Talking about abstract art

How do you respond when someone looks at a piece of abstract art and says, ‘But what is it?’ Or ‘What’s it meant to be?’ Or even, ‘I don’t understand it’?  I’m sure we’ve all been there.

Talking about Abstract art 2

I had this conversation last week after having a second day of working with Glenda Charles. I’m really enjoying creating more abstract art. I  am allowing the creative process to make its own direction and pace as I continue to explore images from my environment.

Talking about Abstract art

When I showed my, normally very supportive, husband what I had been working on, he responded with the ‘I don’t understand it.’ version above.  I spent a day or two thinking about how to talk to him about abstract art in a way that would help him relate to it.

Wikipedia’s explanation is that uses a visual language of shape, form, colour and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world. I didn’t think that would entirely help him. While it is clearly correct, its also obvious and doesn’t really speak about the emotional aspects.

Explaining abstract art

He has always loved music. That was the connection I needed. I explained that I see figurative art as being like music with lyrics. The lyrics make it clear what the song is about. You can tell what the composer was thinking when they created the piece. However, quite often, with instrumental work, the same is not the case. Instrumental music, either classical or contemporary is like abstract art to my mind. If it’s well written, you can tell what the composer was feeling and what they want the audience to feel. But the exact story behind the music is only fully known by the composer.

Is it good instrumental music? There are experts who can pronounce judgement on that. But for the average listener, it’s more subjective. You either like the music or you don’t. The rhythms and harmonies appeal to you, or they don’t. If find yourself listening to a piece of instrumental music more than once, that’s rather like seeing a piece of abstract art that draws you back for another look.

He got it. Now we can have some conversations in which we are talking about abstract art.

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Spirituality and the art process

Spirituality and the art process – what does that mean to you?
When Glenda Charles sent me her workshop list with this topic, I was intrigued but didn’t really know what to expect.  Her workshop description included this text:

“I find out everything about myself in that moment of making”.
The musician, Nils Frahm said this about the process of making music and so it can be said about all art practice.

The title and description intrigued me. I had no idea what to expect. So I really needed to suspend any expectations before I went along. The ability to deal with uncertainty is enormously valuable to any artist. We need to embrace the unknown; to start each artistic project with the knowledge that it will probably change along the way. It will change, and in fact, probably surprise you at the same time.  For me, that’s part of the thrill of painting. Perhaps that’s because it’s part of the process of finding out more about ourselves.

I have always known that the creative process is in large part, about self-discovery.  And it’s not something that can be rushed.  It isn’t a flash of insight with every painting. Rather it’s a slow process, a bit like peeling an onion. Each layer gets you closer to the core. Removing a layer can be uncomfortable. And every time you you it, you feel more vulnerable for a while. It takes a degree of courage to open up and trust the process.

Spirituality and the art process – the workshop

Glenda is warm, joyful and down to earth. She makes this sort of leap of faith feel safe.  The process involved meditation, mark making and then a process of using some of those emotion-led marks we had generated as the starting point for an abstract painting.

Partly because of the constraint of travel-friendly paper sizes, I worked on two smaller pieces which were painted together side by side.  In itself, this was an interesting exercise I’ve not tried before.

As you can see, the results were images that are way off my normal style of work. I’ve been reflecting on them for a week now and I see some exciting possibilities that make me want to explore greater freedom in my mark making, and a more abstract collection of work.

Spirituality and the art process - Palette rightI have also changed my view of the palette I used. I think it may be too strident in its intense saturation and I rather like these versions where I used a warm filter to change the colours to a slightly more sophisticated version.  What do you think?

Spirituality and the art process -Palette left

These aren’t exactly where I would want them to be yet. They invite further work, but the process has been enlightening and I will continue to work on these two. I think this is an evolution – of the paintings and of my art development.

