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 watercolour paints have rigor mortis – they lie twisted and dried up in an After Eights tin. Hence a massive clean up and a rummage in the tool box for a spanner or pair of pliers that will get the tops off oil paint tubes.
I am struggling already with oils as they have no mind of their own and need me to place every blob and stroke. Oil paint 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 watercolour 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 off my ear, but slashing the canvas and throwing my brushes at the wall is a recurring thought.
Enjoy these images of tidiness and clearish surfaces. A rare treat!
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!!
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.
My husband went up to Nxai Pan in the Makgadikgadi some years ago to check out the site of a possible project. On this trip was an amateur photographer who took several shots of a lone elephant which had been dusting itself with the salty white sands of the pan. The project was an eco lodge – David was part of the team putting the tender document together and I was asked to add illustrations and tart it up a bit in the hope that it would get noticed above the others. The cover was a glorious photo of the elephant – ‘that,’ said David, ‘is the painting I want.’
And so began a long drawn out attempt at a huge wildlife painting in oils for David’s fiftieth birthday. It should be noted that I paint mainly in watercolour. I do not paint animals. I do not do big. Of course I didn’t get very far….. birthdays came and went and finally I started a watercolour for his sixtieth. The struggle with the elephant went on: how to convey the isolated majesty of that huge beast within a bleak but beautiful landscape?
I had and still have many distractions that keep me from the easel – but an invitation to be part of a group show in Gaborone sent me back to the half finished work. Incredible how a deadline sharpens the focus and clears the mind of non-essentials! Finally, in his sixty third year, David has his Elephant at Nxai Pan. I really have to pick up the pace a bit…..!