7. Choosing the dimensions for a piece of work
Usually one chooses the shape of the paper or canvas one intends to work on at the outset, but does this have to be the case? Not necessarily. The shape that one uses can start and finish the same, but equally can evolve along the way. For example, I have tried working on a triangular shaped surface and that comes with it’s own particular set of challenges.
During my schooling the paper that was handed out seemed always to be of standard rectangular dimensions and no one was expected to challenge that (I believe it was referred to as 'imperial' or 'half imperial'). One had two choices… to work with the paper placed vertically or horizontally…. And that was that! It came as a pleasant surprise when I moved to college and it was suggested that one should make a 'choice' to work on circular, triangular and even wobbly edge surfaces.
I chose the dimensions of this week’s ‘Picture of the Week’ to echo the kind of landscapes seen in Wilshire and Dorset– open skies, rolling downs and wide vistas. I wanted to cash in on that sense of looking out and around and taking in a wide view of things. The picture is almost in three sections (like a triptych). I thought it was important to create some verticals in the picture to help with the composition. In fact it is important to think hard about verticals in any work as these influence how the work comes together.
The overall effect is rather like looking out of a window on to the landscape. Ben Nicholson used this kind of device in some of his work. Have a look at the Tate St Ives Gallery site to check this out.
'As Wide As...' acrylic on treated canvas 127 cm X 30cm - Liz Cleves
Midsummer is nearly here. This picture is one I painted a couple of years ago. The title came after the picture... as is often the case! Naming artworks can be a tricky business. How much should one influence the looker and how much should one leave unsaid?
I used a number of different blues to make this piece of work - indigo, ultra-marine, turquoise, cerulean....... In the past blue pigments could be difficult to obtain and very expensive. I am lucky to have such a choice.
5. Responding to Music
I have begun to work on calico as opposed to canvas duck. This is the second picture on calico.
Firstly, though, I have to tell you about why this picture has developed as it has......
I had put down some sepia paint as a thin wash on the calico - as a starting point to work on from. Then I began to hear part of the Planet Suite by Gustav Holst playing in the next room so I dropped the paint brush into the water jar and went to listen more.
Professor Brian Cox was introducing The Planet Suite and talking about how the music was conceived by Holst. He was comparing Holst's knowledge with what we now know about the planets. It was an amazing programme.... both for the planetary images and the music.
I felt that making progress with my painting could now be inspired by the images and the music itself. (I particularly love Jupiter for it's vivacity). Because I also love dance, I wanted to create a sense of space and movement in this piece.
Here's a thought.... it is amazing that we ourselves are planetary influences... affecting our planet in everything we do!
'Filetosa 1' acrylic on calico 70 cm x 53 cm - Liz Cleves
Dipping into my past art work
It’s often useful to think back to what inspired one as an artist along the way. This can inform what one is doing in the present and help with decisions about ‘what to do next’.
Still Life with Sunlight below, was made in 2012. I had been looking at the work of the St Ives School and found the work of Ben Nicholson particularly interesting at that time. I had been thinking hard about how to move on from representational work and wanted to begin to develop abstract ideas through discovering new ways of composing my pictures– particularly reflecting on what to put in and what to leave out. I was impressed with Nicholson’s work in that he was a brilliant graphic worker and able to describe space using line. I often looked at his drawing skills and composition as there I could get to see exactly how he was ‘making’ his pictures. A useful example is his work December 1951. Many of the drawn lines are off the vertical and off the horizontal. The product of that is that the images group together and the composition becomes tighter. The effect for me is that I feel thrown into the picture and instantly part of the picture space. I like that.
'Still Life with Sunlight' - Oil on canvas 2012 Liz Cleves
When I began work on Still Life with Sunlight, I set up a structure using similar devises to begin to organise the visual space. Immediately new compositional opportunities showed up. I could now see new ways of balancing form and colour. My thinking moved away from representation towards finding a more imaginative way of expressing an idea about a still life. The picture moved on from being about a lamp, a table and some plants to an expression of how light falls on objects and produces colour. It also became an adventure in organising the picture space to create a lively composition.
Ultimately, I called the picture Still Life with Sunlight because it was light that gave direction to the way the work developed. In the end it was the balance of colour used and effects of light that emerged as the most important elements of the work, while the linear aspects provided the structure.
I discovered Van Morrison's music late on. I wish I'd heard it many years back. For one, the lyrics are great. Two, the musicians he has in his band are brilliant. Three, it is good music to have playing when I'm painting. It's good music to work to, as it doesn't interfere with my thoughts but encourages me to work forward. So... this picture is dedicated to poetry in music and poetic musicians.
The picture is an acrylic on stretched canvas. I worked with thin paint at first ... watered down a great deal so it would work into the canvas. Then I built up layers of colour. I used some Golden gold to mix in with the other pigments to create a faint sparkle (like moon light). The composition is, to some extent, structured on a grid which gives the picture some formality.
