Looking back at last January’s post, I found things I’d forgotten about(!), things still on the “to do” list, and two completed.
I did finish the portrait, though I am less than thrilled with it, – competent but uninspired. I thought that I could reprise it using mixed media, and I still intend to do so. In fact I have chosen the canvas and collect potential collage papers. I have even brooded about colour palette.
But the real success of the year has been the improvement in my drawing skills. This is something that I am truly pleased (and surprised) about, and it is so liberating. I’ve been intimidated about drawing all my life and now I fear no more. That has got to be a result!
This year I am going to continue working with watercolour pencils, but try to use them more freely. I’ve got one or two thoughts on how to achieve this but they are still hazy so I will feel my way slowly and hope something clicks!
Oh joy! Oh rapture! Oil painting again – and I think my burgeoning drawing skills are freeing up my painting arm once more. This painting is a delight; everything is falling into place, (my happy place!). I do hope I find the time to finish it soon.
I love the rain cloud approaching from the right, the sunlight hillside, the woods bordering the lake. It’s the lower half of the painting that needs more attention. It looks like a pine forest at the moment, and most of those trees are deciduous – they would have to be otherwise no dancing daffodils!
The two smudges in the water will be boats soon, I hope, with their white masts bridging the line where land and water meet, then some work on the lake in the foreground, and we are done.
You remember my Meander Book with the elephant theme. It has gone through many changes since I first thought of the idea and it is, quite definitely, not going to be ready this Christmas, maybe not even next Christmas.
Printing with the lino cut as the background is not an option given the size of the paper and the sheer mechanics of printing neatly so many rectangles so near to each other. I may yet make a small lino cut of the elephant himself which would be altogether more manageable. What I have done is to make a template of the elephant, using it as a mask while painting the background in watercolour.
Now to dress The Elephant Of No Distinction But Infinite Charm. This proved to be more difficult than I first imagined. There is a considerable amount shown on my model so I had a starting point. I wanted it to be colourful, (naturally) not a restricted palette, then. On the other hand some co-ordination seemed appropriate. Decisions! Decisions! Do I dress his ear, or not? TEONDBIC has a cover of some sort on his ears but whether that is paint of fabric is a moot point. His saddle cloth is huge, giving an area which invites decoration, but if it’s too busy …..
I have drawn and “excavated” my image of The Elephant Of No Distinction But Infinite Charm. I decided to leave the elephant white and print the background. This gives me greater printed area which is easier to manage while the unprinted elephant allows for more colourful decoration.
But the printing is not as easy as it sounds. I had hoped to use acrylic inks, but they gave a very patchy response.
lino printing paints did better, but I now remember that I used a press to achieve a good print when I did the Christmas card last year. I can’t do that with this set of consecutive prints on a large sheet of paper. So, I have cut out my elephant shape in thick card, attached a handle for lifting neatly, and am going to use it to mask the shape while I paint the background of each rectangle of my Meander Book. I’m not going to complete this in time for this Christmas! Maybe next year!
I have been using my watercolour pencils again. This is a much more complex drawing, and the fact that I even attempted it freehand speaks volumes about my new found confidence in line drawing.
The little garden is full of different levels, plants, and pots, with the reflecting water as an added complication. It is also very green and I am having some difficulty with the varying greens, so I shall have to alter my approach. To this point, I have used the watercolour pencils dry only adding water when I felt happy with the dry work. This has had some splendid results – I love the potted bushes on the top level, and the accidental “cauliflower” on the left which gives a perfect bush shape to work into – and the steps are acceptable. But the plants to the left of the steps are poorly shaped and too uniformly bright.
I am going to try mixing my colours on a scrap of paper then lifting them with a wet brush to see if I can find a subtle way to do this area. Then again, the “cauliflower” reminds me of one way that Zoltan Szabo paints trees, so maybe I can explore this idea as well.
I was so pleased with the pencil work results that I finished the painting! In fact, I liked it so much that I signed it.
I am enjoying the quiet, steady, progress of the painting technique – I can’t believe I wrote that – it fits so well with the time and place in which I can paint and I am discovering new aspects of myself. I had not thought that the prejudices I had overcome when painting for “The Bridges of Dee” would be followed so quickly by the collapse, the total collapse, of my fear of pencil drawing. Looking back, I see that “fear” is the right word. I am only in the foothills but this is a mountain worth conquering. Finally I can lay out in free hand a preparatory sketch before painting, and I am sure that as I practise this new skill, that freedom will translate to my brush and pastel.
