On Saturday at the ‘creation tables’ at the back of Skyeworks, I experimented with placing a piece of wool onto the canvas to restrict the spread of High Flow acrylics (Buy Direct USA or Buy Direct UK). I put it in places where I’d have drawn a line if I were working in pencil, for instance the top of a ridge or divide between sea and land.
Why wool and not string? No reason other than Skyeworks’ box of crafting bits contains wool not string. I also put masking tape around the edge of the canvas to create a “dam”, so the paint wouldn’t pour off the side if the canvas wasn’t flat. (Note to self: double-check it is stuck all the way around!)
The wool did constrain the paint as I’d hoped, allowing a little colour seepage if the canvas is kept flat, and more if tilted but not as much as if it wasn’t there. Where the wool is the paint dries speckled, as some is absorbed, which adds interesting texture. Bottom right photo shows the result; this was the first canvas I worked on and the paint was just about dry (it being cold, the acrylic dries slowly). The other three I managed to leave to dry thoroughly; it’s a tremendous temptation to tweak and fiddle and peak under the wool. Top right has some coarse sea salt on it; same idea as with watercolour, that some of the paint will be absorbed to leave interest effects. Bottom left I used gloss medium along with the paint, and it’s spread differently.
What happens next with these will depend on how I feel about them until I see them again (I left them at Skyeworks) when they’re dry. Might like the result totally, might work a layer or two over the top, might do a lot. I won’t know, which is part of the fun.
“…the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”
― Professor Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success via Brain Pickings
“With a growth mindset, you believe change is possible and even necessary. You don’t view failures as the end of the world — you see them as opportunities for learning. You are comfortable with taking risks, and you even seek out calculated risk opportunities. You want to challenge yourself to try something harder, stretch beyond your perceived limits, and go for things others might not think you’re capable of achieving.”
– Barrie Davenport, Growth Mindset: 6 Keys To Unlock Your Potential
Or to quote from a favourite film, Galaxy Quest: “Never give up, never surrender!”
Hope and aim for results, but know there’s work and effort in getting there. Don’t let despair and setbacks prevent you from striving to get somewhere that may seem impossible. There will be wobbly and dark moments, but tomorrow’s a new day and all that, one for continuing on the journey. Some days it feels like you’re going backwards; occasionally you’ll leap like you were on the Moon and create those “wow, did I do that?” pieces.
The setting: Big canvas lying on a plastic storage crate in the centre of the bit of open floorspace of my studio, so I could work flat on it with very fluid paint.
The problem: No space to walk around the canvas. Arms not long enough to reach top of canvas whilst sitting on floor.
The solution: Turn the canvas and paint clouds “upside down” onto the previously painted “dark sky” colour, starting at the top-but-now-the-bottom edge.
The happenstance: As the fluid paint spread it started to form a series of hills on the horizon, which could be the Outer Hebrides viewed over the sea or hills on the far side of a loch.
The photos: Top is how I was seeing it as I was painting it. Bottom is the canvas turned right way up. (Detail photos, not the whole width.)
I was using Golden’s High Flow Acrylic paint (Buy Direct USA or Buy Direct UK), which I’ve really been enjoying the past few weeks. While it’s not cheap paint it is top artist’s quality (though some pigments do head up into the “gulp” range); the intensity of the colours is astounding and the consistency unlike anything else. It flows yet has a surface tension that holds it, so it behaves differently to acrylic ink. The paint also doesn’t create bubbles when you shake it, which I’ve found happens with DIY flow paint created using flow medium + water + paint.
I’ve been using the paint straight from the bottle, enjoying the intensity of colour and the interactions between colours as they spread and mix into one another. Spraying water over the top encourages the paint to spread, and rapidly shows how level a canvas is, or not! Sticking some masking tape around the sides creates a ‘dam’ to stop the paint dripping off the side.
I can also see great potential for glazing with High Flow acrylics. Some colours in the range are transparent, some opaque; not only do the labels tell you, but on the bigger bottles the nozzle is clear or opaque too, a clever bit of packaging design. But right now I’m entranced by it “straight from the bottle”, and mixing colours in empty bottles.
Remember the painting with the little yellow tree on the riverbank that had been in “pondering mode” for some time (see Does This Painting Need “More Sunshine”)? Well, it stayed in pondering mode until last week. In the end I did very little too it, only adding some extra white to the river. I found that as the days got longer and mid-winter darkness receded, the painting revealed more and more colour, and it was indeed nearly finished.
Now all it needs is a title; I’m hearing “The Little Tree That Could” in my head for not-quite fathomable reasons, but think that something like “Flowing Past” would be a better fit for my “Flow” exhibition. Any suggestions? But please not “A River Flows Through It”; when I worked as sub-editor at Getaway travel magazine photojournalists loved that almost as much as the word “experience” (as in “dining experience”, “bush experience”, “4×4 experience”).
