Saturday, 18 May 2019

New Paintings and Some Great Exhibition News

'Walking Towards a Shared Future,' oil and acrylic on canvas, 120 x 160 cm

This week I received some good news: this painting has been selected for the 8th Beijing International Art Biennale which this year will be showcasing artwork from 125 countries and will open on 30th August 2019. I was really pleased to find that my painting will be included and it will be my third time in this Biennale (previously, 2015/2017) and my second international art Biennale this year.

I painted this specifically for the Biennale which had the theme of 'A Colourful World and a Shared Future.' I was thinking about how the world is not groupings of separate living organisms; we all rely on one another - people, animals, plants, insects - in order to survive. The world is one organism. I was also thinking about my own relation to nature which is a deeply spiritual one and how I love to 'go missing' in the land. This could be described as my archetypal landscape because my favourite journeys always include mountains, distant vistas, colourful fields and fruit trees, and a pathway to a metaphorical future. In this case the path is conveyed by coloured bricks to represent mankind and the communities around the world and also our connection with everything else. I always feel that art can give messages to people and I hope mine is a joyful one full of optimism.

I painted this large canvas fairly last minute as so much else happened last year and I was only 5 weeks before the deadline for posting the submission materials in December! I had an idea of what I wanted to paint, the two figures being pivotal to the expression, but other than that I let the image develop and find its own colours and shapes. It is a bit more figurative than some of my recent work but I have never seen myself as an artist who can only go along one line.

Meanwhile, this week I worked on 2 new paintings which are also based on my feelings about being in the landscape and which I will post soon.

To be continued.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

How I know When a Painting is Finished: Changing Your Mind is Ok!

'The Black Road,' acrylic on canvas, 50 x 60 cm, 2019

For this post I'd like to write about re-assessing paintings, whether they are recent or older works.

I frequently change my view on a painting, regarding whether it's finished or not, either a few days after working on it or sometimes months or years later. 

The painting above was, I thought, not finished and when I wrote about it a few posts back I said I would work on it more. At this point in time I'm seeing it as finished though as artists we can always change our minds and sometimes it's impossible to resist the call to work on something further! I've destroyed several paintings through this call, though there's no need to panic because they simply become something else.

'Sun Fan and Coast,' acrylic on canvas, 50 x 60, 2019

The more I paint the more I let time elapse before committing myself to the idea of 'finish' and for this reason I often work in series. There may be one element which I may not like which later I can find a way to integrate, or some elements which need painting over. Sometimes though, a painting is finished according to its own terms and a better idea is to start another or several others. This nearly always allows me to see if I truly need to continue or if I have merely become bogged down in irelevancies. Another example of a painting I was going to work over is 'Sun Fan and Coast,' inspired by a recent visit to Cyprus.

I'm realising more and more that if re-working a painting will change it in to something completely different, or adding things will over-complicate it or disrupt the composition, it may be better to put it aside and start something else. The reason I now feel this painting is complete is because I feel comfortable with the composition and message.

Here is another painting I looked out recently to repaint, as I sorted through work from a few years ago, but then I decided it is ok; it works within its own terms and also I have lost 'contact' with it. I can not see any particular element I want to change. One of the reasons I have posted it is because seeing a thicker application of oil paint, with textures worked in to the paint, has given me inspiration for my current work. Painting is like a spiral of ideas back and forth, up and down, everything feeding into everything else.

'My Somewhere Else,' oil on board, 45 x 35 cm, 2016

Over the years I have learned to feel more able to let a painting stand still until I feel connected enough to it to allow further work, or a totality appears to my eyes that suddenly feels complete. It certainly needs a lot of looking at work; quiet moments to just sit and try to see what is happening.

The magic of creativity in painting is that you may not see things the same way from day to day. I'm working on a large watercolour and today when I looked at it some elements jumped out at me in a way they had not appeared when I last viewed it - and these elements now seem complete - while others, which I thought were resolved now appear in need of either more emphasis or to be taken out completely. 

