Using Loss of Control to Your Advantage

It occurred to me recently that, not only is the painting of each piece of art out of my full control, but, so is the whole adventure. No longer do I, or can I, plan what a painting might look like.  Neither, can I plan where I’m headed on this journey in the short or long term!

Firstly, the act of painting.

I’ve been “planning” a couple of things. One is, to mix some more original colours before I start and make the paintings more authentically mine.  Also, I’ve had lots of ideas for design starting points.  I seem to collect heaps of them for just this purpose! 

But, it just doesn’t happen folks.  The gear is laid out, the paper ready and in I go, with minimal, if any, thought of my plans, loose as they may be.  Stuff just happens, as it did in the first stage of the painting above, leaving me with the job of deciding what “it” wants and following the leads.

At this next stage, below, I’ve collaged on some paper, some of which is thickish handmade paper. I’m wondering if it’ll last the distance? But, hey, I’m not in charge, so who cares.

I pressed on with it, feeling both out of control and excited.

It seemed like a good idea to digitally explore the possibilities so I used a photo editing app to play about with the paintings. Using the “whiten” feature I designed various sky shapes. Two variations are shown below.

I ended up with heaps of options! Which to choose!?

Below, I’ve painted the first layer of white paint for the sky shape of the selected option. Then, it tells me, “fix” that big blue bit at the bottom.

So, I did that, but still not happy …. it needs a little something?

It’s only minor but I added some graphite outlines and emphasised others. But! It’s still out of control! I can’t seem to “like” it enough for it to be finished. Not sure it should even exist! (It may be the first layer of something else.)

So, you can see, there really isn’t any way to control where a painting will finish up when working like this. There may be more to do on this one, or it might be painted over. These developments, however, inevitably lead to new ideas and discoveries, both welcome and unwelcome!

Secondly – overall plans for the year.  I made a few in some areas, such as a small list of themes or “subjects” to tackle!?  But, you guessed it.  We’re not on track there either. We’re off somewhere looking for something else, with no idea what it is!

Now, to be fair to plan making, my art and I are heading in the general direction that I planned. I’m making art and moving forward with associated stuff. It’s just that our route is taking us on a few unforeseen deviations along the way.  It makes for a more interesting trip. Who knows where we’ll finish up!

Do you suspect, as I do, that art might be different to a lot of other things, in that all this change and redirection of effort can successfully be allowed to happen? It can lead you to the unknown but pleasing goal you didn’t know you had!  The one you were not obliged to achieve.  And along the way you created paintings that you didn’t know you were going to paint.

New Paintings

Here are two new pieces that have been listed on Bluethumb.  Click the images for more information.

“Shardonnay Mountain” 71cm wide x 67cm high
“Stay Cool” 68cm wide x 66cm high

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Why Do We Need a Why?

There’s lots information out there about needing to have “something” to offer in order for people to connect with us or want our art. A point to argue or illustrate.  A cause to champion.  A story to tell.  A theme.  A colour palette.   A mood.   A consistent feeling or look, and so it goes on.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not really into having to “provide” all that anymore.  To justify what I’m doing with “art wank”.  (As MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, here in Hobart calls it.) Besides, you can’t please everyone!  Either people appreciate what you do or they don’t.  I paint because I want to paint.  Simple! 

Sure, it’s nice when others approve, purchase a piece or a painting gets an award, but these things are short-lived and not the main motivating force as I work. There may be themes, colours, a cause or a story to tell, but they will have arisen internally as part of the process, not because it’s an external requirement. In fact most of my art is informed play that may become a painting …. if the art gods are willing.

Landscape is my thing and there are many reasons why that is so.  It varies all the time and I love the variety as much as I love making art.  I don’t feel I need a big overarching reason.  Making art is making art …. an experience to be enjoyed.

It’s an inquisitiveness that drives me.  A need to try some things, learn and discover, see what is “out there”, or “in there.” To make an image, that becomes a record of this wonderful process.

ART is a big word!

It’s a privilege being “in charge”, consciously or not, of this creative “thing”.  And it is a big “thing” because it becomes bound up with your very existence.  Creativity and making art has been my companion as long as I can remember. It doesn’t define who we are, it’s just what we love to do.