My take aways

The value of Spirituality and the art process was something I experienced during the workshop, but only processed consciously a few days later. Meditation at the beginning of the day was really useful as a way of quietening the analytical part of my brain. I often complain that I can spend almost a full day pottering in the studio before I even pick up a brush. It takes me that long to change my thinking style from analytical to creative.

The analytical part of my brain is usually dominant and it speaks very loudly. Although I still didn’t find it easy to tune into the intuitive process of painting, it was there and I can see what with practice, it could begin to calm the analytical thinking faster than it does these days.

Following the flow

Following the flow: Sometimes, life leads us to unexpected places; to people who influence our thinking; to events that inspire our creativity. We can either focus on the restrictions imposed by the rest of our lives, or we can try to take the opportunity that we’re being offered. I believe in grabbing the opportunity with enthusiasm; in going with the flow

In 2017 we took a long trip. We did a house swap with a couple from Mission Beach, in Queensland, Australia. I was thrilled about the opportunity to spend time in two of my favourite environments: beaches and rainforests. I love walking along a deserted beach, and I have always been at home in amongst trees.  Mission Beach is a special place in that it has both in one place.

Washed Ashore - a slice of my beach reflection abstract. Following the flow.
Washed Ashore – a slice of my beach reflection abstract

The trip seemed like a good opportunity to paint a new series. Specifically, I decided to paint individual pieces that would end up as a digital sketchbook of the trip once they had all gone to new owners. So I took a supply of paper and paints along with me and the project got started.

Following the Flow: Mission Beach Community Arts

Then I discovered the Mission Beach Community Arts centre. We noticed the gallery as we were driving past and I went in to explore. I didn’t realise that they also run workshops until I looked on their Facebook page.  There was a post that made me sit up: a two day workshop by Australian artist, Glenda Charles. The subject: Abstracting the Landscape. Some workshops are just meant to be done. So, following the flow, I  signed up, went shopping for even more art supplies, and got painting!

I don’t find abstract painting  to be the easy option some people seem to think it is. It required much more thought and planning than painting what is in front of you in a figurative style.  The appeal of this workshop was the chance to dive into something I’ve always found very difficult.

Following the Flow. Rainforest Cloudburst was painted in the workshop with Glenda Charles
Rainforest Cloudburst was painted in the 2017 worth Glenda Charles. in this one I focused on my fascination with the forest. I particularly love the marks made by raindrops. They could never be replicated.

Working with Glenda was fantastic. Everything about the workshops pushed my boundaries, and prepared me for being more adventurous with my work. I am still not what I would call an abstract artist, but my work often gets into the semi-abstract space.

We’re back in Australia this year. This time we’re on the Sunshine Coast, just north of Brisbane. A few weeks before we left home I realised that this is Glenda’s home ground. Eventually I got around to contacting her to say I was going to be in the area and would love to see any exhibitions she has going over the next couple of months.

She replied almost immediately with an invitation to her studio. She also mentioned that she is running a workshop on Spirituality in Art next Saturday. Some workshops are just meant to be done. So, once again, I am following the flow.

(I’ll post about the workshop next week).

Open Studio: Rainforest and Reef

Open Studio Rainforest Reef! Its all about to happen. I’m heading home with a collection of watercolours and a few experimental abstract acrylics in my suitcase.

Open Studio Rainforest Reef

I’ve had the most amazing two months of new places, new experiences and new paintings. We’ve travelled through Bangkok, Siem Reap in Cambodia, Sydney, Queensland (Mission Beach and Airlie Beach), Melbourne and finally Singapore. I am sitting beside the swimming pool in the heat on the 6th floor of our hotel in Singapore as I write. This evening we board our flight back home and I am simultaneously sad that my trip is at an end, and pleased to be going home. I can’t wait to see my sons and sleep in my own bed. I am itching to get back into my studio and get started preparing for next weekend’s open studio.

Open Studio Rainforest Reef: What will be on the walls

One of the best aspects of watercolour is their portability. Paintings dry fast and you don’t need a lot of kit (although I must admit I brought along far more than I needed).