Finally, here is one I am still working on. I find the hardest part of painting is the last stages when your moves, like a chess game, become narrower - unless you decide to totally work over the image and start again. This painting was inspired by the realisation that this year I was finding it hard to 'let go' of winter for many reasons. Somehow the colours of winter and the dark days felt cosy and safe, with skeletal branches transformed to bright colours by sunlight, marvellous soft tones, sudden shadows drifting across blocks of trees and fields. I thought about winter as an image in which a figure is shedding a winter coat at the first signs of Spring. This one has been waiting for 2 weeks now because I want to think really carefully before my next moves.
'She Threw Off her Winter Coat and Headed Towards Spring,' acrylic and ink on canvas, 2019

Friday, 26 April 2019

An Acrylic Painting in Progress: Ideas and Insights

'The Deluge,' stage 1, acrylic on canvas, 70 x 50 cm
As a second post today I'm posting another canvas I'm currently working on. I began from marks (above) which were not planned but I had been thinking about the chaos and sadness of the world, in particular the explosions over Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. I wanted to paint about a deluge but with light appearing over the distant mountains. Rivers, waterfalls and mountains often are a source of material for me though I tend to use them partly as metaphors for human existence or as shapes to build an idea upon.

In the second stage, below, I have begun tweaking elements and introducing more light. While the other painting, 'Coastal Poem,' posted earlier today, went through many changes before I began to find a form for my ideas, (and the ideas evolved while painting), this one seemed to take on a form quite early on and I have not strayed too far from that composition. I decided to modulate the tones and brightness of certain colours to see if it helped the meaning and composition and consequently the painting has become brighter. 

When I paint I like to think about the sources of my ideas and mark making. I don't want to know too much or else it could become a formula, but I'm always sifting through and trying to widen my approaches, while concentrating also on paint itself and what magic it can create. 

'The Deluge,' stage 2, acrylic on canvas, 70 x 50 cm
To be continued!

Inspired by a Visit to Cyprus

''Coastal Poem: Night, Day,' acrylic on canvas, 50 x 60 cm

It's been a while since I have posted anything on this blog. My posting was cut in to by a visit to Cyprus. I went to see my sister-in-law and visited my mother-in-law's grave as she died in February, just a few days before the 1st anniversary of my mother's passing. It was my second visit to Cyprus this year.

New imagery from a change of environment always forces its way in to your imagination, whether you want this or not. Since my return, I have begun work on 5 new canvases and naturally some Cyprus elements have begun to appear if only in the intensity of colour and light. 

Cyprus inspired acrylic on paper

I'm still working on the waterfall painting which I posted in March and I find that working on more than one painting allows a rhythm to be set up and elements cross-pollinate between paintings. Also, I feel less pressurised about any one painting so become braver in making changes!

Creating and maintaining an artistic rhythm is so important to being an artist. As a student you have all day in the studio to focus on and develop ideas but out in the 'real' world that time often has to be fought for. Right now I'm fitting painting in between rearranging an entire flat - necessary because my mother lived with my husband and me and there are all her belongings to sort through - and also I'm finally sorting through numerous canvases and doing a kind of artistic 'stock-taking.'

'Paphos Lighthouse Remembered,' acrylic on watercolour paper (painted in Nicosia, March)
I will post more paintings very soon as they are finished.

Friday, 22 March 2019

How I start a Painting; A Painting in Progress

'The Sound of the Waterfall Woke Me,' acrylic on canvas, 80 x 60 - STAGE ONE.

One of my ongoing themes is Waterfalls. I am painting this theme using several processes and with a focus on colour.  I have always liked tall vertical canvas shapes (as well as long horizontals) which allow you to explore the possibilities of conveying a sense of movement through colour and shapes. With this particular canvas I began with the 'drips' of water running down the canvas and a neutral, dark brown background. I built shapes in to the rivulets all the time thinking about sounds of water and water falling across rocks. 

My composition was also based on the unexpected sight of the waterfalls running down the mountains in Beigou, China, when I arrived sleepily early one morning in August 2016. I set myself a task: to combine verticals, shapes, movement and mark making with the starting point of this memory.

The painting, (stage two above) threw up lots of questions about how to accommodate these disparate shapes and colours into an image with both space and movement. I have to think about what kind of space I want and where my priorities lie; do I want abstraction and how much, or am I going to include landscape forms? I realised as I painted today that I want a layering of abstraction and calligraphy with a suggestion of place, though place is not so important as the image working correctly in its own terms. I had to add some yellow-green at the top, to open out the top of the canvas and give an illusion of 'sky,' and spatially it does help. I also set back some of the calligraphic marks, erased some, and simplified some of the edges of the painting. However, it is still bothering me and will need quite a bit more work to sort both the space and the composition which I feel does not yet gel. Parts may need lightening or erasing; I may need to take out parts I like in order to create that marriage of colour, calligraphy and abstraction. 

