Sunday, 30 December 2007

Winter lines

Pencil in Moleskine, 21x24cm

My journey into the countryside left me with plenty of photos and sketches. The weather was sunny and cold for a good deal of my stay and so I was running around outside for a bit, soaking up not only fresh air (well, too much pig farming around for it to be really fresh) but also plenty of winter vistas, glistening and hazy low sun over fields, bushes and woods.

Pencil in Moleskine, 21x24cm

One of my sketching comfort zones is clearly the one that seeks out horizon lines, and intersecting fields - my sketches are still somewhat minimalist - I need to remind myself to include more value and shade. But all the same, I am beginning to like the hasty marks left in the sketchbook - it had to be less than five minutes or otherwise I wouldn't have felt my fingertips any longer. It's funny how the warm and nondescript West Coast Scotland winters have wittled down my tolerance for cold.

In any case, here are some sketches - in pencil, in felt pen and graphite, and the last one with a bit of colour wash included to begin to add some winter colours... which will be the next topic.

Felt pen and graphite in Moleskine, 21x12cm

Pencil and Neopastel ii in Moleskine, 12x21cm

I had begun to name the sketches, and - since most of my art thinking happens in English rather than German - did so with English titles, but they just feel wrong in this case. Funny one, that one.


Saturday, 29 December 2007

Bits and Pieces: ... and to take from it...

Joan Eardely, Catterline in Winter, 1963
Oil on board, 120x131cm
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Before the year's up, here is - as promised - a bit of personal reflection along the lines of look, observe, live and learn from Eardley's exhibition and the workshop that was running alongside it. [For previous posts on Eardley, see here]

I've grouped my comments along a number of themes. With a bit of difficulty of deciding where to start, I am settling on a bit of personal chronology along the lines of my own observations and markers as I picked them up.

They are losely grouped along colour - composition - markmaking - work process

As a starting point, then, there are the colours of Catterline in Winter - the first of Eardley's paintings that I came across. Part of my having started with pastels and their ready made colours was a real struggle to mix colour other than bright oranges, lime greens and purples. Here, the muted yet incredibly rich neutrals of the painting were a real eye opener to the power of grey and the variety therein. What I find really striking in all of Eardley's paintings is the sheer variety of neutral colours she uses, and there is very little repetition within.

The neutrals for Eardley act very much as the backdrop, balance - or indeed, even: frame - for splashes of bright hues: pinks, carmine, blues which structure, lift, offset and integrate the whole composition - and again: so little repitition of hue and value. This is most obvious in her series of interior scenes from the early-1950s: The Table, A Glasgow Tenement and also the male Nude. While I was first struck by the sombre ambience of these paintings, the variation of neutrals, interspersed with some bright colours actually works extremely well to provide a much lighter scene if you keep looking.

From Catterline's colours, the next theme emerges: composition.

Sketch of Joan Eardley's Catterline,
Graphite in Moleskine

During one of my visits I had begun to sketch quickly some of her landscapes - as an attempt to get more of a sense of composition and markmaking. And the simplicity of compositions - be it landscapes, seascapes or indeed the street scenes is remarkable. Strong compositions of horizon lines, a few diagonals, sun or moon in the sky and more linear marks through tracks, grasses in the fields etc. provide all that is needed. Sometimes, these are complemented by some strong diagonals in the foreground also.

More sketches of Eardley's landscapes, Graphite in Moleskine

My rough and ready sketches also tried to capture some of her markmaking - so noticable and strong. Many of the marks are spontaneous and seem almost incidental. Here, her ability to paint faces and figures out of what looks, close up, just as an accidental assemblage of dots, splashes and other marks, just made my jaw drop repeatedly. Again, without repitition, marks are made with various implements, reworked - but not generically - until they indeed make up children's figures, prams, laughter or wind through the high grasses.

More sketches of Eardley's landscapes, Graphite in Moleskine

Finally, onto some insights into her work process - and it is for these insights that I found the Bits and Pieces workshop really useful for ... over a number of sessions, more and more emerged and settled - not unlike a piece of collage itself.