Before I left, I planned to paint a series of 20 x 20 watercolours for an open studio. Paper was cut to size, frames were sourced and set up ready to be ordered for my return. I wasn’t sure how many paintings I would manage to do so I couldn’t pre-order.

Once I got to Queensland, I was entranced by the rainforest most of all. I’ve always loved trees. Ever since I was able to climb my first tree I have enjoyed their sheer scale, their majesty and their individuality. So, right now, there are more rainforest paintings than reef paintings – although I do have a lot more ideas for reef paintings that will no doubt emerge in time.

My surprise discover on this trip was the fabulous art centre at Mission Beach. Where I was able to join a workshop on Abstracting the Landscape with Australian artist, Glenda Charles. The weekend was inspiring, terrifying and energising.  I will have the two works I completed on that weekend available for Open Studio visitors to see. If you can’t make it to the Open Studio, I will be posting more about each of those two paintings when I have had time to scan all my work.

Thank you for following my creative journey. I really appreciate the fact that you’re still reading after all this time. If you know anyone else who might enjoy my ramblings, please feel free to share this blog.  I would be very grateful.

More back in the UK.

Watercolour sketch cards

I’m playing catch up with my little watercolour sketch cards this week. I ran out of time to write a post last week for a number of reasons, but mainly because I am organising an exciting Running With Brushes exhibition.

I have the support of nine other fabulous artists in Cambridge who will be exhibiting with me – not to mention the 30 other artists who have so generously donated works to Running With Brushes. The website is up, the artists are ready and now we start with spreading the word. So if you’re in the Cambridge area and you fancy a grand night out with live music, a fantastic art exhibition, the chance to meet some exceptional artists, and to take home one of the gorgeous little Running With Brushes watercolours – please consider buying a ticket and spreading the word.  (Early warning – you may hear a bit more about this event from me as the event unfolds)

So now you know why I didn’t post last week, here’s a selection of the watercolour sketch collection that came off my brushes.

Watercolour Sketch list
2016.02.23 - Nightingale Song

Nightingale song inspired this sketch. On one of my London work days I heard my first nightingale. Sound waves in the dusk came to mind.

2016.02.21 - Order from Chaos

Creating order from chaos. I’m going through an exercise of organising my palettes. I’ll blog about this some time in the future – I’ve started working through my paints to find the single pigment transparent colours. More on this later.

2016.02.20 - Crane Flower

The strelizia in the office produced a single flower/. I loved the dramatic shapes of the spikey petals. They called for a layered abstract.

2016.02.19 Switzerland 2

Sitting in the Zurich airport I thought about what defines Switzerland. The essence of the Switzerland I saw last week was many shades of grey, blue skies, mountain peaks and a splash of red.

2016.02.18 - Take Off 2

Taking off – I challenged myself to paint one of these on the plane. This was painted at 38000 feet above the earth.

2016.02.17 - Curves and shadows 2

Energy pods. Shiny gold cones of wake-up boost. They’re not very politically correct these days.

Back to the studio now for a bigger piece.

Abstract Watercolours: part 2

Last week I committed to sharing both the good and the less so good on my journey towards abstract watercolours – and so I am doing just that. Which means there are pieces of work on this website now that I wouldn’t normally be sharing.

Given the purpose of the project: to break down my creative block and (as always) to learn I’ve made a couple of adjustments to my process. I’m working with only three brushes for the moment: a flat brush, a dagger brush and a sword brush. These may change in time, but for the moment, I’m keeping things simple and using this as an opportunity to master these brushes.

Secondly, I’m limiting the time spent on each painting, as far as possible, to 15 minutes. This stops me from overthinking a piece of work, and its probably the only way I could manage anything close to a daily painting, no matter how small.

