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. Why not 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. 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 is this rambling on about?

It’s how I sometimes feel when 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 there’s time 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 it lead?  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.

(This one is more random!)

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

There was an urge to draw into them rather than add too much more paint. So, out came the Neocolour II crayons that have been sitting about 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?

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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Going Feral

When you receive word that your art has won an award it’s both humbling and exciting.  It makes you motivated to push the boundaries even further.  Although, I don’t think I’ll pursue this particular style further it will lead me somewhere new.

“Feral” was awarded Runner Up at a local Show

Likewise, selling a painting has a similar motivational effect. You need to make good use of these feelings by getting on with more art.

“Fusion” sold at the same show

Keeping Busy!

You know how there’s a plethora of art courses online?  Well…. just to add to my workload, I found two that I decided to squeeze in.

One, “Time to Shine” by Alice Sheridan seemed very timely and I could do with improving my social media posts etc.  There’s some excellent content and challenges to keep you busy!

The other was a Judy Wood’s workshop where I have been exploring a different way of working.  It involved collage, layering black, then some white paint and working towards an image on top of that.  I felt like I’d gone a bit feral when I covered the whole thing in black! I’m not sure I like a lot of black.

These are the paintings.

The one above was the first to feel sort of ok.  After thinking on it for a while, I made some minor adjustments in the bottom left corner. Still thinking though.

Number two here felt tentatively, almost, done after I demolished a large black area in the bottom third. That line on the left is trying to say something though?

I love how a picture can come to a point where it feels like it’s time to stop. It isn’t finished yet, you know that, but at some point, serendipity will play a part and the required touches will come to mind!  Just like magic!

Now for this little fellow.  Normally, I’m not keen on “seeing” things in my abstract work, unless I intend it of course, but for some reason I grew quite attached to this guy holding what could be a fishing rod.  Perhaps it’s treasure he hooked?  Anyway, I thought this one is a bit whimsical and could almost be declared “done”. 

However, as often happens, thoughts can change and after an incubation period all these works were all declared “feral” and unworthy of inclusion in the “finished” pile.

Back to the drawing, or painting board!

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Trying Times

Ok, so things were organised for the first exhibition on the list and it’s been fun trying out a couple of different things.  There’s a busy time coming up exhibition-wise! These three paintings were entered in our local Art Society exhibition.

“Fusion”
“Summit”
“Glacial”

Things have changed course a little at the moment. I did an online course by Bibby Gignilliat which involves greater use of collage.

It’s fun plastering pieces of paper down willy-nilly without having to think much about it. Just grab a piece you like the look of, tear it up if you want, try a placement or two and glue it down. I even graduated to spreading the glue with my fingers! Takes you back to early childhood! After all, aren’t we all trying to regain that childhood freedom in our art? It remains to be seen whether I start actually painting with my hands, we’ll have to wait and see about that one.


The image above shows the next stage in the development of one of the exercises. At this stage you’re not concerned with composition. It’s about creating a “surface/history”. I’m not sure where they’re headed yet but I do like the surface the process has created so far.

Something else I’ve been trying (thanks to Jenny Nelson) is an exercise in mark-making that leads into design and composition. You create dark marks of any sort, freely and randomly, spreading them around the paper. Then the paper is cut up into squares (I like the idea of just tearing it up too).

It’s like a jigsaw or puzzle with no image for guidance. A design forms as you play. Squares are swapped and moved about until you find something you like, then they’re glued down. Working with black and white helps you quickly see the basic design. It’s much easier to decide whether things work or not and simple to make adjustments as well.

Ok, one done, so now what?

Well, now you can use these value plans or designs in paintings. You can also alter them as you see fit, then use them, cut them up again in a different way, or make bigger designs out of several.  I’ve changed the one from above so it’s more to my liking (below).

Having a design you like that has impact, movement and interest helps the painting process in general, as well as guiding decision-making when paintings near completion. Notice I said guide. These things are not carved in stone!

I’m looking forward to where both these exercises might take my work.

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Around the Block

You know how we all have those patches where we just cannot get moving.  It seems to apply to nearly everything, not just art and it happens to me more than I’d care to mention.  The desire is there!  The ideas are there!  The gear is there!  But not the impetus to actually start!

