Everything Counts

When blogging about art, it is always tempting to just show the good stuff – encourage the illusion that everything is easy – that it all works out – ‘look what I painted!’

self portrait

When in actual fact, some days are just a struggle and far more rubbish is produced than the good stuff. This weekend has been one of those – trying to work on a painting and having to completely scrape the paint off not once but three times. So frustrating – but in the end I just decided to do something different, a huge amount of paint onto the paper with a painting knife. I think I have only worked with a painting knife once before and it is such a different way of working to my usual. I normally work with lots of fairly thin layers of paint and glazes over and over.

I love the way that all the thick piles of paint and colour that mean very little in relation to each other close up, merge into a form when you are standing back from the picture. I have used quite small marks creating a lot of texture but when I look at the paintings here I love how the marks are really flat planes of colour that fit together to create the form. It is a technique that I plan to experiment more with and incorporate into my paintings to vary the texture of them more alongside the glazes.

self portrait

So much work gets produced that will never see the light of day outside my studio. This is very crude and now looking at the photo I see a lot areas that would need work but as a practice piece it teaches me a lot. Each piece counts towards something even if it does not feel like it at the time. A lesson in modelling form, discovering new colour combinations or applying the paint in a different way to the usual just in order to play and free myself up from expectation are all useful lessons.

self portrait

I do enjoy working on self portraits. There is something wonderful about working from life – editing and responding to what is there in real time and of course when looking for a model I am always there.

(Please remember that new blog posts will only be appearing here till the end of December – in order to keep following my blog you will need to hop on over to my new website and the http://www.gillianleesmithartist.com/blog-3/ from then on.)

x x x

Getting to the easel – part two

Following on from my last post I have been thinking even more on the subject of procrastination and getting to the easel. One of the biggest myths I have discovered – is that artists need freedom – freedom to decide where and when to work, no rules, just a desire to create good work. On the face of it, this seems like the perfect way of working but in reality, trying to create in this way meant that I got very little done.

Getting to the easel

The more routines I put in place and restrictions I put on my time the more work I get done. The structure of a routine gives me the freedom to work within the boundaries I have set myself.

This is really important: Just because you are working to a routine, it does not mean that your work becomes a routine (i.e formulaic) – the routine and structure just build a little safety zone around a period of time where you can create without distraction.

Page of opportunity

So what stopped me working before? How has my thought process changed?

1. Fear – fear of not getting enough done in my days in the studio (I don’t have enough time, I don’t have enough time, oops now I have no time)

Answer: The more I worry about lack of time, the less I get done – the best thing is just to get down and do the work in the time that you do have.

2. Fear – fear of spending a whole day creating rubbish and not having anything to show for it. (if I don’t create anything then none of can be rubbish so that must be better, right? Wrong!)

Answer: If you only create one piece of work a month or a week there is an awful lot of pressure on that piece of work to be good. If you create 50 pieces of work in a month or a week then if 4o of those are rubbish, 5 are mediocre and 5 are good/great then you have 5 successful pieces and 45 pieces to learn from! The more you create, the more chance there is of creating the occasional gem. The rubbish works are the journey to the great ones.

3. Distractions – phone, internet, dishes, gazing out the window, anything but painting.

Answer: At the end of the day (honestly) what would I rather be doing? The dishes or painting? Painting. So why am I doing the dishes then? That was my answer. (Gazing out of the window is allowed – dreaming is good)

4. Deadlines. Working to a deadline sends me into the typical formula of 95% of the time till deadline messing about, 5% of the time at the end trying to get everything done.

Answer: I don’t do well with deadlines. I do better when I just do some work, some thing every day. It all adds up and suits me better.

I think these are the most important lessons I have learned in my time creating art.

Wow there is so much to write about this. Tomorrow – a little about my studio routine and hints and tips for getting down to work.

Whilst thinking about this subject and researching I found some really interesting links.

Read more here. You won’t regret it.

Wake up, Wash Face, Do Routine, Now Paint

Being productive in the studio

There is also this book which I think I may purchase as it looks such an interesting read.

Would love to hear your comments and experiences on this subject.

x x x

 

On my easel

on my easel

At the moment I have a great desire to be painting with no agenda other than to enjoy the materials, to see what will happen, to not worry about painting a finished piece, to just be laying down layers of colour shape. There can be a sense of ‘I should be doing this or that’ but I also know that working without expectation is an important part of what I do.

