I have now come to the final assignment in the Watercolour Course in which I have to paint a series of 5 pictures on a theme. There is so much more I want to say about these wonderful ancient trees than I’ve decided to continue exploring this theme in the series of 5 paintings. The various exercises in this part of the course have challenged me to take my ideas into abstract form, looking beyond what the eye sees to the essence of what is real. This has involved a whole new way of looking at things and certainly requires a deep searching of personal responses. It has led me to ask myself, “Why do I love these trees? What is it about them which meets a response in me? How can I express that response in a visual image? Can this response be expressed best through colour, through line? Because the tree is just one object in the landscape, how does a composition need to be created which is visually pleasing? How can I stimulate the imagination to go beyond the obvious?”
This part of the course is entitled Widening your Options and it has certainly done that for me. It has been the most exciting and stimulating element allowing for experimentation and a widening of choice in the use of different grounds and media to express ideas. Having completed the Drawing and Painting Courses, this module in the Watercolour Course is a perfect culmination of Level 1 for me, allowing me to use the experience that I’ve had of materials to come together in this module. Throughout all of the courses my love of drawing and colour have remained constant and so these will feature in my series of paintings. My love of drawing has led to a great interest in the use of line in painting. I have loved exploring this by looking at how artists have used line in their work. It is an ongoing investigation and I’ve only just begun to touch on the subject but it has already had an effect on how I use line. But of all the media I’ve explored so far there is no doubt that watercolour remains the most exciting way of expressing my ideas.
The exercises so far will be forming the basis for this final series of paintings.
There is no doubt that this part of the course is challenging the imagination! Exercises on Free Expression required me to draw on the subconscious and paint images according to the title.. This could have been enormous fun if I had had more time and I did enjoy the glimpse I had of its potential. Drawing on inner thoughts, memories and the imagination is very different from all other parts of the course but it certainly opened up a new world. I don’t think any of my efforts were very good but I look at them as a beginning of a new way of looking. Just two examples of free expression….
LET WONDERMENT IN…line from a poem
PAINTING TO MUSIC Strangely this exercise proved easier than the previous one. In free expression, I found that I had to reach a place in consciousness where memory or emotional responses exist without any material evidence in the form of objects. This was difficult but with music, I found that it took me there instantly and there was no struggle. The first piece of music was the Complete Music for Solo Piano by Poulenc. With my eyes closed and simply moving my hand to the music of the piano, I let this guide the marks on the paper. To my amazement I found that my hand was making different marks when I wasn’t thinking ….I was simply responding! This was so exciting and once again opened up possibilities.
Complete Music for Solo Piano- Poulenc
The next piece of music was even more revealing for me as an artist. I used the same music but painted from a different section where the mood was much deeper and calmer. I started the painting with a warm background colour and then began to paint by dropping the watercolour onto the paper and moving the paper in the rhythm of the music. I wasn’t conscious of anything but the music but it was the mood of the piece which was dictating this time. I found the music was doing the painting and I literally became list in it. I didn’t attempt to add any other media because I had gone beyond painting a picture. As I look at it now I can see a different hand….not my usual work!
Another completely new element of abstraction !
Magnification is all about ‘zooming’ in on areas of an image which are interesting. It suggests new ways of looking at an image and varying the approach to painting it. Once again I felt to be introduced to an intriguing area of study but not having the time to explore it fully or to develop its potential in my own work. So inevitably my attempts are simply a first stab at it and need to be seen as such. But the potential I can see in this subject as with the others on Abstraction is the development of the imagination and I find this very exciting.
I began by using the camera to photograph close up images of sections of plants and everyday objects so that I could begin to ‘see’ abstract forms…a new way of looking for me! I did this also with sections of the bark of old trees and found some wonderful shapes and colours.
Isolated image from bark of old tree
I worked from this image in a very loose, free style with no attempt reproducing the shapes. I interpreted the shapes purely in watercolour washes and then used blue oil pastel to highlight the shapes mad give definition. Once again there was no attempt to reproduce what I was seeing. I looked at the image from all angles and decided that the most interesting was the landscape.
Abstract based on texture of old bark
I found this a very challenging exercise!
