Tag: microcosm

Whistle-stop tour

After neglecting my blog for far too long, this entry will have to be a brief run-down of my work over the last few months. In December I was still preoccupied with my series ‘In Medias Res’, in which I paint sections of longer objects – be they flower spires, ears of wheat, tree-trunks or, appropriately, icicles – almost as chapters of a larger story (from the latin, ‘in the middle of things’). The delphinium was the second in the series, and I struggled to capture the papery delicacy of the petals. However, in the end I was really pleased with the powerful colour balanced, which is so outside my usual, subtle palette. As I painted, it was the richer purples which felt most vivid, but actually on reflection it is the paler, lavender hues which sing most against the golden ground.

The icicles painting was initially conceived as another ‘Medias Res’, and was a joy to paint. The optical effects of undulating ice felt extraordinarily abstract and yet surprisingly realistic at the same time. There are times as an artist when you genuinely see something which you would not have noticed as a mere observer, and this was the case with the bubbles suspended at the centre of the larger icicles. Not only are these a beautiful visual detail, they seem to suggest the freezing of time, as well as water.

My other seasonal work was the microcosm of a brussel sprout. I had been mulling over this ever since I saw James Acaster’s book tour, in which he describes a series of cabbage-based pranks. As with so many of my pictures, what began as a purely visual idea began to take on surprising meanings as I planned the work. From the outside, a sprout looks like a ball of layers, but I became transfixed by the fact that, cut in half, the inside reveals a tree-like structure, with the branches radiating out to support the surface. And so round and round in my head while I drew this microcosm went the carol: ‘The Tree of Life my soul hath seen, laden with fruit and always green’. Though the symbolism made complete sense to me, I thought it would seem mad to anyone else, and so I was delighted that it was snapped up by a herbalist, who saw in the image the power of nature to heal and regenerate.

 

At the start of the new year, I worked to complete my collection of Tiny Treasures, with the exciting prospect of them going on display at Blossom Street Gallery, in York. My additions were two insects, both edged in gold, and a silver fish cut into ‘two pieces of silver’. With these three I wanted to emphasise the precious, jewel-like quality of these miniatures, with the gold outlines inspired by religious icons. On a practical level, the gold backgrounds made it possible to paint in the fine outline details of hairs and delicate legs, which would have been impossible to cut out. As with my other Tiny Treasures, I loved working in such concentrated detail on these, though it was terrifying when I came to the point of cutting in two the silver fish! It was wonderful to recently see pictures of the collection displayed beautifully by the Blossom Street Gallery in glass cabinets, which perfectly echo the glass and metal frames.

However, the biggest milestone since the new year has been finishing a series of five small canine portraits. It was a wonderful to capture each of these different personalities. Some people might think that portraying a pet is somewhat sentimental, that one retriever looks very much like another. But I hope this collection of characterful boys argues otherwise! To finish the set involved a day of revisiting each portrait to add little details, particularly the hairs around the muzzles, but it’s a stressful task, as you don’t want to overwork and lose any of the virtues of the existing painting. Now dry, this collection should soon be with their owner and for the first time in over a year, I have no canine commissions in hand! So, if anyone has been waiting to commission a pet portrait – now is your chance (it is, after all, the year of the dog).

Bringing us up to the present. While all outside is white, my current work-in-progress is all about black. It is another poem-painting, in the same format as ‘Pied Beauty’, which I painted two years ago. This painting is inspired by a different poet: the start of ‘Under Milk Wood’ by Dylan Thomas. This radio-poem-drama begins at night in a small town, as the listener witnesses the dreams of its residents. The evocative opening description involves a number of types of black: ‘bible-black’, ‘sloe-black’, ‘crow-black’, and the black ‘fishing-boat-bobbing sea’. I want to capture the visual connections between these vivid metaphors. I began too hastily with ‘crow-black’, which will need to be revisited. However, progress on the sloes has been very rewarding. Much like the icicles, the patches of turquoise, deep navy, pale lavender and ochre seem to make very little visual sense, and yet they gradually knit together under the brush to create these mini black and blue plums. The shadows are particularly interesting, with light being reflected from one sloe onto another.

So, over the coming weeks I will be working away on this, and on a new Medias Res of apricot foxgloves.

In Medias Res

‘In the middle of things’. This phrase is well known to literature students, for when an author dives into the middle of the action, rather than starting at the beginning of the story. Apart from being the title of my latest series of paintings, this phrase also neatly sums up the last few months. I have been lucky enough to have my work on display in two exhibitions for the first time – one Microcosm in London as part of the DRAW exhibition at the Menier Gallery, and then a much larger collection of my work at a local exhibition in Hurworth Village Hall. I was particularly pleased to be able to display my tiny treasures en masse for the first time.

Painting took a knock during August and September, as my health again went downhill. But thanks to a new consultant (a specialist in epi-genetics and chronic illness) I am slowly making improvements again. My first mission, once I was back with brush in hand, was to finish a wedding portrait, commissioned as an anniversary present.

Since then I have taken a break from commissions in order to experiment a bit. My new series, ‘In Medias Res’, was borne out of the my recent experience of seeing the Rothko room at the Tate Modern. I loved the impact his enormous canvases made through simple shapes and careful control of colour. I wondered if I could take a similarly simple concept of design – in my case just a column/vertical line – but marry this with realism. So each painting in this series is essentially a textural, coloured ground, bisected by a column of contrasting colour. In the first two paintings, this column comprises a spire of flowers. As each painting only captures a small section of each column, almost like a chapter from a longer novel, I decided that the series should be called ‘In Medias Res’.