For one, there is the process of sketching from life, from photos and then taking the sketches to work from them for paintings - a common work process for many artists. But of course, in doing so, more and more of the artist's response to - intellectually and emotionally - to the subject is becoming part of the artwork. The workshop broke up different steps in the process very deliberately - even rather simplistically - but afterwards I found that very helpful to unpick some of my own responses to life scenes.

As for sketching and painting, a number of pointers emerged:
  • often dark outlines are visible;
  • figures are based on shapes rather than anatomical form;
  • highlights and lowlights are used to emphasise shape and not form - figures and scenes are flattened in this way.
  • small detail, such as buttons, hairbands, laples or fabric patterns are highlights and emphasised
  • the use of different media - charcoal, pastel and gouache in some of the studies and smaller pieces emphasised the above even further.

Collage is a working practice which takes the process of breaking down the work process further still: tearing out shapes and figures on the basis of one's sketches, even more forces one to remove the piece from a literal representation and to let it soak up own expressions and impressions - along with some technical (in)abilities.

Layering - paintings and collage - means going back to it, adding more - over time more and more is being worked into the painting. Evidence for this can be found in many of Eardley's seascapes, landscapes and street scenes.

Joan Eardley, Three Children at a Tenement Window, 1961
Gouache on paper, 46x37cm
The Eardley Family

Eardley painted the children on Glasgow's streets with arms linked, hands held, standing close together, looking the onlooker straight into the eyes, they are playful, in movement and curious. And while her paintings relied on so little repitition of colours and marks, these recurrent themes of children together make a good deal of the strength of her paintings and the responses they evoke. And, of course: the stormy and wild sea.


Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Have some biscuits for christmas...

... and Oma Eschede's* Kolutschen would be an excellent choice.

Well, there was a plan to take a picture of the full tin,
but by the time I got round to it,

only these three were left...

They are part of my first memories of making Christmas biscuits. My mum, my little brother and myself in our old house's kitchen had set up an elaborate division of labour: first, Torben and I would have to attempt to roll the perfect round globes which wouldn't fall apart - difficult one, that one. Then we would argue a bit of who would have to baste them in egg white (not much fun) and who would be allowed to roll them in sugar after (much more fun).

Because he was younger, he wasn't allowed to carry out the more delicate task of poking little moulds into them (of course this isn't part of my memories but vividly in his; and probably one of the few disadvantages of being younger - which is of course my vivid memory ;)), the final task would be to fill the little moulds - like bird nests with jelly.

These were my mum's mother's Kolutschen - simple short crust dough with sugar and jam - unbeaten for Christmas sweetness. Strangely enough, these are biscuits I have still to make myself but without fail they would be in one of my mum's biscuit tins, as they are indeed this year.

Here's the recipe


250 g sugar
150 g butter
1 pack of vanilla sugar
3 egg yolk
400 g flour

Whisk butter for 15 mins, add sugar, yolks and flour, form globes (about 2 cm diameter) , roll in egg white, then in sugar, use one of those squeeze things to making meringue (well: in German it's Fingerhut) to make a mould which you then fill with a bit of jelly (like the redcurrant one here).

Bake for about 10 mins in oven of 180 degree C (fan-assisted).

Here's another gem from my mum's cook book. It's not so much the recipe - I don't think she ever made that After Eight Cake, but it's my other granny's handwriting... and from the titling by me it must be about 20 years old...

* well, naming grandparents in my parents' house happened according to location, so we had Oma and Opa Eschede and Oma and Opa Uelzen ... and as a geographer I would learn some 20 years later that space and place mattered ...


Saturday, 22 December 2007

Ice crystals in high fog

ok... there it is: calm countryside with meadows and fields covered in stillness. No snow but enough frost to let the branches bear down heavily with beautiful ice crystals under a grey sky.

Did I say that I was going to go somewhere rural?

With a cold nose and even colder fingers I am taking it all in, beginning to figure out how the stillness and the ice crystals would and could translate onto paper...


Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Flood Tide - painting with poetry

Joan Eardley, Flood Tide, 1962
Oil on board, 120.5x183cm
Lillie Art Gallery, East Dunbartonshire Council

The Scottish poet Edwin Morgan wrote this poem ten years ago in honour of Eardley and in response to her painting Flood Tide.


Edwin Morgan

Lonely people are drawn to the sea.

Not for this artist the surge and glitter of salons,

Clutch of a sherry or making polite conversation.

See her when she is free: –

Striding into the salty bluster of a cliff-top

In her paint-splashed corduroys,

Humming as she recalls the wild shy boys

She sketched in the city, allowing nature’s nations

Of grasses and wild shy flowers to stick

To the canvas they were blown against

By the mighty Catterline wind –

All becomes art, and as if it was incensed

By the painter’s brush the sea growls up

In a white flood.

The artist’s cup

Is overflowing with what she dares

To think is joy, caught unawares

As if on the wing. A solitary clover,

Unable to read WET PAINT, rolls over

Once, twice, and then it’s fixed,

Part of a field more human than the one

That took the gale and is now

As she is, beyond the sun.

You can find a reading of the poem by Morgan on the Glasgow Herald website here.

With this little find I'll love you and leave you for a wee while as I venture towards my parents' temperamental internet connection in rural Germany.


Sunday, 16 December 2007

Packing up...

... for Christmas travelling. While I'm very fond of travelling in general and the specific, it's this time of year I really don't like it. But I'm hopeful that by leaving not on 22nd or thereabouts but slightly earlier, and by not going on the most roundabout route with six changes from bus/train/flight, it should be ok.

For the first time, I've taken apart a painting to take with me. While I've taken apart plenty paintings because I didn't like them, I have the full intentions to put this back together on the other side. In fact, it's part of my tidying up and cleaning out attempt, and this has been promised to my brother for quite some time.

Actually, it was my first acrylic painting on canvas, done about one and half years ago, and one which wasn't undone shortly after. It's based on a scene near Newtown St Boswell's in the Scottish Borders where a friend of mine used to live for a couple of years.

Newtown St Boswells,
Acrylic on Canvas, 60x60cm


Saturday, 15 December 2007

Collage with architecture

Crail Collage,
Mixed media collage on board x3

each 18x26 cm

Last weekend I had started to try out how small and complex mixed media collages would work with townscape scenery. The approach to make tissue paper bond with wide open spaces seems to work quite well, so I thought I'd try and see how well it works with some of my sketches of narrow cobbled streets, quaint houses and a scenery which seems to call much more for a tight drawing or at least wash and pen approach.

I seem to have been moving to smaller paintings: while before a lot of the pastels were around 70x50 cm, much of the mixed media works took place on smaller formats: 30x40 cm, or 30x30 cm. Part of that move was down to me seeing them simply as try-outs and studies. Another part was trying deliberately to sort out complex compositions to something simpler and tighter - small formats seem to enforce some discipline in that sense.

Mixed media collage on board

18x26 cm

So, these three mixed media collages are pretty small: about 26x18 cm or 10x8". With such small format I was somewhat apprehensive if the architectural scenes would work - in particular with the collage and mixed media - if anything these would loosen the painting rather than tighten it. It took several rounds and layers of crayons, tissue paper, acrylics, gouache, oil pastels, and ink. But I thinks they are pretty much done now? Or aren't they?

BTW: Casey, many thanks for suggesting these as a subject to work up - otherwise, I probably wouldn't have gone back to them so soon! And, these are for the PIF which I'll post out once I'm back from Germany.


Monday, 10 December 2007

... and I got it...

... my wish. Not on Sunday but today: a glorious chilly day with winter sun from 8.30 to 3.30 and time to wear gloves. Makes me think that I should wish for more things.

You can see that this is heading to a lazy post. The remaining Eardley stuff is too much to write up just now, but will follow soon.

So: a bit more on the weather: it's not looking too bad... more frost for the weekend as the BBC site tells me and only one (in numbers: 1) day of rain inbetween:

But to finish with something more artsy: There are still a few Paying it forwards to give away... I've started to makes some small collages from these architectural, cutsy fishing village sketches for the PIF, so, just leave a comment if you're tempted :)


Saturday, 8 December 2007

Frosty interlude... I wish

Alfred Sisley's Frost in Louveciennes had greeted me one morning a couple of weeks back, and after a Saturday which never quite made it to a proper day with all the low clouds and heavy rains, I wish for precisely such a winter morning. Hm, maybe tomorrow? Maybe not?

