Sunshine is here. Flowers are opening. Bees and butterflies swerve and flutter. How can I paint?
April is a transformative month. It’s also the month my father died.
Whether I am conscious of it or not, I seem to spend the anniversary of my fathers death pushing my middle aged body to make big structural changes in my garden. This year was no exception. I now have a raised bed and 2 steps. When I look at what I have done, I think of him, and how he probably would have been amused by, and enjoyed, my hotch-potch, DIY garden.
Moving focus away from painting is disconcerting, even a little stressful. Yet, I know stepping away can be as important as remaining present sometimes. Breaks nearly always precede a leap forward.
So, I did as planned (not as common as you’d think), and created a much larger version of a small painting. The original was 60 x 50 cm, the larger version is 120 x 100 cm; literally the largest canvas I can get up the stairs into my studio.
I feel I have achieved what I set out to do. It’s not exactly the same as the original, I haven’t just made a scaled up copy. I am happy with it.
Now I am working on another scaled up painting, but this time I have allowed colour to take a more central role.
It is not going as smoothly. Perhaps foolishly, I am trying to translate a square painting onto a rectangular canvas. As a result, I am having to make changes to the composition. It is becoming a very different painting to the original. I think I’m ok with that. Will update when it’s finished.
Moving up to a much bigger scale has been just as hard as I expected. Harder than I’d hoped.
For weeks I have wrestled with two 120 x 100 monochromatic canvases.
I work for that alchemical moment, when a painting transcends its materials; becomes more than the sum of its parts. That moment seems to arrive night after night. Then, morning after morning, they die.
As a painter, I am perpetually falling in love. Then, in the cruel morning light, my heart sinks, and I am disappointed again. For someone so loyal, I can be very fickle.
After so much battling, so much determination to stick to the monochromatic plan, in crept a rebellious thought. Yellow.
Sod it. What this needs is colour.
Quickly things went pop! It glowed, it was alive. Ah well, maybe next time.
I moved onto the second painting. Pink happened.
Ok, I still have a monochromatic painting to do.
An idea: make bigger version of smaller painting. Obvious really. Currently working on that. Will show and tell soon.
Every now and then, I have to look through my old work, and decide what to let go of. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes, not so much. Usually, this means I paint over it.
I felt good about the above painting when I made it, I internally wince a little when I recall its destruction. However, rather than fill my tiny home with old work, I recycle them. I actually say a little “farewell, and thank you”, just before they are obliterated. I’m probably not the best person to choose which paintings get the chop, but there is nobody here but me!
This week has been quite productive; 4 paintings completed since Wednesday.
Keeping in mind my commission of a large painting in “black and white with one dark colour”, I think it’s time to crank it up to the largest scale I can manage in my little attic studio: 120 x 100 cm.
I am concerned that the work has not been quite ‘black and white’ enough, so I’m going to see what happens when I literally only use black and white paint, no greys. We will see. I might fail, but something interesting always happens when you don’t succeed at what you originally set out to do.
Anyone who actually makes things with stuff, knows how important it is to have a place to do the said making. I have painted and sculpted in places as varied as my cluttered little bedroom, to wonderfully large, well lit spaces, with all the equipment I could possibly need. Many a time I have been forced to put a hot water bottle up my jumper. There have been poisonous snakes, tarantulas, asbestos, and perhaps ghosts. On one occasion, I had several paintings to do for the affordable art fair, and no studio. I spilled turpentine in my bedroom. In the morning I awoke with what I assume was turpentine poisoning. I’m certain that any maker reading this will relate. I believe very few of us feel we have the studio we want/need. Other people desire a fancy, grown up car, a lavish wedding, holidays in Barbados. I want a big studio, and all the time in the world to make my stuff. I would be interested to know how many artists feel satisfied with their studio? How many sit in peculiar positions, balancing their canvas on the radiator? Anyone who makes stuff knows, you have to do what you can, with what you’ve got, in the space available. Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention. If you are struggling, you’re not alone. I’m fairly happy with my studio right now. It is warm, I have enough of what I need. It is, however, much smaller than I’d like, and has very little natural light. But…
If you need to go somewhere enough, you will go in an ill fitting shoe.
When I have reached the end of my energy and focus, and I cannot paint anymore, I feel a deep emptiness. I have to wait patiently until I am replenished. In that space where I cannot work, I am grieving. I have been ejected from the place I need to be. I am without purpose. Knowing that I will paint again soon gives me no comfort. It takes enormous willpower not to turn to alcohol to fill this void. I understand how easy it is for an artist to become a drinker (the last thing I need is to be a slave to drink as well as painting). When the grief is too much, I will just continue painting anyway, push myself even further. I cannot bear to stop.
For me, painting is a compulsion. No, it is not relaxing, or therapeutic. It takes stamina to paint. Even so, it brings great joy. For every high, however, there is a low. To stop, would be to have no reason to live. Without it, I am lost.
I’m slowly working my way up to a 120 x 100 cm monochrome painting. Using this limited palette is a challenge. I worry that, if I throw myself directly into a (for me) massive painting, it will fail. Upping the scale by a dramatic amount is a difficult thing to do. I will need bigger brushes, bigger jars for my paint, and use my whole body when I make a mark, not just my wrist. I started on A3 watercolour board. I have progressed to 60 x 60 canvas. So far, so good.
I discover that I’ve not posted anything here since May 2020. Since then I have mainly used Instagram to share my work. I’d be interested to know how you feel about social media, and the best way to share and promote work? Links to my social media accounts are below.
Just over a year ago, perhaps as a reaction to the strangeness of our current situation, my work changed. In a moment of fearlessness, a large comical nose appeared, and then an eye. My abstract paintings were now also absurd grotesques. They made me laugh.
I have been working with a more monochromatic palette because I have been asked to do something quite large in ‘black and white with one dark colour‘. I’m normally partial to pinks, turquoise, and bright yellows (see painting at the bottom of this post). It’s proving a very productive exercise. It is always good to limit the possibilities, that’s when you have to make concise decisions. I do wonder if/how my work will be affected by this period of monochromatic discipline when I let the colour back in.
The painting below, was created in September of 2021. I have entered it into the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition because, why not. I won’t know until April if I’m through to the next round. It’s hard to get in, so we will see. I’ll let you know.
If you’re out there, reading this, please let me know. Thank you, Sarah.