Some parts in stage one may even need to be re-established in stage two - which is why it is good to have photos of previous stages! (I'm thinking especially of the crimson colour on the middle right side of the painting which seems to be necessary now.)

Questions which are on my mind: how far do I want to flatten the space and simplify certain abstract elements? Do I need to darken or lighten colours? Do I need to focus so much on the illustrational, rock-like elements or are they just holding up the composition? (Though some darks seem to be needed). Could I express the idea of the waterfall in a simpler way?

I chose to post a painting that I'm having problems with because often we tend to see only finished work which makes the artist's job looks as if there was no wrestling with the image when the truth is that no artist finds resolution easy. Also, I wanted to show how a painting at a difficult stage with suggestions of how it might proceed. Many of my artist friends also take their paintings through several stages and my best work often comes out of the 'mess' and doubts.  

To be continued!

Saturday, 16 March 2019

An Guide to Acrylic Paint and some Acrylic Paintings in Progress

Some of the brands I use
As mentioned last time, I'm going to write about the acrylic paint I use and why I favour certain types. 

I often alternate between acrylic and oil paint and for speed I'll start with acrylic to get some ideas and textures onto canvas as the seed of an idea. I actually prefer oil paint, for the sheer physicality of the material, but recently I've used acrylic paint more because I've been able to explore fluidity, layering and the kind of approach I've been using in my ink on rice paper series. The thing I like best about acrylic paint is that it dries really fast so I can keep working on a painting all day. Oil paint can take days to dry before I can continue, depending on how thickly the paint has been applied.

So far I've used five brands. 

I started with Liquitex which is a good paint - I prefer the 'heavy body' because I can use a painting knife with it and also it can be thinned with water or acrylic mediums - and gives good intensity of colour. However, sometimes it can feel a bit 'plastic.' I often use it as a foundation to paint in oils on top of, though I have paintings which use only this brand.

I also use certain earth colours from the Windsor and Newton 'Galeria' range because generally earth colours are fairly permanent and this is a cheaper range. However, the consistency is not the best and I would only recommend it to extend your stock of paint and not for sole use. It mixes nicely with other brands though.

Most recently, I have begun to use a paint I bought in Nicosia (available in the UK too) which is Daler Rowney Cryla heavy body acrylic. It is a professional quality and it has a great intensity of colour, you can use it with a knife and also thinned like watercolour. If you paint with it on watercolour paper, you can keep layering over and over and simply erase inadequate areas with white - I posted a few small works on paper recently which used this acrylic on paper. Here is one which was worked with thick and thin acrylic paint, with erasures as part of the image. Some white areas in the sky section were the result of painting over darks I did not want.

'Night Roads,' acrylic on rough watercolour paper
Two other brands I have tried are the Vallejo  and Sennelier. 

Vallejo so far has been satisfactory though I have only tried one quite transparent colour so I would need to try more colours to get a fair idea. The intensity of colour was good. 

I think perhaps the best acrylic I have tried so far has been the Sennelier range though they are quite expensive. I've always found that with paint you get what you pay for and this range is the nearest to oil paint I have found; non-plastic in feel, and really rich colour-wise. Sennelier brings back memories of Paris last December when during my participation in the Salon des Beaux Arts exhibition (Louvre) I found by chance the Sennelier shop not far from the Louvre! The range of materials in the shop was incredible and I have posted photos in my Paris Louvre post, December 2018.

Another acrylic paint brand I have yet to try but friends constantly recommend is the Golden heavy body acrylic paint. I know artists who only use this and certainly if you have allergies to oil paint and turpentine this would be a good substitute.

Generally, there are 'heavy body' acrylics which are stiffer and more like oil paint and 'flow' acrylics which can be used for watercolour effects.

'Black Road', acrylic on canvas, 60 x 50 cm

So now on to some examples being worked with acrylic. The two canvases I am posting were begun yesterday. 

