I couldn’t get the colour orange (and my missed opportunity to capture it) out of my mind last week so I had to go back and collect some more leaves. The next daylight window was Friday afternoon; I put my running shoes on and enjoyed the miles to the next town and back. I thought for a moment that time had already changed the landscape; the trees didn’t seem as bright but then there it was, slightly back from the towpath “glowing”.
In “ways of seeing” John Berger talks about pin boards at home with their torn out magazine clippings, drawings and photos being like a personal museum. Well this weekend my design board became my museum to November with more sketches, the leaf colours captured and some photos of two artists work that seems relevant to my thinking; (Angie Lewin’s woodcut prints of British flora and Ewan MacLeod’s paintings of the male figure in the Land).
Ideas are mingling, half formed or on the cusp of something…..seasons, time and change/transitions, colour synonymous with a month/time, the male figure, gendered subject matter, objects as symbolism, interiors, tools and still life.
November’s dark days curtails my ventures onto the canal path. I leave for work before dawn and it is pitch when I get back; moments to observe the changes for the next few months will be confined to weekends (or require a head torch and serious monologues to quell the inner fears).
Last weekend I collected another vase of flora from the hedgerows and reedbeds. Hands tucked in pockets against the chill and old shoes for the muddy puddles. Everything is becoming skeletal, although the last curling leaves cling to the ends of branches or carpet the floor in fading emerald and lime. The bright berries of October seem to have died off or darkened. The only colour that strikes me is the rich orange of the copper beach, shiny and luscious in it’s stark contrast.
I fill an old jug with the collection at home. I want to capture the orange colour in paint, but something stops me. Instead I do a line drawing. The next morning the heat of the house has curled the Beech leaves and they have lost their vibrancy. I’m disappointed with myself.
The canal path is quieter than summer, holiday boats are now moored or under repair. House boats seem deserted. Runners, wrapped up, pound past periodically – Spring Marathon training season has begun.
The canal has a very different colour palette to my previous coastal themed work. Predominantly shades of green & brown landscape and water, graphic black & white locks and bridge structures and touches of bright colours in the flora, birdlife and barges. This weekend I’ve gone back to basics with some dye colour mixing to teach myself some new palettes.
I have always tended to work (and love) a muted rainbow palette, those mixed with all three primary’s and to include slightly jarring colour combinations. Greens and brights are not colours I have worked with much. However, the opportunity to work with a wider range of colours in relation to my canal series is one of it’s exciting possibilities.
I’ve just come back from a creative retreat weekend with my textile group CQWest. It was great to have 2-3 days solid to focus on my new work and to bounce ideas around and learn from my creative friends. Creating can at times be quite a lonely process and these group networks are important as support, guidance and an empathetic ear.
I realise looking at how long it’s been since I last blogged that I have perhaps been in creative “retreat” at least publicly for a while and its time I provided an update.
There has been a lot of change in my life over the last year; a new job, a new partner and letting go of the place that has inspired my artwork for the last nine years. My creativity hasn’t stopped but I needed some time out, to finish projects, to set up a new workshop, to learn new skills and think about where my inspiration would come from next. To share that confusion via my blog felt too public.
It was my new partner that made me realise I already have another significant place in my life; the Kennet and Avon Canal. I have lived near it in various houses, lodgings and flats ever since I was 21. I have walked it as a commute to work, cycled the entire length once, I run on it regularly for fun and exercise, I’ve cycled its rocky hawthorn strewn path to see friends, walked along in sunshine or puddles to the local towns and pubs and its always been there with it’s bird and boat life when I just need to escape and watch the world go by outdoors for a while.
I have therefore started to observe the Canal more consciously. Noticing the specific and the general, how it changes with the seasons and learning a little about it’s history. As always I’m using this research to inspire my art, or perhaps more the art is a visual expression of what I observe; the two are entwined as ways of knowing.
Currently I’m focussed on two series;
- Bridges, as way markers along the navigation and their names and numbers.
- Flora, in the hedgerow and reedbeds and how the colours and structures change each month.
So having found a new direction, I will be back to blogging my progress more regularly.
A couple of weeks back my friend, a runner and female of a similar age kindly agreed to do a photo shoot and model some particular poses based on stretches we would perform after running. I now have about 150 photos to work from (should keep me quiet for a while). As I’ve said before I want to combine these figurative drawings/paintings with my prints of pebbles or other abstract colours/patterns connected to the landscape. This is about women being strong and healthy and proud of their bodies and using them on their own terms. As I embark on this project, I am conscious of the history surrounding paintings of the female nude (from the male gaze) and how I need to ensure my images are perceived differently, not sure how I will communicate that yet.
Having a friend pose has introduced a dilemma about ethics into my work; normally my life drawings are pinned up on my walls so that I can evaluate/critique them. When I’ve been to a public life drawing session, I take it as read that the model is comfortable being seen nude in public and they are also anonymous to my friends and family. However, a friend modelling presented a different issue, especially as I have photos in my care; is it ok to pin those images to the wall? I decided I should get her permission first and we agreed that photos would remain safeguarded but that drawings could be displayed.
