Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Butterbeans, garlic, mint and words, words, words...
Listening to Baby Birch by Joanna Newsom, parked in the Station car park at Marazion.
Feeling the day begin to warm, the morning sun steams yesterdays rain back into the atmosphere.
Penzance is lit by a Turneresque blast of light while the Mount broods in a sinister silhouette.
All the time the waves incessantly roll in… 7,8,9 repetitions, not big enough to surf and too big to kayak, only the Herring gulls use the beach this morning, scavenging the whipped shoreline.
The powder blue sky is reflected on the surface of the restless, foaming sea.
Dashes of Sienna and Paynes Grey shadows give form to the waves.
Home to the studio for a morning of mounting, wrapping, packing and posting of RNLI studies.
Lunch consists of mashed butterbeans, garlic, mint and olive oil with tiny plum tomatoes, roasted on a glass Pyrex dish so that the intense juices can’t escape.
The mash is spread onto toasted spelt with the tomatoes and accompanying juices spooned on top.
Followed by a mug of tea and piece of cappuccino cake.
The afternoon is spent busily writing an article about using acrylics and mixed media for The Artist magazine while the sun pops his head out, in between dark clouds that threaten but fail to fulfil.
The article goes something like this…
RELEASING THE MAGIC
When working on location I am often asked by curious passers by, “Why do you choose to use acrylics in preference to other mediums?”
I always reply, “Because painting with acrylics is like working with slippy, slidey mud. I can spread it around with my hands. Compared to oils it dries quickly, compared to watercolours it dries slowly, it’s tactile, it’s forgiving, I love acrylics and acrylics love me…”
Often the passers by scurry away quickly, other times they simply look at me totally bemused.
But I am now on an excited roll, I go on to say “And acrylics can be over painted, I can work light over dark, I can glaze, I can scumble, I can mix sand, stones, bits of twig, grass, seaweed and earth into the paint; I can carve, I can manipulate, I can spread, flick, drip and splatter the paint”.
“That’s why!” I finally finish.
But, for me that explains the sheer beauty of acrylics; no other medium is as versatile.
One of the other real benefits of acrylics, and there are many, is that you can buy them in all states of viscosity from water like liquid such as Liquitex to thick, buttery, keep your shapeable Artists Acrylic.
In between these class leaders are many other brands and many other formulations, and each gives its own startling performance.
Personally I still love good old student quality Galleria for its looseness, its ‘not quite set custard’ consistency, and its glazing capabilities. Plus when I was a student it was affordable and now it still holds a special place in my heart.
Above all else though, acrylics absolute, top drawer, class of its own virtue is its friendliness towards other media.
For while watercolour flutters its eyelashes and tends to shy away from enjoying the company of full on mixed media, and oil merely looks down from its lofty heights at anything other than the finest Belgian canvas, acrylics creep in through the back door, under the radar and have a wild party with anyone, anything that crosses their path.
Acrylics hold the ultimate open house party, the kind of party that plays its music a little too loud and goes on till the wee small hours.
Acrylics are best friends with everyone; they show no prejudice to MDF, paper, board, canvas, stone, wood or walls and regularly hang out with pencils, collage, rubbish, tat and ephemera of all kinds.
And I love that attitude.
In my work, while concerned about longevity, I am never precious.
The whole ‘though shalt not use white paint when using watercolour’ malarkey never really rang true for me, I prefer and find much more exciting to just get in there with whatever is to hand; hence my paintings regularly are made by a process of collage/acrylic/collage/acrylic/more collage/more acrylic/coloured pencil work/a bit of sand/maybe some emulsion/scratched details/glue/dust/sweet wrappers/coffee stains/menus from the local café/more acrylic, oh, and probably a little more collage, just tiny pieces here and there to finish.
I think that’s about it.
At least that’s kind of how I remember it?
But that’s the thing with acrylics, I can add, and add, and then maybe take away a little, and this helps to keep the painting process exciting for me.
It helps the painting to find its own magic.