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Only a fraction of the work I produce is frame or wall worthy, but that is the way and nothing feels wasted. I learn something new every time I put paint to surface. As always I wish I had more time in the day and more days in the week but the more I am in the studio, the more I want to be there. Even when I don’t have time to paint for a few hours at a time, a one or two hour painting keeps my hand in and ensures I don’t have large gaps in-between painting days.

on my easel

It also feels good to leave work in a state where it is not completely resolved. Perhaps I will go back to these pieces. perhaps not. They are a good reference for when I am working on new pieces – each layer of a painting goes through a different phase – there are always the places where it is fresh and minimal, always there are the ugly stages and then there are flashes of something unexpected, so to have a few pieces around me at different stages gives me inspiration for new work. This piece was kind of a self portrait (so, so valuable to do I find) but in the end I think she became something else.

So I really would recommend just painting for the love of it on occasion, no expectations, no guaranteed result, just enjoy the feeling. For me all too soon it will be time to really get down to the work that does need to be done!

(Please excuse the dark shadowy photographs, I don’t seem to be able to pick the right time for photographing on these gloomy winter days.)

x x x

On my easel… Venturing into Oils.

On my easel

After many years working with acrylics (and loving all the possibilities that they allow) I am currently trying to put my fear aside about working with oil paints. Yep, I said fear. It has gone on for far too long. It is bordering on ridiculous. Acrylics I know, almost inside out. I know that used correctly they are one of the most stable painting materials around. They won’t flake, crack, fall off the substrate or discolour unless you do something really silly. Over the years, all the reading I have been doing about oils has put the idea into my head that they are the opposite unless you really know what you are doing. Because I have never known what I was doing with them, (fat over lean anyone? I know what it means but how much and when?) I have let them be. The odd tube I have purchased has taunted me into starting but never enough for me to open that lid. I know that as silly as it sounds, I will never really feel like a ‘painter’ until I can paint in oils. (yep…silly)

I have read and read and read and am currently reading The oil painting book by Bill Greevy and I have eventually decided that all the reading in the world is never going to make me an oil painter – only actually getting the brushes and paints out will give me even half a chance at that. So today I began. Confused, perplexed, trying to let go of doing it ‘right’ and just ‘doing it’. But I made a start and that’s what counts! Here’s to a new journey.

On my easel today …

At the harbour

Last Monday I was desperate to get some artwork done as it had felt a while since I had really been immersed in creating something. I decided to work on a larger piece, just on paper, mixed media predominantly working in oil bars. I didn’t want to think about the end result, just to enjoy the materials and the process and the piece above is what came out. I love working with oil bars – they enable me to make marks boldly and quickly, building up a surface that I can then draw into.

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Today I also painted another couple of harbour houses – this time at 10 x 7 inches they are twice the size of the smaller pieces from this week allowing for more detail and texture. I will be bringing back any that don’t sell this weekend and putting them in my online store next week.

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Progress of a Painting …. part two

Continuing the journey of my latest painting (the inspiration and beginnings as described in this post) after developing an idea from images, places, dreams and sketching them out eventually the idea starts to come together for the first time on the canvas….

As always the light and atmosphere are really important in my work and I wanted to get the balance of establishing an interesting background but without it intruding on the central character and the emotion.

4

Lately I have been working using lots and lots of layers of glazes of colour, building them up all over the painting – painting, wiping away, painting, wiping away to give a translucent quality that changes as the light shifts. Painstaking slow but very satisfying when the atmosphere starts to appear.

7

Even with all the preparatory sketches, the face changed many times with this piece – painted and repainted over and over. I felt I had a clear idea of how she would look but I am discovering that rather than applying the character to the canvas with the paint, I am using the paint to excavate the character from the canvas (if that makes sense). At many points I probably could have left her as she was but there is always that sense that she is still not who she is supposed to be, so I paint again, changing the profile and this feature and that shadow – I am discovering who she is over many hours. It is the eternal question – how do you know when  a painting is done. There is no formula – you just know

Sometimes when I feel a painting is finished, I keep going anyway, just to see what will happen. More subtle and not so subtle changes, more and more glazes and layering of colours, more rubbing away and the emotion and atmosphere that I am seeking begins to come through.

Then finally I know it is done. I can leave it for a few days and go back to make sure I still feel the same way. But when I know, I know.

So here we have

Seeking Truth behind those Bright, Seeing Eyes

Acrylic on Board 2013

Progress of a Painting …… part one

It always starts with a seed of an idea, something that sparks my interest and a story begins.

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Lately I have been drawn to trying to create a sense of time and place, a certain atmosphere. Something that will draw the viewer in and encourage them to think that they may have been there at some point in the past. These photos are from my recent visit to Calke Abbey, a national trust property that has gone to wrack and ruin over the last decades but that is in a constant process of conservation to keep it as it is rather that restoring it to its former glory. There are lots of dark corridors with peeling layers of wallpaper and paint and it has an incredible beauty and atmosphere.

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Of course there always has to be a character, someone that could be me, could be you or someone you know or have read about or have imagined.