This confirms that there is a difference between a photo and a drawing/painting, which is somehow one step removed. A drawing/painting gives something different to a photo, it provides an interpretation, an expression, something additional to mere fact
Last weekend I visited Hull; the Maritime Museum and Ferens Art Gallery. There was a good exhibition called “Portraits of the Sea” by www.danlhall.com in which he had drawn men who had spent their lives in jobs related to the sea (Trawlermen, Navy, Fish Market/processing, the Social Club owner etc). It was a interesting documentary style exhibition with the drawings almost like passport photographs in their presentation and monotone colouring. I thought it was a shame that the stories of the Women in the Industry or women who would have been on the periphery (eg wives) weren’t represented.
The museum also houses one of the largest collections of Scrimshaw; women were depicted heavily here, the images suggest they were copied from cigarette cards or printed images.
Finally, the work of Ian McKeever was on show at the Ferens Gallery and a small selection of his “Portrait of a woman” series which appropriates postcards or images of portrait paintings, overpainted and framed in triptych by side panels of colour.
It’s that age old creative wisdom that when you are stuck, just keep working, just keep turning up at the page, the canvas, the needle and eventually ideas will begin to meld again.
There is a similar wisdom in long distance running/walking;
“when you are feeling good push and when you are not just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”
The last few weeks I have been stuck, I had reached a certain point in my experiments and didn’t know where to go next, so I did a bit of active procrastination, cleared my studio table and design boards, got out my sketchbooks and research and revisited my original trains of thought, I pulled out a few key images to put up on the walls and then finally I took myself off to my local life drawing class to force myself into activity.
AND ping, breakthrough. I took a screen print I had stretched and primed to paint/draw on top of (it’s been sat doing nothing in the corner for a while) and whilst the result is by no means polished, the idea definitely excites me with it’s potential.
I have known for a while that I want to do a series expressing the female condition (from my perspective rather than any traditional notion – an idea that I am not fully ready to share in words yet) and to combine this with my abstract imagery based on found objects and the landscape (my symbols of experience and memory). The research I had collected was pointing me in the direction I want to go, I just didn’t seem able to make that leap to the next phase, I was still working the two elements (abstract and figurative) separately.
I know I lack some of the skills to bring the two together and so as much as anything the next few years will be a learning curve, with no doubt some horrid results along the way (to be expected when you learn anything new). Next steps, I’ve arranged a friend to model some poses for me to draw and I have regained the enthusiasm to create more screen/mono/resist printed cloth which I can stretch/prime and use as backgrounds for my paintings. I am off and running again….
I’ve been continuing my screen printing experiments using my pebble imagery as inspiration (my blobs as someone put it), repeating screens over a larger surface; over laying colours/tones to create secondary shapes; working the negative image, changes in scale and repeating screens along a length of cloth whilst tying to make the repeat invisible.
I have no idea where this is all going at the moment but i’m enjoying the process, and learning new ways of working.
I’ve also returned to life drawing. A 2 hour drop in session where I can zone out and draw. I havent been for months and i’m rusty, struggling to see proportion again, a reminder of the importance of consistent practise. I sketch the shadows in loosely with watercolour before overdrawing with charcoal and pen.
In the last few weeks i’ve got my design boards up on the wall (they’ve been propped against them for 18 months). It’s made such a diffference and prompted me to distil my sketchbook ideas and notes into two clear projects.
Back in my post of July 5th I talked about mastering my craft and spending some time to hone skills in printing/painting which would allow me to reaslise a mixture of figurative and abstract works. I’m making progress; i’ve been experimenting with screen printing images inspired by my 100 Pebbles (post of March 8th), particularly focussing on registering the print layers. I’m restricting myself to layering of 3 colours (black, golden yellow and Cerulean), partly so I can focus on the process and partly to see what colours can be built up with just layering and mixing.
Using clear Gesso I have stretched and primed one of my prints ready to use as a drawing/painting ground experiment. I’ve added some collage and stitch as texture into the surface.
Do we ever get to achieve the intention we can visualise in our minds?
I’ve just come back from 10 days on my own in Cornwall. I’ve often travelled and holidayed alone but I will admit the prospect of having multiple days in solitude always daunts me; I imagine feelings of loneliness or worse, that I will start talking to imaginary cats (I already talk to myself so we are way past that bar)!! I counter my fears by reminding myself that actually I usually have a great time and it does both my confidence and my creative process wonders.
I decided early in the week that my daily process would be to get outdoors (bike, run, walk) and then in the evening or the following day allow an hour or so to respond creatively to the experience and collected source material. I would also allow myself 2 days off to visit the Galleries at Newlyn and St Ives, and Heligan Gardens for a bit of creative input.
Inspired by seeing and reading about Terry Frost at Tate St Ives I started to look afresh at the shapes of the land, the shapes of rocks in the coves I am familiar with, windfarms and their rhythms in the mist and the flora of Heligan Gardens. I have been struggling with how to capture this wider essence of place for some years, always resorting to working from found objects, but this week I started to change my source material, using both sketches, memorised observations and photographs as well. The resulting book of paintings (entitled Caravan T8) incorporates all these ideas and experiments.
Solitude gives me the time to think and for my brain to consciously and subconsciously make connections between ideas. Without the solitude last week I don’t believe I would have started to look at the world differently and found a new way to start responding. My next challenge is to find a way to convert my travelling studio into a travelling textile painting studio, so I can work these little books directly into cloth rather than paper and with dyes/textile media rather than watercolours and pens/pencils. Watch this space…..