There comes a time in an artist’s studio practice when there is nowhere to work. All surfaces are occupied, references are piled on the floor and there is a very real danger of spilling coffee on the masterpiece or putting the mug down on top of a very nice little sketch. Don’t ask me how I know!
The amount of time spent in preparation and mental manoevres to get to a flow state is often greater than the time spent painting. I have been gearing myself up to working in oils seeing as most of my watercolours have rigor mortis – they lie twisted and dried up in an After Eights tin. Hence a bit of a clean up and a rummage in the tool box for a spanner or pair of pliers that will get the tops off paint tubes.
I am struggling already with paint that has no mind of its own and needs me to place every blob and stroke. It sits on the surface like a tiny turd and I have to resist the urge to saturate it in turps and spread it over the canvas like a wash. It does not work like that, and so I feel like a complete beginner again! Thanks to YouTube and a million art tutorials I am more confused and frustrated than ever and remind myself that this is the life of an artist. I am far from cutting my ear off but slashing the canvas and throwing my brushes at the wall is a recurring thought.
I’m afraid I don’t have much staying power – the initial thrill of painting wears off as I get into difficulties and there is always something new and exciting in the garden (or over the fence!) that I want to paint. However, I think I must revisit some of these unresolved masterpieces. I have the finished pictures in my head – I just don’t know how to get them onto paper!!
I have Stuff to do and so my brain finds other things to mess with. I put a bookshelf in the studio and in the general tidy up I came across old sketchbooks. I never finish a sketchbook – I invariably put it somewhere and can’t find it so I spent a happy hour revisiting an art safari in Madikwe, a trip to Mauritius, and what looks like a sketch challenge to draw people. It’s hard to imagine the easygoing freedom to BE with people that we had before lockdown – hopefully soon it will all be in the past and hugs and handshakes will be okay again.
The wonderful thing about watercolour painting is the way the paper reflects light through the paint giving it a luminous quality. Made up of pigment and a binding medium, watercolour paint was generally used for sketches and ideas, and to tint drawings and studies for bigger ‘proper’ paintings. It really came into its own during the mid 1700s when the Romantic era came into being and there was an explosion of fine art, music, and literature. Artists were inspired to record nature, landscape, and to travel to Europe (once the Napoleonic wars were done!) and to exotic places full of antiquities and sunlight.
It is this ability to convey light that attracts me to watercolour – I am never inspired to paint grey and gloomy cityscapes for example – but sunbirds caught in a ray of sunshine, the sunset sparking the edges of clouds, and the contrast of a figure standing against the sun with a home made fishing rod; these are the things that excite, frustrate, and challenge me. It is never perfect but I am learning to give in gracefully and say ‘that’ll do.’
For an artist, finishing a picture is not the end of the story. For the painting, it is just the beginning of a life that is separate from its creator. Is it going to languish in deep piles with other not quite perfect paintings, or will it get a chance to shine, find a forever home?
The difference often lies in the framing – how the work is presented can make or break a sale. I know this first hand as a buyer and as a seller of art. I did a painting many years ago of a humble vegetable, the aubergine, and the purply colour was rich and dark and as juicy as a watercolour can be. I was pleased and had it framed in the expectation of a quick sale – who could resist?
There it hung on the Gallery Ann wall amongst less colourful and noticeable paintings for more than six months and finally I caved in, on the advice of the gallery owner and got it reframed. Voila, it was gone in a week and barely covered the cost of two frames and commission. However, it was a sale! Somebody loved it and wanted it to enhance their home and enrich their life. (I assume people buy paintings for the same reason I do – do not burst my bubble!)
Likewise, a painting of daisies I barely glanced at every day I hung out at the gallery was one day reframed, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off it. I don’t think I’d ever bought a painting before – not at that price! I bit the bullet and told David about this painting I had to have, trying to justify the expense and the indulgence. He wrote out a cheque and I got the painting – I love it. And I have reused the frame often for my own work and reframed it again and again.
My own tastes run to classic, german gold, deep frames for everything, and with clear glass and double mounts for watercolours – $$$$. When framing for a potential sale the cost has to be recovered so it can be a big gamble – however the painting must be presented well and the frame is to show it off, not to upstage. In the end, personal taste and pocket drive the choices we make and as long as the artwork is the star of the show, anything goes.
Baobab trees are the elephants of the Plant Kingdom. They are enormous, magestic, wrinkly, and odd looking. I think of paintings of baobabs and elephants as portraits – they distinguish themselves in the landscape and I like to honour them in that way.
August was a great month for elephants at the pond. I bought a camera so that I could take good reference photos and clocked up a couple of thousand shots in no time – some of which might be useful – and I had well and truly caught the photo bug!
Along came a large family of elephants on their way to the river. They paused at the pond and some of them went for a swim – fantastic photo op – couldn’t believe my luck!! I dashed to get the camera and a step ladder to get high enough to clear the fence, and discovered the battery was exhausted from the thousands of shots. Unbelievable!!
I had to resort to my phone, wobbling on the ladder, and shaky with excitement….. I got some footage and then sat for a blissful hour or so to just watch.
The internet is astonishing – and like words uttered, words once published are out there for ever. Thus I was able to find a way into my dormant blog. (Although it won’t appear as such since there are only four entries since starting it in 2011…..)
The last post being 2015, much has happened, but the only relevant thing is that we now live in Kazungula. Here are some studies of elephants, and bottoms from a trip to Elephant Sands.
And a pic of me and a little orphan – massive cuteness but a sad story. Such is life in the wild.That’s all!