Studio Notes – Finding a rhythm in painting

Last Monday – after working all weekend on uploading work to my Studio Sale – we were desperate for a day out to blow the cobwebs away. It was a gloriously sunny but cold day. We have barely ventured inland since moving here a year ago and there are so many places we are yet to visit. But with the sun shining – it was the coast calling us once again and so we set off to Amble. A lovely little harbour town with larger boats and a spectacular view over to Warkworth Castle.

From Amble to Warkworth Castle

I had taken a sketchbook with me but it was too cold even for this hardy Scot! Okay so that is a big fib. I am not hardy at all – I really need to toughen up if I am to get out and about sketching in the coming months! So I took lots of photos whilst walking briskly in between shots and then we sheltered from the cold in this lovely Sea Shack built from upturned boats. Hot chocolate out of tin mugs, fish and chips and sticky toffee pudding – gorgeous!

My Studio week started with playing with shapes on paper inspired by some of my photos of views from the harbour. I just love this broken down structure – I can’t find any info on it but it looks like an old pier. The rhythm and pattern is just so beautiful to me and I have a feeling it will feature over and over in my work.

Creating this image started me thinking about ways in which I can create more rhythm in my compositions. It is likely something I have always incorporated in some way – I think it is a natural component of creating – like the way we move, the beat of our heart, the music we are drawn to and the way we place elements on a page or canvas. I have always been conscious of odd numbers being more interesting than even for instance, or the shapes that surround objects being as important as the objects themselves.

Ebb and Flow – Acrylic on paper  15 x 22 inches 2017

Looking at this photo (below) I was struck by the rhythm of the wooden structure (I think it is an old pier or what is left of a temporary bridge) – how they are almost like musical notes across a page – and if you were to count them out in time there would be a variation in pace and tempo. The many quick, quick notes all at the beginning and then finding a steady rhythm of beat-rest-beat-beat-rest-beat-beat-rest before changing to beat-rest-rest-beat-rest-beat as it moves over the right. Yep, I was pretty musical a few years ago playing flute and guitar – perhaps I should begin again.

Then the jumble of lobster pots all piled up and at higglety-pigglety angles – again a rhythmic shape and composition. Editing down to specific elements in the mixed media piece above. Not feeling bound by the photograph but finding and creating elements that are inspired by what I have seen and remember.

 The mouth of the River Coquet

Venturing into my daily mark-making warm ups I found myself exploring these ideas even further but editing them down to complete abstraction – meditations on creating rhythms that are drawn from deep inside and reflecting my mood of the day and a desire to work with simple materials and focus on the process – as always with no expectation of a specific outcome. These are fascinating as I am always completely surprised by what appears and yet they feel so true to where I am right now. Completely open to exploration and discovery and embracing whatever appears on the paper or canvas.

Untold mysteries – mixed media on paper – 23 x 32 inches 2017

This piece above was created whilst feeling very out of sorts one morning last week. I watched a TV show that upset me deeply and the next day I was still feeling raw. And then this happened. Rather than feeling gloomy at the muted colours and strange unnerving composition, looking at this now I actually feel a sense of peace as I take in all the layers and subtle mark-making. I love the emotion I get from it. Whilst I know there are real contrasts in the work I am creating from one day to the next, it speaks to me of all the many elements and subtleties and deep contrasts there are inside of each one of us and I know there is an honesty in accepting what each day holds in the studio. I have not always experienced this feeling about my work.

Yet I also see a familiarity in each and every piece.  The portraits, the landscapes and seascapes and the more abstract pieces. A series of marks, a layering of shape and value, a cohesion in my colour palette and a rhythm between empty space and areas of interest in my compositions.

Eager for Snow – Mixed Media on paper, 23 x 32 inches 2017

Studio Notes – 8th February.

Mark-making. I will begin just making marks on the page to see what happens. I love that each day I come here there is no plan. In time perhaps there will be but for now it is enough to ease into my studio day just exploring. Indeed it is liberating to just arrive and work on something new, unexpected and seemingly unfamiliar. Later in the day I can move onto my in-progress and almost completed pieces. The first hour of the day I hand over to creating art on the page – non-objective chaos or calm, rhythmic meditative marks.

Charcoal, ink and pencils, gesso and white paint. It is all there ready on my table. Music can ease me into the process – although it is not always required – silence can give me space to begin. Coffee also helps.

Today once again I simply took out a large sheet of paper and began working with charcoal – just seeing where the marks took me. Always uncertain to begin with I soon find myself losing myself in the process – no conscious thought required. I have been creating these pieces on drawing paper – the biggest sheets I have.  They end up being made more substantial by the resulting layers of gesso and paint.  But I am gradually recognising just how valuable they are in terms of their role in opening a door to whatever else happens that day. In that respect they are infinitely precious to me. Perhaps I need to give them more substance – creating them on sturdier watercolour paper or canvas. But would that change how my energy flows when I am working on these exploratory pieces? Paper feels right – a beautiful surface to work on and it responds to the energy of my marks. Perhaps it is the ‘humility’ of the substrate that enables me to work entirely unhindered by the weight of ‘expectation’?

Harbour entrance – Mixed Media on paper 23 x 28 inches 2017

These non-objective pieces are also allowing me to be bolder in my seascapes and landscapes too. I love exploring all the smaller details and areas of colour and contrasts in the piece above also created last week.

Who knows what might happen this coming week in the studio!

Comments 4

  1. Anne Philipson

    Gillian, I so look forward to your blog posts & the glimpse it gives of the landscape where you live, & your art practice. I love your photos & then enjoy seeing how they inspire your art.

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