There’s something contrary (but delightful) finding out on a gloriously sunny day that my “Storm Warning” painting has sold. It’ll be heading “across the pond” to Massachusetts. The painting is one of my more wildly big-brush expressive pieces, as the detail photo of the brushwork below shows.
Sometimes I find myself reminded of a painting technique I know is useful but neglect to use often enough. This week it was painting the negative space (the shapes around an object or subject) using an opaque colour. I was doing it with someone who’s relatively new to painting, and in the process found myself wondering why I don’t use it more often. In this instance I used titanium white to block off the negative space around the “flowers in vase”. Doing so also reminded me of oxide red, an intensely opaque colour I encountered in a figure-painting workshop I did with Alan McGowan and is on my “try again” list of colours. Now I just need to find out where the tube of it I know I have is.
“…good painting is not just about technical virtuosity.
… good paintings are those that genuinely move people in unexpected ways and this, in turn, requires that the painter be moved in ways that most people are not”
— Jerry Fresia, “A Painter’s Response to the Renoir Protest”, 17 November 2015
And to be moved in ways most people are not, you’re inevitably not going to be like most people. Society likes to put us in a little box with a label, to classify us, to limit and set expectations, to create order through uniformity. Yet some of us live with, and enjoy, skew horizons rather than straighten them.
As my favourite line from Monty Python’s Life of Brian tells us: “Yes, we are all individuals.” (Look it up if you’re not familiar with the scene.)
I’ll be taking my latest big (100x100cm) sheep painting will be in Skyeworks Gallery today. It’s called “Watching Waves”, something I can contentedly do for hours.
As he is so fond of doing, studio cat Ghost helped me take a photo of the painting. (If you’re wondering where we were and the bits of grass in the photo: the painting’s resting in the doorway of my studio, Ghost is on the step, and I’m outside.)
As one of my current commissions involves a sweeping white beach, I took it as an excuse to go do some fresh drawings at Coral Beach. And, as it’s about to close for winter, I also popped into the gardens at Dunvegan Castle.
First stop was on that hill where you see Coral Beach for the first time. Go a little to the left of the path and there’s a stone wall which provides shelter from a breeze and a viewpoint without spectators. There’s something about double swoop of the coastline that I enjoy so much, an echo of shape but contrast in colour and texture.
As in most places on Skye, there was a convenient rock to sit on, and another to prop up my watercolour paper.
After a while I wandered up to Coral Beach. I was fortunate with my timing: the people who’d been on the beach had left and if I only looked north I had the beach to myself (if I looked behind me, there were another four groups of people heading to the beach).
There’s something irresistible about playing with long shadows. I did wonder if any of the other people would end up photos of the beach with a person holding an A3 shiny bag (with my sheets of watercolour paper in it) doing strange poses on the beach.
After Coral Beach I went into the gardens at Dunvegan Castle, which were looking superb and with far more things flowering than I thought there might be. I think it was even more beautiful than when I was there in summer. My thanks to the castle’s horticultural team for the recharge of my colour batteries. Here are a few things that particularly caught my eye:
I’ve just added two rather different new things to my online shop: a sheep tea towel (screenprinted for me) and a wirework stag brooch (all individually made by me). Do all rush now and do some (dare-I-mention-Christmas) present shopping! I’ve created a special price deal if you buy more than one tea towel, so why not buy one for someone else and keep one for yourself!
I’ve been asked by the children of the local primary school what my favourite location on Skye is, for a project they’re working on. Needless to say, there’s an abundance of inspirational landscape on Skye, without even considering how different the same locations look as the seasons change (and the weather). But if I were to pick one, there’s a spot in the Uig woodland, next to a river through a wooden gate, where I love to sit. It might come as a surprise that my favourite location isn’t a sea view, but that’s my everyday joy; the river I have to go to specifically.
In mid-summer it’s a cool leafy respite from the sun. In mid-winter it’s frosty and bright as the low sun penetrates past the trees. In autumn there are yellows and browns; in spring fresh greens. The sounds: birds singing, leaves rustling, water gushing or trickling depending on how full the river is. Yes, there are days when it’s wet and less poetic, but I don’t go here on such days. And, yes, the main road is nearby but, for me, the traffic noise doesn’t penetrate. I find it an ever-enticing dance of colour and shadow that never fails to charge my creative batteries, even if I don’t stop for long. Park at the Uig community hall, stroll along the beach, through the gap in the stone wall, follow the path amongst the young tree trunks then past the oaks, around the corner and on a bit, and I’m there.
The reflected colours, light and shadows in the water are mesmerizing, constantly flickering as the water flows past.
This January light became a 100x100cm painting called “Summer Glow”. (I didn’t call it “Winter Glow” because the painting doesn’t feel wintry to me.)
The page from my sketcbook, with my colour and observation notes.
It became a 100x100cm painting with the official title “Flowing Past”, though I think of it as “The Little Tree That Could” painting.
Sketching in October.
I’ve long liked the way Giacometti used line in his later paintings, and one of the challenges I’ve set myself for this year is to explore the use more line in a painting. On my easel at the moment is a large canvas featuring daisies in which I’d been doing this, working with a rigger brush, small flat brush, and acrylic marker pens. The latter feels like it shifts the making into “drawing” and saves having to constantly reload a brush, though they do create a consistent line (rather like a propelling pencil vs a sharpened pencil) rather than a variable one (as can easily be done with a brush).
You don’t see the line from afar, you’ve got to come quite close and then, for me, it rewards close looking. (And even closer to see the thin dark lines.) I’ve lost track of how many rounds I’ve had with each daisy, though there were at least two with dark and four with light. I don’t worry about counting, as it’s only the result that ultimately matters.
Here’s what it looked like the day before, prior to my ‘calming down’ the sky with a glaze of cobalt blue. I liked it at this stage, but felt it was too busy and distracting overall, that your eye needed a bit of respite.
The more you look, the more you see. The more looking you do, the more you realise there are different ways to see.
“…art is not so much the way things look, but a way of looking at things.
It is a way of looking at the world, of interacting with the world…”
— Samuel Rowlett, “Why Can’t You Draw?“, Hyperallergic
A drawing or painting can be about appearance and representation, about “reality”, about “looking like” an object or landscape. Many people think this is what art ought to be, the ultimate (and only) achievement. But a drawing or painting can also be something else too, something beyond realism, less confined, less predictable, more about the maker thereof than the object or scene being depicted.To take one example: a drawing can be about the looking, tracing the movement of your eyes.
My favourite way to do this is a continuous line drawing, where (theoretically) you don’t pick up the pencil and place it in a new spot but draw the line of the movement of your eyes. Unless you closed your eyes between looking at two things, your eyes did track across what’s in between, even if you didn’t consciously register it. Though most of the time I do it as not-quite-continuous line, stopping and restarting after a bit, or “cheat” by making the “joining lines” very light.