Checking In

So hi. It’s been a while since I wrote about how things are going in the studio. This, writing on here, is an integral part of my studio practice, is something I don’t what to let slip away. Thinking through writing = important! Since I last checked in, I’ve finished two new paintings, they are:

I finished them in a whirlwind 5 days. There were some open calls closing at the end of the week and I wanted new work to submit for them. A bit risky, since these paintings are the first on a new avenue of work. But I think setting deadlines for yourself is crucial to getting things done! So I’m glad I did.

Method of working

I started both paintings weeks ago, but perhaps half of the work, or even two-thirds of the work was done in one week. I had not worked on paintings purely in the studio in a long time. Perhaps years? Usually a piece is completed totally outside, or at least partly outside. With both of these, I was working completely in the studio, and aimed to work in silence for long periods ie. with no podcast or music or conversation. I found this difficult! Draining, slow, painful at times. This is because painting from memory meant bringing that memory to the surface (side note: that phrase really mirrors Abram’s theory that the past is buried in the ground and we have to dig deeper to access the past that is ‘further back’ in time). Bringing memory to the surface takes concentration, focus, mental intention. Rather than drifty action or anything easy and simple that the mind tends towards! Our minds automatically tend towards multi-tasking, doing something and being somewhere else. Perhaps that is a result of the modern world we live in (a subject for another time). Anyway this method of painting is like an anchor in the present moment and I like that.

With this way of working, I felt like I was feeling my memories out. Visually arranging them, and this process led to making sense of them. Yes. I wrote in my sketchbook: “Things [memories] are vying for space, overwhelming each other”. I was referring to the space on the canvas. Of fitting forms, bodily memories, impressions, shapes, colours into the cuboid format of the painting. It’s interesting that – fitting these things into a rectangle, with careful, precise edges. Perhaps playing around with paintings that sway out over the edges somehow, or paintings that don’t follow a conventional shape (like this artist I have been loving on instagram).

I haven’t had much practice with the subject of memory. Nuria said something interesting in a recent group crit; she pointed out that as one recalls memory, it is getting remade in our heads, rewritten over the older version of the memory; it morphs, changes, with time. depending on how often we recall it, I guess, and our experiences that come after it. And so it’s interesting that I am talking about ‘arranging’ memory with this painting process. That means re-writing it to fit into the shape of a painting? I don’t mean erasing, just editing… Perhaps this is true. I have not read anything about memory recall, so I feel like a novice writing about it! Perhaps some research into memory recall within painting/drawing would be good. Very Howard Hodgkin-esque.

During the painting process I wrote in my sketchbook “Painting [the] memory of feeling as well as [the] memory of sight – that requires focus.” Yes. At some point in the process I realised I could recall deeper layers of memories – feelings within memories. This takes focus, hence how draining it was.

Something I enjoyed about working in the studio was the periods of pause that I took between working on each painting. I would sit for some time (on the sofa in our studio) staring at the paintings. Or taking ‘eye breaks’ from them by working on something else or leaving the studio. It felt like I was playing a bit of a game with these paintings! Toying with them, letting my eyes rest, returning, feeling things out, plotting my next moves. As I saw in this De Kooning youtube video I watched recently, I was listening to the painting to tell me what it needed next. Although that feels like a rather cold way of framing the process – no surprise when it comes from a 20th c. male painter huh. The painting and I have an intimate connection, one which ebbs and flows, which is playful, which is full of resting and energy, or compassion and lust and calm and frustration. What my choice of words shows me is that it is an emotional, personally significant process! Not a cold objective listening, which De Kooning described it being.

Thoughts on the finished paintings

Density, dense – words which are fitting for the paintings. Dense information pockets < lovely language. Some areas denser than others. Take ‘Long Thin Map’:

The denser parts of the painting are where I have packed larger geographical areas into the canvas. More phenomena in a smaller amount of canvas. It’s interesting how that happens. Why? Why do some areas of smaller geographical area need more space and some parts need less space to pack a lot into. Is it that I ran out of space? That the canvas size is restricting? Is it an aesthetic choice? I feel a painting needs breathing room, places within the painting where the eye can rest, before returning to high energy. If the painting was all dense, the eye might not be able to rest anywhere on the canvas. It might not work.

