Tulips in blue paper acrylic on canvas board

So I’ve been breaking it down by using the palette knife in places and obscuring some of the bright colours and hard definition of form. It is still in progress.

Tulips next stage acrylic on canvas board

Tulips next stage acrylic on canvas board

One more thing I wanted to say about influences, I love the work of Jude Hill and am following a sewing, quilting, and appliqué course of hers online.  It is all about layering there as well.

Her approach speaks to me- she doesn’t plan a piece out to the last detail, she has a spontaneous, ‘wait and see what happens’ attitude. It is really refreshing and something I could use more of. Also, she posts her work in progress and you watch it transform and grow. I could do that more.

And I wouldn’t be surprised to see the patchwork and painting starting to influence each other before to long.

More on other new paintings next time.

Painting adventure

December 16, 2015

There is a lot of movement happening in my life, and it is reflected in my painting. I’m leaving old ways of seeing, and familiar approaches, and embarking on ‘The adventure of a lifetime’ (A plug for Coldplay’s new single YAY!!). The freedom I have in inventing when working in oil pastels has finally transferred to paint. I’m working in acrylics because I like layering and they dry fast.

I won’t take you on the complete journey, but this particular stream started months ago. I have mentioned that I do collages for relaxation and processing of any issues up for me. I always really like them, they surprise me and are fresh. So this one, with the painting by Alexey Kvaratskeheliya at center stage inspired me to try an oil pastel painting using the same kind of little shards of concentrated colour as Alexey K.

Happy collage

Which resulted in this piece:

Of dreams oil pastel

Working with colour in this way feels very natural to me. (This piece is in our currently running show at Scherer design store. In a few days they will have our exhibit announced on the site.)

I wondered if I could work this way in paints, but it is different when you can reach for one of 121 concentrated oil pastel colours, or you have to mix them yourself and keep using clean brushes to apply them.

But one evening I took a little piece of cardboard, and intuitively began working in small colour areas. That freed me up to take another step- I took all the leftover colours on my palette and made a background on a previously painted canvas with the partly dried paint and palette knife:

Underpainting with palette knife

Then I painted over it intending to work into the result below, but I like it so much I’m leaving it as is.

Horse acrylic on panel

The next two happened around the same time:

They are both painted in acrylic over previous paintings, taking cues from the background and at the same time evolving their own unique forms.

This method of working really suits me. I work messily and spontaneously on an already painted canvas and things just happen.
Gee that Flora Bowley book mentioned in the last post must really work, I haven’t even read it yet and my work is undergoing a major reorientation! 🙂

All of the preceding are quite small format- around 30 x 30 cm. Then I retrieved one of the fairly free paintings from this summer where I was trying to lose form, and painted over it. The tree emerged, and I worked into it some, but not much. It captures the energy I need most to connect with now as I face major surgery tomorrow. Hopefully I can bring it into the hospital where I can see it.

Tree 1 acrylic on canvas board

Tree 1     acrylic on canvas board

What we need more of

November 24, 2015

 

 

Art holds time, oil pastel collage, S Zoutewelle-Morris

Art holds time, oil pastel collage, S Zoutewelle-Morris

It has been ages, nearly 3 months since I posted. Hi again, to the handful of faithful followers who make this worth doing.

Crazy months dealing with health issues. There is an operation coming soon, and hopefully after that things will settle down into a more normal routine again.

My art is in a turbulent period of its own. I think I included some of the newer experiments this last summer,where I was letting go of form and trying to paint more intuitively. I’ve been more comfortable with watercolour sticks (a kind of crayon that is water soluble) and collage lately, than oil paints. I want to do quick, spontaneous studies rather than labour over one painting.

Rende and I have an upcoming exhibition in a high quality interior store here in the north of Holland. He’ll be showing woodwork and photography, and I’ll hang 18 pieces, oil pastels and oil paintings. I’ll link to the site when they’ve got our info there.

I know I’ve posted the art above before here, and probably the quote as well, but it is worth repeating:

What we need more of is slow art; art that holds time as a vase holds water: art that grows out of modes of perception and making whose skill and doggedness make you think and feel; art that isn’t merely sensational, that doesn’t get its message across in ten seconds, that isn’t falsely iconic, that hooks onto something deep-running in our natures.
In a word, art that is the very opposite of mass media.
– Robert Hughes

 

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

Bottles and stillife, oil on canvas board

Bottles and still life, oil on canvas board

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.

Tanny's bowl

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.

Set up for second painting

Set up for second painting