Tag: dog painting

Facing Failure and Frustration

When I was at my most disabled, I swore to myself that if I were ever to start living normal life again I would be fearless, I would take opportunities and I would enjoy everything ten times more than I had done before. And of course, just like everyone else, when some of the opportunities have returned I have quickly forgotten what a luxury it is to be painting at all, and have only been frustrated by my efforts and intimidated by the prospect of failure! Over the last few weeks I have spent an entire morning on a series of horrific paintings of a lowly sweet and wasted hours on two versions of a very unsuccessful painting of an interior window! I also failed to make it pass pre-selection for an exhibition at the Mall Galleries.

Of course any artist should be prepared for this rocky journey, but I thought I would share these struggles because when an artist shares only the work she is proud of, it can look like it all comes easily. In fact, a lovely facebook page called procraftinate summed up the agonising process of painting perfectly – you start with a wonderful idea, and a captivating image in your minds eye; you begin and for a while it looks promising – your hopes continue to rise; mistakes creep in, you start to lose that original idea, you start to hate the very sight of your painting. This, for me, sums up the first hour of any painting. By the time I’m an hour in, I’m usually at the point where I want to give up. The bulk of the work will be done against an internal chorus, singing, ‘This is terrible, you are awful at this, this is just a colossal waste of time…’ etc etc. Sometimes, usually after a night’s sleep, I come back to a painting and suddenly see its good points. From then on, the final stretch of painting is braving a nerve-wracking chant of ‘don’t screw it up, don’t screw it up!’

So there you go, after a behind the scenes look into the artistic psyche, here are some of the better bubbles that rose to the surface since my last post:

The first in a short series of paintings showing how Lyme Disease changes the meaning of ordinary objects. Here are lemons – a staple of still life painting (though my first ever attempt in oil), but here they are next to a glass because, for me, lemons mean detoxing from the effects of Lyme treatment. While painting the glass of water was an utterly bewildering experience, it ended up being fairly successful, and will only need minor alterations. The main area still to work on is the cut face of the lemon, which lost all its shine as I worked too quickly and too muddily.

I then decided to finish the portrait of little dog called Jet. You might remember the painting looking quite near completion in a previous post. In fact, it took many more hours to finish – much of that time spent over-fussing, and then trying to recover the original freshness. Over time I hope I will become more selective in these final stages of painting, and have the confidence only to work on a few areas which need adjustment, rather than diving back in head first and losing sight of the whole. As I was painting I was desperately worried about losing the character of this little alert face, but fortunately I think I managed to add the detail, particularly around the muzzle, without losing the all the good points in the first layer of paint!

Now follows a collection of new endeavours, which, for want of a better (or even, good) name, I’m calling ‘tiny treasures’.

I was captivated really by these double sided brass frames, which are now being used as a trendy way to display photos or pressed flowers. However, I love the way that these little frames seem to crystallise and suspend what is inside, so my hope is to make tiny paintings to play with the idea of a solid object being impossibly squeezed between two panes of glass. I also want to explore the idea of ‘treasure’ – selecting things which are fragile, sparkling, transient or perfectly formed. My first few have been a blackbird egg, an unfurling fern frond and a rusty key. As you can see, sometimes I use torn edges, like a fragment of life itself, and sometimes I have very carefully cut out the painting so that it really looks like the object is suspended in mid-air.  If these go down well, I have many more ideas to come…

Lastly, after my crisis in confidence a week or so ago, I decided I need to do some art from my own development, and so have started a work where the subject will be split into four fragments and each will be executed with a different medium, as an exercise and exploration of how different media bring out different qualities in the subject. My hope is that, as a whole, the work will be coherent and realistic, but individually the sections will feel painterly and abstract. I hope that leaves you interested! More on that, I hope, next time.

Until then, I will be trying to be less frustrated and fearful about my art, and rediscover the spirit of joy underneath all that self-imposed pressure! Wishing everyone else, too, a fear-less, frustration-less, pressure-less, joy-ful Easter weekend!

Portraits in Parts

You know those times where it feels like just one thing after another? Well, over the last few weeks if it hasn’t been newly-discovered health complications, it’s been the expected rigours of treatment, and if it hasn’t been treatment getting me down, it’s been the good old common cold. Amidst this turnstile of illness it’s been hard to squeeze in the art, but where I found a moment or two, it’s been all about portraits.

