It was Samuel Johnson who said, “The two offices of memory are collection and distribution.”

Pick Me! (watercolour - 66 x 18cm)
Pick Me! (watercolour – 66 x 18cm)

When selecting paintings for exhibition, or working out how best to group them online, it always makes sense to consider how the viewer will perceive them.  As part of my job, I have spent many years reading extensively on the subject of how we think, what makes us tick, how we see the world. The brain is a marvellous machine. Amongst other things, without us even being aware of it, our brains make logical sense of everything we see. We’re hard wired to look for the connections between things. Ever wondered why when someone says the word, ‘table’ we can’t possibly not have a fleeting thought of the word ‘chair’. It’s that connection thing. We group and associate what we see and what we hear. It’s one of the ways we make sense of the world.

The flip side is that, when we are presented with a number of items which are not logically grouped, our brains find it quite uncomfortable and we find ourselves thinking hard about what the connection is between the images. Unfortunately, when we’re doing that, we’re not thinking about enjoying what we see – we’re actually working quite hard in the background to solve a puzzle.

If you can create a collection, based on a common theme (subject, colour, style), the viewer’s brain can relax and focus on the painting in front of them. I’ve now got a small collection of shoe paintings – and commissions for more.  By grouping the shoe paintings together on one wall at exhibition (or on one page online), visitors could see a theme and start to think about how they liked it, and further, whether they would want to own one.

And as Samuel Johnson pointed out, as a general rule, collections are more memorable than single images.  Have you got any collections in your body of work? If so, what’s the common theme?

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Colour theory again

Watercolour Exercise 2
Watercolour Exercise 2
Yellow ochre in your palette.

Yesterday was my last day in the studio before getting back to work. I’ve spent most of my holiday time just dabbling and decided it was no time to change that habit. Full blown paintings are coming soon, but in the meantime, I’ve been reading books, magazines and blog posts about colour. My time doing the Hundred Wash Challenge taught me the value of really getting to understand the interactions between pigments and also the way they react on paper. This sort of activity also appeals to my analytical and experimental nature.

Yesterday I decided to experiment with yellow ochre in my notebook. It’s not a colour I’ve used a lot but In my reading I found a reference to it’s value as a toning down colour. So I picked 3 bright hues – Winsor blue, cadmium red and Winsor violet to see how they would interact with Yellow Ochre. The colours were mixed on the paper, and also on the palette to see the difference.  It’s obvious how they tone down the blue and the violet, creating a soft green and a mid brown. The cadmium change is less obvious, but still there.

Watercolour exercise 1
Maggie Latham’s colour exercises

Then I moved on to do Maggie Latham’s first colour exercise for January. She’s posting one each day this month. I was really pleased she picked two of my favourite colours. Although, as I didn’t have any Winsor yellow so substituted Aureolin. I know the effects will be different, but I can repeat the exercise when I’ve got some Winsor yellow – and it will be interesting to evaluate the differences. Heeding Maggie’s warning about the staining properties of Winsor blue, I decided to use different brushes for each of the two colours, and separate water containers too. It helped to make sure the colours stayed pure.

These don’t have the practiced elegance of Maggie’s samples, but they were great fun and I’m looking forward to following her suggestions for the next steps.  I may just have to play catch up over the weekend now that we’re all back at work.

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