Friday, 29 May 2009

A poem about a painting

I had a lovely day at a workshop at Charleston. This is the outcome:

Vanishing Point (looking at -- Girl Wearing an Orange Shawl, c. 1894-1895, by Edouard Vuillard)

The little girl with her orange shawl
Appeared on my canvas
In response to the vermillion mark
I had placed at the vanishing point.

Diagonal leading there,
A line for the eye,
And the two of them, going
Towards it.

Cobalt blue in her hair
Jaunty and brave.
Will she be brave enough for this?

I mixed some of that cobalt blue
Into the cadmium orange hue
With a touch of Mars black.
Turned them under the palette knife
Colours bleeding into one another.

A greenish brown emerged,
Took her by the hand
And led her
Out of the picture.

Saturday, 16 May 2009


All those greens,
and a white duck
in the rain.
A painting offered.

Friday, 8 May 2009

How does it feel?

Working - cross, annoyed, irritable, fed up, another cup of tea, chocolate, cross, pushing, scratching words into text.

Painting - amazing, daring, risky, safe, exciting, breathtaking, no more chocolate needed, tense, relief, amazing
A tree in a stormy cloudscape materialises.

Monday, 20 April 2009

painting and exhibiting

Still trying to paint every day. One day I couldn't get started -- didn't know what to paint, so went across the road and sat under the chestnut tree by the pond. I brought back a twig in bud and drew/painted it as it came into leaf. I also spent a long time on the picture of the pond with chestnut tree in foreground. It's on canvas and I have to get used to how the paint works on this as opposed to how it works on paper.

The art group had an exhibition and I put in six pieces. It was strange to see people looking at them, and even worse when they looked straight past them. There were some compliments about a couple of the tree pictures but my overwhelming reaction to going public was negative - it seemed a rather shameful or embarrassing thing to do, to imagine them good enough to display and to spend all that money on framing pictures that would have been better painted over and reused. (not that much money, thanks to Ikea). Gradually re-finding my equilibrium and start a new class tonight...

Friday, 3 April 2009

Finding the space

ESF-ERIH Archaeology Expert Panel Report

Why do my tulips never fit the page or canvas? nearly every time I have drawn or painted tulips in a vase they don't fit. The tulips feel cramped or the vase fills the space and there's no room left. It feels as if I love to paint the flowers but can't allow myself the space they need. After the last experience I thought maybe I needed a smaller brush and a bigger space but, while reading about the body and how Chinese calligraphers write and draw through their bodies, I came to see that the problem lies elsewhere.

First I read about "the body proper" which is a phrase from phenomenology, a kind of old, antique phrase where the adjective proper follows the noun in a kind of French fashion and also means something other than what it appears to. The idea is that we inhabit our bodies and experience the world through our inhabited bodies, in fact we can only know the world from inside our bodies. We then have to imagine how it is to be someone else; from the inside of our bodies we see the outside of their bodies and imagine their internal life. Not only that, but our bodies only exist and understand through our activity in physical space, so that all this is dynamic and spatial. These ideas fit with what I know of contemporary cognitive science -- embodiment as trying to eliminate false boundaries between mind and body and world; proprioception as the feeling of oneself from the inside; theory of mind as the process of understanding about other people.

And in art, the importance of this is that when we paint or draw something we are using our embodied, proprioceptive, spatial, understandings. Perhaps I cannot draw the tulips because I do not understand, from the inside of myself, how the tulips and the vase and the table they stand on occupy their space? It's as if I know the petals and the shape of the flowers, but what I don't know is how they fit into the space around them.

So today I tried to get to know these things better. I walk around the table. I think about the cylinders in space formed by the round table going down to the floor and up to the ceiling. I feel the vase, actually a jug, cold and round in my hands. I walk around the table. I feel the flowers, the stalks thrusting forward and outwards, their heads full and falling slightly. Then I tried to paint all of that, the space and the flowers, not just the flowers.

I added the light as more solid material in space -- oblong slabs of light from the small window.

This feels much better! although the flowers are still too big for the vase..

Monday, 30 March 2009

My arms, and tulips

trying to paint every day -- well not so much trying, as allowing myself the gorgeous treat of painting every day.

The two paintings that I've called My Arms were inspired by a photograph of an Australian ballet dancer. First I did the small painting on a black background, using just cobalt blue and white. I quite liked the x-ray effect, and being delicate, which is not how I see myself but with all these miniatures turns out perhaps to be part of me or part of how I paint. Then I did a large painting on a yellow ochre background which took several days and was very frustrating to work with. I used a blue watercolour pencil over the top of the first, annoying, image, and the frustration produced sweeping strokes that I quite liked. By this point, the paper was buckling. I tried to keep the pleasing strokes by painting more yellow ochre over the top, before stretching the watercolour paper, which should have been done first but wasn't. Then inside the pencil strokes I put glazes of rose and white to get the muscle shapes. Then I wanted a dark background on the left-hand side. Now it sits like this, still taped to my board because I know it's not finished but I'm not sure what happens next. I suppose I have to wait and see..

When I photographed the pictures and saw them on my screen, I realised that my body had painted my body, at least my arms. To avoid tingling and numb fingers in the night, I have to sleep with my arms straight or stretched out; when I'm half asleep, it feels as if my arms are miles long, stretching out into the distance.

The tulips were painted yesterday and seem to be moving in the same way. Again, I don't think this picture is finished but there are bits of it I like so much, but I'm scared to do more in case I lose them. Perhaps somewhere in here is the solution... draw boxes around the bits I like and keep them while painting the rest? if it was on paper I could cut them out and collage.. how to take a risk?

Friday, 13 March 2009

A set of miniature pictures

Last Sunday I went for a walk around the wood to see what was happening spring-wise. The bluebell leaves are pushing up through the dead oak leaves. Honeysuckle has the first new leaves at the top of its climbing stems. On the trees, buds are thickening, colouring, preparing. Birds are busy and pursuing conversations across hedgerows. No primroses yet, although in the city the verges are already full of them.

I had an idea to paint the trees that I've been scrutinising and drawing for the last weeks, determined to capture their winter shapes. Around here the trees stand against the skyline, often growing out of hedges, and when they are bare, the different shapes are very clear. The stag-headed oaks have branches that die off and remain amongst the living tree, sharp and spiky. On the road to town, there is a copper beech whose branches curve around and go back the way they came, creating the most beautiful fluid shape.

To make the miniatures, I take small sheets watercolour paper -- about 8" x 4" -- and draw a rectangle inside them. I use the acrylics very wet on the moistened rectangle to make country skies and rolling fields. When they are dry, I use my pen or paint to whisper a hedge, to grow a tree. Some of the trees grow out of their rectangular screen. The stag-headed oaks spike against their skies. Mostly the trees insist on remaining alone.

I want to add writing but can't yet work out how to do it. Scared of spoiling what I have done.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009


I see it is months since I posted anything. So here are some new paintings. I wonder if the things I learned about colour mixing on my course show through? I am definitely thinking more about warm colours and cool colours, and how colours work with and against each other. I suspect that thinking so consciously about colour may temporarily affect other parts of my painting. I wrote about 'contingency' - how what we do at any moment is affected by what we've just done, what other people are doing at that moment, by the physical context and so on. Contingency is key to understanding the dynamics of speaking, writing or painting. Contingency is not just about the moment but about what happens in the moment as a result of everything else; and I mean everything, physical - social - cultural - political - historical...