Studio Notes – Skipping between two places

The weather here swings between biting cold and glorious sunshine and often both at once. We made our way back to Amble last week as we had visiting family and the sun was just incredible. I had less time in the studio but days like this are an inspiration in themselves.

Amble – February 2017

When I visit the local harbours I am often seeking new inspiration for my artwork. I am drawn to the busyness of recognisable structures and lines – boats, buildings and the structures of the harbour walls. But I am also inspired by the wonderful abstracted shapes that appear when you half-close your eyes, so simplifying and editing out the detail. I can zoom in close to certain aspects that are just a small piece of the whole jigsaw. The shapes of the shadows or the water marks that appear at low tide.

Craster Harbour Houses – Oil on board (2016)

And so it goes in the studio too.  I am currently enjoying the motion of skipping between two places. There are the  expressive but still recognisable representations of all I have seen and the places I love, inspired by my sketches and photographs which I have displayed around my studio.

Lobster posts set against some new apartments that are near completion. Whilst they dominate the skyline they are wonderfully sympathetic to the setting I think.

Then there are the pieces that come from a more intuitive place that are born from a memory or feeling or a purely physical response to the marks on the paper before me. It is fascinating to me that each holds my interest equally but in different ways. It is the wonderfully absorbing abstractions that have been a real surprise at this time – although then again I have worked with abstraction in my work before. Many years ago I completed a whole body of work that was inspired by shipwrecks deep under the sea. The glorious shapes, colours and textures that are to be found when looking at the mournful structures that have long since been taken over by nature, gradually breaking down metal and wood to reveal wonderful, constantly changing forms. I wish I still had this work – I suspect I have a few small pieces hidden away somewhere and I hope I find them again.

On a day like this – Mixed Media on Paper, 30 x 22 inches (2017)

Studio Notes – 24th February

When you realise what something is – does that change the focus of how the work will develop? I am thinking about the pieces that I have been working on each day – the ones that began a few weeks ago as simple mark-making pieces and a way of getting to the easel to focus on the ‘real’ work (the seascapes in oil on board). The mark making exercises on paper are becoming such an important part of my studio practice. For these past weeks I have felt they were just an intuitive exploration of materials and marks with no real focus. An abundantly joyful release of whatever it took to start my day and build energy for my other work. Each one has been unique in its own way.

Then today it struck me as I looked at the photograph below which I have hanging near my easel. I was gazing at the marks on the harbour walls – the shapes and textures and colours. Looking closely at the beautiful, rhythmic variations. I realised the most recent of these images I have been creating are so familiar – just like an old friend who I had not seen for a long, long time in the way they relate to the work inspired by shipwrecks I created all those years ago. They are so reminiscent of tide lines and marks on harbour walls. The beautiful discolouration that appears over long, long years and is criss-crossed by ropes and ladders. There is an incredible array of colours to be found in these marks – green-black, green-gold, ochres, rust colours and grey blues – my much-loved colour palette.

Seahouses Harbour – January 2017

So – these images that I was creating completely without focus or conscious thought (or so I believed) have suddenly become something. That is so interesting to me and it throws up some questions and challenges. How do I now continue on with the same experience of creating without expectations? I am excited to see where they take me and would love to see if I can continue on exploring and stop myself from falling into a formulaic way of working. Or if I did – would that be a bad thing? I am working with a range of materials that change slightly with each new piece I create – gesso, acrylics, inks, pencils, various mark making tools, pencils, charcoal, graphite, and in the most recent one Derwent inktense sticks. I think periodically switching the materials around will help keep the work fresh and encourage me in continuing to explore a variety of ways of creating marks and layering.

The secret of the sea – Mixed media on paper 30 x 23 inches (2017)

I also know that despite feeling that for the most part I am creating without focus or conscious thought, I get to a certain point with each piece where I begin furiously editing and making decisions in order to come to some sort of conclusion – pulling everything together until I love what I see. The first two below were more reminiscent of a forest or the edges of the fields outside my studio. Then in One a day like this I began to get a different energy from the shapes and marks.

There are many reasons, Eager for Snow, On a day like this – all mixed media on paper, 23 x 30 inches (2017)

I am excited to move forward not just with an awareness of what these pieces are but also what they could be. Still working without an idea in my head and embracing every direction they might take me and continuing to be open to all possibilities. I think this will help me put a completely different energy into each new piece. I have no idea how many more I will work on but I can’t imagine I will be bored with this process any time soon!

The secret of the sea, The One and Breathing space – all mixed media on paper 23 x 30 inches (2017)

It is also incredibly satisfying to see these pieces starting to develop as a collection of work and not just as single images. This is something that I feel is important in moving my work forward and I look forward to exploring this more in future blog posts.

Detail of Secrets of the Sea

Till next time!

Comments 6

  1. Ethne Benn

    Really great of you to share this. So inspirational. I feel like doing this for a while. I have used every canvas that was available to me and can think of nothing nicer than to use paper and do this. Thank you!! Ethne

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  2. Anne Philipson

    Thank you once more for sharing all this Gillian – inspiring. Love your photos as well as your paintings & words.

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  3. Kathy O'Neill

    Gillian, I just love this work and your process. I find it so fresh and of course so inspiring. I’m grabbing my cup of tea and heading to the studio right now!!

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