I am returning to my studio after months of virtual but very real activity, constructing online shops and building an e course.  I am inspired by my trip to the Munnings Museum two weeks ago, where I was teaching a drawing class and then had the opportunity to draw and paint live models for the following two days.  I visited the museum, which has a large and beautifully curated collection of Munnings’ paintings and, this year, his personal letters.

I have returned with a determination to revisit my equestrian paintings started and left unresolved, beginning with this one which is an ongoing project that has baffled me for a long time.  Now I am really focused on understanding the drawing of the ponies and thinking every step of the way to review the colours and composition .

Drawing and painting require totally different parts of my brain, I realise. Quite confusing. For me it is a big leap from “knowing” (thinking hard) to “showing” (not thinking at all). Today did some absolutely necessary thinking with this pony to try and “show” the form of the legs better. Eventually this might translate without thought into paint. Also returned to original project, with slightly more knowledge. To be continued

    

A new thread while I am working in confined space in my house.  As a follow up to the portrait class I did two weeks ago, I am having a look at the human head and closely studying the shape of the skull and how the features become part of that.

As I cannot go out to sketch people due the coronavirus restrictions,  I practice by pausing the tv when I see a head that interests me, and doing a flash sketch of it.  Practice, practice until it becomes second nature, then I might be able to start creating something.

I welcome the change in routine, it is making me think about what I do in a fresh way and prioritise the threads of teaching, horse drawing, design and experimental art practice differently.

1.4.20  I have made some charcoal drawings of myself and started to translate the tones and planes of my face into paint.  It is quite a challenge to see my face, or anything, in that way, especially when colour is the medium.   But practice is the key.  Also I am making “plane” drawings to help me be clear when I am painting.  But it usually needs a couple of days.

 

 

4.4.20

Got stuck while working from a photo, did the tried and tested grid close focus colour matching approach but alas, it did not work, though I did learn something as ever from the frustrating tussle (below left).

Next day looked again at my mentor, Ray Smith, and mixed up four tonal/flesh colours and had another go on different image.  Realised that attempting to capture the elusive flesh colours is impossible (for me at this stage anyway), and in fact as humans our focus on the face is so powerful that it will interpret the features with only a small hint.  Start in this way and build up the colours in relation to each other, going warm or cool or both, however you wish.

    

9.4.20

Come to a bit of a halt with the momentum of this.  But re discovered this portrait painter from almost 4 years ago, understand it better now

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/jun/25/clara-drummond-kirsty-buchanan-bp-portrait-award-muse

 

Starting on closer pencil drawings to try and get a likeness.  Here is what I have so far.  *hard work* and not like me.

Here (below) are four paint sketches done May-June 2020 before I temporarily stopped studio work for digital stuff.

 

Due to the coronavirus, I have moved my workspace to my house and it will take a different direction.  As I will be in a different environment which is less spacious and where I cannot have my current work to hand, I shall be focussing on working from life in the (self) portrait and on small scale studies.  This time will not be wasted and in some ways I am glad to take a break from constant striving and return to technique and detail.  Also I am freshly inspired by my course only a week ago with Alan McGowan.  But I hope this general situation will not go on too long and I will be able to return to my workshop.

 

Working in my studio is a continual search to and fro for threads and unexpected links which lead to new connections and new ways of seeing and thinking.  I have recently made copies of paintings by Alfred Munnings and now I am working on the amazing horse paintings by Christian Hook and Alex Kanevsky.  Having started a (incomplete so far) study of a Hook work,  I am fascinated by his beautiful energetic drawing and use of paint and colour, which echoes the way I like to draw and work with colour and markmaking.  It is so different from the  more traditional form of equestrian art (eg the Munnings, though he is a good artist)  and truly beautiful.  I am reluctant to show the Hook study in case it is an infringement of his copyright, but there is a rough sketch below which gives an idea.

  

I wanted to address one of my studies (the one above of the horses resting in a barn) in a similar free way and see what happened.  But this will have to go on hold just now.  I was beginning to see a connection between this “thread” and the drawings and paintings of trees – something about a link between the horses’ legs or lines of their bridles and the shapes of trees.

