Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Vibration of Colour

I have been debating the issue of colour this year. When I first started painting, the colours I used were very strong and vibrant and they still are.  Take a look at this one for instance.  It was painted in France and is the meditation walk at Plum Village Buddhist centre - I wonder if it could have been more 'meditative' in it's choice of colour.  I got so bound up in that tunnel, that the colours took over even though this painting is a lot quieter than some I have produced.  This one is also quite a large canvas - 102 x 76 cms.

I  start out intending a softly, softly approach, only to feel I need just a touch of a cadmimum here or there and pretty soon, whoops - there I go again!  I can't resist the richness of oil colour  - the sheer physicality of painting with a luscious red next to a vibrating green, an Alizarin crimson next to a Naples yellow - simply delicious!

I love to see paintings where the colour vibrates. Take Rothko for instance.  You will only get the full power and drama of his colours when you really sit and study the canvasses in his special gallery at the Tate Modern in London.  Maybe your  response to them is dismissive - large canvasses which are purely blocks of colour?  But for me those blocks are not only technical wizardry at its best, but they also stir some very strong emotions.  It is the way the colours sing and vibrate. And it is that vibration that comes about as a result of understanding how colours react one with another and layering them to achieve the ultimate glow.

By layering the paint, even whites will take on that extra quality. I have seen this in the work of the French painter  Michel Steiner for example.  Just look at this lovely study.  Hardly any colour at all, a deceptively simple painting.  But I know Michel and I know that his work is built up very gradually with many layers, allowing each to dry in between.

A lot of patience is required and the ability to have several canvasses on the go at the same time.  I currently have 5 in various stages of progress!  All part of my determination to build up colour in layers and perhaps less emphatically!  Take a look at the colourful pieces on my web site and watch this space for changes!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Facing the next blank canvas

Well, I spent another afternoon on the view of Durdle Door yesterday and now I am going to hang it on the wall of my studio for a while until I decide whether it is finished or not. I have attached it to this blog so that the reader can see the small changes that have now been made since the 'work in progress' was posted in my first blog. I often do that when I have a piece that has been difficult to achieve. Giving a piece this time to 'breathe' allows me to see what needs to be done. One of the problems with this particular canvas is that there are large areas of the land mass which are a very smooth texture - no brush marks, just tone. I used quite a lot of my own prepared medium with the paint to build up layers, allowing each layer to dry before applying the next. Usually I would do that with texture and I am not sure yet whether this new approach has worked. At the end of the day I think it is only the artist who can resolve a piece, regardless of what the viewer may perceive.

Now there is the process of deciding what next? This for me is the dreaded blank canvas that has to be tackled. I usually work from drawings and still have several pinned to the wall that have not yet been turned into paintings, but I looked at them yesterday and did not feel motivated by any of them! Hey ho! There are also two or three unresolved canvasses that are stacked against the studio wall and I have to decide whether to battle on with those or abandon them entirely - I hate admitting defeat, but that may be the only answer. I should try to work on more often on more than one canvas at a time.

I will take the dog for a walk up the mountain. I do get ideas when I am out walking. At home in Dorset, a walk through the woods or up on Cranborne Chase would nearly always un-pick the creative knots, but beautiful though it is, the landscape of the Pyrenees has not been so effective!

Monday, 23 November 2009

The highs and lows of an artist's life - a creative roller coaster

I am a professional landscape painter and I want to use this blog to share with others my experience of this work. The blog will be a record of the daily highs and lows that I find go with the territory and which I find many artists share. I will look at the times when the creative 'flow' is present and explore ways of dealing with the creative 'blocks' when at worst I find myself incapable of tackling the fear of the fresh blank canvas. (The ingenuity of my procrastination at times like this is quite remarkable!) I will also write about the pieces that I am currently working on and look at what I feel works or does not in each.

In recent months I have experienced a black hole in my creative process. It followed on the heels of writing,editing and illustrating a children's book which was published this autumn in the UK. That was a 'first' for me and took me right away from the daily process of working on a painting in my studio. The black hole brought with it a sense of despair that left me simply incapable of producing anything that I felt was remotely worthwhile. Not for the first time I began to question my validity as an artist and what point I was trying to make. What had my work got to say that was of any value at all? Was I just painting pretty pictures in order to sell them? Why did every mark I made on the canvas appear tentative and at worse dismally amateur? I read endless material on the subject of the creative block. Intelligent books, helpful blogs, etc. Nothing seemed to work until an artist friend of mine said "I paint because it makes me feel better!" Wow! How simple!

When I first started painting full time in 2005, it was with the intention of taking time off for 6 months to see if I could get anywhere with it. Prior to that, raising a daughter necessitated a career that would pay the bills and an appreciation that unless you are incredibly lucky as a painter, bill paying will always be difficult! 6 months passed and I gave myself permission to take another 6 months and so on. Several years and a good number of successful exhibitions later and I am still at it. You can see the results on my web site

I am attaching the piece that I am currently working on. The subject is the Dorset Coast path at Durdle Door. Finding a different approach to painting the sea is proving a challenge but I am pleased with what has emerged so far and now need to focus on where it will go next - specifically in terms of the sky and the tones and textures of the land which needs to be adjusted. I also have to sort out the foreground. If you look at my web site you will see that my work has always been very vibrant. I love colour - it gives me a high - part of that 'feeling better' that my friend referred to. However, I am attempting to find a slightly more muted voice at the moment.