It’s been a very busy week and a half at the studio as I knuckled down and got on with painting my conceptual self portrait, which I’ve been working on since last summer. Part of the delay was due to the fact that the painting is quite intricate, and once I’ve mixed my paints I need to work fast to get the painting completed before the paints dry up. So I’ve really been putting the hours in and, when I eventually gave up at the end of each day, I was tired and aching. However, I’m very pleased with the results so far. The painting part of the project is now complete and I’m planning to add some embroidery, although I’m now going to assess how that will look before I take the plunge. I often get a little reluctant to continue with project once I’m happy with the results so far for fear of ruining it, but I want to add some keys which I think are an essential part of the story that the painting tells. It’s something I’ve needed to get out of the way, and the gruelling, cold conditions and long hours have been quite cathartic.
I’m currently well under way working towards my next painting Pearl, but as yet I haven’t even begun to work on the final piece. I thought I’d use this blog post to talk about process, and why it takes me so long to produce a piece of work.
After dwelling on an initial idea for some time, I usually come up with a very clear image in my head of how I want the final piece to look. In the case of Pearl, the imagery in the poem that inspired me to paint was so striking that I could visualise my finished piece almost immediately. After making some very quick, scribbled sketches I can them start researching each individual component of the picture. At the moment I’m working on the flowers which will take up the majority of the bottom of my Pearl painting. Each component is first sketched, then, taking my direction from the light, medium and dark areas of shading, I can visualise how the 3 shades of paint can be broken down, (I always try to paint in 3 shades of each colour, although sometimes a 4th shade is needed to pick out detail). Using tracing paper, I trace over the sketch and create blocks of dark, medium and light. After tracing this onto a new page, I can then paint using the sketch to guide me, a little like painting by numbers. If I’m not happy with the painting, I’ll do another version and so on until I am happy. Fortunately, I’ve been doing this for long enough now to be able to pretty much get it right first time. This process is repeated for every individual component until I’m completely satisfied.
Next I draw each component onto acetate and, using my OHP, project them onto the canvas (after already painting the background colour), moving the OHP as needed to get them each in the right place. At last I can then paint the final version.
I think that my paintings have a strange look to them, as if they are made up of lots of individual transfers, exacerbated by the black outlines. I like this quality and think that it adds a kind of neatness to the work, neatness being a key aim of mine in order to satisfy myself with my own work.
People are often interested in my sketchbook work, which is almost a “How To” guide for each piece of work, and has been compared to botanical or biological sketches. This work isn’t what I really want to present to the public, but thinking about this has lead to me deciding to produce some of these initial sketches on a large scale as part of the Reviving Leviathan collaboration I’ve started working on with Michael Borkowsky.
Projects Old and New
My self portrait project has been dragging on for so long now that I’ll be glad to get it finished. Saying that, I’m keen to get on with the final paintings and I feel that the process will be cathartic for me. Today I have the second canvas stitched up and ready to paint on (the first is already on its way to being completed). I should really swap the order that I just mentioned those paintings around, since the one that is already under way is actually the second of the pair, entitled Self Portrait July 2012, while the first of the pair is Self Portrait June 2012. A lot changed in those two months for me last year and the paintings reflect that. I feel that I’m in a better position to go through with the actual painting of them now, after dragging my heels for a year, and perhaps they are something that I need to see through and get past to enable me to concentrate on new work. With that in mind, I’m going to really throw myself into finishing them as soon as possible.
I’ve also been having meetings with Michael Borkowsky, with who I share my new studio, about our long overdue collaboration. We found common ground with the Biblical sea monster Leviathan, and we are planning a collaboration in which Michael makes the paints and I paint the final piece. We are going to set up a blog and are planning an exhibition for some time next year. We plan to dedicate an area of the studio to the collaboration and have both now gone away to do research on the subject. I admire his experimental approach and predict interesting results as his way of working either complements or clashes with my own, very careful and considered approach.
My impending move to a new studio has renewed my drive to push my various projects forward. I always have such a massive list of things to get done, besides the actual making of artwork, that the work itself is, sadly, not always my first priority. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been taking my sketchbook for my painting, Pearl, everywhere with me. This means that, every spare moment I get I’m busy sketching away, perfecting the flowers that will make up part of the work.
Generally I’m not too interested in flowers as a subject matter. I’m more interested in their symbolism, and so they do feature in my work from time to time. However, I like to learn and understand how to depict them accurately before going on to paint in my usual, simplified style.
I do find it, sort of embarrassing to draw in front of other people. You might think I’d got over that by now, after drawing and studying around other people for years, but it’s not other artists who are the problem, it’s the people who aren’t artists. I find it terribly embarrassing when people point out that I’m “good at drawing”, and go on to point it out to everyone else around them, all the more so because I don’t think that drawing is one of my strongest skills! I’m reluctant to show anything less than a polished piece of work, so seeing my rough sketches and unfinished work is awkward, almost as if I’m nude in public! (I do, however, show some of my less finished work in blogs and on facebook, such as the work shared here now, because the relative anonymity makes it easier). So I’ve had to grin and bear it, while quietly muttering thank you’s as they suggest that I should be an artist and get a website etc.
The upshot of it all is that I’m quite happy with the flower studies produced so far, meaning I can get on with practicing a painted version of the flowers soon.
The studio I have been using alongside Michael Borkowsky since January has been unsuitable really, so we have decided to move to a new studio at Lion Works in Sheffield. I’m very much looking forward to working alongside other artists in this great community environment, complete with exhibition and workshop space.
My work has been progressing slowly this past year and I’ll be happy to pick up the pace a bit after the move. Cross-stitch work is less of a problem, as I enjoy working on that in my spare time in the evening, but my painting hasn’t moved along as quickly as I intended. Unfortunately the reality is that I have to work to afford my house and studio, and working means that I get less time to spend on my art work… which I hope one day will be my main source of income.
I’m planning a collaboration with Michael after the move to the new studio which we are both very excited about. It will involve his practice of making paints, which I will then apply to canvas. To see more of Michael’s work, follow the link to his blog below.