Current work in progress thoughts

My new studio in Manchester doesn’t have wifi. I now see the studio as a practical space, somewhere I go to paint and try and test and make, and that feels lovely. The downside is that I’ve fallen out of the habit of writing as a way to think through what I’m working on.

I have been listening and reading a lot about the artist Christina Quarles, and in an interview with Artnet they speak about productivity in the studio. Quarles says:

I think that a process where you can spend more time looking and transitioning can be really meaningful. There’s an inefficiency, I think, to art-making that is really powerful.

This time of looking and transitioning for me is spent in the studio doing mostly one of two things; snacking whilst sat staring at a painting wip, or at my laptop writing kind of stream of thought on this blog whilst facing a painting that is a wip/newly finished.

Not having a laptop with me seems to have mean I skip this crucial part of the making process. I have tried to write in my sketchbook instead, but it just doesn’t seem to work, does anyone else have this? If I try to sit and write with a pen and my sketchbook in hand my head feels empty of words. If I sit in front of this keyboard however, with the familiar WordPress blog layout, perhaps it’s muscle memory, but the words just come out! And I really enjoy it, so much that earlier this Spring I was worried I was loving writing about my practice so much I didn’t want to paint anymore.

I’m going try and bring my laptop to the studio and write offline, but for now here’s a big overview of paintings on the go.

I’m feeling good about the volume of stuff I’m making. It feels so great to be showing up to the studio, after a long time without a permanent working space =. AH. It’s soul giving. I’m making with a lot of abandon. Experimenting with new and exciting things. I can feel the momentum growing, and that sticky, messy feeling of being in the middle of a creative practice, beginning to poke it’s head in through the studio door. I love that feeling.

One of the paintings I’m working on is of St. Agnes in the Scilly Isles. This is a painting done totally from memory, based on sketch I did last autumn when I was painting the same view. I saw the sketch earlier this summer for the first time in 6 months and decided it had something that made it worth painting.

The original sketch is on the far left of the three small drawings.

I loved the expansiveness in the drawing, the feeling of the world being a stage, the sense of distance captured. I wanted to distill that into a painting.

I felt really in my head about this painting in parts. I struggled, wrestled with how to paint the main island. I have no idea what I’m doing, it’s just sort of coming along. My lack of writing about it may be part of this gap in my thinking?

Listening to a conversation between the writer Maggie Nelson and Christina Quarles, Quarles says about a painting wip that:

‘it’s [a painting is] always moving towards whatever end it needs to be rather than an end that I want it to be… There’s sort of no desire or expectation with it. And any time I try to latch onto one, it ends up just failing immediately.’

I felt like such a lot of energy was needed to put down any marks with the Agnes painting, painstakingly. I was doing exactly what Christina says, painting what I wanted it to be rather then what it needed to be. In other words, having too much control over the outcome.

I’m now practising asking what does this painting need? What is it asking me to do? Rather than what do I want this painting to be? It feels scary to do that, but also a big relief, taking the weight off my shoulders for carrying this painting all by myself, and instead letting it be as it is.

The answer I got was to put the painting down for a while, and so that’s what I’m doing.

Another painting I’m working on is based on a childhood memory of my grandparents garden in North Devon.

(terrible photo)

I am experimenting with glazing lots of semi-transparent layers of colour on top of each other to see if I can capture the essence(?) of the childhood memory. It’s part fictional, part description of the land in an attempt to recreate the world I was in as a child.

I have strong memories of exploring this big expansive field every summer. The yellow ring in the centre of the painting is a running track – this long length of rope we would unroll every summer and race around in a family sports day type event. Running the shape of the track, the soft curve of the land upwards as you run down the garden. The colours of the dappled sunlight under shade trees, the lush green of Devon’s countryside and the red earth. The light breeze and the possibility of the outdoor space. The feelings of these things is what I am trying to distil into the painting.

Something I have been thinking about for a while is conveying feeling/emotion/mood (-all that intangible stuff!) via soft washes of no colour, rather than as I used to; clear, strident, shapely brushstrokes. It seems emotion and feeling pervade the air somehow, so I am experimenting with creating a thick atmosphere in the painting to produce an emotionally charge. Glazing seems a great way to do this, and it’s something I want to continue to push and explore. A few layers of glaze across a painting with form seems to add a thick haze, a charged light to the space in the painting. Glazing also gives this wonderful radiance to the surface and the painting seems to be giving off its own light.

So far this technique is producing lovely results, and I’m really excited about the potential of this way of working.

I began the painting by adding the form of the land – the hedges around the edge, the line of the horizon. And then the glazing is going in lots of very thin layers on top. I love to think of painting as a kind of world building, as constructing a model theatre stage. In a way I built the infrastructure of the stage when I painted the hedges and the horizon line, and now through glazing I am filling the stage with atmospheric light and smoke.

It would be fun to do bigger paintings using this method, that can fill more of the viewers field of view. And playing with constructing more of these stages and different types of light and smoke – atmosphere.

Another painting I’m working on I began over a year ago, when I was working at a studio in Morecambe. I painted the blue dome shape and then moved away and haven’t taken it out to work on until I moved to Manchester this summer.

The blue dome shape is based on an amazing cloud line that I saw at the beach on day in Morecambe Bay. I soon after made this curved shape on the canvas, and I guess my intention would have been to add the clouds underneath. Coming back to the painting last month he curved shape has become the edge between the water and the land of Morecambe bay, and I am mapping out my memory of the land around the water, using colour, shapes and texture to instinctually describe what I can remember. I’ve been interested in old maps and their compositions, and this painting has become an experiment to play with these ideas. I kind of want to add a border to the map with some figures or other shapes or a pattern perhaps? Stars or waves or trees or something! Kind of decorative, spiritual map-esque. Yes.

I’m playing with different ways to apply the paint: thick impasto, mixed with linseed & chalk medium, mixed with turpentine, mixed with turpentine & Spectragel medium. Dripping, dragging, pooling, smoothing, glooping, running, gliding.

I’m not sure about the composition of the dome shape. The edge of the dome has a high tonal contrast and the uneven shape and its de-centred position looks a bit random. The canvas that its on is actually a bit deformed – it’s wider on one side than the other. So I’m thinking I could re-stretch the painting and centre the dome in the middle by cutting a little of the right side off.

I’ve got this sketch on my phone suggesting I add glazes of light that in some way leak out of the blue and into the land edge around the dome. I had this idea back when I was holding lots of control over the painting. Now looking at the painting as I write this, I don’t know if that’s what it needs. I feel I need to put the painting down and leave it for a while, so that’s what I’m going to do.

Somehow writing down my thoughts here lets me consider what I’m doing and allows new ideas and directions to be processed. More updates soon.

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