At its worst it seems as though you will never paint again.  That might be an overstatement, but, honestly I’ve wondered at times whether my art has in fact run its race.  But then I think, “Nah, it’s been a lifelong interest!  It wouldn’t just up and leave me!  Would it?  What would replace it?  What would I do instead?”

The usual tack during these periods, apart from feeling in urgent need of help, is to nibble desperately at the edges of anything arty:  planning, reading, tidying the studio, looking at my sketchbooks, going to art activities, looking for inspiration in one of my art books and even doing housework type jobs that, in “better” times, would never be a priority!  Oh, and sometimes, in desperation, I ask Google for ideas!  You might ask whether those things work and my immediate answer would be “No”.  Maybe something might help briefly, but these things don’t get me back to that exciting “I haven’t got enough time for art” space.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about why we sometimes have to push ourselves so much art-wise and why the good times just seem to come and go as they choose?  I know I’m not the only one who has this problem and it seems that following advice from others isn’t always the answer.  Us artistic types are distinctly peculiar individuals!  We’re all moved by different things.

As it happens, this week I’ve been following a series of daily sessions from “Art is Magic” by Galia Alena and other creators.  The series is based around “creative blocks” and what you might do about them.  So far, three days in, there are a couple of things that have resonated with me.

Galia talks about creative cycles/stages.  Although I knew things always seem to somehow “come right” I hadn’t thought about the possibility that the bane of my artistic life might actually be part of the creative cycle.  That would mean it probably wont go away! “But, you need to control it, don’t you.”  That’s what we do in this day and age isn’t it?  Grab the problem by the horns and send it packing!  All well and good if it works!  But, how often should one have to repeat that process?

It’s occurred to me that some study I’ve done around creativity points to what Galia says.  Being creative or artistic seems to have cycles or stages, developing as it moves along either at a cracking pace or so slowly you wonder if it has deserted you.

I have a book by Kyna Leski titled “The Storm of Creativity”.  It’s described by one reviewer as “A definitive guide to swimming through creative chaos”.  Yep, that about sums up the problem!  The book goes into some detail with explanations of the whole dynamic creative process, which is indeed a cycle or series of stages, starting, stopping, creeping along, going full steam ahead, resting, regrouping and starting over again. 

Most importantly, she mentions that these stages are not something we can plan or schedule, but an internal process that we go through.  Ah, yes…..  So, the creative process and, by default, the creator, are subject to these uncontrollable stages!….. The quiet times are what seems like a “block”!

Back to Galia.  She recommends using the “down times” to rest, regroup, refresh and, importantly, to remain open to whatever stage of the cycle you are in.  Not to pressure yourself or mope about cursing whatever is or isn’t happening.

Resting, regrouping and refreshing, she says, should not be forced (as Kryna states they can’t be).  They should leave you open to gathering and allowing room for new ideas to develop, for your mind and circumstances to show you what is next.  It’s like a spring clean, re-organisation and opening up of your internal creative space and it cannot be controlled.  You can’t expand and become creative if you are tight and stressed about not being creative!

I think I’ll relax and plan myself some no pressure, inviting, nurturing things (arty or not) to do in my next “slow” patch.  And, most importantly, I want to try not getting anxious and obsessed with the fact that my art mojo has deserted me!  It’s just resting, re-energising and regrouping.

Does this explanation of “artists’ block” as a stage of the creative cycle make sense to you?  Is this a helpful way to look at it?

Something different …. here’s the view from the studio with one of my fans, Spook, looking in. She recently went to live with a short, dark and fluffy friend called Forest so I won’t have her company any more. It’s just our K9, Jessie, and myself now, when she chooses to visit the studio!

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A Devil in the Detail

This week I thought about how I often prefer the details and cropped portions of paintings more than I like them as a whole!

I forced myself to stop fiddling in the studio and just start painting …“because you should.”  When the painting frenzy stopped, it wasn’t a masterpiece, but, this bit was ok, maybe, that section might be alright too and perhaps this part. It’s been happening for ages now, just look at my Instagram.  So, what does it mean?

