Taking Stock!

I’m in a phase that I can’t quite call a ‘pause’, but maybe a ‘holding place’ might describe it better. It has come about for 2 main reasons: 1) I have come to a natural end having produced a body of work that I am really happy with on the whole and 2) there have been increasing demands on time and attention as one of our daughters has gone through a rather difficult pregnancy, finally resulting in the safe arrival of our new grandson. So life is changing somewhat for all of us!

In this holding place, art-wise, I have been conducting a review of my work so far, tentatively starting to think about the direction ahead and doing some exploring and learning. I think it is sometimes good to just stop and take stock! It all feels like preparation for future projects, maybe new directions and I feel no inclination to rush it but rather just sit back and enjoy the process, and wait to see what emerges.

In sorting my work to date I have been making sure that everything is catalogued consistently and correctly in my own files but also in the places I have it on display, and I have been making sure that I am on top of plans for varnishing and framing etc. I’ve also been doing a bit of a tidy up in my studio room. It might sound a bit tedious ‘back office’ stuff but I find a tidy up helps me to sort out what is in my head and ‘clears the decks’ for what is to come. From a materials point of view it has made me look at what I have kept using over the last year, what I prefer and question why I haven’t use other stuff I have lurking in drawers and cupboards!

But I have also been reviewing the work itself, thinking through why I really like some paintings more than others and thinking about the techniques I have used so far. A small number of paintings have subsequently had a few revisions, particularly after using grey scale photographs of the paintings to check tonal balance, direction of light, and the story telling of the marks and shapes. It is a great way to spot why a painting isn’t just right.

When time allowed between grandparent duties I have started to explore shapes a bit more. Because the shapes of the land are really important to me and are what attract my attention most, I still want to figure those shapes largely in my paintings and drawings, and I want to spend some playtime looking at how I might use those shapes differently, just to see what it feels like – I am a great believer in not just ‘thinking’ about things but to actually do some ‘doing’ to see what it really feels like, what works and what emerges, as that is where some interesting surprises come.

I am also looking a bit more into how we can ‘read’ the landscape and know more about what the landscape is telling us by understanding what we are seeing. Some of it is a bit ‘nerdy’ and academic but in truth it has been fascinating learning more about clouds and weather, trees, and grasses. I want to go on to birds and rocks next and I might share some of that story later. In the meantime I am just enjoying my nerdy moments!

An area where I am finding interesting revelations is in my use of colour. I have 20 different tubes of Cobra water mixable oil paints but over the last year have generally just used the following 5: titanium white, French ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, permanent yellow light, and primary magenta! They have been a great team working with me to produce some lovely paintings of our local wild spaces. It seems a waste not to use the other paints but it also made me aware how easy it is to fall into habits or patterns without thinking about it, and many artists do like working with a limited palette. In my play phase I want to see if I can get more out of my paints by experimenting with colour mixing for a bit of fun and to think a bit more about maybe palette planning for different paintings. I don’t want to be ruled by head thoughts when I am painting so this play time is a good space to see if there are some new approaches I want to take further, and to stop me just sticking to one, same old ‘habit’, if you know what I mean.

I have used an hour or so each time to review some of my colours. For example, although I really love blue, I only have two tube colours in my stash, so I tested out how those two colours mixed with some of the other colours I have, with some really surprising and pleasing results. I particularly like the Kings Blue mixed with Burnt Sienna to varying degrees, and the ultramarine blue mixed with emerald green, or with permanent light green. Again mixing Kings Blue with Emerald Green gave a nice turquoise colour.

Whilst only having two blues, I have 6 yellows (how did that come about?)! So, again I did some test colour mixing and really love the rich caramel, toffee colours of Naples Yellow Deep mixed with Burnt Sienna or Cadmium Yellow Lemon mixed with either Burnt Sienna or Madder Lake, as well as a wide ranch of oranges from vivid bright to mellow. It feels like there is a whole new window of opportunity! Either that or I will just spend my days over winter doing swatch mixing!!

As well as colour, I am revisiting what I know about transparency / opacity and how I do and don’t use it well with my current selection of paints. I want to explore more glazing techniques to think about how I might use glazing, and how this might work with planning what colour ground to use, what initial colours to lay down to achieve the effect I want and how this feels with wanting to keep some spontaneous, intuitive elements in my work.

Along the same vein I am also exploring further the concept of taking paint off as well as applying paint to the surface, using a palette knife, other less conventional implements, scrunched up paper towel, and old brushes, as well as exploring the timing of removing the paint and the different staining effects achieved. Because oils stay wet for longer it gives me a greater window for manipulation and different results occur depending on timing.

At the moment I am continuing to use paper designed for oil paints, testing out using the textured side or the back of the paper, and how the surface responds to some of these techniques I am exploring. The paper surface seems to allow me to do more of the paint removal to a point where I can achieve some rather ethereal effects, but I want to also try this on canvas and maybe on board to see what happens in comparison on those surfaces.

I have started using Windsor and Newton Fast Drying Medium for water mixable oils which again slightly alters how the paint behaves and of course how quickly it dries, so it is interesting to see how that affects the experiments but it also means that I don’t have to wait a long time to build up layers.

It all feels really exciting, in a toned down, mellow way (at the moment!). I don’t know where this is all going; I don’t have a plan. Instead I will play when time allows and see what emerges.

These last photos are of a recent painting on paper, exploring some of these ideas and was inspired by a visit to Ingleton Waterfalls last month. The paper has two additional layers of gesso, and left as a white ground. The painting seems to hint at the direction I might be going in. I love all the delicate, gestural marks, the rich tones and the depth of colour in the layering where some paint is removed and further transparent layers applied. Looking forward to seeing what happens next!

Ingleton Falls by Yorkshire artist Jo Sykes.

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