Category Archives: painting

Meaning in material

I have been away on holiday to a place that I have never visited before – Spain. We stayed at a Cortijo in the hills in Andalucia about 80 kms inland from the coast. It was hot – (hotter than I had expected) although a cooling breeze generally appeared in the late afternoon. The sky was a uniform blue the whole time we were there and it was very, very dry.

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We spent our time visiting towns to see the sights: Granada and Cordoba, and spending time in the hills near to where we were staying. I took my sketchbook, but for the first few days I couldn’t write or draw in it – I needed time to absorb and think about this new landscape.

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However, an encounter with a new environment is not a blind happenstance and the experience is affected by expectations and presumptions. Of course I had seen photos of the landscape on the internet and I had a good idea about what to expect.  As E.H. Gombrich writes in Art and Illusion, ‘The innocent eye is a myth…… All perceiving relates to expectations and therefore to comparisons’. In this instance, the comparisons I made were to two long, hot summers spent in the countryside in Provence when I was in my late teens. The heat and the dryness were remembered from that time and also the smell. The landscape smelt dry – of dust, cooking and garlic, mimosa, olive trees and heat – can heat smell?

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The landscape, although new to me, had a familiarity, but nevertheless it took a bit of time to settle in and to begin to really pay attention. I drew where my eyes were drawn. I was always looking up: to the tops of the hills where jagged rocky tops were pale grey in the sun but much darker in the shadows, and to ranks of olive groves that dotted the chalky slopes; serried ranks of rounded globes that merged into a solid greeness with the contours of the hills: chalk, terracotta and green – dry, dusty, colour bleached out by the sun.

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I took my normal, minimalist drawing kit with me: a sketchbook, a black pen, a pencil, a graphite stick, a tiny box of watercolours and a couple of those brushes with a water reservoir. But these materials were wrong. They were too fluid and the colours swirled and ran into each other. This is a dry land. I needed dry materials: pastel or chalk. I wish I had picked up some of the terracotta earth to smear across the page with my finger like the cave dwellers in the Cueva de la Pileta who had drawn on the cave walls in terracotta, ochre and charcoal thousands of years ago. 

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Watercolour is for Norfolk –  a place of water and of flux and change, not for the arid dustiness of Andalucia. The materiality of even a drawing is important as it can evoke ideas of time, place and geography beyond those of the purely visual elements of shape, form and colour. Materials have meaning and consequently I’m not really happy with these watercolour drawings. Wrong materials for the place. It is certainly something to think about the next time I go away and I will have to consider my drawing kit more carefully.

 

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Light, texture, sound, movement

9am

Blue sky with a gossamer layer of misty cloud

Warm sunshine

Light movements in the air

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I’m sitting outside the studio in the sunshine. For the first time, in what seems to be weeks, the biting Easterly wind has blown itself out and it feels warm. The water is glassy with only the faintest sign of the slowly ebbing tide. The blue sky is reflected in the shallow water and combined with the sand/mud just visible below the surface, it is a dappled green/sludge/blue colour. Above me the sky is blue, but over on the horizon the colour washes away to be almost white. The pines on the East Hills are a hazy green and looking East, almost into the sun, the landscape becomes monochrome as the mud banks and marsh are silhouetted by the brightness behind.

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There is no noise coming from the working fisherman’s huts (at low tide there is less activity), but just on the pontoon to my right a couple of men are painting a boat and I can hear their companionable chatter. Most of the sounds I can hear are of birds, but looking out there is no movement – the birds are hunkering down on the marsh. Calling but not seen.

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I sit and look and wait. Immediately opposite 2 black-headed gulls start squabbling with a third gull who flies in, taunting them with food. They rise up and try to wrest it away before flying away down the channel still squawking. A tiny money spider falls onto my sketchbook and I trace its path down the page until it falls off. Two black cormorants fly fast and low over the marsh –  determined dark arrows that know where they are going.

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I hear an oystercatcher and look up, but scanning the muddy bank opposite I fail to see it. A few minutes later it appears and starts to preen itself at the waters edge – it’s reflection clear in the water. It restarts its monotonous peeping and others, feeding on the mud, take up its call. It’s a hectic conversation that sounds like a warning – keep away from my patch!

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I can also hear the contented chattering of Brent geese feeding on the marsh. Most of the visiting winter geese have left by now but there are still a few left that seem happy to over summer here. A small group of them lifts off with a burble and a flap of wing. They fly west to join the main flock, their white bottoms shining out in the sun. More geese rise up, chattering as they go, and split into groups as they hurry off to different feeding grounds.

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I get a watercolour pad and paint and start to draw. As always I start literally but after a time I loosen up and focus on two areas: the patch of mud just opposite and a flash of light that is an area of sand away on the marsh. As time goes on the light and the colours intensify. I use more dark and start to splash paint around, not trying to  represent what I see and hear exactly, but to use my imagination to capture light, texture, sound and movement.

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An artist in action

I thought I’d show you what I got up to on the ArtVanGo, Artists in Action stand at the Knitting & Stitching show last Saturday.

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The brief was to ‘do what you would be doing in your studio‘, and so as recently I have been continuing my exploration of how I can use pigments gathered from the landscape in my work, that’s what I did.