It means I had one of those “aha” moments that leads to something else, while preparing some large sheets of paper with gesso.   Usually, they are cut them up then gessoed, but feeling both lazy and more efficient at the same time, I did the whole sheet at once.  Cut it later, I thought as I slapped on the gesso.

While casually gessoing it came to me. I know! ….. Just make a painting on the whole sheet! Find the good parts later. Then chop it up!  Such a simple idea, but it seemed like a revelation at the time.

The idea came to me as a result of a subscriber’s comment on my last Studio News, “Fiddling and Floundering About” where she recommended I work big.  My reply to her was that I could feel “big” lurking somewhere.  I’ve felt it for a while now, but not paid too much attention. Small is comfortable, but…..

A couple of larger pieces were started based on a cropped design from an earlier painting (above).  Step one (below) seemed ok.

Stage two (above)!  Well …. not sure about this lot?  Waiting to see how it feels later on seemed like a good idea.  It doesn’t match up to my ideas or expectations.  (The story of an artists’ life!)

What next?  There was an interesting white shape, so I started putting on more colour and doing a bit of drawing based on that. After realising that I was only fiddling about, I forced myself to stop! (Good heavens! It’s like an app on my phone. Force start, force stop!!??)

Still not excited about this one though.  Why is that?  It started the same way as when painting small, so, in theory, you’d think it could work.  I have heard it’s not that easy to “go big” though.

Looking at the colour mixes …. too much variety and they don’t work together well.  Yucky greens.

The shapes are interesting enough, yet they haven’t inspired much.  Is it the comparative shape sizes or the number of shapes in relation to each other and/or the format? So many questions.

There are lots of mid values with some white and black.  The unsaturated version looks better than the coloured one, so, the values are not too bad, but, they could be designed better perhaps?

The initial big black brush marks don’t work design-wise.  They seem to cut through on top of the other shapes, taking over (especially in the saturated photo).

The big question now is, persevere with this one, try to find some crops to use, or start again?

Perseverance seemed unbearable so I tried to find some nice crops, but could only find small ones …. a signal to start afresh. It just ain’t “special” enough. No point flogging a dead horse!

So, what’s next!

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Playing back in the Studio

You have a plein air sketch or an idea you’d like to work with! Now what?

The first thing to do is check what you like or don’t like about it. What do you feel comfortable with? What feels like the place and what doesn’t? Does it rekindle the feelings and emotions of the day? How can you translate those into studio works? Can you crop it to create new compositions? Is there something, anything, you can improve on, that, with the benefit of hindsight, will better create the mood? Or, does it in fact lead you in another direction?

These two crops were chosen from the sketch above. They’re reminiscent of landforms near where the sketch was made. The compositions and the marks within them are also quite pleasing.

Sometimes, sketches lead to work that’s not related to the original work. It might be that you’ve seen something that sparks an idea and it leads you in a different direction.

When beginning this type of thing I need to be careful because, if I try to copy the sketches, things probably won’t go well. It’s hard to reproduce a sketch as a studio piece, difficult to capture the same feeling.

Using the best elements from the crops to begin new paintings is an open way to start. One piece began with collage and the other with acrylic paint.

Collage version

Stage 1 (below) – A collage layer (well, three pieces of collage at least) with some graphite line work, a bit of spatter and a few splashes of water for good measure. It feels ok at the moment. Nice those diagonal lines.

Stage 2 (below) – Adding colour and scratching out. Not sure about this? It feels disjointed. Still like the diagonals!

Stage 3 (below) – I’ve added blue paint to remove two white areas and it feels much better. Wondering about that dark piece of collage now?

Stage 4 (below) – Adjusted that left hand side patch of light blue, making it white again and added some marks. It looks a little better but I’ll wait a while to see how it feels. Still wondering about the black piece of collage.

Acrylic Paint version

Stage 1 (below) – Started with playful application of paint and line. It feels free. So far so good.

Stage 2 (below) – Something told me to turn it upside down, add some paint pen lines and spray with water! Oh dear? It’s too busy now and it’s lost the freshness. Looks a bit grubby too.

