My Artistic Search for…More!
In school I learned about line, form, light and shadow, I learned these skills carefully and aimed to recreate what I saw on the page. We used acrylic paint and I was good at this; able to create an accurate representation of what I was copying.
This was praised at first, then criticised. After being taught how to capture what I saw accurately I was then encouraged to be inaccurate. Students around me were being applauded for originality, intention and concept – more than skill and technique.
Overall people thought I was good, but I distinctly got the impression that ‘good’ wasn’t really enough, and I didn’t understand why. I spent some time looking at my landscapes, they were very pleasing – but they didn’t blow me away.
Life took over for a while and it wasn’t until many years later that I returned to art and I’ll be honest, a bit of a struggle began. It began with a lack of confidence; I needed to prove to myself that I was a good artist. For a while I played about with different methods of using acrylic and created what I thought were some really nice paintings. I exhibited a little, sold a few, it was going pretty well.
However I felt like there was nothing really distinctive about these paintings, they were nice, and don’t get me wrong, I was proud of them – but they didn’t jump out at me. I needed more out of my art.
In the pursuit of more I often feel like I’m stuck in a paradox between freedom of expression versus accurately capturing what I see. But my inner dialogue was wrong; I was looking at the landscape and trying to free it. The end result was usually a binned canvas. I needed to discover the landscape not free it.
I turned my attention back to the media that I was using. There are several benefits to acrylics; they are affordable, they dry quickly and you have control over the paint in order to create nice crisp edges. However as my quest to discover rather than copy a landscape developed, I started to get frustrated; the bright juicy colour that you get when the acrylic is wet, darkens and dulls when dry. I would finish some paintings in a flourish of excitement only to be a bit disappointed when I went back to look at it after it had dried.
At this point I knew I needed to expand my use of media somehow. Oils have always been on my list to try and I do also paint in oil now, but it was the decision to try out enamel, which really opened my eyes.
To start with it was exciting but chaotic. I went from total control to a complete lack of control which created patterns and textures that expanded my imagination. But now I struggled to connect the painting with a landscape – I tipped over into abstract.
You’ll often hear about artists creating happy accidents and incorporating them into their work. I’m experimenting with ways to created educated accidents in order to make unique and unusual marks on my paintings which I can mould slowly and thoughtfully into my landscape.
Below are a couple of my latest experiments:
This landscape is essentially a dark landscape as night kicks in but splashed with the sunset. For me the term ‘splash’ was apt for what I wanted to create with this painting. Using a combination of a dark layered background you can get some stunning sunset effects with a combination of water, watered down acrylic and enamel sprayed over the top. It’s not a realistic effect – that’s not what I’m after – but gives you something special which gives you a sense of the landscape. You can see the lines created by the edge of the water as it dries on the canvas alongside the blend effects of the enamel as it dries over the water. The texture of the water splashes falls down onto the land and into the Gannel. By contrast, I’ve used acrylics to form some of the detail, including a boat, on the right-hand side.
However in this painting you can’t really tell the difference between the mediums- I’ve actually used the acrylics and enamel to create an almost watercolour effect as the magical castle dips into an out of focus in the painting. The iconic structure at the front was finished off in acrylic.
Newquay Skyline from Watergate
Here you can see the striking turbulent sky created with that mix of acrylic and enamel, but underneath the less turbulent and more familiar coastline of Newquay stretches out in front of you detailed in acrylic. I’ve also used a bit of oil in the foreground to give you that thick juicy texture which protrudes from the page to help suggest how close the foreground is.
Fistral view over towards Pentire
The final painting I want to show isn’t a sunset or turbulent sky, here there is an intricate development of a sunny blue sky with subtle colours dipping in and out. It’s a tapestry of blend and contrast which entertains the eye; I slowly built up the layers using a similar technique – but only working on small areas at a time.
A well-executed drawing is still key for me; but the right balance between technical and creative is challenging, and most frustratingly, it cannot be taught! What’s a great painting and what’s just a mess? As the artist and ultimately, the judge, of what I’m proud to call one of my paintings, this is the crux of the matter. I have to promise myself not to be quick to critique and to open my mind. How can I grow if I can’t see things in different ways?
My desire of bringing together both concept and craft is starting to come together. I want to create landscapes that invite exploration and contemplation.
I wish I could show you a step-by-step process of how I do something, but it genuinely changes quite a lot for me. I relish experimenting. Sometimes I’ll discover something that has worked really well and then have to try to remember exactly how I did it so I can do it again! Of course I do also have certain approaches to certain subjects, but I do try to regularly challenge myself to try a new approach.
I think that’s what keeps me excited and coming back for more!
As an artist I want to capture your interest within seconds. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words; I like to talk to my readers in a glance. And perhaps, in that glance, a piece of art can move you in an inexplicable way; it can suggest, evoke and enthral. Perhaps art can’t change or save the world, but I believe it can help to change or save the individual. It certainly did for me.