I know of artists that have “worked” almost right up to their last breath.  A local artist I know has failing sight but it doesn’t come anywhere near curtailing her art activities.  She’s an inspiration.  It’s a need and a love of doing it that drives us forward. Not the idea of making something for others.

Can artists choose to just enjoy making art and viewers just enjoy looking at it?

No commentary, philosophical reasons or wordy explanations.

Pure enjoyment for all!

I may be oversimplifying it, but sometimes I think we could do with more appreciation of the simpler side of things.

New Paintings

Here are two new pieces that have been listed for sale on Bluethumb.  Click the images for more information.

“Catchment” 98cm wide x 68cm high
“Persistence” 40cm wide x 40cm high

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Details Without Fuss (or the Devil!)

There are some wonderful treasures that present themselves to artists.

(A favourite detail. A tree that happened by chance.)

I start my paintings with a layer of playfully random marks. After each layer I take a photo for my records. Occasionally, there’s a painting that draws my attention more strongly, keeps me absorbed, finding more and more areas of interest. Sections to use as focus areas, places to hold a viewer’s attention or to spark ideas for new work. Indeed, my Instagram feed is loaded with such images!

The details or areas of greater interest that I speak of here are happenstance, random and unplanned. Yet, they forthrightly demand my attention, my glance and my imagination. Often, on a scale much greater and stronger than those that I could plan.

(I love the freedom and fun of these details.)

Chance details are suggestive, not prescribed. They are open, often ambiguous and beautiful to look at. They leave much to the viewer to determine for themselves. It’s an adventure where everyone’s interpretation can be their own.

(This is a detail from “Veil” (below). A great one to inspire another landscape on a larger scale.)

Have you experienced circumstances where one person can see something in an image, yet others must strain, not visually, but imaginatively, to see it? It’s one reason why I have come to enjoy non-realistic or abstract paintings so much. I know there is great skill in painting realistically because I have attempted it myself. I also know artists that “do” realism to perfection. Now though, I much prefer to create art that leaves a lot of the interpretation to the viewer and let’s me create with freedom.

I like to think that my past experience and knowledge emerge automatically to help me as I create. (Learning to trust yourself and your judgement is the key I think.) It leaves room for a more relaxed, playful process. Treasures and chance effects can emerge into the openness of abstract creation but they would be locked away should I insist on depicting purely what I see.

(Look at all the details in this. Too many for me, but there’s lots of inspiration and ideas.)

“The devil is in the detail” they say! Concentrate on the detail too much and it will be to the detriment of the whole image, stifling any sense of creative freedom. Too much fussy detail will do the same, giving the viewer too much to interpret or worse still, nothing to interpret! Of course detail overkill can happen with any painting.

By the same token though, a beautifully executed hyper realistic painting can take your breath away. In these works the detail serves a purpose, it’s not included just for the sake of it, to prop up a poor design, or because it’s there and the artist’s eye sees it all. These details work with everything else in the painting to unify the whole work, not to “rescue” it.

(I took the lines for a walk in this one using wedges and pencil. The dragging creates some wonderful effects.)

It can definitely be a challenge walking the fine line between just enough and overkill.

A bit of Luck!

“Veil” is exhibited at the Huon Art Awards at Cygnet here in Tassie. To my surprise it was awarded Highly Commended in the Acrylic Section. The exhibition is in the Cygnet Town Hall, open daily 10 to 4 until 20 March.

“Veil” 60cm wide x 70cm high

New Work

“Revelation” is available unframed on Bluethumb. Bluethumb offer an easy to use framing service where your artwork is framed during its journey to you.

“Revelation” 60cm wide x 70cm high

“Another Turn” is a small 20x20cm ready to hang painting that I’ve listed this week.

“Another Turn” 20cm wide x 20cm high

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Working With Wedges

I’m continuing my explorations with the wedges I bought recently. It’s amazing how many random sundry items can be used to drag paint around a piece of paper, old credit cards, cardboard, kitchen utensils……!

(Paint dabbed on direct from the tube then pulled across the paper.)

It’s just so much fun. I find it hard to stop myself from overdoing it and ending up with a muddy mess!

You can also scrape into the paint with these wedgy devices to create interesting effects. Even combs meant for hair provide interesting marks, as long as you don’t go overboard. Finally, a use for those head lice combs I had for the kids!

(I’ve used an old comb and my wedges here.)

