Art is hard

I have been continuing my project to paint memories of walking in the Peak District.  Earlier this week I got out my art kit, and a photograph I had taken in January near Stanage Edge.  I aimed to experiment with a bolder style, and some less familiar colours, including Lunar Blue from Daniel Smith (which had been a free sample).  On rough watercolour paper and working very wet, this produced a high level of granulation.  Now, an ambiguous distant image I like, but this was a bit much.  There was a rocky outcrop in the foreground and I struggled to indicate this while keeping the distant view as the main focal point.

Stanage Edge first day

In another attempt, I gave more attention to a group of trees on the skyline, but failed to make them look austere enough for winter trees.

Stanage Edge another day

Today, I tackled this subject again, with a more familiar approach, colour mixing, careful choice of brushes, and the result is below.  “Moving out of your comfort zone” is one of the clichés of art.  Painting within your comfort zone is pretty hard, actually.

Stanage Edge second day

The Art of the Radish

salad

Panic buying, because of the pandemic lockdown, has meant that many of us have a rather odd selection of food in the fridge. Nothing must be wasted, of course. And in these constricted times, small matters become a focus. My friend Liz – we are members of Dulwich Library book group – had both grabbed bags of supermarket radishes. She asked me, in a WhatsApp chat, whether I could think of anything different to do with radishes, other than just . . . well, eat them, and probably not all at once.

Later (not having come up with any exciting radish recipes) I remembered an art exercise I had been set on a course about colour at the Art Academy several years ago. The class had all bought fruit and vegetables for still life work at the nearby Borough Market near London Bridge. No expense spared. The art exercise was to investigate the impact of contrasting coloured backgrounds through a set of drawings, using soft pastel.

So here is my answer to what else you can do with radishes – draw them! Liz, more sensibly, made what looked like a delicious – and colourful – salad. Her photograph is at the head of this post, and my old drawings are below:

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Fast and loose?

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Two weeks ago, my watercolour class at Morley College had a topic of trying experimental approaches in larger scale.  One of the artists we were introduced to was Lena Gemzoe, including a video of her at work, working on very wet paper, pigment applied mostly with a plastic card.  I had a go at this, and here are two paintings I did, above and below:

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Now because of restrictions in London because of the coronavirus pandemic, I am working at home and the college is trying to offer virtual classes for the last couple of weeks.  I wanted to apply this freer approach to a real-world subject, without being too preoccupied with accuracy.  I am working on a project I have called ‘Landscape and Memory’, painting places I know but cannot visit.  Initially I have started with some of my photographs of the Peak District in Derbyshire, a place I have often walked with friends.  Here is the first:

loose and fast Today I have done two more, which are below.  I don’t think either of these are particularly good, but attempting to take a more free approach means trying things which may not work, and learning from that.  The second one, below, in particular, is bigger than I usually work, and I think that shows, especially the rather ’empty’ centre.  I am also trying to resist adding more controlled detail at a later stage.

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Who made your clothes?

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In February/March 2015, I went with a group on a painting trip to Tamil Nadu in southern India, and I have been reminded of that in the last couple of days.
The pandemic changes everything, in big ways and small. I am involved in setting up and running, with Urban Sketchers London, a Thirty Day Indoor Sketching Challenge – Day One was Thursday 19 March 2020, but you can start it any time. Link to information here.

My sketch above is on today’s theme of ‘work’ and I decided to interpret this broadly as I don’t work, I am retired. I had pulled out a bright cotton scarf to wear yesterday, and it is one I had bought at a small weaving workshop in the Chettinad area of Tamil Nadu. You could watch a weaver at work on a traditional loom – I drew this scene (very badly, but I think she was entertained by my eccentric behaviour).

After the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh in 2013, much was revealed about the poor conditions of work in textile factories globally, and the ‘Who made your clothes?’ campaign started. It struck me that (apart from some family hand knitting) the scarf represents the only occasion I have drawn someone who made my clothes.

My sketch above shows the scarf and the sketchbook.

To the Elephant

to the elephant

Most people’s ideas about the Elephant and Castle area of south London are, I think, that it is modern, and frankly a bit gritty. But did you know it features in William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night?  Twelfth Night was first performed on 6 January 1601 as part of Queen Elizabeth I’s Christmas celebrations and then had its first public performance at the Middle Temple.