 

 

 

 

This was the first time I have worked from life for some time.  I am still in a place where I am experimenting with materials and getting confidence with the oil painting, so also thinking about the drawing and colour in a real life model is quite a stretch for me.  I found that I could sustain my current knowledge/level of expertise for about two days with two different male models, who I already knew, but by the third day I had run out of interpretative energy and the painting went flat.  I did not know the  models for the third and fourth day and also found the modelling of the face on these young female sitters more difficult than in the older male models of first two days. It was less about them as characters and more about their surface features for me.

I wanted to revisit my portrait painting, which I have worked with on and off for the past few years, and definitely felt less overwhelmed by preexisting ideas and the challenge of the live model this time.  I really appreciated these few days of focus on painting, supported by Alan’s expertise and ideas and by a pleasant and dedicated group of fellow painters.  Alan gave us lots of information about using paint and building a painting, and I appreciated his reference to other interesting painters such as Kanevsky and Muira (see below).  At one time these artists seemed a million miles away, now I have a bit more skill with paint, at least enough to try and make some sketches and copies to try and absorb their approach.  And from that to work out my own approach.

   

 

 

As an artist who has worked for many years in several different media, I have realised that for me making art is a dialogue between artist, subject/idea and medium.  Each has its own dimension and language.  The subject can simply be an idea, the medium anything from a phone image/camera to elaborate oil painting or expressive charcoal drawing.  I like digital media because of the freedom and sense of play and exploration that they offer but my favourite media are more physical ones such as paint and drawing materials.  I feel more engaged with my body and whole being when using these traditional image making tools, which have their own language.  Each medium in fact is a language and it takes time to become fluent in any of them.  Personal preference, luck and natural skill comes into it, but practice and fluency is essential if you wish to create spontaneously and have a certain knowledge and control.

The subject can be a physical object or else a thought or feeling such as a memory, idea, concept or sensation.   Whatever it is, it is usually a complex source of investigation, requiring full engagement and knowledge.  Sometimes the artist will already have that deep knowledge from unconscious experience, sometimes a conscious learning effort will be needed to get sufficiently acquainted with the subject.  The aim is to know it so thoroughly that the artist can create and play directly and freely, maybe altering the subject according to how the work develops.

The third (and indispensable!) component is the artist, who always, as a unique human being, has something individual and special to say.  Together with subject and medium, the artist can express personal imagination, passion, curiosity and creativity. The more the artist practices, the more they will engage with and discover a personal language, which constantly throws up surprises and becomes increasingly compelling and satisfying.

My personal favourite subject is the horse.  I have drawn these creatures since I was a child, fascinated by their beauty, form and graceful strength.  There is something about the horse which is deeply symbolic.  Not only have they been an essential practical part of the human experience for millennia until very recently, but symbolically they represent another world, not only of power, speed and energy, but also as intermediaries with the spirit world.  Nowadays we can respect the horse as a companion and guide to a more insightful and accepting way of building our lives. Horses are often used to rebuild confidence and trust in those whose lives have been traumatised in some ways.

They are incredibly beautiful animals, too, and their complex form and dynamic movements make a fascinating and challenging subject for the artist.  This is all adds up to the horse as the ideal source of inspiration which already has engaged the passion of the artist.  But how the artist depicts the creature is entirely personal.  Some might be most comfortable in depicting every feature as precisely as possible in a precise medium such as pencil or pastel.  Others might prefer to express what they perceive as the inner nature and spirit of the horse, using a freer medium such as ink or charcoal.   But either way, a study and awareness of the horse, its being, habits and form is essential if the artist wishes to develop in whatever style. I personally find anatomy an indispensable tool for understanding the bones, muscles and dynamic of the horse, and I constantly return to this reference to refine and strengthen my drawing and painting.

I myself am an expressive artist.  The horse reflects and triggers something deep within me for whatever reason, and it is this personal reaction which is the real event, courtesy of the horse, my catalyst and subject, and the characteristics of the medium that I am using.  Each person has to find their (constantly shifting) balance between these three elements and their own inner artist.  Ideally, try to make work every day.  You will be amazed at how your ideas, intentions, engagement and direction all change.

As you proceed you may find that the work of other artists or teachers becomes relevant and fascinating to you.  My advice is to absorb, copy and then move on.  It is another thrilling step in your artistic development and the endless quest for your own inner truth.  These notes apply to any subject, not simply equestrian art.

Further thoughts:

Sometimes the inner artist needs a break and to let the media and the subject matter do the work.  One way I enjoy this is to copy an artist I admire or want to learn from such as Alfred Munnings, the equestrian artist.  All I have to do is copy and channel his existing decisions with no ego involved.  Delightful! The ultra expressive moments are pretty rare for me.

