Woke to a moody pink and blue sky, distant snow showers over a dark blue sea. One of those variations you can’t paint because people think you made it up.
Yesterday afternoon the light on the sea was particularly beautiful.
Looking south, there was a lesson about how the colours of the sky influence the colour of the sea.
Looking east, the rule about always painting the sea darker than the sky was turned on its head.
Looking west, into the setting sun (having driven from Staffin around the top of the Trotternish Peninsula), a lesson in how clouds can influence the colour of the sea.
“What is drawing? How does one get there? It’s working one’s way through an invisible iron wall that seems to stand between what one feels and what one can do.
“How can one get through that wall? — since hammering on it doesn’t help at all. In my view, one must undermine the wall and grind through it slowly and patiently. … the great isn’t something accidental; it must be willed.”
— Vincent van Gogh, letter to Theo, 22 October 1882.
Know when you’ve a painting that’s not where you want it to be overall but has parts you’re pleased with and would really like to keep? When the temptation is to paint around these “good bits”, and you end up tweaking and fiddling but things never get better overall? Leading to the temptation to give up or, perhaps worse, settle for “almost good”? That’s where I was yesterday when I finally braved the wind, went out to my studio and confronted a red roses painting I hadn’t looked at for about 10 days. It’s in water-soluble oils (Buy: UK or Buy: USA) which I’ve started using when my studio’s too cold for acrylics (under 10°C).
After staring at it for a bit, I decided it needed drastic action otherwise I’d tweak and tweak and tweak go nowhere. First I spread a layer of light pink to subdue everything. There’s always a moment or three’s panic hesitation doing this; the key is to remind myself it wasn’t right anyway, so I may as well. Then I took a rigger brush (Buy: UK or Buy: USA) and a dark purple-blue, dancing it around to re-establish some darks, then again with a lighter blue.
I do have a plan doing this, but it’s more a map seen from a distance than detailed GPS co-ordinates for every brushstroke. This video clip will give you an idea:
There’s always another moment’s hesitation panic about whether I’ve gone too far, whether everything is irredeemably ruined, and oh no what have I done. The key is to remind myself, again, that it wasn’t right anyway and that past experience has taught me this is the route to take. And to keep going.
Next step was to take a flat brush and add some wider brushmarks to calm the hectic, spidery markmaking somewhat. Repeat with lighter tones of pink.
Is it totally ruined? It’s certainly no longer “almost good”, more like “almost destroyed”. But I like parts, feel good for having tried, and when it’s surface dry I shall continue. Still a way to go, but the road feels open again.
“Be a tiny bit brave on a regular basis –- a few successes and failures will really help build your confidence. How does failure build confidence? It helps you clearly identify the things that don’t work so that you can discount them quickly and move on.”
With an amber-warning storm galloping and gasping past I’ve not been feeling brave enough to venture out to my studio, to face the wind full on when I round the corner of the house. Instead I’ve been reading The Art of Shouting Quietly: A Guide to Self-Promotion for Introverts and Other Quiet Souls.
It’s friendly and easy to read, full of useful tips and reassurances. Ultimately a book I wish I’d had much earlier on my journey; now it’s a motivator to keep at it and a revision list to check achievements and goals/dreams. Lists and plans to be made. Not the worst way to wait out a storm.
It seems from conversations my “suddenly” painting roses and daisies is causing some speculation as to why. No, it’s not a life crisis. No, my pinks-and-frills feminine side isn’t in ascendance. Yes, I’m feeling fine, thank you. The problem lies in that you haven’t been able to follow the machinations of my mind. It’s not “sudden” at all.
To me the roses are a logical development from my painting seascapes, woodlands, and foxgloves. The verdant pink rose hedge (which is budding even though it’s only January) that I look over to see the sea. The joy of roses (and fuchsias) growing so madly they’re almost a weed. Colourfields (think: my love of Rothko’s paintings) based on flowers; patterns and colour tied to reality. The dance between abstract and reality, now you see it as a pattern and now it’s a rose. I won’t ever stop painting sheep or seascapes; I love painting those too much. But do expect more flowers this year.
“[If] you’re interested in having us appreciate and understand what you’re up to, you better make it in ways that give us a fighting chance to figure it out. …
“Now the easiest way to do that is to work in series — to create unified, cohesive, coherent, related bodies of work. Many artists aren’t fully aware of the advantages to creating multiple works of art around the same idea, theme, philosophy, concept, topic or subject matter. Instead they produce what I call ‘onesies.'”
— Alan Bamberger, Reasons for Artists to Make Art in Series
One painting leads to another, and another, and another, I find when pursuing an idea. What if this and what if that? What if I used that blue rather than this blue as the mother colour? How the Minch (stretch of sea between Skye and the Outer Hebrides) looks like on sunny or snow-showers, day, calm or gale-force day, midsummer or full moon night. I could paint the view directly across the Minch from my studio for the rest of my life (and hope to!) and never use up the inspiration.
It was a battle concentrating in my studio today as snow showers over the Minch and Harris kept distracting me. The dance of lights/darks; silvers, whites, and greyswith patches of blue sky and metallic sea blues; shifting clouds revealing new snow on the mountains, the cold making them seem so close; winter croftlands glowing in sunshine. Not many of the showers blew across to me, most went across the view, heading south. Far more fun to watch than being beneath!
I was working on various paintings, including the big sheep canvas I was on at the end of last month. Here’s where it was at the end of today’s painting, with a detail photo at the bottom. If you’ve ideas for a title, do post a comment!
When I say I work with fluid paint, deliberately letting it run, I sometimes get a blank “that’s nice dear” look from people. So here’s a short video clip giving an example, a step in what will be a roses painting where I leave the paint to drip dry. On this occasion I’d been applying fluid white (think: consistency of ink) onto a horizontal canvas (balanced on the feet of my easel), onto a not-entirely-dry underpainting, the colours of which then mix with the white.