Writing this Blog is a kind of therapy. I find it cathartic to record my thoughts, my inspiration, my work and all things art-related. As an art diary, it has become a useful record to look back on.
Lockdown due to Covid-19 has brought many changes to my life (as for everyone.) With exercise facilities and swimming pools shut, I’ve been walking more than I’ve ever done before. I’ve discovered many previously unknown tracks and paths close to my home where I’ve lived for 32 years. I feel fitter.
Like many people, I have felt more connected with nature – from the wildflowers changing in the hedgerows and the rapid growth of crops in the fields to the variety of birds at a local nature reserve. It’s been a joy to watch the antics of birds in our garden – baby robins fledging from a hedge and a pair of courting pheasants. I decided I wanted to get my paints out to record some special lockdown moments by sketching.
As a child, I used to draw all the time – my favourite hobby – but I’ve lost the habit. Getting started was hard – blank pages are scary – but I found it very enjoyable. Here are a few… These have been sketched quickly in acrylic paint with biro or pen added over the top (from my photos, not drawn from life.)
There have been memorable moments on my walks and great spotted woodpeckers seem to have featured frequently: a baby on the ground having fallen from a tree, hopping back up a bank to safety.
Two woodpecker holes in the same silver birch tree with such a noise coming from the nests inside – I wish I’d taken a recording. (I returned 2 weeks later but the babies had fledged.) On another occasion, a baby woodpecker was attacked in the local lane by a sparrow hawk. Some children brought the stunned bird to a friend’s garden where it recovered in a darkened cardboard box and flew away an hour later.
My usual work with found materials is slow to produce and I’ve enjoyed doing something totally different. Now the challenge for me is to keep going …
I sent a copy of Puffin in progress to the client – she was puzzled by the cardboard glasses in the background, which she didn’t recognise. They had arrived in the box of materials she sent and I thought they must have some special secret significance. But no! It remains a mystery. I have removed them from the work!
I’ve been enjoying working on the Puffin this week (it’s been quite addictive!)
Most of the client’s own materials have been used but a few items were too large and dominant. Also I felt it important to restrict the colour scheme so have not used any dark blue, purple or bright shiny silver.
As this is still ‘work in progress’, there are gaps to be filled and all the stringy glue from the glue gun is yet to be cleaned off in the final stage.
I’ve now exhausted my supply of light green things – I’m expecting a box in the post from a lovely lady who sends me materials (Hi Loren!) so I’m hoping it may contain something I can use!
Because my work is accessible to children, I frequently hear from young people using it as inspiration for a school art project. It makes me happy that I can inspire creativity in someone else. I get messages from teachers and children all over the world – this has been a wonderful and unexpected part of my artistic life.
Last week, I had an email from a teacher who had seen my name in the Sunday Times in connection with home schooling during the Corona virus lockdown (I had no idea!) She scanned and sent me the cutting which she had kept:
During lockdown, I’ve been contacted by a few schools setting home schooling art projects using recycled materials – from Dubai, Los Angeles and Argentina, as well as the UK.
It’s been lovely to be included in these art projects and to be sent images of the children’s work. (I was hugely honoured when one school linked my name with that of Tony Cragg!)
Here are a couple of examples – really stunning work …
Sea-Free by Neal, year 5 Bristol
Girl with Balloon, after Banksy by Lily, Devon
The completed Madonna and Child has gone to the framer today. With its collaged/ painted background, it’s a bit different from my usual work but I’m very happy with it.
Madonna and Child, after Vrubel
I have started a new piece – a close-up of a Puffin from a client’s own photo. I am using a recycled base (which I’ve scraped off and painted) and materials provided by the client. This is quite a random selection of items!
I started by sorting all the collected materials into colours and am trying to use as many of these personal items as possible before adding any extra materials of my own. There are a few items I’ll probably exclude as I’ll need to restrict the colour scheme. However, I think most items can be accomodated in the background of grass and flowers, even if they can’t be used for the Puffin itself. We shall see – an interesting exercise and I’m enjoying the challenge.
Well I’ve nearly finished the Madonna and Child – only the final glue layer to do. But this is absolutely my least favourite stage of the process and I’m putting it off! My framer has re-opened (after locking down as a non-essential business) with a new appointment system. I’ve booked in to take the work for framing in 5 days time – nothing like a deadline to make me finish the job!