I began both by painting a wash of colour on to each canvas.  'The Black Road,' had a layer of varied, golden-lime. I wanted to be able to play with calligraphy on top of this, like using the off-white of rice paper with ink drawing on top, while keeping areas of flat space. With much of my work it's a case of putting things down and seeing what happens. I want to explore abstract elements of colour and mark making and pattern yet also allude to my love of moving through landscape.  This one is being considered with the usual doubts and dis-satisfactions because I'm not happy with the area on the right (upper part) and I wanted the flat, yellow-lime to have more texture. Also, one of the things I love about ink on rice paper is the way you can create particular areas of darks and lights and I feel this needs more. My husband, of course, tells me to leave it alone, but most times I follow my instinct. It just seems to need more 'weight' though what that is has yet to be discovered. (Update on this work and the one below is in a post of May 8th 2019.)

'Sun Fan and Sea,' acrylic on canvas, 60 x 50 cm

This second painting was painted over a pale turquoise colour with some variations of soft brown. I like to set a 'trap' for my image, and a visual memory of recently taking off from Cyprus in the dark and seeing just a few ripples of the sea between the clouds was part of the inspiration. At the same time, an image of the sun as a fan kept popping in to my mind! I have no idea how this one will proceed but I'm not happy with the composition because, for me, it is just too predictable, and also the paint does not have the layering and contrast of dark and light that I am seeking. I like to push beyond whatever seductive qualities an early version might have.

It may be in the end that I work both of these with oil paint, or eradicate them quite severely - but in the meantime I will make some small sketches to see if I can work out further elements. Since sorting paintings on to shelving in my studio-in-progress, I have found older work to finish, and work I thought needed finishing but is in fact ok. It takes time for one's vision to truly 'see' the work which is why I don't mind going back to old work, and I never feel that a painting can not be retrieved. Doubt and Revision are an artist's companions.

 I'm also starting some new, vertical 'waterfall' series canvases which will be worked with oil paint once I get in to my studio which is half-way ready. Next time I will write about my favourite oil paints and how this medium influences my painting approach.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

The Importance of a Studio for Artists to Paint

'Safe Passage,' Work in Progress, 93 x 78 cm, acrylic on canvas
There have been times in my life (notably during my 14 years in Cyprus) when I had a studio, and times when, as recently, I've been working in my large living room-kitchen area. While I was still able to get work done, even large scale canvases, it is simply not the same as having your art reference around you and a space where you can leave things set up permanently and can walk straight in to a particular 'mind set.'

'Night Roads,' acrylic on rough watercolour paper, small
 At the moment I'm totally re-organising my flat and making my mother's bedroom into a studio. Some great shelving units are helping me to archive and organise canvases, and freeing up floor space. The process of going through older work and evaluating newer work has been extremely positive because I can see work that really needs tweaking and can set these aside to repaint. It's always good to see that you can spot inadequacies that you couldn't see at the time! I've also found that being able to put my personal art references on the wall - these could be anything; newspaper cuttings, photos, postcards of work I admire, drawings, paintings on paper, rough biro drawings on scrap paper - is very useful because it keeps ideas flowing and relevant.

'Early Light,' acrylic on watercolour paper, small
Setting up my studio has also helped me see ways forward because while stacking paintings on shelves, certain elements shout out as relevant and certain elements appear to be 'red herrings' or simply a mess and unfocused. Artistically, it really allows an over-view of the work in general. When I was in my studio in China during my Fellowship (2016 - please check my website for details), I found that being able to lay my ink paintings all around me on the floor and put my canvases across the walls allowed for a great cross-pollination of ideas. Mainly this is because a lot of my work is 'process driven' and I like to play with different elements to weld an image together.

'Landscape,' acrylic on rough watercolour paper
My studio is not large, compared to some studios, but I think it is the whole psychological idea of being able to close a door and get in to The Zone that is the best part of it!

Posted this time; a work in progress (from my waterfalls theme), and some of many recent small works on paper. Some may form the basis of new themes.

Next time I will be posting photos of my studio, and also writing a 'Personal Guide to Painting Materials,' with descriptions about why I prefer certain paints. 

Future posts will include Part Two of my working process with examples of how my ideas emerge from different sources and from the materials.