Is it working? I’ve certainly produced little abstract watercolours with a wide range of styles, subjects and moods. Its getting me back into the painting groove again and making me experiment more again. The process is definitely loosening up my painting.

This Batch of Abstract Watercolours:

There’s a question about where the line is between abstract and representational artworks. For me, the line is fairly close to representational. I don’t have a problem with images that are reminiscent of real things – a semi-abstract is still an abstract if it evokes a feeling, or expresses the characteristics of a situation.

abstract watercolours 2016.02.12 Friday morning shopping

On Friday I had the frustrating experience of having to run some errands. I discovered that Friday morning is a bad time to be anywhere near the shops. There’s a sense of frantic business and at the same time, people randomly wandering and getting in the way. It felt a bit like an obstacle course.

2016.02.13 e-Luminate Abstract watercolours

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is not my favourite work of the week. I recently got hold of a new luminescent ink which I wanted to try out. Our visit to e-Luminate Cambridge seemed to be an ideal subject for the inks. Working fast meant far too little control using materials and tools I’m not accustomed to, and the results were messing and not inspiring at all. It did make me start working on controlling inks for future works.

abstract watercolours 2016.02.14 Fading Glory

We had a bunch of tulips on the kitchen table. The pod-like shapes of the blossoms called me. I also started working on paper I’ve not tried before: Fabriano HP.

abstract watercolours 2016.02.15 beginnings

My favourite of this bunch was inspired by the snowdrops I notices on my walk through the churchyard. They are delicate and chaotic. Pristine and tangled. Hopeful and transient.

abstract watercolours 2016.02.16 life landscape

A streak of darkness entered our day on Tuesday when we were forced to contemplate the possibility of losing Horatio who has been ill for a week. Remarkably, he’s still hanging in and somedays bring possibilities of a healthier future for our very special feline.

The trail of abstract watercolours will continue.

Watercolour Marks Project

I got stuck. My painting wasn’t going anywhere special – so I started a watercolour marks project. I’ve been wanting to develop a more abstract approach to my painting for some time. After being away from my studio for almost 4 weeks in December and early January, my mojo didn’t come strolling back when I picked up my brushes as I expected it to. It was well and truly on holiday with no intention of coming back.

So I patiently pottered in the studio whenever I had time. I mixed paint from pure pigment and started trying it out on a set of cards. I tidied. I bought a few new books for inspiration and information. Finally, I gave up waiting for the painting motivation to reappear spontaneously and decided to get stuck in to a project making watercolour marks.

And yes, before you say it – that is pretty much a description of watercolour painting. The distinction is the difference between playing (experimenting) and taking a more focused approach to creating a completed painting.

I was having a conversation with Noel Gray on Monday. He mentioned in passing that he’d just squashed his dinosaur. (Not your average business conversation!). What he meant was that he had squashed his origami dinosaur and would have to repair it.  And there we had the start of my watercolour marks project. I had a mental image that had to be captured.

I decided to take a journey towards abstraction. I define abstract paintings as those which are paintings ‘about’ the subject rather than paintings ‘of’ the subject. That could mean capturing a quality, an essence, a thought which is sparked by the subject.

The Watercolour Marks Project

My intention is to paint a postcard-sized abstract every day. They will all be very different from each other because I will be pushing my boundaries. Some won’t be particularly good, but I will be brave and share them anyway because this is a journey and there will be wrong turns along the way. So here we go:

watercolour marks. Squashed Dinosaur

I had to start with a painting about a squashed dinosaur. I tried to capture a sense of ‘Squashedness’.

watercolour marks. Restless

Day 2 was a restless day. There was calm beneath, but my mind was leaping all over the place with new ideas. I blame the watercolour marks project.

watercolour marks. History

On day 3, I had a conversation about history and the way unforeseen events can change our direction. Events overtake intention.

watercolour marks. Recurrence

Day 4 was about recurrence. The cat ended back at the vet (Horatio is an expensive pet right now) with a recurrence of his urethra problem. It was time to paint recurrence, and end the week with the thought that there would be a recurrence of abstract paintings in the coming weeks.