There are many ways of experiencing art, depending on many things including personal experience and preference; and experiences of art – both general, and in relation to education and the exposure one will have had to art (cultural, environmental, bias, etc).
For every person there is a difference in the sense of how something looks, feels, tastes, etc. So, it follows that the process of making art is going to amount to each person making something individual, personal and meaningful. Everyone will have a different set of thought processes and outcomes to bring to any art they make. It all depends, I suppose, on your ‘wiring’!
Consider too that there are plenty of examples of artists work being affected by their mental or physical state. For example, Dadd had significant mental problems. El Greco’s work looked elongated because of his astigmatism.
If we throw in cultural norms, and the perceived value of the arts in education (or not!) immediately one can see that there are huge variations in perceptions of how to make and look at art.
There is much that can be said about art in education. One is lucky if one has good experiences of making art while in school. This experience can be a bit ‘hit and miss’, and certainly a great many people reach their adult years with only a narrow sense of what art is and, more notably, what it can mean for the individual. (Sometimes it seems as though art is regarded as a ‘luxury’ that ‘doesn’t matter that much!’)
Making art and talking about it requires a whole vocabulary that might not necessarily be useful in every-day-speak. The more often we involve our selves in creative activity, the more often we extend our range of vocabulary. Experiencing dance, music, painting, etc. allows the individual to express themselves in a personal way and consequently, to develop vocabulary and ways of expressing ideas that fit those experiences. At the outset, children are often likely to express their ideas more freely and creatively if that expression comes out of experiences such as dance, music, etc. (There is a parallel with art. If one wants to justify art in education, it can be said that the value of art is that children emerge, from these ‘multimedia’ processes as more fluent, confident and, very importantly, involved in what they say. Also, the quality of written work that children produce is frequently more vibrant, expressive and bold as a result of creative experiences).
Much of the vocabulary that creative people use is ‘process’ led. Processes that might include thinking in some, or all, of the following ways: Emotionally, imaginatively, creatively, expressively, poetically, qualitatively, technically, analytically, observationally, physically, critically and so on.
The use of language in art can also have it’s reference in history and science, etc.
Engaging the body in a physical sense is central to making art whether that refers to holding a paintbrush, chiselling rock, beating a drum, dancing, etc. So again, new vocabulary is used throughout the making process.
Our use of language, and particularly our vocabulary, can be as simple or as extended and detailed as we wish. In truth, as soon as we are taught to speak, that very human characteristic becomes our companion in life. We talk to ourselves and to others and vocabulary we choose is what colours our life in all we do.
I have begun to publish a picture image each week on Facebook.
This is the one for this week:
This picture is painted on unprepared canvas. I used mainly Golden paints.
It was developed over several months as I made decisions about the colours I wanted to use. At first, the picture was pale but over time I developed greater intensity in the colour. I also worked on creating texture using thick paint in some areas of the picture.
I thought a lot about the title - which didn't emerge till the work was finished.
I thought that the idea of global voyaging seemed to fit with a lot of conversations people are having at the moment, often about our carbon foot prints and the way we impact on the earth through our travelling.
It also reflects on travelling over oceans... which is exciting and sometimes perilous!
A Painting a Week: 2
Bowl of Light (acrylic on prepared canvas)
I painted this picture about five years ago when I was investing a great deal of interest in developing 'abstract' compositions. The picture evolved over a number of weeks. In that time I considered the composition in terms of colour, shape and balance.
The original inspiration for it came from a visit to Wales. A friend and I had driven to the top of a valley near Llangollen on a wet afternoon. As we turned to dip down into the valley the sun broke through and literally changed everything. The valley danced with light, and to add to the beauty of the event song birds began to sing. It was a magical moment. Moments such as that lodge in my memory and influence my mood and my ideas.
Making Progress in Painting
I have begun to think about how to get back into painting after show-ing my work in St Ives.
The initial problem is facing up to an empty canvas. This is problematic because there is no guarantee that there will be inspiration. The muse may not be there. It is a common thing for artists to find that they lack inspiration, and this may last for days or weeks. Sometimes more! The thing is not to bow to dejection and to let that get the better of one.
It is important to keep turning up to the studio – to sit and think; to organise tubes of paint; to tend brushes, etc. These times are rarely wasted. I have been awaiting the moment when I might put brush to canvas. I am looking forward. This week I have begun to work and to see what may emerge. So here is what have been up to:
I painted a simple acrylic on robust watercolour paper. Next, I cut it up and selecting useful parts that might offer a way forward. I then developed these small bits of inspiration - painting them onto un-stretched canvas.
Some new elements have emerged in these pieces. The palette is restricted and that in itself offers a way forward. Also, the second and third pieces have a sense of space which reminds me of desserts and prairies. Thinking about this ‘spacial’ element could be interesting.
I am unsure of where all of this will lead but I now have things to explore and ideas to build on and that suggests a good start has been made.