They really are a recipe for fun, experimentation and adventure. The hard part is balancing the excited kid and creating an image with a hint of artistic finesse! “Revelation” which I’ll be uploading to Bluethumb soon, was a success story in this regard. Here it is after the first restrained session.

(The beginning of “Revelation”)

With something like this you tend to become tentative about what to do next for fear of wrecking everything. This time I opted to paint in a sky shape quickly and step away. (Must maintain that fresh quality).

Anyway, this is how “Revelation” turned out. It’s one of the lucky ones in that I was able to hold back from overworking things. It felt so good but it means everything happens so fast!

(The completed “Revelation”)

I said to some fellow artists last week that I need a helper, not to do bits of painting or other things, but to stand beside me and snatch my tools away at the most opportune moment in a painting’s development.

I’m about to start some new larger wedgy ones so we’ll see what develops there.

I took some wedge type tools with me on our recent plein air outing. I was hoping it would help make my sketches looser. In the process I discovered a couple of new ways to use them.

(Plein air sketch using wedges and a big graphite crayon for drawing.)

New Work

“Table Cape” and “Dominion” (cousins of “Revelation”) have been uploaded to Bluethumb. They’re both unframed but Bluethumb offers a great framing service.

“Table Cape” 68cm wide x 25cm high
“Veil” 68cm wide x 28cm high

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Art is a Fickle Business

One minute you’re all set to race off in one direction then, something new shows up.  Don’t get me wrong though.  It’s is not a bad thing!

Limiting myself or my art to a particular style seems counter-productive. There”s way too much to do and that’s without any new ideas or discoveries that come up.  The enthusiasm would wane if I imposed limitations on style. I need to be able to take full advantage of unplanned, random “opportunities”.

(“Play things” with a license to be fickle!)

While working on this issue of Studio News, an example of how things can change unexpectedly emerged.

I was processing progress photos of the day’s work and some needed rotating. It turned out that one was better upside-down! In my eyes at least! In the group of four progress shots below you can see the difference. I guess we’re conditioned to see land as darker than sky most of the time anyway.

(Stages 1 to 4 of a current exploration.)

As I pondered, my mind went off on a tangent, automatically brainstorming, the implications and possibilities, as well as how to resolve this painting? This change of direction (literally!) might see me veer off on yet another exciting tangent. I don’t know yet, but I can feel “something”.

It was only a minor fickleness episode but it could change the course of this painting and my art generally. Who knows! It’s a big adventure.

Another painting in the series has shown me something else to investigate. Layer one didn’t cut it, nor did layer two. So I plastered some 3 in 1 paint over the whole shebang. Now I have a background that I really like and it’s asking for something. I don’t know what. It’ll be a waiting game I suspect. An incubation period. Another adventure.

(Layers 1, 2 and 3, top to bottom)

Sometimes, it really is difficult to know what to pursue and what to forget. I think the only way to cope with all this fickleness might be to act on impulse. You know, those sudden intuitive directives that say “just do this, or that” or “what if we do this?” Be impulsive and fickle right back, test the fickleness, use it. Trust your judgement and intuition. Don’t be predictable. Instil a little adventure and excitement into the process and let it show.

New Work

“Trackwork” and “Swell” are now listed on Bluethumb

“Trackwork” 40cm wide x 28cm high
“Swell” 68cm wide x 25cm high

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Out There

One of my clear memories is a sort of feeling of release and relaxed bliss.  At some point I seem to fill up with awe at what surrounds me and the fact that I am able to be there.  There’s usually a big sigh and a feeling of peaceful contentment to follow.  Joy!

What am I rambling on about?

It’s how I sometimes feel when I’m out in the wild landscape.  Here, in Tasmania we have some wonderful bushwalks that take us out among the mountains, rivers, a multitude of various types of landscapes.  It’s where I love to be!  Even better if I can stop to sketch (an artists’ equivalent of smelling the roses!).  You may have seen the photos in the last Studio News.

These works are the beginnings of a new series – “Out There.”  It’s a broad theme which leaves my options wide open.  What will develop as I find my way around the ideas? Where will I be led?  Perhaps, in future series things will narrow down a bit and be more specific.

(This first layer could be titled “Into the Blue”! (I got carried away using my new painting wedge.) There’s a lesson there, but I’m not sure what it is? It’s either go slow, or don’t? Things can work out either way it seems.)

