It’s that time of year again when the sun’s moved north and is setting past the tip of the Waternish peninsula and late (about 9pm) making for hours of enticing patterns and colours on the expanse of the Minch (sea between Skye and Harris). My fingers have been itching to paint it again (see Moods of the Minch catalogue). Here are a few work-in-progress photos, canvas size 120x60cm.
“Robert Frost said: ‘I want the poem to be like ice on a stove — riding its own melting.’ Well, a great painting is like ice on a stove. It is a shape riding its own melting into matter and space; it never stops moving backwards and forwards.”
— Frank Auerbach
(Source: quoted Frank Auerbach: Speaking and Painting by Catherine Lampert, page 6 )
“Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting. A poem may be worked over once it is in being, but may not be worried into being. Its most precious quality will remain its having run itself and carried away the poet with it. Read it a hundred times: it will forever keep its freshness as a petal keeps its fragrance. It can never lose its sense of a meaning that once unfolded by surprise as it went.”
Follow any “what if I…?” thoughts when painting as you can always come back to your original idea (or restart), but you can’t know where such impulses may lead. It’s not always somewhere you wish to be, but often enough somewhere you’d never have predicted.
I remember reaching impulsively for some rarely-used black ink and a brush to add the strong negative space to what up to that point had been a careful pen drawing. I still love the result, and have carried (and used!) a small bottle of ink in my pencilbox ever since.
There are two yellows I associate with spring in Skye, a cool and a warm: daffodils and gorse. Both have me reaching for tubes of yellow, plus a blue to mix an earthy green. In the daffodil paintings I’m working on, I’m mostly using:
Cadmium yellow medium: a warm leans-to-orange yellow that is quite opaque (in the jar on the right in the photo).
Lemon yellow: a cool leans-to-green yellow that is transparent (frustratingly so at times, but a bit of titanium white solves this; in the jar on the left)
Cadmium orange: I could mix an orange but there’s an intensity about a single-pigment orange that’s wonderful (Buy direct: USA or Buy direct: UK)
Prussian blue: in acrylic it’s a hue (mixed tube colour) usually based on phthalo but with some black and sometimes a violet pigment, that produces the right shades of green to my eye and a strong dark where needed.
My view: Go with the ‘really good stuff’ when it comes to yellows as this has the pigment loading (artspeak for colour intensity) that gives an inner glow. The jars above are Schmincke, but I also use Golden a lot too.
“Windows are . . . a patch of the world, arbitrarily framed, from which we are physically isolated. The only thing you can do is look. You have no influence over what you will see. Your brain is forced to make drama out of whatever happens to appear.” — Sam Anderson
Now delete the word “no” before “influence”.
Then substitute the word “sketchbook” for “window”.
Then substitute the word “draw” for “look”.
“A sketchbook page is a patch of the world, arbitrarily framed. The only thing you can do is draw. You have influence over what you will see. Your brain is forced to make drama out of whatever happens to appear.”
The old pier at Broadford is a location that looks quite different when the tide is out or in. Yesterday being one of those bright but nippy spring days saw me sketch for a bit, warm up in the nearby Bread Shed (gluten-free cake and coffee!), pop into Old Pier Gallery to check I wasn’t needed for anything, then out again.
I’ve learnt not to say “I work at Skyeworks Gallery in Portree on Saturday” because some people take “work” to mean “creating paintings” rather than “person on gallery duty doing whatever needs doing”. I tend to say “I’m in Skyeworks Gallery” or “I’m on the desk at Skyeworks Gallery” or some variation of this.
No two Saturdays are alike. Yesterday included:
• rehanging my small paintings on canvas (the quandry is whether people will be inspired by the display to start their own collection of little paintings, or hesitant to disturb it)
• sorting through my prints (new daisy print now in stock)
• dusting where my coasters, placemats and mugs are (blowing into a mug gets the dust out easily but needs to be done so you don’t get it in your face!)
• helping move two shelves from one side of the gallery to the other
• arranging half a dozen newly arrived whisky-barrel benches
• measuring the two longest benches for a customer so she could check if it’d fit the space at home
• giftwrapping a knitted sheep for a lass who’d saved her holiday money to buy it (I gathered there’d been a visit to Skyeworks earlier in the week), and
• being an enthusiastic taste-tester for a new gluten-free muffin from the bakery below (tough job!).
Plus all the chatting to customers and sales-related stuff. All in a day’s “work”.
Choices, choices…. More specifically, three small frames bought some time ago that have now made a collection by having one of my new small bloom paintings in them. (I’ll be taking these to York with me for the Live North Spring event; you’ll find me on the First floor, stand 187a.) I do like the white, but also the black, and surprise myself with how much I like the brown-and-gold, which isn’t generally my cup of tea coffee.
In a comment on yesterday’s motivator quote, Gayle included this sentence, which got me thinking about how many paintings I work on at a time:
“…rather than trying to finish one then move to another (as advised by some people around me), something propels me to work in what seems to be a disorganized manner — but I am slowly beginning to realize that these works are all feeding off each other thus generating new ideas, even though the design/subject matter of each one are quite different.” — Gayle
While I may be applying paint to one canvas only at any particular moment, there are always several others in various stages. From “still an idea bouncing around” to “first textured layer waiting to dry” to “I’m deciding if it’s finished” to “I don’t feel like this today” to “I haven’t decided what to do next” to “I’m saving it as a reward for after some admin” to “It’s next”. I do have a main path I follow from starting to finish a painting, but I always pause to ponder the view and smell the flowers.
There’s a difference between meandering to the extent nothing gets done and working on multiple things while still remaining focused on a primary task (the painting on my easel) and getting things finished. I like variety, so while a layer of paint is drying, I’ll work on another. Paintings all feed each other, sometimes literally as leftover paint gets used to start small paintings. An idea isn’t often used up by trying it once, so I’ll do it again and again, sometimes side by side, trying to narrow the gap between my visualised and actual outcomes and exploring impulses or ideas that come up.
Finish one thing then move to another is theoretically efficient, and forces you to keep at it till it’s done. But I choose not to work that way. My path may be less straight, and require more steps to get to the end, but it’s the route I enjoy.