Here’s a photo of the painting overall, and below that a detail that’s about lifesize (click on it to see the photo bigger).
Size: Size 1x1m.
Detail from “the little yellow tree” painting
“Chaos in nature is immediately challenging and forces a good artist to impose some type of order on his or her perception of a site. When I find a scene that provides that type of challenge, I return to it over and over again, both physically and mentally in the studio, continually searching for new insights.”
– Wolf Kahn
Quote source: “A studio visit with Wolf Kahn”, American Artist, May 1997
The position of the sun on its annual and daily geographical journeys, the density or absence of clouds, whether these are loaded with drizzle, rain, sleet, snow or merely threatening as they are driven along the Minch by wind, how fast the wind changes the patterns of light and shadow… the windows I look through every day may show the same bit of landscape but it is never the same. There are similar conditions and occasions, but never identical. Familiar but different, both in the looking and painting.
New images and emotional responses are added to my memories. My starting inspiration changes. In the icy weather we’ve been having I’ve seen a tantalizing cobalt teal layer on the sea, over dark Prussian blue depths and below clouds that become bottom-heavy with deep greys (Prussian blue + burnt umber + titanium white) then streak down, hiding the sea in a glaze of sleet. As I write this there’s low cloud hiding the horizon, the divide between sea and sky; if I were painting it’d be time to reach for some more titanium white to lighten the grey.
I’ve been painting miniatures, most of which will become brooches and pendants in my Wearable Art range. I had a mishap with the fluorescent orange paint, it coming out the container a little too enthusiastically, resulting in a puddle of it on one brooch, which is why the two polar bears ended up that colour.
In case you were wondering about the surface I’m working on, it’s the back of a canvas still wrapped in plastic. Why is not some great mystery (nor connected to polar bears in some sort of obscure Lost reference); it’s simply that it was within reach when I needed a flat surface. And the polar bears won’t remain orange, they’ll be overpainted with iridescent white so there’s only a hint of it.
There’s one brooch with black that looks like a Rorschach test to me (photo below). It may well get another layer of paint or it may be one I keep, depending on how I feel about it tomorrow when the paint’s dry.
Tell me what you see…!
“If one were walking along a barren, sandy beach and came upon two objects, a jagged stone and a smooth, water-worn pebble, both about the same size and material, chances are one would pick up the pebble and ignore the rough stone.
“…In addition to being of greater tactile and visual interest than the rough stone, the pebble would represent a form at the end of the process of erosion. It’s ‘life history’ would include having once been a fragment, like the stone…”
Vision and Invention by Calvin Harlan, page 140
Paintings that reveal different parts of themselves as the light changes, that reward looking up close differently to looking from a distance, that don’t tell you everything at once, those are the water-worn pebbles.
Yesterday I painted the edges on some of the paintings that will be in my solo exhibition opening at Skyeworks on the 30th March. I started with the darkest edges, straight-from-the-tube Prussian blue, then mixed up various lighter blues and grey-blues, depending on the subject. It’s frustrating to mix an edge colour and then run out before you’ve finished all four sides, so I wasn’t surprised that I ended up with some left over. I dug out a blank canvas with the thought that I’d use the leftovers as a coloured ground for some future Minch seascape.
My easel being occupied with two paintings dangling on it so their edges could dry, I put the new canvas on the floor. I spread the leftover blue on the canvas, creating a horizon line and working down, then dipped the brush in water to get more paint out of it before washing it. I used a knife to scrape down the palette and spread these last bits of paint on the canvas. Then my brain started saying: “This is rather a lovely blue”, “Those are rather lovely brushmarks”, “What would happen if you used some of those fluid colours that are standing around the base of your easel just to the right?” And before I knew it, I was working wet-on-wet with an array of colours.
It’s unusual for me to work flat because invariably a studio cat comes along to investigate. Sure enough, a curious white face appeared, and had to be dissuaded from walking on the canvas. That done, he tried sitting on my shoulders to watch what was going on. Finally he encouraged to rather be elsewhere, and I looked again at what I’d done. I liked it, could see various ways to develop it, and knew I should resist fiddling. This photo shows what it looked like this morning when it had all dried.
This photo shows where it was this afternoon, with the sky reworked and a few tweaks made to the sea and foreground. It’s a lot more abstract that my other recent paintings, and the style different, without the long drips of paint because it was created flat. There’s much I’m enjoying about it, and am intrigued to hear what other people think (so do post a comment below!)
Click on photo to see larger version
Here’s a detail from the painting; if you click on the photo you’ll get a larger version, about actual size.
Dramatic snow-laden clouds, snow-lit hills… this is my favourite photo from January.
Looking northwest, towards Harris.
And a few other of my favourites of snow so far this winter:
When the clouds lift, the snow is revealed. Amazing how near the outer isles can seem when the air is really cold.
Those aren’t sheep or deer tracks, but cracks in ice on a loch
At that almost-compulsory photo parking place in Glencoe.
Rannoch Moor looking north