I am so determined to go beyond figurative painting.  I worked for months analysing and deconstructing this image and then reconstructing it on a large scale (1200 x 900 mm).

I wanted to do an abstract version.  I took a large canvas (900 x 900 mm) and threw myself into it intuitively, relying on the knowledge I had gained from the study.  This was an enjoyable and adventurous process.  The result is here.  I could have approached it differently, carefully combining each element,  but I want to let my body and instincts have expression.  It is an interesting process and I did not have conscious control over it but  I think it expresses the inner life of the original painting – the chaos and uncertainty of emotions and events and moments.

Here are some details from the piece.  Each could be the starting point for another painting or story.

Oh what a struggle to move from looking to something else.  That something could be analysing shapes back to their limits, somehow finding the essence of the image, expressing emotions, or something as yet unrealised.

Reading about David Bomberg and his insistence on being  part of the subject, “spirit of the mass”, I tried a new approach today and my current “something” is physical experience, for the horse it is the rough messiness and raw power that comes with the sublime beauty of the animal.

Today, 7th October,  I found a looseness and abstract approach, though it still looks figurative.  Getting more relaxed about the paint   Dare I say. But it is still a leap.

A week or so later, making one of these little paintings each day as “drill”, but now it is making more sense as I look at other half finished pieces and think how I could approach them with more awareness of shape and colour.  Anyway here are three more of the recent little pieces.

 

 

I have always worked with dye on fabric, but I am now experimenting with acrylic and oil paint as an alternative source of colour. In my textile work, I used the dye in a very natural, expressive and abstract way.  It has been challenging for me to translate that freedom into paint, and I am having to learn how to use paint in a traditional way before I feel free enough to experiment.  The great benefit is the option of increased control over the medium as well as the option to rework.

But I am now realising how exacting a medium paint is.  It is a process of looking, looking, translating into a sketch, looking again, making a series of drawings to understand how my brain is selecting particular elements such as details or a colour or subject matter which have emotional meaning.  Then to bypass my brain to discover the underlying structure.

 

Freud portrait All Too Human TateLucian Freud “would talk about creating air around his figures, insisting that every square inch was of equal importance…”background” …had to be worked at like all else, paint vbeing the means of convinc ing the onlooker that such a sthing as a picture had more solid an existence … than we ourselves, or any old mattress, say.  Any painting not fully charged was liable to end up talkative … not telling”    William Feaver  “I was Lucian’s spare pair of eyes”   Observer 8.9.19

I am struggling with my own journey with this, redrawing and exploring to find the elements in the subject.  It is very hard work.  Lots of drawings to experiment with shapes and lines and tones before I get to colour.  I want to get these pictures beyond figurative, to get them to their elements.  That might mean changing them completely.  It will certainly take time.

Anthony Gormley, sculptor, says on drawing as a method of exploration:

“Drawing is about being with the materials: feeling the skin of the paper absorbing the scrafch of a pen.  In drawing, you can go to places you could never otherwise reach mentally or physically..”

A few weeks later I am looking again at this set of drawings.  I want to go beyond the photographic representation.  That is a challenge, but I want to go through that and engage more with my own energy and the mysterious energy of the subject and the image.  Yesterday I simply let rip with the colours and made an abstract statement that works.  But it is hard for me to work like this all the time.  I need a “plan” or a  “frame”, even if just as a springboard.  Today I used ink and brush to loosen up my engraved perception of the images.

A series to be of winter landscape studies inspired by my local landscape.  All around 180 mm square and acrylic on stretched paper.

I like to do these at the end of the painting session when I feel the need for a bit of a play!

       

 

 

Back in the studio and starting this series of oil sketches on board from a Newmarket visit with the Society of Equestrian Artists a few years ago.  I am working as loosely as I can here to capture the essential shapes and colours.  Another 9 to go and hoping to submit a few for the Horse In Art exhibition.   I am planning to continue beyond these sketches towards real abstraction.  But first I want to look and try and get these studies into my bones.

#5 is an awkward photo and as yet I have not resolved it as a painting.  I am going to darken the area top right, something wrong, too much detail, wrong tone.  The red tree so important to the whole thing.  I did not realise this until I had stopped painting today.  I went back and altered it.