In order of enjoyment, I would list the stages of a work like this:
1. Anticipation of starting a new work – the best bit
2. Starting – placing interesting key materials – addictive and I can’t stop working
3. Filling in the gaps – it has to be done
4. Final glue layer – laborious, messy, boring
Because of this, I couldn’t resist starting another piece before finishing the Madonna! See next post…
With non-essential shops and services closed due to Covid-19, I’ve been unable to get new bases, frames or other materials. So I decided to do a bit of re-recycling: re-using old bases from works that hadn’t gone so well…
I’ve been making a work to photograph for my 2020 Christmas card – (never have I been so well organised in advance!) It’s a beautiful image of the Madonna and Child by Russian Expressionist Mikhail Vrubel whom I discovered recently. There is a sadness and serenity in the faces which I love …
I decided to use an old base on which I had previously made a collage from handmade paper and paint, in mainly green-gold and yellow tones. I’d intended to cover this collage with found materials but realized I loved the colours just as it was – there was something of an ancient ‘fresco’ feel to it.
Originally, I had planned a bright gold halo for Mary but it looked wrong – the contrast between the shiny materials and the matt background was too great. I took off most of the gold to tone it down and am much happier with it. Working intuitively, I keep what works and scrape off what doesn’t.
I have added in some small pieces of red and green to link the halo with the background. I’ve realised I often notice more things which are ‘not quite right’ in a photograph of a work than looking at the actual thing – it’s a very helpful stage of the process.
Baby Jesus’s hair is made from gold Go-gos, plastic chains and animals – I’m having great fun!!
More to follow …
Finally, I have finished the new Frida and she will be leaving here to begin her journey to California today. Intuitively, I used a piece of an old green tape measure for the nose as it fitted tonally, and connected the face with the background.
Recently I was watching a fascinating BBC documentary about Matisse, made by his great-granddaughter, Sophie Matisse.
In 1905 Matisse exhibited a portrait of his wife (Woman in a Hat) in Le Salon D’Automne. His radical use of bright unnatural colours caused outrage and hilarity among public and critics alike, leading them to label Matisse and others who were expressing themselves differently, as Les Fauves (the Wild Beasts.)
Matisse was defiant. The same year he produced another portrait of Amelie (Mdm Matisse with Green Stripe) and in 1906, Self Portrait in a Striped T-shirt:
Please understand that I’m not in any way trying to compare myself with Matisse (!) – merely musing on the idea that using green for skin tones caused outrage 100 years ago and now would not merit a second glance or a raised eyebrow!
What a very strange and unprecedented time we are living through!
Artists are fortunate in that they can immerse themselves in their practice and be lost in ‘flow’ as they immerse themselves in their creativity and block out the outside world. Grayson Perry made this point in his wonderful TV show for lockdown – Grayson Perry’s Art Club (Monday evenings 8pm Channel 4.) For pure escapism and joy, I thoroughly recommend it.
I’ve been enjoying time for reading and have just finished a wonderful little book about John Ruskin by Suzanne Fagence Cooper – To See Clearly: Why Ruskin Matters. Ruskin taught drawing as a means to help everyone to really see the world around them. As well as his life as an artist and art critic, the book encompasses his social thinking and information about his complex personal life.
I’ve been working (very slowly) on a commission of Frida Kahlo – spending hours on minor changes to shading on the face, rather than cleaning the house! (What’s the hurry? I can’t get it framed yet!) It’s been very therapeutic to lose myself in the process of looking and colour matching.
The purple headdress has proved problematic and am now happy with my third attempt. In the 3rd try, I discovered the close association between certain shades of purple and shades of brown. Using more colour variation created greater depth and a more pleasing result.
Images of work in progress:
First attempt – headdress of ‘purple things’, mouth looks too sad, little definition to left of nose…
Second attempt – started but did not complete using purple braid – too bright and uniform – needs to recede more. More successful shading on face – to left of nose, below nose, chin, mouth…
Third attempt – shading on headdress using purple/black/brown. Better – receding…
Now I need to complete the background, fill in the gaps and clean up the whole picture.