If I knew exactly how a painting was going to turn out before I started I never would start. That process would bore me senseless.
I prefer to have a rough idea and then just wing it. Of course this means that over 50% of my paintings don’t necessarily work and are never framed, and these bad boys are usually painted over or generally beaten into submission until they do succumb to the required result.
Working up acrylics into finished paintings using mixed media can be, without wanting to sound too overboard, terribly exciting. Not knowing how the painting will turn out is great, each brush stroke or added item has an element of danger to it.
Will it work or will I ruin it.
Of course it is difficult to ruin an acrylic, as you can easily wash off the offending areas if the paint is still wet or paint over them if it is dry.
Either way when working in such a haphazard way I tend to end up with lots of ‘accidents’, hopefully good ones.
These are the accidents that add a certain something to your work that you could never consciously add yourself.
It is these happy accidents that give the finished work that certain spark.
Take for example ‘A St. Ives Summer’, now for me the areas that I am most happy about are the tiny areas of collage ghosting through the over painting in the sea.
Without that random, sorry, carefully placed collage, the blue harbour sea would be flat and much less interesting.
And by using small cut outs from magazines for the boat shapes I can create a whole flotilla of bright fishing boats complete with names and numbers.
My alternative would have been to slavishly paint every boat.
I must say at this point that I am in no way averse to painting boats accurately, or ‘proper job’ as they say where I come from, and I regularly do, particularly for my yacht canvasses such as Blue Water Speed; but sometimes you just can’t beat the childlike enthusiasm of cutting up paper and sticking it down, just to see what combinations you can come up with.
Another case in point for mixed media would be my painting ‘Paignton Pier’, which without the collaged lower half would be a pretty standard sunrise painting, the kind that you find on a million postcards.
To help raise the painting above being a simple postcard copy I used a piece of swept moulding scavenged from Paignton beach, deckchair fabric and a Victorian letterpress alphabet.
Using these items helped me to convey more of the atmosphere and uniqueness of the seaside town.
The same ideas can be seen in my Brancaster painting.
As my diary notes from the day explain:
“17th March 2010 4.00 - BRANCASTER, NORFOLK
Very exposed, salt marsh dunes, stinging hale – a party of school kids on the beach – millions of razor shells, whelks, mussels etc in the impossibly soft sand. The dark gravy grey wild North Sea seems as though it will swallow you!
Arctic shore – birds, ducks and geese flighting in on the Arctic winds.
Nothing between the North Norfolk shore and the polar icepack.
The wind is made of water and ice, grey/brown and creamy froth.
The sea looks menacing.
Only the ducks and geese can tell you what its like out there”.
Hopefully by using some of the found materials on the day I managed to capture some of that windswept, brooding beach.
Both Paignton Pier and Brancaster were painted as part of a fund raising project that I recently completed for the RNLI in which I painted at 180 locations around the English coast.
In each of the studies completed on location and particularly in each of larger studio versions I tried to use ‘local’ materials to help tie in the essence of each area.
This technique can also be seen used on Hastings and Workington, which was painted on a washed up plank from an Irish Sea fishing boat.
So next time you open your tubes of acrylic paint, don’t be afraid, use the glorious colourful sticky paint with abandon.
Revel in the gluey, plastic qualities that acrylics possess and remember to throw into the ring whatever is to hand.
Your painting will be unique; your painting will be rooted to its location.
Your painting will have a magic of its own…End.
Dinner is a satisfying combination of potatoes baked for almost two hours until the skins are crisp to the point of shattering and the fluffy interior just begs for butter.
Served with an omelette of cheddar and chives, which is filled with cream cheese.
Only peas are needed to finish the dish.
Followed later in the evening by a steaming mug of hot chocolate, made with milk, not water and laced with a generous glug of brandy. All topped off with grated 100% cacao.
Kerry still can’t hear properly, I SAID KERRY STILL CAN’T HEAR PROPERLY, but will hopefully have her ears syringed tomorrow.