Studio Notes 27th January 2017

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Port Seton Harbour – photographs I took last year.

This past week has seen me flitting between paralysis, uncertainty and anxiety about all that is happening in the world. Every time I go to write in my journal but particularly anywhere that will be seen by others – my words are dampened down by a deep inability to know what to say. So I have been silent. Everything that is happening – all of these events that have been building up for months and months – I feel paralysed by it all.

I admire those who speak out, who find strength in challenging conversations and connection. Each one of us is unique and each of us has our own way of being in this world. However I would never wish for my silence to be mistaken for indifference. I have spent a lot of time at my studio just sitting in silence before I begin working. Searching for a way to speak about all that is happening. As a creative I have an idea that I need to some-how find my voice – Speak out – perhaps it does not need to be in words but in other ways. But I haven’t yet figured out how to do that. And so I remain silent.

It has been troubling me deeply.

I found this quote the other day.

“When you connect to the silence within you, that is when you can make sense of the disturbance going on around you. “

Stephen Richards

However I know that this cannot be a permanent state of being. I am trying to find my own way. I think perhaps that is why writing in the form of these Studio Notes is somehow cathartic. I can write my way through that feeling of not knowing what else to say.

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Winter Fields – Mixed media on paper, 16 x 23 inches (2017)

In the meantime I continue on with my studio time. Each day I begin with some mark-making and see where that takes me. As ever – no expectations – just playing with simple materials on large sheets of paper. The piece above was created after spending some time gazing out at the view from my studio – inspired by the textures of winter and an unexpected brightness that hit the edges of the grass filled field through the bare branches.

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You may be able to see more of the texture in the detail above – layers of wet paint that I have worked into with mark making tools and then covered with wet inks so that the lines are almost like a road map.

The piece below began by taking a familiar shape (simplified lobster pots) and repeating it over and over before erasing and scraping back then redrawing. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

2Piles of pots – Mixed Media on paper, 23 x 32 inches (2017)

Each day after working on these pieces I have found myself going back to some sketches I created last year. Many pages of drawings created whilst sat at a few different harbour towns and villages – all with simple pencils, some detailed and representational, others more abstract and simplified. The examples below were some of a few sketches from Port Seton harbour where I was fascinated by the process of editing down the shapes to form these pared down compositions.

5Harbour sketch in pencil

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Harbour sketch in pencil

It was only when looking at them recently that I realised there is barely a hint of a boat in my drawings whilst you can see from the photo at the top here there were boats sitting silently in the still water. For some reason it is the actual structures of the harbour walls that interest me the most – the dark monumental shapes that contrast with the finer details of the fences, ladders and ropes.

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Initial lay in of charcoal to establish the shapes and composition.

I have been wondering how these would translate into larger pieces so began working them up into some drawings which you will see below along with some studio notes I made after a long day of working in silence – retreating into the comfort of exploration and process.

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Harbour walls – Oil on paper, 15 x 22 inches (2017)

(Available in my Saatchi Gallery)

Studio Notes 27th January

So I discover in words (although I have known it for the longest time) that I am not searching for answers or solutions or perfection in my artwork. It is all an ongoing exploration and expression.

My greatest inspiration is not knowing where all of this will lead me. Every mark on the page, every drawing, every painting – they all create more questions than  answers. This is true pf the ones I am most happy with. The challenging ones. That that felt frustrating or incomplete or were in danger of being thrown away. Those are the pieces that inspire me to do more.

I begin mark-making. In those first moments I am always thinking – what do I have to say? (In art and in life). I feel empty apart from that knot of anxiety that is oh so present when I think of all that is happening right now in the world.

The uncertainty evaporates and I find myself submitting to the process. That is always the way. I can never pinpoint the exact moment it happens. 

The paper that was once empty gradually begins to reveal shapes and marks and textures. There is magic in creating something out of nothing.  

Whilst I feel helpless and hopeless in the real world, perhaps this simple act of drawing has its own energy. I like to imagine that it somehow relates to the Butterfly Effect. A seemingly inconsequential action that over time will enable me to find a way to communicate so that I don’t remain silent.

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Work in progress taken at the end of the day with camera glare on the wet oil bar – just one more layer to go on this one.

 I am enjoying these simple compositions that contrast those dominant shapes with finer marks. These are worked not from my photographs but entirely from my sketches and so have been simplified once again in shape but made more interesting with the added textures of the thickly applied oil bars and the beautiful addition of antique gold into those dark harbour walls for added contrast. I have also begun working these drawings up into larger more atmospheric paintings and hope to make progress on those this coming week.

As always thank you for visiting and reading. This felt a challenging post to write as I struggle between not knowing what to say and yet feeling as if it is no longer an option to stay silent. I have a long way to go.

Comments 8

  1. Monica Jones

    Hi Gillian
    Your honesty is truly amazing. I felt my own anxiety leave me as I read through your notes.
    I too can sit in silence but I realize now that it’s the creative mind loading up. Maybe a bit like wifi trying to connect.

    Thank you for sharing so much

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  2. Quirk strangeness and charm

    This is my first visit to your blog. It’s really interesting to read all your ruminations about your work. And I relate to your struggle with silence and knowing what to say. I wondered if, as you looked back at your harbour sketches, it was the safe haven that those big walls provide that you were seeking, finding and speaking about. Little bit impertinent, I know, for me to comment and likely, wildly wrong but, it has set a helpful train of thought going in my own mind. So, thank you.

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      Gillian Lee Smith

      Lynne thank you so much for visiting and taking the time to leave your thoughts. I very much appreciate it. Wow, I had not thought of it like that but now that you mention it … I have been painting harbours for a while but I certainly feel a deep connection with them at this time and I think you have hit the nail on the head – even without me realising, I think you are so right. I know that I feel more at peace when I am drawing and painting these beautiful man made structures that are so sympathetic to the landscape. You have given me much to think about – thank you so very much.

  3. Sayn

    Thank you. Thank you for sharing your struggle in such a subtle, searching way. The fact that you are willing to feel and think these things, work with them and be so honest and vulnerable in your sharing, múst have some sort effect. It did have an effect on me, at least. I will sit with my own feelings and thoughts for a bit. Not sure what will come out of that, but luckily, immediate answers aren’t required.
    Please keep posting your studio notes, they are a meaningful compliment to your paintings and drawings.

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      Gillian Lee Smith

      Thank you so much Sayn, it means a great deal to read your comments. I worry (constantly) that I am not doing enough and I admire those who are making a big impact with all that they are saying and doing. But I also try to believe that there are many kinds of people in the world and we each have our own unique way of reaching out and connecting with others. Whether that be by words or art, or prayers or simple acts of kindness. Thank you for visiting here. I am so glad you are enjoying the studio notes : )

  4. Vicki

    You are not alone, dear Gillian. Words certainly escape me as I ponder the absurdity of it all and what can be done from my own humble position in this world. I cannot bear the ranting done by some who know nothing but think they know so much. And yet, I too feel that I should say something, take a stand. It takes so much energy to do so, and I am one to deeply examine all angles before speaking my mind, but there it is…the guilt. Ah, sweet art, thank you for the diversion.

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      Gillian Lee Smith

      Vicki thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I know many of us are feeling out of sorts about the general state of things in all corners of the globe. And whilst I am one to naturally retreat, I also know that by connecting with others – well that is how we can make even small changes that can have far reaching effects. Thank you again

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