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year one part five: don't look back

May feels like November this year. It has been a month of unsettling changes, culminating in the death of my artist friend, Liz, so I have not had the time or the inclination for much artwork. When I haven’t been helping with nursing, I’ve been re-organising my studio and getting rid of etching materials. All my preoccupations met together on a cold, wet Sunday, as I sorted out my early etchings and had a look at them all. I had somehow imagined that my work was all about place, but of course looking back through the collection I remembered the people I had been with and the emotions of the time, now firmly embedded in the images. I must have been stupid to imagine that I could just turn my back on 25 years of work without feeling anything.

I also did a quick assessment of some of the new things I’d been learning this year, mostly with Angelo at my Adult Ed. class. I’ve said before that he brought a sense of lively experimentation to the group and I’ve been surprised by some of the things I’ve enjoyed. Uncle Lenin was top of the list – I loved re-creating the colour palette of the time and looked a lot at Kandinsky, Léger and Ravilious (for the pencil markings).

uncle lenin (watercolour, graphite and ink)
 

uncle lenin (watercolour, graphite and ink)

‘My Venetian Dream’ was also fun and I took great pleasure in chopping up old black and white etchings for the purpose, as well as using some hand printed Italian papers from Venice. I was maybe inspired by the thought of John Malkovitch lurking in the shadows. I kept to a very limited palette on this one because the textures were so extravagant.

my venetian dream (watercolour, textures and collage)
 

my venetian dream (watercolour, textures and collage)

I got quite involved in ‘Love is a Bitch’, using my favourite “bruised” colour palette and black ink. I had two strands of reference in my mind – one was Pinkie in “Brighton Rock”, pinched and mean, with vulnerable Rose (which is why I kept her little mouse-like paws) and the other was the Degas’ ‘Absinthe Drinker’, with the scuffed bar table and muted colours.

love is a bitch (watercolour, textures and ink)
 

love is a bitch (watercolour, textures and ink)

‘Skye Scarf’ was a surprise. It pre-dated 'Cushioned Comfort' and was the first time I’d used watercolour pencils. It was an intricately woven scarf I'd bought in Scotland and I struggled to get the colour differentiation in the squares, with alternate colours taking precedence in the mix. I was able to make it look slightly fluffier in parts by adding water and really learned about blending and layering coloured pencils. It’s unfinished because I had twisted it artlessly on the desk and couldn’t possibly hope to recreate it at home. All these pieces of work were done within a time limit of 2 hours, with not much planning. Some I really enjoyed and continued at home, others were a disaster.

skye scarf (watercolour pencil)
 

skye scarf (watercolour pencil)

The worst efforts have been binned. I was well outside my comfort zone with Mr Stamp and I don’t think he would even get me a low grade GCSE. I did actually draw him upside down, but a similar approach to Fidel Castro a couple of years ago had been much more satisfying.

mr stamp (oil pastel, watercolour and ink)
 

mr stamp (oil pastel, watercolour and ink)

'Secret Garden' in thick acrylics began well with harmonious background colours and layering, but I was inept with the palette knives and ended up with something fit only for a boot fair well away from home. ‘Still Life with Peas’ is even more boring than its title.

I could see some preferences emerging. I had a look at what I’d managed to do relatively successfully and what hadn’t appealed. I am really not comfortable with heavy acrylic work and palette knife painting. I also sense that even if I could do it better, I still wouldn’t warm to the result, which is probably why I never try hard enough. I do like acrylic, especially on board, but thinner, more layered and scraped, with pastel, coloured pencil, sgraffito etc.

The versatility of coloured pencils gives me a real buzz. I was amazed at the way ‘Cushioned Comfort’ developed and felt within my control. It is a very contained medium and doesn’t swirl about doing its own thing while you watch helplessly. I suppose we are inevitably lured towards the medium that suits our temperament. To work with palette knives and thick paint, or in a very free watercolour style you must need a high tolerance of “accidentals” until you are an expert.

Ink has appealed from the start. I like its starkness and drama. It has the same qualities I found in the etched line. Do I like botanical painting? It’s full of contradictions: intense but calming, controlled but expressive. You have to have a different vision or it’s just a specimen. Watch this space.

next month: back to the drawing board