Alfred Sisley, Frost in Louveciennes, 1873,
Oil on Canvas, Puskhin Museum, Moscow

Sisley's trees tell us about the time of year, but even more so it's the colours of the sky and air which capture so well the crispness of a clear winter morning. Cool grey blues are combined with a hint of red reflection on trees and buildings to carry with them this winter air.

Makes me think of how to capture the invisibles, impressions as in Sisley and his fellow impressionists in their outdoor painting adventures.

Much more mundane, some of my own bare trees against a clear sky sketches:

Backgarden and Tyseley Station,
Pen and a bit of Neopastel ii on Moleskine


Thursday, 6 December 2007

Bits and Pieces write-up part 2

Joan Eardley, Rottenrow, 1956
Oil on Canvas, 94x164cm
Private Collection

As promised, here is a commentary on the fourth and final part of the Bits and Pieces workshop about Joan Eardley. At the centre of this fourth part were again children scenes, but this time very much in the shape of complex street scenes with a lot of activity and well-developed composition.

The exhibition tour focused exclusively on the Glasgow room of the exhibition: a series of somber interior pieces and some of her lightest, and most complex compositions of street scenes: groups of children playing, skipping ropes, pushing prams, holding arms and hands.

These street scenes share a number of common elements in terms of composition - as you can see from the two images I've included from the catalogue: A fairly linear composition of road, pavement and shop fronts provides the urban, highly-structured yet dynamic backdrop for various groups of children.

Joan Eardley, Children in a Glasgow Back Street
Oil on Canvas, 74x140cm
Private Collection

The figures, not unlike the backdrop, are composed of what appears almost incidental and random colours, marks and textures. In both scenes, it is difficult to disentangle the actual work process - what shapes, marks and textures were laid down before and after each other. This sense of spontaneous development is all the same held together but a strong composition.

There is in fact a third, and later street scene, in the room - my personal favourite - the pavement is sloping upwards to the left corner, the children are in lighter, almost pastel colours, angled too - and in fact, the whole scene - titled Glasgow Back Street with Children Playing - is marked by a greater sense of abstraction: rythms of colours and shapes moving through a group of children where only the faces are discernible (unfortunately it's too large to scan): but, go and have a look for yourself.

The exhibition room with these street scenes also includes a number of interior scenes, a few years earlier, the four scenes depict Angus Neil - close friend and frequent sitter - in altogether more sombre and structured paintings. Yet, again, each features strong bursts of colour to offset the muted greys and a glorious sense of detail. I have included The Table as an example, and although the catalogue reproductions are pretty good, you need to think of the yellow in the top right as bright and shiny, and the red stripe in the left background as vibrant too. I very much like the contemplative calm of the model playing off the lived in/off table and the sun-lit window.

Joan Eardley, The Table, 1953
Oil on Canvas, 61x91.5 cm
The MacLeod Collection

I seem to be running out of time again and yet have to write about the workshop session and my impressions/insights from the series. So, again: more to follow.


Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Bits and Pieces Collage Workshop: write-up

Sanna Head, Ardnamurchan Pen and ink on paper (24x30 cm) (week two)

The last session of the workshop alongside the Joan Eardley exhibition had been last week. And while I had posted the most recent collage from that session (here), I wanted to write a bit more about the workshop itself.

It ran for four session of 2.5 hrs each. We had begun each session with a tour around the exhibition, focusing on a few aspects of Eardley's work and in particular her work process.

Week One provided an overview of themes, approach and a closer discussion of her paper-based works: gouache, pastels and pen and ink; on the basis of this, we started doing stick and ink drawings of photographs of children. These, in turn acted as starting point for some simple collage of urban landscape and children's faces/figures - working with simple materials such as sugar paper, newspaper and oil pastels.