Stage 3 (below) – Okay, lets wipe off a whole lot of stuff. In an attempt to tame the image down I rolled white paint over the parts I’d wiped away. It didn’t help! (Forgot to take a photo.) Perhaps there are too many drip lines as well?

Stage 4 (below) – Applied some paint to the sky with a rag and felt better about it so I played around in the foreground. It feels better now. Not sure if it’s done yet.

Neither painting is finished at this stage. As you can see, one thing grows from another and the result may or may not be something you like. If it ends poorly you console yourself with the fact that it was an enjoyable process exploring the idea and increased your stockpile of experience. The work and or memories of the experience may surface again at any time to help your creativity along.

ADDENDUM

Subsequently, the finished painting, “Glacial” (below) won a Commended Award at our Art Society of Tasmania Annual exhibition and it sold as well. After the ups and downs of its creation, who would have thought that would happen?!

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Journey’s End – We made it!

Sometimes a series of paintings just won’t co-operate, or is it me not cooperating?  Luckily, things went pretty smoothly with this lot!  The photo above is a detail from “Plunge”.  Do you like the way the water has moved the paint around? I love how the splashes of colour in the corner make way for the black to take center stage.  It’s just a crop, but it may lead to ideas, who knows?!

(“Plunge” 20cm wide x 20cm high)

Things can change at any stage in a painting’s development.  It makes for a very exciting and adventurous process It can sometimes feel exhilarating and at other times, downright depressing.  I learnt that “it may not work” during a online course in 2020 and I’m starting to accept it more and more.  It means that results don’t matter as much as the process, the fun and the journey.

(“Rockhole” 20cm wide x 20cm high)

In this series one square wouldn’t resolve as easily as the others, so we had to wait for what it needed to come to mind, or to hand!

(“Aquifer” 20cm wide x 20cm high)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look inside my thoughts and processes. (I started describing this process in the previous issue of Studio News.)

(“Run Off” 20cm wide x 20cm high)

You can click on each image to go directly to Bluethumb for more information.

(“Skyward” 20cm wide x 20cm high)

With each painting there are seeds of change that raise their heads, leading to new adventures!

The exciting and inspiring circle of art!

(“Around and About” 20cm wide x 20cm high)

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Teaming Up- Six little squares start their adventure

Starting a new series of paintings is always exciting. You’re never sure what the outcome will be. Although, at the beginning there is something, an idea, colour palette, sketch or subject, they always alter and develop. In my experience, if you stick rigidly to the initial idea the results are never as good and you don’t have as much fun or make new discoveries.

With this series, the idea was to begin with expressive lines inspired by the landscape. Not literal interpretations but more lively and adventurous ones. Lines I could feel as I recalled being “in” the landscape. Lines that flowed and changed direction with characteristics that altered as I worked.

Some areas were sprayed with water to add elements of chance and randomness. Water moves the paint around and makes different marks, none of which you can fully control. This is a wonderful stage as you watch what happens. See how in the first square the water has run down, over the acrylic paint pen line, lifting out paint as it ran across. A new discovery! Serendipity! Artists are lucky to be able to feel the joy of creating in this playful manner. Exploring, experimenting, discovering and generally having a damn good time. Hopefully, viewers of a painting can “feel” this too.

This technique of drawing and starting new paintings is very inspiring and I can barely wait for this layer to dry before I continue. It’s like a hot loaf of fresh homemade bread. You just can’t wait! Can you smell it? The next step uses more skill and judgement. I like the combination of chance and purposefulness!

Having decided on a palette of colours to use, I look for designs that may have been created within each section. From here on, it’s a process of look, pick an area or shape, then a colour, technique and tool to use. All the while being conscious of whether the designs look and feel right. It’s a case of feeling right because you can feel it almost before you can “see” it.

I like to let things “cook” a little between tasks. It’s like a “getting to know each other” bonding time. It may end with me knowing just what comes next or, perhaps, not having a blooming clue! Either way, something new is emerging from somewhere.

See if you can guess what I might do next? The image at the top is a dead give away!

Next time I’ll hopefully show you the finished, named paintings all ready for uploading to the website. Will all six pass muster?!

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