The past week has been a little more emotional than most. Last Friday, the 16th of April marked the first anniversary of my mum’s passing and, on Monday the 19th, it would have been her 96th birthday so happy birthday mum. Quite naturally, it’s been a time of considerable reflection, both thinking about and celebrating mum’s life, but also acknowledging what a remarkable year it has been in so many ways.
I can’t help thinking that this emotional rollercoaster of a week has spilled over into my paintings – where I feel I’m on a similarly reflective little journey! I wonder if the following paintings illustrate this?
First up is painting based on a view from our trip to Porto a few years ago:
I was quite enjoying painting this, and even liked the way it was looking right up until the final stages of painting it!
The last elements that I added to this were the figures and the traffic lights – all of which I felt I made a bit of a hash of!
As I’d been having a nice time remembering Porto, I decided to stay there for my next effort. My reference for this was a really strong contre jour (into the light) image that made the view almost entirely monochrome. At the back of my mind was some of the recent workshops with Alvaro Castagnet and I was envisaging how this may look if I was to successfully employ some of what I’ve learnt.
I think the key phrase here was ‘successfully employ’! – something that I resolutely failed to do! Many of the colours are muddy, there’s little sense of depth or distance created any regression of tone, the cars – while obviously cars – are still pretty unconvincing and the energy that I hoped to create with my brushwork never really materialised!
Maybe it wasn’t me. Maybe it was Porto! Maybe I should try France!?
This painting was based on a photo I took a few years ago in small village, not far from our campsite in the Dordorgne.
Now while there are some elements here that I quite like – such as the foreground of the bridge in shadow – there are plenty more that I really don’t like! As I was painting it, it had something of painting by numbers feel about it. This is the roof, paint it grey. This is the wall of the building, paint it a pinky ochre. Does this come across? I think this is partly because I was being very literal to the photograph, and the lighting on that particular occasion – which produced lots of very clear distinct colours and crisp lines and, in trying to remain loyal to the photo, this led me to really tighten up.
Pencil free watercolour painting
After my spring cleaning session the other week, I have lots of unsuccessful paintings that in the past I’ve just thrown out. This time however, I’ve kept every painting so that I can use the back of all my failures just for playing around with. The main aim of me playing around is just that, playing around. Trying things out, trying to keep my brush marks confident, loose and spontaneous. Here are some examples of what I’ve been doing in those snatched moments when there’s not enough time to ‘do a painting’, or even to sketch anything out, but there is a few minutes to have a quick mess around:
After my French ‘painting by numbers’ effort I felt as if I just wanted to throw off my shackles! I’d had enough of ‘filling in a drawing’ – and right now this just didn’t seem to be working for me. I’d been enjoying my messing about, but that’s exactly what it was, just messing about – little notations with no real context of any sort.
I wondered whether I could take my messing about to a slightly different level?
So, I selected an image and, with no sketching or preparatory drawing of any sort – started to apply paint to where I thought it should go! Here’s the first wash.
As I hope you can see, even if you have no idea about this, there is at least some consideration and effort into what’s going on where. Once this was completely dry, I continued to try to make some sense of out it!
So there’s a lot here that I don’t like – but I can’t really say that I’m disappointed with it because it was so invigorating to paint this way! I was totally immersed in concentration as I painted this. Not having even the most basic of outline sketches meant that I had to really look, and to really consider what can be simplified, what’s essential, where will the point of focus be – what do I need to try to get right, and what can slide a little (or a lot in this case!)
Well, this led to another pencil free sketch – this one of Prague:
And finally this one of a coffee shop:
Even though I’ve got three pieces of paper newly stretched just waiting for me to get started – I think I’m going to stick with some of this seat of the pants sketching, at least for another few days or so! I won’t be selling my extensive collection of pencils just yet, but I feel that these loose sketches are a great and welcome antidote to any sense of painting by numbers!
I’m also struck by how much closer they are in energy and ‘feel’ to the sketch of mum’s kitchen window, which I for one think is probably a good thing!