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I never tire of drawing and painting faces. They are a combination of self portraits, images of friends, from inspiration but also from my own imagination.

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With this painting I wanted to create a real sense of light and shade so took lots of self portraits with the light the way I wanted and sketched from those.

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The image started to come together in my large moleskine sketchbook that I use for painting in (someday I will do a slideshow of all the pages). Here I can work big, with no expectation, just enjoying the texture of the page and the feeling of the paint.

a

I prepared a lot more for this painting that I ever have before as I wanted to paint big (well bigger than my usual at 60 x 80 cms) and wanted to get the scale and perspective just right so I worked on yet another drawing and played with light and shadow too. Then time to start painting – but that is for another post!

Scattered to the four winds – Progress of a painting

Folks seem to find my progress of a paintings posts interesting so thought I would show you the progress of this painting that I just finished today.

Sketching out progress 1

I started this painting months ago and reached a certain stage with it where I knew I wasn’t happy but just could not progress with it any further at the time. So it has been propped up in my studio all of that time, taunting me, trying to get me to decide whether to trash or rework it.

progress 3 progress 4

I put it behind my mirror and forgot about it for a while (as in the fourth image above).  But yesterday I rediscovered her and thought I would see if she was worth rescuing and on many occasions in the past 2 days I wondered why I was bothering.

progress 5

I liked her, then ruined her, many times over. But I think she is finished and I am so glad I returned to see her completed.

progress 6

And so it goes with my working process and I am trying to learn to trust myself, to persist, to push through the mess, to excavate what lies beneath and to pause and just look. Sometimes unexpected things happen. I painted the windmill and the poppies appeared last but I then liked the relation between the windmill and the idea of seeds being strewn by the winds and beauty appearing here there and everywhere.

my studio

Speaking of things strewn to the four winds – this is the state of my studio when I am immersed in painting. However my organisation has been much helped by my recent purchase of the Ikea trolley that so many artists have been mentioning – I highly recommend it!

This will be one of the paintings I show at The Art Market in Holmfirth at the end of June.

When work and play are one and the same…

small portrait 3

As a part time artist with not enough hours in the week, a holiday weekend is a chance to grab some luxury/necessary time in the studio! The weeks go by all too quickly and I can never get any where near as much work as I would like to in those oh-so-precious studio days so a 3 day weekend is a self indulgent appointment with myself to just play with no aims or goals apart from to relax and have fun painting.

small portrait 1

I finished 4 small portraits (7 x 5 inches) and loved painting every single one of them. No other inspiration other than my imagination and a few images just to work on the shadows and highlights. They are acrylics and marks all pencil and will be given away as gifts.

small portrait 2

I am thinking however that as well as being studies for future paintings they might be worth framing up to have as smaller works at a couple of art shows I have coming up. What do you think?

Millie

I also want to introduce you to our new rescue cat – Millie who is one years old and an absolute sweetheart. She has only been with us a week and has settled in so well (although her and our other cat Munro are having a few teething problems getting to know each other but I am hoping they will settle down eventually). Another blackie she is almost identical to Munro but smaller. When the rescue centre told us that black cats are hardest to rehome (I don’t know why!) and that she had been there almost half her life then we knew she was the one for us.  I am chuffed to bits that she seems to love sleeping in the studio when I am working! Something that Munro has never done. I think the fleecy blanket and hot water bottle might have something  to do with it.

x x x

(ad)Venturing into oils.

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After thinking about venturing into oils for ever such a long time.. and thinking.. and thinking, I finally got out those tubes of paint that have been hiding away in my studio for ever and a day and got to it. I have worked in just about every media you can buy in an art supplies catalogue but for some reason have always been fearful of trying out oil painting – the ‘fat over lean’ rule confusing me, the endless oil mediums available and the worry of ruining work by not understanding the fundamentals, scaring me off. Sometimes it feel like you need a degree in chemistry to understand the rules of creating art!

But then sometimes you just have to jump in at the deep end and learn by your mistakes – appreciating the process without worrying about the result and so that is how I eventually came to begin last week. I have been reading a few art books lately on materials and techniques but really I know that it is only by getting the brushes and paints out that I will  learn. So above and below are my first and second attempts in oil paints. I have so much to learn! I am finding the technique for laying down the paint is very different from acrylics (I usually work in acrylics, inks, pencils and oil sticks) and it is taking a bit of getting used to.

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With these 2 studies (first a self portrait, second from an inspiration image) I have really just been trying to make a start, to see how the oils work, how to lay down the marks and get a feel for the paint but I am looking forward to learning so much more and finding my own way with them, pushing them to create my own style as I have done with other media. I have a long way to go and this is just the beginning but I am excited to at last be trying them out. Lets see where they take me!