What have I learnt so far ? If a pale wash is wanted, certainly on hot pressed paper, scrubbing the pencil on a spare bit of paper and lifting the colour on a wet brush is working satisfactorily (the sky); texture and detail can be indicated at will and either left to speak for itself or melded with the painting by a wash of water (the distant hill and the hay field); more graduation of tone came be achieved by mixing the wet paint on the paper (the bushes); this can then be worked on to introduce more texture; very deep tones have come by working directly into wetted paper with the pencil.
To my absolute amazement, I am enjoying my expedition into pencils, overcoming a lifetime aversion to them. I remember being pretty awful at drawing at school, blunt pencils, no idea what to look for, no idea how to begin, with others around me doing accurate, careful, BELIEVABLE drawings. I there and then decided that I couldn’t draw and have been convinced of that ever since.
Our weekly “no peeking” drawing sessions were beginning to beat down the barriers. Without them, I would never have even considered painting with pencils. But the fortuitous publication of the article in “Leisure Painter” and my frustration that circumstances were cutting into painting time , galvanised me into action. I have bought a box of 20 landscape watercolour pencils from Caran D’ Arche, giving me a good selection of related tones, and the recommended hot pressed paper pad.
This is my first attempt – a very simple landscape. I did the drawing and dry colour over an hour and a half in comfortable companionship in the sitting room, adding the water to the painting while waiting for the dinner to cook! There is a tendency to colour between the lines which I must guard against. The direction and style of brush stroke informs the way the wetted paint reacts and I also discovered that much more intense colour is released if I work into the wet surface.
So I tried again with a more complicated view. Here is the pencil work, again produced quietly over time.
And here I have added water. The picture warms as the paint is released, but some of the textures are retained (intentionally!) This is going to be an exciting project after all, not just a way of coping with circumstance. Living is a wonderful thing.
You must be aware by now that I am bothered about my painting. So much of what I do dissatisfies me, so much is just all right, and I feel I’m travelling backward, getting worse instead of better. I have been casting around, first to identify the source of the malaise and then to cure it. This is not a trawl through my emotions so that I can enjoy a good moan and maybe curry some sympathy. I’m hoping by sharing this state, other artists recognise it with a sigh and even some suggestions, or that new artists will not be dismayed by it if it strikes them.
OK. I know I’m not painting enough. Constraints of time and place see to that. And I’m not practising drawing enough either. Indeed, I think this is the chief stumbling block to progress. I have gone as far as I can using various drawing crutches and must use a pencil more to explore shape in detail, thereby freeing my brush to work spontaneously. It makes you look hard at what you are trying to represent, at both positive and negative spaces. A recent article by David Bellamy in “Leisure Painter” suggested a way forward. Using watercolour pencils, he created beautiful atmospheric paintings. This seems a way of encouraging the patience needed in pencil drawing while satisfying my love affair with fluid colour. A new student of mine is using just this medium with great success, so it should not be impossible for me to make some progress within my constraints.
Maybe also I am missing the focus provided by “the Bridges of Dee”. The five or so years involved in sourcing the images and painting them gave me a ready made theme for my paintings, without that I am unfocused. Well, I can’t go on safari, or chase down another river to follow, but I have the garden to hand. Right on cue, “The Artist” has an article by David Curtis on “The lure of the garden”, one by Judi Whitton on “Creepy-crawly drawing”, and another By Claire Harkess in which she exploits space in her wild life paintings. When you add to that a thought provoking discussion of the motif by Andrew Marr, you will appreciate my resolve to follow the spider and “Try Again”.
Isn’t he a dear! His ears are so big that I think he must be an African elephant, though babies do have big appendages. But even he won’t do for my Meander book pockets.
Years ago we acquired a regal red-glazed elephant who was immediately named The Elephant Of Distinction (I like Kipling’s Capitals). He graced our room for some years in splendid isolation, and was then joined by one entirely other. This elephant was bronze-glazed, caparisoned, schematic, dumpy, and was just as immediately dubbed The Elephant Of No Distinction But Infinite Charm. My daughter has used this image for two embroideries,
and I thought he would be ideal for the effect I was seeking. Here is a line drawing.
My intention is to make a lino print, excavating TEONDBIF but printing the background in various colours, then dressing him by hand. Simple, colourful, satisfyingly repetitive but varied at the same time.