As I write this, I pause to look at ‘Encroaching Darkness’ lying on the studio floor. I’ve brought it out to help me write this. I’m moving my eye over the painting, and the patches scrape back memories in the places which I made this painting about. It’s kind of a knitty-gritty, strong digging up the surface layer (of soil- David Abram reference), to unveil the memories within. ‘Enroaching darkness’ certainly gives the impression of a terrain within the painting.

This is a bit of a chaotic diagram. Two things going on: the white lines mark paths I have picked out in the painting, in the terrain of abstract brushstrokes. Everyone I am sure interprets this differently. I do hope that a viewer gets the sense of a terrain in the painting. Terrain. I like that word. The paths don’t quite make sense though, and that’s where the black lines come in. These lines encircle areas where the brushstrokes give the impression of viewing a larger area of terrain ie. viewing a landscape from afar. Through my eyes, parts of the painting ebb and flow from near to far. Far away paths open up onto close-up clearings. It reminds me of Dora The Explorer! Something embedded in my childhood which I was fascinated with it. In Dora The Explorer distance doesn’t quite make sense; the horizon line is complicated so a building sits higher up and larger than it should be in the supposed distance. Paths snake through the landscape at awkward angles, twisting, to end up in round-about routes at a destination. Paths that take a long time to walk along are squashed into small areas on the map. From every point in the landscape, the perspective of the landscape around Dora looks different. I think this is also true for my painting ‘Encroaching Darkness’.

What could be better

Working on a bigger canvas. Giving me more room to expand on areas. The scale of marks can be far broader; from small detail to broad, gestural brushstrokes.

So far these maps are flat to the canvas, ie. all one plane. I would like to try putting drawings and smaller paintings(?) on the canvas and incorporating them into the painting. Trying to use card that would have a noticeable protrusion from the canvas surface. Since these alternative map paintings are created out of parts, it seems fitting to play with breaking up the flat plane of the canvas.

Colour palette: ‘Long Thin Map’ is very colourful. I want to play with colour more. Limiting my colour palette, playing with different extremities of light and dark. All these good things!!!!!

What’s next

I’m kind of at a loss. I’m back here in Morecambe, I have my car. Where? How? I need to go outside and paint. That’s it really. I just don’t have any more canvas. And money is running a bit short at the moment. I’m being distracted by things that make money, by other projects.

I have this half finished canvas:

It’s been sitting in my studio for a few months now, I was never quite sure how to paint the yellow bit. I know now I’m going to paint Morecambe bay. The grid blue area is kind of the expansive open sky, the yellow is the land around it. I want to look into medieval maps, you know the ones in a circular shape. I want to draw on them for inspiration.

I guess the thing I have to overcome to do this is paint plein air along the Morecambe bay. And people! Lots of people! One of the nice things about painting in the countryside, or in a natural area, is that it’s quiet. Away from people, prying eyes, people wanting to chat. It’s strange that I think of this as scary. I don’t need to! People will welcome it I am sure. And this is an amazing time of year.

What do I need? More canvas! Four or five paintings worth I think. Yes. Okay.

And then I have this big squarish canvas. I was thinking about putting charcoal drawings on that one. When I made it I intended it to be about Corfe Mullen again. I’m not sure now. I have been thinking today; what about the Clougha Pike area? That’s somewhere I’ve returned to during the past few months, because of lockdown and being in Lancaster, it’s the closest place and a walkable distance from the house. Hills, valleys, side of the path side of the hill. That would be nice. Yes. I have so much to do! I feel full of good stuff 😊.

Okay for the rest of the day: Instagram post. Another instagram post (on GAP). Think about plein air painting next – materials needed, hows, whens :). Yes! Scary stuff sometimes.

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