Archives for posts with tag: technique

Old Sheds

It can sometimes be a good idea to make things a bit difficult by choosing materials that might not seem right for the job. I’m no masochist and I’m not trying to jump through hoops for the sake of it, but if you go on picking up the same tools every time you start drawing you’ll find yourself going through the same process – and some of that will be repetitive and predictable, which means you may not learn much.

This can be uncomfortable to say the least. You can find yourself on a path that is unrecognisable and you can think you’re lost. It can make you feel rather miserable. But the good news is that in many ways, feeling lost can be a very good thing because it’s when you’re lost that you do more looking, in order to find your way forward.

This is drawn on not very good quality tissue paper, with areas of colour printed from paint applied to a sheet of plastic. I deliberately didn’t start by drawing with a pen. In the end I drew into it because I couldn’t resist pulling it together with some line drawing, but before I did that I had looked harder and made discoveries I wouldn’t have made otherwise.

I probably would have learnt more if I’d been braver and not reached for a pen. But it’s a toe in the water; and that at least feels good.



I have a thing about words, there’s no denying it.

It’s always been a bit of a problem for me really, because I like writing almost as much as I like drawing or painting or working with fabrics, and to move between words and images is a complicated thing. I think it was Betty Edwards in her book Drawing on the Right side of the Brain who describes the strange sensation she had when trying to talk to students about drawing while actually in the process of doing it, and finding herself weirdly and uncharacteristically inarticulate. Drawing and writing really are polar opposites.

Trying to put words into a piece of visual work and make the two things work together is even more complicated, and risky, because anything legible in a known alphabet tends immediately to draw attention away from everything else – but inevitably it’s something I find myself trying to do.

I’ve stitched together fabric and paper with hand written texts, and embroidered over the top. And I’ve written on paper that I’ve then stitched and painted and screwed up and torn and practically destroyed, before attempting to put it back together in a way that makes sense (not a comfortable thing to do, to make yourself deliberately tear up something that you’ve spent time carefully crafting). All this was appropriate in these pieces of work, because I was preoccupied with the way buildings – and landscape – are worn away over time, are eroded by sun and rain and wind and frost, finally collapse or disintegrate and then are rearranged into something else. During all of this, the history of the process is built into the structure itself and so in a way all kinds of stories are embedded in the material, whether it’s rock or mud or timber or brick or stone.

Prayer Panels 758 mm x 580 mm

Then I had the idea of doing the same thing with jewellery, and this is more complicated still, because if you’re wearing something with words on it you’re making a statement. For me, the text has always needed an element of mystery about it, so that it’s a story that is possible to understand only in part, in the same way that a book with pages missing or a letter that’s damaged and illegible is more fascinating because it’s incomplete.

In the end, it’s hard to be sure whether words aren’t better left where they belong, on the page (or nowadays on the screen)…… I think for the time being anyway, I’m happy to leave it that way, but who knows?

Someone asked me the other day which medium I like using best. It’s a hard question to answer, but I think whatever I’m currently using I’d probably say that’s the one I love most, (though ask me that again when I’m immersed in jewellery making, or when all I want to do is stitch fabric, and it’ll probably be a different story). At the moment it’s watercolour, and drawing and watercolour painting are both equally important for me but for rather different reasons.

Actually watercolour has characteristics that make it easy to get obsessive about. Some of this has to do with the paint itself; it’s so enjoyable to mix and dilute and load onto a brush and to watch what it does when it get on to the paper – whether it’s a wet wash that runs and soaks in, or a dry swish of colour put on with the side of the brush, or two colours put on wet next to each other and allowed to collide and then merge and mix on the paper to create fluid explosions of new colour between them. I could do this for hours, and sometimes I do just this and nothing more – simply mix two colours in varying proportions.

I try to look closely at something every day, with complete attention, for several minutes – and though drawing inevitably means doing this, sometimes it’s more a matter of simply soaking up the experience of the moment and doing something like quietly mixing paint, thinking of absolutely nothing else. I have certain colours that are old friends – like aureolin yellow and cobalt blue which make lovely greyish greens, or cobalt blue and burnt umber, which make beautiful subtle greys – that I return to when I need consolation and some peace and stillness. After a while nothing else matters, and at the end of a day when I’ve painted like this the colours I’ve been mixing stay in my subconscious mind so that I see them when I fall asleep and sometimes they fill my dreams.

Returning to watercolour painting after not having done it for a while can be a pretty horrible experience though, because it is so unpredictable and demanding. Throw yourself into it without having mind and heart prepared and without imposing some sort of discipline on yourself, and the day is doomed. This is the side of watercolour that is not what people expect when they think they’d like to take it up, but it’s the flip side of the coin; get the practice right, and it’s the most fulfilling and rewarding form of art practice that I know, even more than drawing. I like the fact that it requires me to slow down and collect all my attention, to be in harmony with myself and to be focussed in the right way, and that if I’m not, all of that will be immediately and horribly obvious right there in front of me on paper. It’s what makes the expression art practice really mean something.