I started by grinding up red clay from the beach at Cley (I ground two batches of this: fine and coarse) and seacoal from Wells beach (fine) and then made watercolour paint with it by adding gum arabic and honey …. I made quite a lot.

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With paint in hand I started painting on Khadi paper supplied by ArtVanGo, first small pieces and then longer ones.

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Each day, as I look out of the studio window, I see the creek slowly fill and then empty as   the tide comes in and goes out each day. The muddy marsh banks and creek bed are marked by the outgoing tide with hundreds of small ‘marsh rivers’ as the water drains off the banks into the channel. The soft mud is moulded and cut through as its surface changes twice daily. I am reminded of this quote by Ian Scott and Richard Worsley from their book, The Return of the Tide

‘This is a landscape in flux. Dunes creep. New channels cut the sandflats and slow, glassy tides spread thin smears of mud to build slick upon slick into new marsh.’

I am trying to evoke the marsh surface and the movement of water in these drawings.

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I use a lot of water and a lot of paint and let it mingle and move. The coarsely ground pigment separates out as it is swilled around in the water.

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Unfortunately I can’t make my own blue paint from local earths and rocks, so I have used a ready made indigo paint to add a contrast to the earth colours. A wax resist adds light and another texture.

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My aim is to try and get the same diffuse, drippy effect on cloth as I have here on paper.

It’s amazing how much you can get done when you stand at a table for most of the day working!

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For one day only (again)

Viv and Kev at ArtVanGo have asked me to come and be one of the artist’s in residence again at the Knitting & Stitching show in Harrogate. Because I had such a lovely time at Ally Pally and, because I have to be in Harrogate to do my stint on the Studio 21 ‘Colour Notes’ stand, I have said yes!

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I will be on the Artist’s in residence stand all day on Saturday 24 November.

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I am going to be exploring ways of using the pigments that I have gathered from the environment – red clay, yellow ochre, chalk and sea coal – and I will be making paint. I will be processing the pigments in order to make watercolour paint, acrylic paint and a type of printing ink. I will then be painting and printing with them on paper and cloth (that’s the plan at least).

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These drawings use synthetic colours, but the yellow/orange colour is yellow ochre that I have collected from the cliffs at West Runton. It has been roughly ground so that the silica grains are still quite coarse and mixed with a binder so that it stays on the paper.

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I love the way the fine pigment and the silica separate out as the water and paint runs through it. It is much like the way sea or rain water would create runnels through the earth outside in the natural environment.

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These small drawings will be for sale in Harrogate …..

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and during the day I will be making some big ones as well.

Out of the window

I seem to have had a lot of waiting around recently – waiting for paint to dry, waiting for plaster to dry and waiting for clay to harden. With time to spare I’ve taken a cup of coffee, my sketchbook and paintbox and have been recording what I see out of the studio window. The ‘bones’ of the view rarely changes: look left, right or straight ahead, but the light, the weather and what my eyes alight on at any one time is different each time.

Here are the last six sketchbook drawings.

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Colour from the landscape – Painting

As promised, here are the paintings done using the watercolour paint that I made from materials gathered whilst walking in the landscape. I have named the colours: Cley red, West Runton yellow, Wells black, Hunstanton white and West Runton white.

They were done working quickly and from memory on A4 ‘rough’ watercolour paper. I also used a neutral oil pastel and a soft graphite stick. The paints make soft colours that are perfect for capturing the sights and sounds of the marshes and beaches of the North Norfolk coast.

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Brisons Veor – Drawing

Notes from my sketchbook:

Black rocks

Lichen splattered at the top

Deep, dark cracks

Waves on the rocks – coming in fast

Rocks jagged at the top

Others smooth

Seams of quartz run diagonally down

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‘After all the rain yesterday it is dry. I get up early and walk round the hump of the peninsula to Porth Ledden, a little cove to the north of Cape Cornwall. The tide is out but coming in fast. A strong, cold northerly wind – biting. Down a slippery, pebble-sloped jetty onto the beach. Rounded boulders and huge, towering black rock stacks. Sharp and smooth together. Dark crevices and lit, rounded surfaces. A beach of contrasts.’

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I drew directly into my sketchbook on the beach, but one of the aims of the week was to try and produce drawings, in the studio, away from the comfort of the sketchbook. This is something I find very hard to do and I find myself reluctant to try because I find it so difficult. I suppose there is no pressure to ‘get it right’ in a sketchbook, it is purely a personal record – marks to document something I have noticed. A stand alone drawing, on the other hand, has to work in its own right; it has to convey a sense of what the artist saw, heard and felt at the time. It is there to be looked at!

My other difficulty here is, are they drawings or paintings? I never know what to call these works. When does a drawing shift to being a painting? Is it just the media used or is it the intention? I think it is the intention. A drawing is an enquiry. It is a pulling out of information from the mind and the imagination and it is a method of thinking  – a literal drawing out. A painting, for me is what is done when the thinking has happened. It is about paint on paper and mark making and an instinctive response to what is happening  in front of you.

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These are works on paper  – drawings – that have jumped out of the sketchbook onto a single sheet of watercolour paper. My aim now is to make them jump again, this time onto a canvas ….. to become paintings. I think some of them may well go quite a lot bigger!

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The drawings are on A3 watercolour paper and I re-sized the paper of some of the drawings before starting to alter the proportions. I used watercolour, acrylic, wax resist, and ink.