Old Friends – Greatly Cherished

Old friends, like the Mastercard advert, are priceless. I am lucky enough to have a group of friends who have been an important part of my life for more than two thirds of my lifetime so far.

We shared boarding school experiences together in small town South Africa. Our school was an all-girl English medium school in the predominantly Afrikaans University town of Potchefstroom. We went through exam stress, broke school rules, got homesick together, and more. We all had a propensity for challenging the status quo: one of the characteristics that bonded us.

After graduating from school, we continued to meet up for lunches and social events. In time, two of us left South Africa to live in other countries which meant our  lunches became far less frequent and far more precious.

Every time I go back to South Africa, we make sure to meet up. Last month I managed to gate crash a birthday dinner for one of them. Her surprise made the evening together all the more brilliant. Thinking about our friendship after I got back home, I wanted to paint the way I visualise it, so I’ve done a small watercolour for each of the three wonderful women I count as some of my oldest friends.

Since we left school we’ve gone though even more together – through illness, job losses, births, loss of parents, broken hearts and brilliant joys. We’ve supported each other, influenced each other (for good, in the main) laughed together and cried together. I am proud to count these three as my old friends. I know that above all else, we will continue to challenge each other and support each other.

The three of my old friends at last month’s dinner:

Watercolour painting: Circle of Friends - Suzie
Circle of Friends – Suzie

Suzie – the birthday girl. Always expanding her knowledge. Intrepid traveller. Outrageously funny. Wonderfully warm.

Watercolour paintings.  Circle of Old Friends - Jen
Circle of Friends – Jen

Jen – Daring and adventurous. Just about to embark on a new and exciting venture. Indomitable, unsquashable and generous.

Watercolour painting. Circle of Friends - Charkie
Circle of Friends – Charkie

Charkie – Determined, warm, astute. Businesswoman of note. Collaborator in birthday party surprises.

There’s a specific colour that represents each one of my old friends – I’m sure they will work out which one is which.

 

Watercolour Flowers: Night Petals

Watercolour Flowers: Night Petals (watercolour 10 x 15 cm)
Night Petals (watercolour 10 x 15 cm)

The final in the series of my watercolour flowers challenge from one original clematis painting is here. I wanted a darker and more dramatic image on this one, showing the petals moving from sunshine on the left of the painting, into the shadows of approaching night progressing across to the right hand side of the painting.

A review of the whole series of watercolour flowers:

– Raindrops on Petals

– After the rain

– Pollinate

– Night petals

From one original:

The original clematis watercolour wash
The original clematis watercolour wash

30 Day Painting Challenge

I’ve made it to the end of another painting challenge and here’s the collection of works. Now for the big question – Why do we do it to ourselves?

Every time I take on one of these I reach a point somewhere along the way where I ask myself that question. It doesn’t seem particularly sane. But I do know the answer: I do it because it makes me paint more. It’s very easy at the end of a working day to just sit passively in front of the TV – that’s always a temptation. But if I’m working towards a goal, I will get into the studio for an hour or two before I slow down for the evening. It’s as simple as that.

A painting challenge just like any other training, is an opportunity to practice and improve. It’s really no different to the marathon runner who puts their running shoes on every evening and gets on the road for a training session, or a cyclist who pedals along tarmac for an hour a day. It’s just exercising a different set of muscles – the creative ones in this case. (I’m sure we do have creative muscles – if not literally, then at least figuratively.)

Here’s a brief breakdown of the painting challenge works:

20 paintings donated to Running With Brushes

1 birthday gift

5 in my collection available for sale

1 commission

1 personal challenge (no prizes for guessing which one that was)

 

Getting some perspective - a painting challenge (watercolour 38 x 28 cm)
Getting some perspective (watercolour (38 x 28 cm)