In practice, calibrating the contrasting colours has been the most challenging aspect, involving colour theory which I can’t go into in detail. However, the basic principle is that if colours are of exactly equal tone, the eye struggles to perceive the image as clearly and so the colours seem more vibrant. In the foxtail lily, these colour contrasts are partly within the  flowers themselves, as the peach is contrasted with cobalt blue shadows. In grey scale, the flowers suddenly look flat, because the contours have been achieved with colour rather than tone.

My next project in this series is a spire of delphinium flowers, but I also have a birch tree, lavender flower, floxglove and stalk of barley ready to go! Another series for which I’m brimming with ideas is my set of microcosms. I was delighted that Microcosm #3: ‘A World of Many Parts’ was accepted by the Society for Graphic Fine Art for their annual London exhibition. For my next microcosm I am torn between a brussel sprout (yes, a brussel sprout), and the iris of an eye! In the meantime, I have been continuing my work in pencil with a floral commission. I was captivated by delicate shadows on this simple Japanese anemone, which I have called ‘Halo’, having spent hours on that intricate ring of stamens!

I will soon be making a return to my canine portraits, as well as working on some paintings inspired by poetry. However, painting is now very much in the middle of many other things, including research, tutoring and script-reading. I just hope my health holds up amidst so many exciting and interesting projects. In the meantime I have started to create a calendar of my work from the past year, which you can see on my rkalbanart facebook page. If you would be interested one for £10, please leave a comment below, as I will only be ordering a small number. As I’m sure you are also ‘in medias res’, I will leave it there!

Learning Lessons

Another couple of months slip by and I hardly know what I’ve done with them! Of course, our wonderful/terrible cavapom puppy still dominates, and is soon to make her debut in my artwork as the 5th in my series of Microcosms…

Fitting art around a puppy and, recently, deteriorating health, has been a struggle, but here and there I’m been about to break through it all and paint! To get back into oils I painted a beautiful Lurcher called Emrys. You might image one dog portrait is very much like another, but although some features like noses and eyes become familiar, painting this dog required an entirely unfamiliar palette, new facial shapes and proportions, and even different brushwork, to capture the smooth contours of short fur. I painted his face much more in sections, as you can see here, before blending them together. Those soft, soulful eyes were a delight to capture, and quietly watched me as I completed the rest!

Emboldened by my success with Emrys, I turned to completing a challenging painting of water and lemons, as part of my series on Life with Lyme. I struggled most with the lemons. Yellow is a notoriously difficult colour to work with, especially in shadow. Blue in shadow is dark blue; red in shadow is dark red; yellow in shadow lurches in greens and muddy browns. In truth, I made this painting a lot worse before I made it better! After a morning overthinking the yellows, mixing and muddying them, I stepped right back and looked at my reference photo at only thumbnail-size, to discover that what I was lacking was simply pure yellow itself. For the last couple of hours I finished this painting largely by taking a large brush (well, large for me!) and using lemon and cadmium yellow almost straight from the tube. A bit of wasted time perhaps, but another lesson learned!

In August I enjoyed returning to the more conceptual world of my microcosm series. After watching James Fox’s excellent series on Japanese art and culture, I became captivated by the concept of ‘Ma’ or negative space. This is the idea that the space between things is as aesthetically powerful as the things themselves. In music this would be the effect of rests between notes, in writing the things left unsaid, and in art the spaces between objects. Since May I had been musing on the globe alliums in the central bed of our tiny garden. This whole bed is designed around the sphere motif – from yew balls at the corners, to our lollypop privet, to our alliums and verbena bonariensis. The wonderful thing about the alliums is the space captured between the outer skin of flowers which forms the spherical shape. These tiny stars are held on spoke-like stems emanating from the centre. Microcosm is entirely the right word. As one friend pointed out, each flower is like a mini cosmos of stars, but you could look at this stunning structure at a microscopic level too, as a model of the atom itself – largely empty space with electrons orbiting a central nucleus.

So much for the ideas. The execution was fun but fiddly, with each tiny star requiring exact marks to capture the detail of tiny petals, stamen and stigma with clarity. After that it was a question of balancing light and dark so as to convey both the overall shape of the sphere and the recession towards the centre. I was delighted that it was snapped up before I had even completed it, and can’t wait to frame it and hand it over for display in the owner’s first house!

Lastly, I have been expanding my range of tiny treasures with seasonal fruit. We no longer think of strawberries or raspberries as seasonal treasures, thanks to their year-round availability in supermarkets. But, for the first time, this year my husband and I grew our own. With only one raspberry bush and three strawberry plants, each fruit was indeed precious and we generally ate them individually and without accompaniment, to really savour them. We even taste-tested the three varieties of strawberry plants we bought, and were amazed by the variation in flavour. However, the strawberry was an unexpected challenge, and took three goes before I achieved this version. The raspberry was more compliant, and soon my collection of tiny treasures will be available online, so do keep an eye out during September!

Usually I round off with a taster of things to come, but instead I wanted to end with some good news. First, a large selection of my work will be appearing in my first joint exhibition at the end of September, in Hurworth Village Hall, alongside other local photographers and artists. Second, after my disappointment with the rejection of my art from an exhibition a few months ago, I can now celebrate the acceptance of my third microcosm, ‘A World of Many Parts’ into the annual exhibition of the Society for Graphic Fine Art, which will be showing at the Menier Gallery from 2nd to 14th October. I can’t wait to see it on a London gallery wall. If you are in the area, please drop by!

Big Picture, little pictures

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!

berriesMy 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.

blighted-budThe 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!

left-behind

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!

microcosm-2

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!

crumped-world-framedWith 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!