.... It may be just what your art (and maybe your life) needs!
I was sat at the end of the rainbow and didn’t even realise. The mythical, magical place full of unicorns and pots of gold was right under my nose and I was oblivious and half asleep, slurping a morning cup of tea in bed. As a child, whenever I saw a rainbow, I would conjure up images of that elusive place, filling my head with fantastic landscapes, where blue birds fly, and dreams come true. And wishing so hard that I could magic myself there.
Now, having the few moments of peace first thing in the morning, in a warm, comfy bed, with a hot cup of tea that has been brought up to me by a loved one, is a pretty good dream to come true. Though I have a suspicion my 8-year-old self wouldn’t have been impressed, and without this photo popping up on my phone from a thoughtful neighbour, I doubt I would have been framing it as such either. (The end of the rainbow is right on my house!)
And so, to perspectives....and how important it can be to look at your life, and your painting, from a completely different point of view. Not only from what is important to you in any given moment but also how you frame your situation.
Am I in the middle of a shower, or standing in a rainbow? Both could be true, but it takes stepping away from the situation to get clarity.
And to remember that if you are getting wet, the sun always comes out eventually. A metaphor that fits the creative process beautifully.
When I am stuck with a painting, I know I need a new perspective. Sometimes it can be as simple as stepping into another room with the door open so I can see the painting from a distance. Other times I change the orientation or take a photo of it and play with different crops. I switch the photo into black and white to get a clear idea of shapes and values. And there are moments I just walk away and leave it for a while (sometimes months) and come back to it with freah eyes. But there are certain paintings where these tricks just don’t work and I need to dig deeper to discover the gold. For me this usually means it lies in the emotional connection to the work and this paintings Heartlines and its sister, Whispers in the Sand have just such a story.
I came back from a holiday in Costa Rica deeply inspired by the rainforests, especially the majestic Fiscus trees. So, it was not great surprise when they started to appear as I worked on two large wooden panels. A tree came into focus with many layers of paint, collage and drawing mediums, twisting and interlinking like the tree's trunk.
There was something there. It did have the humid feel of a rainforest (annoyingly I hadn't kept any photos in an unusual flurry of phone photo clear-out) the composition was strong, and I liked the colours. It just didn’t feel quite right.
It was seeing these shapes in another abstract painting I was doing at the same time, that felt to me like Cornwall (see above) that made me realise the problem. My heart was not in Costa Rica, it was in Cornwall, fiscus trees were appearing in the sand!
And so I thought about why I was drawn to the fiscus trees. The organic lines and shapes were similar to the lines and shapes I’m drawn to on my local beach. The folds in the rocks, or marks in a pebble, foam lines left by gentle waves, the patterns in the sand caused by the retreating tide. You get the idea. Lines that interweave and link the place together regardless of scale or substance. Lines that appear in nature in many different ways and in different parts of the world.
I realised that lines that didn’t interconnect in some way, held less interest to me and really it was about connection, not only to the landscape but to others too and how people and places relate.
I really enjoy painting in layers, playing with the interaction of opaque and transparent paint, wiping off to reveal what has gone before and these organic lines have parallels with that process. It may take millennia for these patterns to be revealed (in the case of rocks), decades in the case of the fiscus tree. (Its seed grows in the canopy of another tree and then its roots descend, covering up its host) or hours in the case of the sea moving sand on the beach. But all of them are formed by the elements of nature and their connection to each other.
Who knew so much could be discovered from just one mark?
And so I had found my way to resolve these paintings. I turned the painting upside down (another change of perspective) and the trunk became those colourful cliffs and patterns in the sand. I remembered a photo I had taken while we were down on the lizard (the most southerly tip of Cornwall) We went to Gunwhaloe Beach and although it was a beautiful day the beach was empty (unheard of for Cornwall in August but probably because it can be dangerous to swim there). I used this composition but remembering the patterns I had seen in sand and rocks on my local beach, I used these as inspiration to add to the rain forest rather than completely cover it up. Originally, I was going to paint over the cliffs but once I had put the calm sea and sky in, they suddenly reminded me of the cliffs near my home on the north Cornish coast. These are decorated with amazing colours caused by minerals from the mining industry hundreds of years ago. I had even used a bit of copper oil stick, one of the metals that was mined for.
It had become a painting about those rich experiences that enhance your life, (like my Costa Rican holiday) anchored in home, but layered with memory. From here it was easy to work on the other rainforest painting Whispers in the Sand, with the same intention and both paintings suddenly came together easily from that realisation.
So the next time you are really stuck with a painting maybe see if you can find that emotional connection. It could make all the difference.