These photos show the first layer for two of the paintings.

(I decided to let this one be more random!)

Where to next? Sky shapes were used to define the mountain range. Later, I added more white to the sky.

I felt the urge to draw into them rather than add too much more paint. So, out came the Neocolour II crayons that I’ve had for ages awaiting this precise moment! (They haven’t inspired me much before, so we’ll see how this goes.)

(This is the painting from above after I had a little play with the Neocolours.)

There are five of these long ones (70×30cm) in the group. They’re great to just wander up to, make a few marks and wander off again. That’s one of the benefits of drawing materials … ease of use!

Is this one done yet? Perhaps!?

New Work

“Genesis” is now available on Bluethumb.

“Genesis” 54.5cm wide x 56.5cm high

Until next time and ….. as the sign someone was holding up in our street this week said …… “Keep your chin up”.

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Keeping the Momentum

Happy New Year to you all!  Let’s get into 2022.

A couple of post Christmas bushwalks in our Southwest National Park have inspired me with their fantastic scenery.  We walked up Clear Hill and then into Lake Judd a few days later.  They’re opposites scenery wise so I have a variety of influences floating about in my mind.

(Amazing conglomerate rockforms on the way up Clear Hill)
(The birth of the Anne River at Lake Judd with the Eliza Plateau behind.  We contemplated the possibility of floating down the river instead of walking back!)

Whilst these photos show the wonderful scenery I’m not aiming to paint realistically.  Rather, my aim is to bear in mind the visual forms and textures, the feel of the place and my emotional reactions.

(The hills on the way to Lake Judd.  The area was burnt about three years ago.)

Ok, enough of that.  Let’s get started on the painting!

I thought I’d show you some progress shots of a couple of paintings from a current group of seven. They’re based on memories of the above plus bits and pieces I like about “Switchback” (below).

Somehow, I’ve ended up with two different styles in this group!  (Your guess is as good as mine as to why?!)

This first one was painted over a previous non-starter (below).

(Starting point – I thought it should work well because the palette is the same.)

As you can see in the photo below, I’m well into these paintings.

First, I created the hill shapes, then I thought scumbling or glazes might be a good way to go. A bit of lifting off opened things up. I scumbled the sky with layers of white and blue, trying to make it interesting, not too flat. Adding some new colour on the hills seemed a good idea and a “lake” began to appear.

(Stage 1)
(Stage 2)

In the version shown above acrylic ink was added to the foreground. It seems a bit too samey though, so, in the next photo (below) you can see I’ve lifted off paint to lighten some areas. I also darkened parts of the foreground to create more contrast. Almost there I think. Just wondering about lightening more areas on the foreground.

(Stage 3)

Now for the other style. It’s a bit more intuitive and abstracty but still with landscape shapes.

I managed to pull this out of the random starting marks!

(Stage 1)

I felt the stage above needed more colour so I’ve added raw sienna and turquoise inks (below) plus I attacked the sky and painted over some of the drips.

(Stage 2)

I then added warm colour in the white areas but it’s not feeling finished yet. I’m still feeling uncomfortable with that light square even though it’s smaller. Can that sky do with lightening too?

(Stage 3)

A couple of the paintings in this group are tentatively finished, but I like to wait a bit in case I see things to fine tune. Some paintings say “I’m done” quite quickly while others take their time.

It’s time to think of the next challenge.

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Resolutions in December!

Things have progressed with the “On My Marks” series and it’s time to start contemplating what’s next.  I guess that’s fitting for the new year!

There are eight works at 25 x 25cm and most of them have changed quite a lot from those first marks.

“Switchback”, below, is the most successful I think.  It’s going to be the inspiration for another series shortly.  I like the way I’ve done the sky and the variety of marks and shapes that make up the “land”.

Switchback” 25cm wide x 25cm high

Reactions vary when my arty friends see me working on my art.  It’s interesting to see who likes what and sometimes, I can predict their preferences.  My own favorites will sometimes be different again.  Regardless though, I keep plugging away towards some sort of resolution.

Resolution?  It can be at one of several stages.  I might feel quite unsatisfied with things or I can be comfortable with what I’ve done to varying degrees.  The best result for me is to be feeling excited and inspired to move forward.  There’s a large range of perceptions between the two extremes of unsatisfied and excited!  The “unsatisfying” paintings are set aside, in “halfway hell”,  to be reviewed sometime in the future.  They might get a touch up if I can see something to improve, or they may end up in the reuse box.