Act III, Scene III:
A street. A conversation between Antonio, a sea Captain, and Sebastian, who has been shipwrecked.
SEBASTIAN:
Do not, then, walk too open.
ANTONIO:
It doth not fit me. Hold, sir, here’s my purse.
In the south suburbs, at the Elephant
Is best to lodge; I will bespeak our diet,
Whiles you beguile the time and feed your knowledge
With viewing of the town; there shall you have me.
SEBASTIAN:
Why I your purse?
ANTONIO:
Haply your eye shall light upon some toy
You have desire to purchase; and your store,
I think is not for idle markets, sir.
SEBASTIAN:
I’ll be your purse-bearer, and leave you for
An hour.
ANTONIO:
To th’Elephant.
SEBASTIAN:
I do remember.

The circumstances under which I was drawing the ‘idle markets’ of Elephant and Castle on Saturday 14 March 2020, were unexpected. Urban Sketchers London had scheduled a sketchcrawl there. Suddenly, London was hit by anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. We decided to cancel the meet-up with 24 hours’ notice. I was sketching alone at the meeting point in case people had not got the cancellation message – my sketch is above. No-one turned up but me.

Sketchbooks into paintings

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I’ve just spent five days at West Dean College in Sussex, on a short course called “Sketchbooks into paintings”, with artist Katie Sollohub as tutor.  In outline, we spent two days developing sketchbook material, including work outside in the West Dean gardens, and then three days developing paintings in the studio.  The emphasis was not simply to develop observational drawings and then make paintings of that scene, but to create images which were also based on memory and sensory experience.  We aimed to find a personal response to the place, and discover ways of creating a visual expression of our experience.

On the first evening, we started with random mark making with ink on a one-page sheet, cut and folded to create a miniature sketchbook – mine is shown above.  Next day, we had guided walks in the gardens, where we could choose to make small sketches.  We were each given a concertina sketchbook in which to work.  These we also filled with random marks in various media including coloured inks.  Below are some of the sketchbooks spread out:

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There were several exercises to draw into these sketchbooks, both out of doors and in the studio.  Here are a selection of spreads from mine:

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We had drawing exercises where we were asked to make quick sketches of line, shape, texture, pattern and sound in the landscape.  There were meditations, including one where we did a series of drawings of memories, with closed eyes.  Here is one of mine:

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My studio paintings were done in acrylics.  The tutor had planned that we should work in acrylic or oil paint, as the course had a big emphasis on altering and developing the work, obliterating sections and painting over them; watercolour is really too transparent to work in this way.  My studio painting, below, is based on the charcoal drawing:

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We did a series of studio exercises to help us develop paintings, using the material we had gathered, and our response to the place.  These were intended to develop a more expressive and innovative response, which was based on more than simple observation.  For the one shown below, we each carried out six quick studies based on one of our paintings, following the directions of the tutor.  For example: simple mark making, using the image but changing the colour, moving or removing one element, working at a different scale, and so on.

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Here, below, are the other two more finished paintings I did, although I think the bottom one needs further work:

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P3

Note added later: I have worked on the painting above, and here is the new version:

West Dean March 2020 three second version

I have so much to think about from this course.  Most of it relates to creating studio paintings rather than working entirely on location, which is what I tend to focus on.  For example:

  • developing works in series in order to explore visual ideas
  • doing very quick studies to help find ways forward with a painting
  • thinking about expression which goes beyond straightforward observation, such as how to use colour, composition, or style of marks and brushstrokes to express emotions and memories.

None of these ideas are new, it is putting them into practice which is harder.  Interesting problems.

 

 

Watercolour and the figure

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The challenge at my watercolour class this morning was painting the figure.  We had a model and the poses were mostly for five minutes.  I worked in monochrome, painting with a fine rigger brush.  It was a challenge, but useful as a way of practicing the use of the brush to make bold lines and marks.

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Heads and helmets

My drawing

Last Saturday, Urban Sketchers London met at the Wallace Collection.  I chose to draw in the Arms and Armoury Galleries, and drew a series of helmets (above).  I was particularly interested in the helmets which provided full cover for the head, and had a strange and dramatic relationship with the human face.

Continuing the theme of heads and faces, here are two drawings done in the Africa Galleries of the British Museum.  The one on the left is a grave marker from Sudan, and the other a bronze head from Benin.

Heads BM 19 February 2020

Winter sketching

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I drew yesterday from a roof garden at 120 Fenchurch Street in the City of London.  The garden is open to the public and is fairly new; the plants will become more established.  The roof garden is at the fifteenth floor and has spectacular views over London.  My fellow sketchers, Lis and Gafung, tackled the views, whilst I looked more at the structure of the new garden.

120 Fenchurch Street