I love portraits and I never do enough of them because it’s no longer fashionable to commission a portrait. But there are few things as beautiful and engaging as a face to paint. And that face need not be human! Having grown up with dogs, there is a similar kind of connection that can be had from looking into a dog’s eyes as a human’s. Those of you who’ve never owned a dog will not doubt be rolling your own eyes, but I maintain that science backs me up! Dogs look for and perceive emotional cues in human faces which makes it much more meaningful to look at them that at any other animal.

Fortunately I have an almighty commission of five canine portraits coming up over the next year – almighty in terms of number but not, of course, in terms of scale. These are portraits will all be only 5 inches high, but I hope will capture just as much personality as a grand life-size affair. And, true to my predilections, I’ve started with the smallest of the family: a little chap called Jet:

I enjoy working in almost-monochrome, although you might be surprised at the quantities of blue, purple, ochre and sienna that went into this symphony of black and white! With such a limited palette I was able to work quickly, but this portrait will take a thorough revisiting because fine detail just gets swallowed up when dealing which such a dominant and dark colour.

Of course, the most interesting thing about canine portraits is how different the facial shapes can be. I’m well versed in the anatomy of golden retrievers and labradors, but Jet and my next subject, Emrys, are quite different! I’m very much looking forward to tackling the statuesque silhouette of this young lurcher, and it will be interest to paint a short coat with a much more refined texture.

In terms of human portraits, I haven’t been able to work up any finished paintings but instead have been working on a new concept with the aim of capturing the multi-faceted nature of the individual – not a single view but a “Portrait in Parts”. I was first inspired by reading an interview with David Hockney, where he explains how important it is to him that his portraits include the sitter’s feet, because so much can be implied by their choice of footwear. This struck a chord. When you paint a person’s face, you are largely painting something over which they have had relatively little control. Their sense of style, the objects the collect and use, their preferences and opinions – these are indicative of their chosen self, rather than simple physiognomy. Of course, I have no intention to abandon facial depiction, and indeed, other parts of the body, such as the hands, can be very individual and distinctive. Instead, my portrait in parts is an attempt to glimpse all these elements at once:

My guinea pig was my lucky husband, who got very little say in the ‘parts’ that I chose! (One would hope I know him well enough to make a decent stab at his style and preferences…) Here I enjoyed the contrast between areas of detail and the clean, simple square of blue. The main portrait element would almost always be done in oil, but for the sake of a mock up I have done a simple sketch.

The most fun I have had so far with this idea was with a close friend visiting us a few weekends ago:

Of course, in a traditional portrait, the sitter is completely at the mercy of the artist, who is in a much better place to decide how to commit their appearance to paper than their subject! However, what was so enjoyable about this form of portraiture was the collaborative nature of the process – it felt like doing a private ‘Desert Island Discs’ interview to find out what colours, objects, garments, symbols and quotations most captured their total personality. I loved the resulting mock up too because it had so much in it that could only have been contributed by the sitter herself, and for her the resonances behind the objects are so powerful – full of memories and significances which the casual observer cannot guess. As another bonus, I think I may have discovered an fruitful outlet for my recent attachment to drawing wooden spoons: why not progress onto antique coffee spoons?!

At the other end of the spectrum, both in terms of my affection for the ‘sitter’ and the extent of their participation (i.e. None!), I then turned to the notorious new president of the United States:

While the process was much less enjoyable, I still found the possibilities of this format interesting, this time in highlighting political issues rather than personal reflections (though, as the bottom-right square indicates, I doubt there would be much of a soul to portray anyway). From an artist’s point of view, the different parts still offer diverse artistic challenges, such as the golden ingots and brick wall, no matter how distasteful the person may be!

I would love to work on more of these. Usually mock-ups will be £15, (which would then be deducted from the cost of a fully worked up, painted portrait) but for the first three people to get in touch I will make up one for free! The mock-up would involve a ‘consultation’ with me, by phone or facebook messenger or email, and of course a little hand-drawn sketch for you to keep. So have a think – what would the parts of your portrait be?