Well this is a big ask! I am in the process of reading swathes of art theory that I mostly disagree with (there will be more on that in another post). In general the logical, and philosophical rigour in these texts is lamentable with huge amounts of argument by assertion and airy poetical musings. Things do not become true or even likely just by the act of stating them, or by saying that other clever people have stated them before so therefore they must be true. Some degree of testing ideas by thinking of scenarios where they may hold or fail to hold is surely the minimum we should expect of our art theorists. However, most just seem to trot out the old received ideas with little or no critical examination.
So it came to mind to delve into how I make a painting, art or not.
Firstly, there is the starting. As I am an observational artist so I see something exterior and have a mental reaction to it. It really is as simple as “Does it ring any bells.” or if you like, does what you are seeing fit any of the likes that creating previous works and or appreciating the work of others have built up over the years. It is never going to be a perfect fit so I might look repeatedly and try to imagine how a painted image might feel and how the painting of it could be carried through. I ask myself, what is the key thing that appeals and how would it break down or simplify? A certain amount of squinting and uncertain dithering then takes place. Nonetheless the process is I think quite simple, you assess the likely hood of being able to pass on to another via paint on canvas something of which made your arty bells ring. We call this process inspiration, but it does not happen in the binary way of light bulb going on or off as the romantic notions of art and artists might have you believe.
The process of assessing and reassessing the exterior stimulus might be repeated several times, with it even being rejected and then returned to after other possibilities didn’t come up to scratch. My key point here is that I believe all inspiration whether abstract or representative come from out side via our perceptions. They may be remembered perceptions rather than immediate ones, but it is pretty much certain that everything in our heads came in from the outside at some point. This I’m afraid pretty much rules out the origin of art coming from within, but not perhaps the realisation of it. It is the processing and decision making that occurs internally and where an artists personal stamp appears.
So once the decision to set about making a particular image is made then a new set of assessments are required. Composition, tone etc are all tested by this process:
2) Assess a particular or general aspect.
3) Imagine how it might be achieved in drawing or paint and hold that mental image.
4) look again and test how what you see compares with your imagining.
5) Assess result and either decide on a course of action or failing that repeat the process again.
This is pretty much the way my head seems to work when painting, though it is very hard to perceive your own mental activity as the act of perception interferes with what you are trying to observe. All the above happens very rapidly and repeatedly without express intent. I have been painting all my life so these decision routines seem to run pretty much automatically. They are so automatic that I can easily understand why an artist might choose to think the answers returned have come from some magical spring channelled from elsewhere, but I truly think that is not the case. It works in the same way as when you speak to someone in conversation. You do not assemble the sentences and preview what stresses and nuances your response should have. You merely intend to speak and the words come out. All the work is done by a part of yourself you cannot observe only infer from the resulting speech. We have all had the experience of a segment of speech that pops out of the machine ready to go when there isn’t a pause in the too and fro of conversation to accept it!
Generally making a picture seems to consist of variations of a repeated process. It could maybe be written as a linear string that might loop at any point:
Look…assess…imagine action…assess…look…imagine…assess…decide…act…look at result…look at subject…compare…assess result of act.
If you watch someone painting you can see the process in action and trace the stages by where and when the attention is focussed. If you are painting an abstract or even dealing with an abstract quality in your figurative painting you might leave out the look at subject section. In that case you might:
look at your painting… assess what it might need… imagine the change… compare the imagining to the existing… decide on the action… carry it out… assess result.
The key thing is these processes feed back into each other, there is perhaps even a sort of mental resonance set up. Indeed the act of painting a picture is to see or think of something that resonates with you and work out how you can make an object that causes a corresponding resonance to occur in another when they look at it. You might I suppose imagine it as plucking a string on a musical instrument to make a nearby string resonate in sympathy. The vibration transferred might not be identical to the original, but the impulse can be directly traced from one to another. It might be argued that great works of art are those that produce a consistent resonance in many viewers despite barriers of context, time and culture.
Well here are a few of my plucked strings. There are as usual some musical results as well as a few bum notes…
I have been sticking to the oils for plein air painting as watercolour takes too long to dry in this weather. This is a very quick end of the day view from the side of Eggardon Hill. 30min or so I suppose with racing clouds and rapidly changing light. Oils 14in by 10in.
A trip to the bird sanctuary at Arne. Some great light rapidly changing. Not sure if this will ever see a frame but I suppose most sketches never do. 16in by 10in Oils.
Second one from Arne. Didn’t really make a picture but I have a vague idea of how to make it into something… the only problem being I can’t quite fix on how! Maybe a repaint in watercolour would give me a clue. When I saw the subject I saw good possibilities but couldn’t quite get them onto the board. As so often occurs the photo of the scene didn’t really help. Maybe go back on a different day. 16in by 10in oils.
Done after a visit to Poole to drop off paintings at the Lighthouse Gallery where I am in Dorset Magazines exhibition for Dorset Landscape Artist of the year… no I didn’t win but got into the last 10. This is Milton Abbas a bit of Capability Brown’s work. Enjoyed doing this great fun picking out which layers to emphasise as the cloud shadows zoomed over the landscape. Unlike watercolour in oils you get a chance to get things down as they happen and chop and change if things improve. To aid me in this I laid the whole lot in without any highlights as if on a dull day then I could drop in lit areas as they happened. 14in by 10in Oils
I have quite an impressive pile of half done plein airs, so I set to to finish a few. This is Rawlsbury Camp on a dramatic day. I got the sky done and most of the darks, then it rained on me enthusiastically. Pleased with this, the best I have managed of this subject so far. 16in by 10in Oils.
This is done from just outside my house in Child Okeford on a misty moisty morning. I just didn’t have time to get the tones as subtle as I would have liked so I had to glaze it after. This is the unglazed version the glazed one below.
I glazed with a transparent bluey white to knock the tree back which was too dominant. Then I used a transparent cobalt blue to adjust the hue of the buildings. Glazes allow amazing control of general tone and hue without compromising the fresh feel of the underlying brushwork. You can wipe off at any stage, so my method is to go in too strong then lift out with a brush or rag. 14in by 10in Oils.
A beautiful day in Cerne Abbas with the Hardy Monkeys which is an off shoot of the Brass Monkeys in London. Sadly getting to the London days with the Monkeys has become too difficult as the trains are always dire on weekends due to engineering. So I have inaugurated a West Country version! The light was gorgeous and stayed quite constant so I finished in one go which is always gives me a good feeling. 14in by 10in Oils.
I was on bit of a roll so I got this done in one stab as well, the same street but looking the other way. The light was so good almost every direction had a possible painting. The low winter light is so wonderful to paint. 14in by 10in Oils.
Cerne Abbas again. A studio job this one. I wanted to experiment a bit with palette and design. 14in by 10in Oils.
That’s it I must get back to the watercolours soon but am steadily getting more fluent with oil paint which gives me hope!
It is the Wapping Group’s annual show at the Mall Galleries which runs from the 13th March to the 18th I have 5 London pictures in it so have my fingers crossed for sales.