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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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Mango and eggplant  - Oils on canvas board

Mango and eggplant – Oils on canvas board

Still on the journey in paint here.  This one is a continuation of “Anne’s kitchen series’, the first one was Pears in sunlight a few posts back. My friend Anne’s (and her husband Jim’s) kitchen in Pittsburgh was a place I felt instantly at home. Visually, I loved the richly decorated ceramic bowls from all over the world, and how Anne loaded them with whatever fruit and veg were at hand. The bowls regularly caught the sunlight streaming in from the windows.

My challenge here was to keep the spirit of the first sketch I did with oils directly on the canvas. I loved it and for awhile didn’t want to do anything to it at all.

'Mango and eggplant' sketched in

‘Mango and eggplant’ sketched in

Painting is continually teaching me. In this case, the sketch was telling me it was fine just as it was. That in a sense, that first spontaneous response to the subject was already enough. That the loose, unselfconscious sketching in, which part of me says is ‘not finished’ and messy, is actually lovely in its own right. If you don’t compare it to an image of a finished work, it has its own appeal. And many artists,the Impressionists come to mind, have used this thinly painted rendering as their style.

The reason I returned to it and began to develop it anyway was because I loved the richness in colour of the original scene. So I went for that but promised myself I would do everything I could to preserve the freshness of the sketch. I’m happy with the outcome because, although it looks ‘finished’, I worked on it with the same looseness and enjoyment as the first stage.  It was very different from working on this one below, which made me tense throughout, trying to get things ‘right’.

Classic still life Jan 27, 2013

Classic still life Jan 27, 2013

What my painting is teaching me as I move out of an overly perfectionist, into a more playful, inexact rendering, is that I don’t have to try so hard. And that some things do really take care of themselves, I don’t have to plan and control everything. I don’t have to explain every little detail, I can leave room for people to fill in their own impressions, both in the painting and in relationships.
I can play and experiment to see what happens without worrying so much if it is ‘right’.  Things can be suggested, other areas can be left raw, the process itself has an intelligence I can trust.  And this applies to life off canvas as well!

A journey in paint

July 6, 2013

No, the title doesn’t refer to keeping a visual travelogue. Rather it is about discovering painting and discovering myself through the process.

I’ve been drawing and painting since childhood, and seriously pursuing oils during certain periods of my adult life. Previous to now, I’ve always hit a wall technically and quit.

But when I saw the Jeroen Krabbé retrospective in 2008(?) I decided to commit to painting. Once again, however, I hit a wall copying another artist and couldn’t move forward to find my own work.

The Elizabeth Blackadder show in 2011 was decisive. I made a promise to myself to not quit again. Both of those shows rang such a deep resonant bell in my artist’s soul, that I knew if I didn’t commit right then to my own painting I’d regret it for the rest of my life.

The first year  (2011-2012) was almost continuous frustration as I made myself learn to see not as a draughtsman but as a painter. My first paintings from this period are still exact renderings, or they are attempts to imitate the easy-going fantasy of my oil pastel work.

Dozens of canvasses and new insights later, the painting itself has led to discoveries not only in technique, but intent.
After 2 years of consistent work I am getting glimmer of what my painting wants to be. Instead of the search to get the subject on the canvas and solve the most immediate problems like composition, light and dark, perspective, etc., I’m getting a sense of where the colour could go, how the shadows could be handled for a more dramatic effect, how forms can be related, emphasised or diminished in service of the whole composition.

I think a lot of painters make these decisions intuitively, subconsciously, even. But as you work, your work teaches you. For example, I used to wonder why painters had so many brushes in different shapes; now, when I’m working, I reach for a round brush for one kind of stroke and a flat brush for a more blended colour.

Also switching media was a challenge. I was used to having a box of 121 oil pastel colours at my fingertips- at first I got frustrated at having to mix each colour and use separate brushes to apply them. But now with oils, I feel I have an infinite variety of colours at hand, and the unexpected mixtures which happen when a brush picks up a neighbouring colour or mixes with the colour underneath, only add excitement to the work.

How I paint, the decisions I make in the work also reflect to me where I am inside. Looking at earlier work, not just painting but design and drawing, there is a strong perfectionist streak in how things are rendered. The fight to let go in my work, perfectly reflects my life- the need to learn to trust more and not try to control everything.  As I let go more in painting- ie suggest an area instead of draw every detail, that same relaxation is evident in my life. And vice versa. It is hard to say which comes first, but I think they both influence each other.

It is 2 years since I saw Elizabeth Blackadder’s retrospective in Edinburgh and was struck not only by her work,-the whimsy and freedom and mastery, but by the dogged commitment to painting radiating out from the entire body of work.

I love setting out my paints, putting on my husband’s old shirt as a paint smock, and settling in for a session. The smell of the oils, the sight of the colours, the feel of the material, all of it.

The work is its own reward.

Latest painting:

Pears in sunlight    Oil on canvas board

Pears in sunlight Oil on canvas board   SOLD

 Book of Hours  Oil pastel collage SOLD

Book of Hours Oil   pastel collage SOLD

I’m feeling quite good because I’ve sold some of my art to a friend. Obviously it is heartening when someone likes your work enough to want to give it a place in their lives. But a lot of the satisfaction also comes from the fact that this has been accomplished without Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any promotional effort at all.

Because, after a long career as an exhibiting artist, I have chosen to now work outside the gallery system, and i don’t make a big effort to profile as a selling artist on the web,  I don’t sell much art. But when I do, it is usually a rewarding personal contact that leaves me feeling valued, and the buyer feeling happy to be walking away with an original creation which somehow has connected with his/her soul.