The exercise required me to assemble a number of items in a composition and then use this as the subject for a painting. For some reason it took me quite some time to put together the items for the initial collage. I wanted to continue with my theme of Old Trees with the particular focus being on the rhythm and energy of the pattern and beauty of the texture of the trunk which to me expresses something about age. So I was attempting to express this feeling of RHYTHM and LIFE in the painting.
The collage consisted of a piece of a photograph of an ancient tree trunk along with random wool pieces set in various colours of dyed tissue paper. I added pieces of dried grass and leaf, all of which had the same rhythm and movement as the pattern on the trunk. The painting wasn’t easy at all. Perhaps that was because I was trying to respond to an abstract concept in my mind rather than painting objects. I was attempting to use line and paint expressively.
Is the painting successful? How do you judge? I am aware that my tutor doesn’t think it is. However as I study it now, I can see and feel the rhythm and the movement of life in the tree which I was trying to express. But perhaps there is more to a painting being successful than just what the artist is feeling. I’m struggling to understand the concept of ‘resolution’ in a painting. Perhaps this is all to do with composition and that all of the elements of composition have to be there in the painting as well as the ideas. ‘Ongoing learning’ I think!!!
At the same time as working on each of the units in the course I wanted to investigate how artists use LINE in their paintings. This was a personal study and one which is ongoing for me. I have used line a lot in my watercolour work and felt I needed to develop a more expressive approach to this aspect. I didn’t want it to be a question of just outlining!
I’ve only had time to just scratch the surface of this study but it has been great…just opened up another door onto the creative possibilities. It has meant looking at the tools I use for line and expanding on this as well as a wide variety of media. I was fortunate to be able to see two great exhibitions at this time, of artists who use line in their work so effectively to express their ideas and individuality. These were Honore Daumier (1808 – 1879) and Paul Klee (1879 – 1940).
I spent some time studying Daumier- his line is very fine, almost scribbly. I had to hold the pen at the very tip to get the loose scribbly effect. He never drew from live models – his method was to listen and observe and then back in the studio he would draw the nameless people he had seen in the streets. As I copied these lines, I could feel a kind of sculpturing, letting the forms emerge from the tangle of lines.
Daumier…soft scribbly lines
Collage from random elements
I still had the image of the ancient tree in my mind when I began this composition. A random selection of colours and shapes were put together with the tones of greens and orange found in pieces of dyed tissue paper. The pieces of paper fell in a kind of diagonal composition giving a strong directional pattern. I spent some time looking at the composition from different angles. This was a useful exercise and I saw new and exciting possibilities.
I began the painting with a wash over the whole composition. This brought out some interesting textures because of the variety of papers I’d used. I then began to work on the dark areas with oil pastels, at the same time painting in the light areas with white acrylic. As this dried, I drew with black acrylic paint, not attempting to represent any one area or shapes but responding to the image. I then went back to the oil pastel, blue this time, feeling that the image was losing energy. Finally, I added orange acrylic ink freely across the surface.
This was an interesting exercise and I found real excitement in the creativity involved in discovering an image out of random elements. I think the final image has energy and movement and conveys something of the excitement I feel when looking at the surface of these trees.
ABSTRACTION! Wow, what a subject to suddenly find yourself in at the final stages of the Watercolour Course. Even though I feel that I enjoy a looseness in my style of painting and love to give the medium a free hand, I soon came to see that abstraction is far more than just creativity, expressiveness, originality and individuality ( as the books say!
Photo of ancient tree
Throughout the module I continued to develop the theme of Ancient Trees. This photograph of a close up image of the surface texture of an ancient tree was my starting point for the work.
Using resists experimentally
I began by loosely drawing with a wax candle on the white surface, putting down the shapes and directional lines with broad free strokes. Then a wash was applied of cobalt blue and cadmium yellow. This revealed what I had drawn and it really wasn’t interesting. But it provided the basis for the painting. I had also put in some branches and twigs with masking fluid.. I then began working with salt and texture paste and added another wash. When this was dry I worked on the surface with oil pastels and acrylic paint. The acrylic paint broke down some of the initial wax lines that I was not happy with.
This experimental approach with resist techniques along with mixed media seems to suit my approach to painting and gives great scope for the unexpected. working ‘invisibly’ was exciting and gave scope for allowing my response to the textures to guide my hand.