I often write my blog when I’m feeling ill, which is partly because when I’m well enough to paint or study, I paint or study! But it’s also because I find it encouraging to look back over what I have created since my last post, while I’m potentially feeling a bit low about not being productive. Since my last post the big picture for me has shifted considerably – from looking at a future in philosophy, I’ve rediscovered my true home in art and art history, and from looking towards a year of studying a conversion course, I find myself with another year to devote to art full time with the hope of starting an MA in Art History and Theory in 2017. This new, big picture, has meant lots more little pictures, both already completed and in the offing. Here’s a whistle stop tour!
My first thought was, unsurprisingly, Christmas! However, having begun this painting of crystallised, melting snow on festive berries, I realised that November is utterly the wrong time for an artist to be thinking about Christmas – it is too late to produce any cards and way too late for card publishers. So, I’ll probably return to this in late December or January, because in the meantime I’m hoping to submit an artwork for national exhibition for the first time.
The deadline is mid-December and a very open brief, so I am opting for a still life that I have been wanting to paint ever since we first moved into our house: a bud vase brimming with the first roses that we picked from the garden. However, over the last couple of weeks I have been struck by the rose buds still lingering on our rose bushes – in November for goodness sake! Poignantly, these rose buds have been petrified at this nascent stage by the increasing cold, and rather than blooming the tight buds have been mottled and damaged with cold and rain and wind. So, beside the vase of radiant blooms I have interposed this symbol of lost potential, though I hope to make it beautiful in its own right. With the deadline fast approaching, I can only hope to put paint to palette asap!
However, just as my first ‘microcosm’ had been an inspired distraction, last week I had another idea for the series – and with the subject at hand, I felt compelled to begin, and with the lighting all set up and occupying our main study, I felt compelled to finish… The subject was of course, a ball of string, though from now on it will be referred to as a ball of wool, due to strict instructions from its new owner, ‘the lady in black’! After drawing the paper ball, I was interested to find another example of a man-made globe, with all the inevitable connotations of the way we manipulate our world in both constructive and detrimental ways. The ball of thread immediately attracted me – the cliché of our lives being interwoven is increasingly important in the context of globalisation and our improving awareness (in some quarters…) of the interconnected ecosystems in the natural world. And of course, it has been hard since the election of the most unsuitable president in US history, not to think that the world as we know it might be unravelling. From the start I wanted the ball to be unravelling from the centre – somehow that seemed much more significant – and so it was real moment of artistic resonance when I happened to be reading Yeat’s poem The Second Coming, which yielded the title of the piece: ‘The Centre Cannot Hold’. Lots of big ideas for a very little picture!
So much for the concept. The execution was another matter! You might suppose that this microcosm was much more repetitive than the first – and you’d be right, but not quite as right as you would think. The more I stared at each strand, and saw it made up of yet finer twists of thread, the more I could see how different patterns emerged depending on the tension in that part of the yarn. There was also huge visual variety created by the angle of the light – I set up a strong light source to the left of the ball, in part to emphasis the spherical shape and the central chasm, but also as a reference ‘the great globe itself’. Indeed, with such a strong light source, and so much eye-watering detail to contend with, the hardest aspect of the whole project was not to overwork the drawing, with the detail easily dominating the overall shape of light and shade. In fact, I’ve changed my mind, the hardest thing was actually the visual organisation required – keeping track of exactly which bit of which thread you were drawing at any particular moment was both headache-inducing and strangely mesmerising!
With my ‘Crumpled World’ now framed (see left) and both microcosms already sold, I have many more ideas for the series, when I next have a microcosm-sized window of health and energy. But, with a diary now freed up for painting, I have these projects to look forward to as well: a watercolour of sunrise by a very significant pond, another canine project, a Lyme inspired series of still lifes and a new departure in wedding portraiture (if you recently had a wedding and would be interested in commissioning a guinea pig portrait for a huge discount (I’m talking 70% off my usual rate) then please get in touch!). I think that’s enough to be going on with… As I said: a big picture, made up of many little pictures!