The people who buy my work also pay 30-50% less for my art than comparable work by other professionals who do work with galleries.

You might think that artists sell their work for the gallery price only during the exhibition. But the gallery owner will usually ask you to agree to pay the same commission on work that they’ve shown, even if you sell it privately later. I suppose it is to prevent friends from waiting until the show is over so they can buy directly from the artist and avoid paying the commission. However, most exhibiting artists choose to sell at the gallery rate to avoid having different prices for the same work.

In a recent BrushBuzz ( a great source for painting tips and marketing for artists), was the post, ‘The myth that Good art sells itself’.  I would argue that good work, combined with several other factors, eventually finds its way to the people who will value it and pay for it.  It isn’t that you can sit back and wait for the work to sell itself, of course that isn’t effective. But I’ve found that there are rules operating far outside the normal ideas of promotion and selling which often work in my life. They aren’t linear-‘if you do A, then B will happen’,  but operate sort of sideways. For instance, when I am working hard and consistently on one area of my art like my painting, I’ll often get a commission or sale from another area like calligraphy or instrument decoration. It is as if all that energy being put out there by focused effort somehow calls forth a response, but don’t ask me how it works. 🙂

Tuscan landscape-  oil pastel  SOLD

Tuscan landscape- oil pastel SOLD

Journey in paint

May 2, 2012

First stage, roughly indicating the colors

Almost there

A good stopping point

I’m fairly pleased with this result. One can go on endlessly refining, but for me it is a discipline to stop before that point.
It is acrylic, by the way, I wanted to work fast adding layers while the other oil painting I started was drying.

I like the looser brush strokes and thicker application of paint.  I’m pushing myself out of the familiar territory of just rendering because I love how some of the painters capture objects in a few thick strokes. When seen up close, they look purely abstract, and when you step back, wow- an onion (lemon, face, hand, etc).

What I worked on, among other things, between stage 2 (middle photo) and stage 3(above),  were the bottoms of the bulb shaped bottle on the left and the squarish one on the right.  I really liked the thick, painterly strokes on the right one.

When a painting is at a stage where it looks good, it is always a risk to continue developing it and risk ruining what you have. This is a constant decision process in painting, you’ve put down a spontaneous series of strokes you like, but when you change something in another area of the painting they no longer work. It is difficult to bring yourself to paint over these.

In this case, I decided to change the rest of the painting to accommodate the spontaneous strokes. 🙂

I’m now working on the oil painting I started a while back and let dry so I could work on it further. This one is getting exciting, new stuff happening, looking forward to showing new developments in the next few days.

Maisel doesn’t beat around the bush, he understands that when artists land in a meaning crisis, they are up against the big questions.

Given my  limited understanding of the nature of the universe, how shall I organise what I believe to be true into a personal creed that provides me with a sturdy rationale for living?

and-

On what core operating principles can I base a meaningful life?

Once these are determined, the task is to structure your life in such a way you can keep creating meaning:

Creators have trouble maintaining meaning, one way they do it is to create.

Which is why it sometimes feels like such a drama when the creative energy runs dry for a period.

 A creator’s time spent not creating can feel like a living death if he hasn’t figured out how to force his ‘other time’to mean.

It turns out that it is fiendishly hard to carry out the intention of living your life plan, creating worthy work and making   every day feel meaningful.’

The remedy is to practice extreme self support and care, confronting addictions (which are often creative’s way of dealing with massive amounts of unchanneled creative energy), and taking actions. The last one, taking even a small action I think is the most effective.

Yesterday, my funk turned right around by doing something very simple: In recent weeks, I’d moved all my oil painting stuff down to the former harpsichord painting space. This gave me more room and order when painting downstairs, was more social, and remedied the overclutter of my upstairs studio.

Well, I was miserable painting down there! When I faced that and simply moved my oil painting supplies back up to my studio where I felt more comfortable(albeit crowded), protected (the downstairs space has a huge glass window facing out onto the road), warmer, and had my music again,  I started painting right away and was happy.

Ex-shop and oil painting studio ready for harpsichord

In December 2010, Johan Hofmann a respected Dutch harpsichordist and teacher, contacted me about an exciting project. He was having a new instrument made by Matthias Griewisch. Griewisch is considered by some to be one of the best period instrument builders working today.  My part in this would be to paint the songboard full of flowers as is traditionally done with Flemish keyboard instruments from around the mid-1600’s. The image below is of an instrument made by Herwil van Gelder for Jan Dirk Immelman. I painted it in 2007.

harpsichord decoration

I am deeply honoured to be involved in this project. In August last year I went to Edinburgh’s Museum of old instruments, St Cecilia’s and studied the original, unrestored version of this rare double manual harpsichord.

Ruckers double manual harpsichord circa 1638 photo St Cecilia's-

Johan and I (and Matthias via Johan) have been brainstorming about this instrument for a year now- how it would look, what we wanted to keep from the tradition, what we could change to reflect the times we live in as well as Johan and Matthias’ aesthetic preferences. And of course my sense of how this would all influence the sound board decoration.

It has been a fun and exciting collaboration so far, punctuated by dinner out on the terrace here, a pastry-filled birthday meeting, and climaxing in Johan and friend Bert’s return from Germany yesterday and the delivery of the ‘case’. (The case is the upper body of the harpsichord containing the songboard- the strings and keyboard will be added later).

It is so beautiful. It is just so beautiful. (I’ve been listening a lot to Aerial by Kate Bush, these words should be heard as music, they are about 45 seconds into the video).

It/she/he already has a soul. Here is a picture of him/her under wraps, awaiting adornment with garlands, flowers and arabesques. This will take about 6-8 weeks.

More will be revealed later.

Under wraps