Pen and ink with pastel drawing 24x30cm (week one)

Week Two concentrated on landscapes: her landscape paintings, how she added and included mud, grit and grasses to achieve textures and the importance of composition within these. The activities themselves were again twofold: pen/stick and ink drawings of landscapes to bring out textures, vary these textures to strengthen the composition of the overall scene; we then prepapred with acrylics a number of papers - with various textures, tones and values as basis for the following week.

.... which I unfortunately missed. It included a tour around her seascapes and the assemblage of a whole series of impressive landscape collages which you can see in the photo. Secondly, people worked with soft pastels on sandpaper to develop colourful childrens' portraits.

Landscape collages and childrens' portraits (pastel on paper) (week three)

I will actually write about the last and final session later: I want to include some more of Eardley paintings in this as well as some of the various points I took from the sessions. So: more to follow...


Sunday, 2 December 2007

Paying it forward

Water spray and a low sun, Detail
Mixed media collage on paper

One of my friends had started the year by pinning up a note above her desk - written on it were three words: Neugier, Großzügigkeit, und Gelassenheit - curiosity, generosity, and something where translation doesn't work that well: my online dictionary tells me that Gelassenheit is calmness or composure - but that it too calm and composed - I think it requires a good portion of laidbackness in with it.

I'm usually hesitant when it comes to virtue. - My friends and colleagues will laugh: seeing that my main work project is about civility (and it doesn't get more problematically virtuous than that).

But never mind, Irene's collection of goods things to remember is the opening to my contribution to a bit of random generosity. Over the past few weeks (which have been those were I didn't really look much at other people's blogs because there were too many other things to do), a long and winded paying it forward trail made it through many artists' blogs.

The idea behind it is that you give something away on the basis of the recipients promising to do something for the next round of people... paying it forward and passing it on. It is up there with those projects where books are left on park benches or small pieces of art distributed across places for people to find and enjoy.

When trailing the current PIF, I am now looking forward to received a piece of art from Lindsay at Non-linear arts who's been doing a whole series of water-themes landscape explorations in oil pastel and acrylics, exploring abstraction and composition within these. She has also a number of really sponteneous and fresh water colour sketches.

The rules for the PIF are something along the lines that the first three to leave a comment on this post will receive something on the basis that they will reciprocate the same on their blogs with their artwork.

Yet - Tina Mammoser had a nice addition to this, and I think that rules are usually there to be changed: she stated explicitly that the PIF would also work if you (a) didn't have artwork to pass on or (b) didn't have a blog to do so.

So, here's my attempt to get my non-blogging but reading friends to leave comments: The first six to leave a comment on this post will receive some original work from me in the post - and it doesn't matter if you have a blog to pass the PIF on, but pass it on anyway and in other ways.

Thinking back about the three terms at the beginning - generosity, laidback calmness and curiosity - I reckon that the curiosity was indeed my own creation in my friend's list. And, in fact, thinking of the English saying of how curiosity kills the cat, I have to smile to myself and decide to be even more curious ;)


Saturday, 1 December 2007

All collaged out...

... was what Irene called me this morning. It was the last session for this term of our Saturday morning class, so as of next week I can have lie-ins on Saturday morning (and longer Friday nights).

I finished two more of the desert landscape mixed media pieces by introducing some more collage, alongside acrylics, gouache and pastels. Similar to the first piece of the series, I worked with some smaller detail scenes rather than the whole motif I initially planned.

The easier piece first: Easier since it seemed to work straight off in terms of composition. But, that's possibly also a bit of its weakness (as so often).

Colored Sands Series #2,
Mixed media collage on board,

The second piece kept talking back at me that (a) its composition wasn't right, and (b) that I just can't do trees. Fullstop.

Colored Sands Series #2,
Mixed media collage on board,

We took it to the hallway, and Tom, Irene and I did a good crit session. For them, the spidery shape in the front provided just the kind of ambiguity to make the piece work beautifully... that much for my obsession with trees...

Oh, and then we discussed plans for a group exhibition in Spring, which would be fantastic, in particular with us exhibiting together. We'll discuss this early in the new year. Very good.