This one has been a challenge.  A problem child that wouldn’t cooperate!  It’s going to “halfway hell” but I’m leaning towards using it for collage.

The in-between/comfortable paintings sit, waiting, until I make alterations or come to another conclusion regarding their fate.  Are they done or not?  I have to remind myself that not everything can be “exciting”.  They might still be good enough to send out into the world.

This fellow is one I feel comfortable with.  It’s almost there but I need to think about why that is the case and what I might want to do about it.

The “exciting” ones are offered for sale and entered into exhibitions.  There are only two in this series that feel “exciting” at this stage.  “Switchback” above, at the start of this Studio News, and “Refuge” below.

Refuge” 25cm wide x 25cm high

“Refuge” is one that felt exciting to varying degrees along the way.  I still like it and it’s a starter for exhibitions etc.

Bearing in mind the different opinions of others when deciding these things is fraught with danger.  I need to make the decisions myself otherwise I’ll forever feel uncomfortable about what I do with particular pieces.

I think, putting the doubtful ones aside earlier, rather than later, frees me up to build on what has been successful.  Some would prefer to keep at it, trying to resolve things, but I feel better if I put them aside and move on.  Depending on how far aside I put them, I may review things later and do more!

I wish you all a very happy and enjoyable Christmas and I hope the New Year brings all you hope for along with some nice surprises you weren’t expecting!

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On My Marks Series

I’m on the move!  With all the work for the final 2021 exhibition organised I started a new group of paintings …. the “On My Marks” series!

The above is a tiny section of a mark making and collage exercise.  It appealed to me immediately. I like the shapes and the flow of the lines.  Now that I look closer, I can see a sneaky “s” hiding in there.  It’s basically a curvy design with a hint of diagonals. That texture is nice too.  The crop won’t be translated visibly into the new work, it’s a starting point, an inspiration!

The palette of colours I’m using is one I’ve been playing with for a while.  Pthalo blue and raw umber yellowish with black and white.  I’ve added cadmium yellow light to the mix.  It’s providing some brightness and a little touch of playfulness.

(The bottom sheet are mixes made with the addition of the cadmium yellow light.)

I started with eight small squares taped together.  To begin, I made some intuitive marks using leftover paint from exploring the colour mixes.  Then, some drawing with water soluble graphite and water flicked about to create a few drips.

Standing back to look at them, I felt they needed a bit more warm colour.  So I added more marks with a raw umber yellowish mix, did a spot of drawing with a coloured pencil, made some more drips and lifted off things here and there.  Then, I left them alone to “cook” for a while.  We’ll see what I feel like after that.

It can be difficult not to plough ahead with things, but sometimes I get to a point where I know I’m just continuing for the sake of it, not because I have a useful contribution to make.

Here are two of the squares.  I’m more interested in the bottom one than the top one.  There’s still a way to go though, so don’t panic!

(The first step of these two is on the left, and the next stage, with more warmth, on the right. A little “spot the differences” moment for you!)

What to do next?  I had a look and decided to do whatever came to mind, or hand!  I started with a bit of collage, then felt I needed to lighten them up with “sky” areas.  I was led by each image as I worked.  (If they are leading me I don’t have to take responsibility do I?)

Sometimes you don’t know whether what you want to do is right or not.  No, that’s all the time really I think!  It means that you do things and immediately regret them.  I often wonder why I keep taking things further when I liked what I had at the start.  People often say that you build up a history by creating layers.  I think that’s true and I have done that successfully, but I’m not convinced it’s the only way to work.

The four images below are the two paintings I picked out to show you earlier.  I’ve done more to them now.  The first one has been turned upside down!  They’re still not done.

(I’m not sure that I like the green here.  Nor do I feel very fond of the blobbiness of the “hill”, although, there are some interesting marks in there.)
(After a bit more work.)
(I quite like the make up of the bottom part of this one.  The colour seems better somehow, even though there’s green here too.  Maybe that sky needs to be taken back to white…..or blue?!)
(This sky seems to bring it to life.)

The others are coming along too, but there’s more to do.  Either more to do or more to learn!  Painting is a learning experiece as well as a creative one.  There’s always more to learn, especially from the “duds”.

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