When I applied to the MA course, I was quite confident that I was going to paint landscapes. Or at least create work that somehow referred to the landscape, as well as its plant life. I think I actually quite self-assuredly stated something to that effect in my application.
Turns out it wasn’t that straightforward. For the first semester at least, I only painted leafy scenes that were on a more ‘close up’ scale – they didn’t have the distance, space and scale needed for a landscape. The closest I came to an actual landscape was a woodland scene that I was a little bit embarrassed of. I hesitantly showed it to my tutor, who had been tactfully ignoring it. Once prompted, he said it was twee. And naff. Ouch. He was right though, and I had a good laugh at my own expense. Just as well I wasn’t attached to it (I strive to not be precious about any of my paintings).
I appreciate not being let off the hook by my tutor. Sometimes, doing this course, I feel like I am blindly grasping around trying to find clues – it helps to have guidance from someone who can at least let me know if I am vaguely heading in the right direction. And can be brutally honest if I am taking wrong turns.
So, instead of tackling landscapes head on, risking falling flat on my face, I have taken a sort of sideways approach. I have been pretending to do other things. Pretending that, actually, I’m not that bothered anyway. I’ve busied myself with drawing, or with trying out abstraction, or testing different colour palettes. “Landscapes? Oh, sure, they are nice. But I am just exploring a kind of botanical-abstraction-colour-frenzy-expressive-vibrant-organic style, landscapes are so over-rated. Ohh nooo, I’m not fussed about landscapes at all.”
And all the while I’ve been biding my time. And looking. At landscapes. And logging them in my memory. Pondering how I might attempt to capture a particular view with paint.
This is one I did based on a view above my house, a view that I look at several times a week:
The view is mostly about the gorse, which was in full bloom at the time. (Interesting aside: there is almost always SOME gorse in bloom, it’s why there is the old saying: ‘when gorse is in flower, it’s kissing time’). I had done a few gorse sketches on location, but I snapped a few photos to help with getting the background right. I painted it very quickly, like it was no big deal – before my inner critic could interrupt. And then I posted it to facebook. Obviously, my facebook audience is a friendly one, but I was pleased to get positive comments and over 100 likes. Hmmm, perhaps this sideways approach was going to pay off. I didn’t want to get too overconfident and I went back to painting some messy botanicals…
My last blog post was about the bluebell woods collages I’d been working on recently. They are pretty much landscapes, really. Using collage really helped me to feel my way around with space and distance – allowed my to shift things around a bit. But they still weren’t quite what I was after. And creating them produced quite a bit of frustration.
After they were done, I had a wodge of bits of collage paper left over. I also had another painting I had made a start on – it was another bluebell woods scene. And it was in imminent danger of being naff. I decided to abandon any loyalty to it and stuck on a bunch of collage pieces. It disrupted the composition gorgeously. I didn’t take a photo of the naff stage, but here it is just after applying collage:
The glue had scarcely dried when I went back in with paint and crayons (not my daughter’s crayons, these are Caran d’Ache neocolors -they are luscious water soluble wax crayons). Here’s the finished result:
When I posted this one to facebook, someone commented that they couldn’t see it as a landscape. I get that. But to me, I see it as a successful step in my sideways-on approach to doing landscape. A way of approaching landscape that can work for me.
Before the paint was even dry on this one, I grabbed some more leftover collage paper and dug out an old landscape painting that had been a complete failure. Again, there are no before photos because it was awful.
I went at it with paint and collage. I was thinking of my favourite landscape colours. I was thinking about bracken when it turns a burnt sienna hue, and I was thinking about the sun on wet grass after rain, when it turns green-gold. Dark green hedges of hawthorn and field maple. In particular I was thinking of a rainy walk when I was about 6 or 7 years old. I didn’t want to walk home and I was dawdling – a total annoyance to my parents. I can’t remember exactly what the scene looked like, this was almost 30 years ago. But I could remember the colours, the weather, the puddles and dampness.
I was very pleased with the result.
Before my last tutorial, I emailed the images to my tutor. No big deal, I assured my inner critic. I’m sure he will find them acceptable, if not, it’s really no biggie…
The tutorial was very positive. In fact, because I was recording the call I am able to report that my paintings were considered “not pretty, or superficial… but really rather delightful”
I managed to act TOTALLY nonchalantly during the call. I didn’t let on for a minute how pleased I was. Or at least, I did a pretty good job of disguising it, I think…
Still going at this cautiously, sidewayswards. My next steps are to do more landscapes scenes – going all in with collage (oh, I do like collage). Advice I was given was to keep exploring more muted, earthy colour palettes. To give the pink a rest for a while. I’m thinking of having a bash at a seascape.