I have just been lucky enough to travel to Donegal to stay in a cottage by the sea and spend all week painting the spectacular view from the front door. Errigal is the highest mountain in Donegal. When the weather was bad I could paint it from the window. This is a haunting part of the world. Charismatic with an ever changing light. The light not only changed every day but in every part of every day. I began four paintings but ended up concentrating on one. It began on an overcast day and was completed in twenty eight degrees of sunshine when the constant cloud over Donegal lifted. The result is a mixture of all weather.
The creation of a painting involves a lot of chaos, random searching, worrying moments, general fear and lostness. It is always an uncertain and terrifying process. A book that had a great influence on me and which has helped me throughout my life was 'Feel the fear and do it anyway’ by Susan Jeffers. It has become one of my mantras. This fear is always there before every new creation.
At several points in the making of a painting there is a necessity to get oneself out the way. There has to be a ' letting go' of old ideas and confinements; the ability to take risks, make a mess, and destroy what is tidy, familiar and predictable'
When a painting is finished I am usually astonished at the wreckage of the studio. When working on a new painting chaos seems to be a by product of order and beauty. I tidy nothing as I go along. The mounds of paper, brushes, paint pots and rags get ever bigger. Even the water turns to mud. Out of this chaos this fine gentle ordered beautiful thing emerges.
It is a surreal moment when I pick up a painting from the framers and there it is, contained and ordered in its beautiful frame. Calm, pristine and professional. Blood, sweat ,tears, anguish and general chaos quite gone.
I am back in residence at The Yorkshire Arboretum after the hurly burly of York Open Studios. It was cold but sunny as I made my way into the woods and everything was lit up. It was like walking into my recent painting 'Wonderland.' It struck me that walking around the Arboretum is like walking into different worlds. At the entrance you are in Ancient Beech land and just over the hill you walk into fruit Blossom land and just before that is the mature Birch circle land. Then there are the sweeping vistas where buttercup hills can be spied, long straight paths and meandering white lanes surrounded by dark mysterious bushes. There are clumps and stalks, round squat rows and tall endless ancients. World upon world of glorious beauty and good company. The company of trees.
This is all preparation, the planning of my next body of work. It is both exciting and frightening. I always wonder how I am going to begin something so immense. How I can possibly do justice in paint to what I see and experience. First I walked and then I took the camera. It was too cold to sit and sketch and whilst I don't approve of working from photographs, a camera is a great resource for contemplating composition. Snapping away enables you to catch the startling effects on landscape of the fleeting English sun. It helps you frame a picture and pick out the images that are strong. Trees that sit together in a particular way in a certain light. I realise that composition is about relationships and juxtapositions, different shapes, strong angles. Gatherings of disparate parts that together are strong enough to make a good story. With this in mind, these are some of my visual insights of the days work and the foundations of the paintings to come.
Life has moved on since the beginning of the Flower Bomb series and my last blog. There was one and now there are five. They were hard won. The making of them extended from the end of winter into Spring so while I was working on these abstract florals I was longing to be out of the studio and into the landscape. Winter work was sneaking into summer. (optimistic I know as we are all still freezing) But nature has proceeded regardless. Suddenly the hot colours inside my studio weren't right as I noticed the gentle brown pinks, greys, lime greens, clean yellows and white blossom of the emerging March landscape outside. It was landscape time and I was still painting florals. I persevered and the resulting paintings were worth it. They are beauties of colour, technique, style and surface.
Colour was not the only way in which I was bringing summer into winter when I was working on these. I now have three flower presses in which to preserve leaves and flowers as they come into season. They are then used as stencils on my winter paintings. So although these are 'inside' paintings as opposed to the plein air landscape, the outside world of fauna and flora is still coming in via my plant press along with the preserve of other seasons.
There is something about the winter in England that makes me long for hot dynamic abstract colour combinations. This has given birth to the new Flower-Bomb series which I am soooo excited about. A delightful medley of mixed media combinations which include the use of actual dried leaves and flowers. These paintings are adventurous and designey and are set to break out of predictable conceptions of Still Life.
Concerned primarily with experimental colour combinations and mark making, Flower-Bombs are set to break new ground in style, mark making and composition. Most exciting of all is the plan to incorporate their random rule breaking into my summer landscapes including those created in my Artist in residence at The Yorkshire Arboretum.
The depths of winter in England always makes me long for sunny climes and I find exotic tropics begin to emerge in the studio. January in North Yorkshire is HOT. I can’t get enough orange red and fuchsia pink. Lined up in my mind are all the lovely white, black and brown Yorkshire landscapes and bare sculptural trees if I can only tear myself away from the comfort of abstract florals and remembered midsummer Spanish landscapes.
This brings me around to the impact of colour and the fact that it has a mental emotional impact. I think I will bring some of this longing for heat into the winter trees in the Yorkshire Arboretum paintings and the winter landscapes but meanwhile what emerged today was 'Another Land'.
As well as colour, composition and content, attention to surface is an essential element in a good painting. Each brush stroke and mark becomes important.
Increasingly I like my surfaces to be smooth and free of lumps. This is achieved through a combination of sanding, scratching out and polishing with tissue or a dry soft cloth.
When colours are applied in layers they have quite a different effect than a single coat. Something of the 'past lives' and earlier ideas are still often present in the finished work even if it has changed a great deal from the initial sketch. The finished works have history and patina. The story of the evolution of the painting is in its layered marks; in what has been added and taken away; the washes, scrapes, destruction and creation. This history must be tidied and balanced in the completed work. In the final pulling together every mark becomes considered and intentional. The balance between chance and deliberation, chaos and order, produces a final rich patina that would be impossible to achieve if the painting hadn't gone through this journey.
Trying to find...a way in as Artist in Residence at The Yorkshire Arboretum.
I am starting to find my way around The Yorkshire Arboretum; to find a way in to the residence. How do I describe this special place? I have spent hours walking, looking and sketching. The trees have a powerful presence, awe inspiring and comforting at the same time. I am struck with two types of tree groups. The same type of tree planted numerously and the effect of very different species planted in close groups.
The logistics of transporting heavy large boards, paints, water and brushes around 120 acres of parkland are challenging but I want to paint in situ. To capture the feeling of being there in that space and that moment. I am under pressure to capture this fleeting time in the calendar when there are still leaves on the trees but the structure is beginning to show through and there is glorious colour juxtaposed with intimations of the stark nakedness of winter. Another week and this could all be gone. Procrastination must end and commitment of action begin.