When I read what Robert Newton said in his post My Work about how he can get ecstatic with excitement when his particular method of painting works, it made me think about that feeling when a painting is all of a sudden finished, as if by magic, even though you’ve maybe spent weeks and weeks or months even, working on it.
You know it’s finished because it isn’t what you expected, although it says everything you wanted and more, in a surprisingly refreshing way. It somehow speaks back to you all the hopes and ideas, tried and supposedly failed, you had for it whilst working on it, but with a lot more added. In this way it goes beyond yourself and it inspires and fuels the way for others to come.
I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I prefer to work from my heart and not from my mind. I know how to paint, to use colour and to draw, but the whole process is dull if we can’t let go of everything we know and just enjoy the actual moment of painting. There’s always more to learn and different techniques to try, but one of the greatest goals I feel is to get away from the mind and just be natural and receptive whilst actually painting.
When I was at art college in Edinburgh the emphasis was always on form, still life, life drawing, shading, black and white. Even though I won a prize for drawing I was always being told not to use so much colour. In the final year I had to base myself in the more open-minded printmaking department. It was there, strangely, that I found my way to paint, making mostly large monoprints, layering opaque and transparent colours to get the depth and space into my work without all that monochromatic shading.
Here and today, in amongst all the colour and heat of Spain, I paint in my studio with oils and outside in nature with watercolour, on a ground of sand on paper. In my studio I usually begin with no actual idea of what I will paint. I just start. I wonder if I have anything new to say. I might remember something beautiful I have seen, or the way colours looked or a group of fruit trees, or maybe I think I don’t remember anything interesting, but I just really want to paint. I start because I’m inspired.
I begin to layer colours over the ground of sand, melt the beeswax which I get from a local beekeeper, mix colours and pigments, and start to remember and enjoy the lovely familiar smells of oil paint, hot wax, and what one colour does to another. I work on a few paintings at once and over the weeks they build up their own history of colours, textures and marks. I like working with the feeling of a painting. In the search to find a form, composition or language to carry the feeling and the colour, my paintings go through a real battering. They get paint added and erased, scraped away, covered over, layered with sand, sprinkled with pigment and poured with wax until that one moment when to my eye, everything reaches a balance and a harmony. This is that moment for me when I wonder where the painting has come from. This doesn’t happen every day! And I have to say that I am sure many times I have missed this moment completely and continued painting.
I believe in painting when I feel really moved to paint. This means I have long periods when I’m not painting, which I’ve come to accept and believe in. In these between times I get on and do other things. So when I paint, I see it as a gift, and all the waiting I have done for the inspiration is worth every minute.