Sunday, 24 February 2013

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.

Time away

The days are definitely lengthening.  It's great to get up at 6.15am and see light already in the sky and hear the robin singing.  In fact, I'm sure that I heard his intermittent stirrings as early as 4.15am the other day!  I'm really looking forward to the whole Spring dawn chorus starting again.  It's such a brilliant time of year.  It feels as if everything lies before you and everything is possible once again.  I'm amazed how that hope is built into us as humans, and how we constantly rise to start again, even through very tough times.

This morning I went outside and fed the female pheasant that comes into our garden daily.  Every year we get two or three that are regular visitors.  The females are so trusting.   After seeing me for only a few days they will run to me when I step outside the back door of the cottage.  Today she even let me take her photo!

Progress on the poetry-inspired painting has been slow this week.  My head has felt as foggy as the morning photo due to an encroaching cold and I've had a number of necessary appointments to attend and trips to make which have kept me out of the studio.  I dislike not being able to really get into the flow of my work and unless I've produced something satisfying at the end of the day I don't feel as if I've really done anything.  Life is so full of distractions and I understand that administration or hospital appointments are necessary, but unless I'm making a painting I don't feel as if I've done any "proper" work.  I've often heard painters say that if they are not painting, then they are thinking about painting.  This is definitely true of me.  We are a little obsessive to say the least!

By Friday afternoon, however, I managed to finish it.  Having a bit of time away may have helped in the end.  A period of time away from a piece usually allows me to see it afresh, just for a few seconds, and therefore better determine what is needed.  It has a similar effect to turning the painting upside down or looking at it in a a mirror.  I couldn't work without a mirror.  My brain gets so used to seeing it in one way and needs to be presented with it as something unfamiliar.  In this way it can be jolted into working with it afresh.

I also had to sacrifice one particular area that I had been hanging onto.  I've noticed that this is often the case.  It is very difficult to do late on in a piece of work, and I therefore try not to become too attached to any one area early on, as everything has be constantly up for grabs if I am to make a successful whole.  I had been hanging onto one key area all week, but as soon as I bit the bullet and painted over it with a broad sweep, the whole painting became more alive.  The vitality of the brushwork showed and the composition began to hang together as one piece.  I am continuing to try to produce simpler paintings, and to this end I find that removing areas in this way works well.  There is the added bonus that the new, simpler, area is rich in character as it contains several previous layers underneath.  All of this adds to the depth of colour and texture.

All text and images ©2013 Carol Saunderson

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.


A beautiful Spring day and a welcome break from the recent wintry weather.  We've been out in the garden today, cutting back the dead herbs and flowers that have stood for too long.  Having been kept out of the garden by the excessive rain of last autumn and the snow of this winter, it was a pleasure to be able to tidy everything at last.  There was so much new growth lying beneath the dead leaves!  The snowdrops were looking especially good and some pale mauve crocuses had opened today for the first time.

Now that the light is fading I'm looking forward to a bit of reading by the fire.  I don't claim to be the most widely read person in the world, but it is one of life's great pleasures for me, and another source of inspiration.  My most recent reads have been "The Spiral Staircase" by Karen Armstrong, "How To Be A Woman" by Caitlin Moran and "The Cleaner of Chartres" by Salley Vickers.  A bit of an eclectic mix, but all brilliant in their different ways!  I love books that contain really interesting ideas that my brain can grapple with and ones that are beautifully and elegantly written -  like Salley Vickers' novels.  Over the years, I have found stories, concepts and descriptive passages all inspirational for painting.  For example, "Through a Glass Darkly", by Jostein Gaarder comprised a quirky story and some thought-provoking ideas.  "The Hours" by Michael Cunningham has some really beautiful descriptions in it and Virginia Woolf's "The Waves"  contained some of the most fantastic word pictures that I have ever read.  Caitlin Moran's book was poignant, stocked with outstanding common sense, and probably made me laugh more than any other.

I am currently working on a painting inspired by a poem.

"They swept the beach with steel blue and diamond-tipped water"

"The Waves" - Virginia Woolf

All text (except quotation) and images ©2013 Carol Saunderson

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.


It snowed again overnight on Sunday leaving us yet another white covering over the landscape.  The studio is closed on a Monday, so I get to catch up on a few jobs and maybe do some sketching.

The drawings that I make are another source of inspiration for me.  When I sketch I work very rapidly, often simply making reference to a shape within seconds.  I'm almost not looking at the paper, just allowing my hand to follow the shape that my eye is reading.  It's a bit like when I write, which happens very fast and rather loosely, as my hand cannot keep up with my thoughts.

The rapid sketches are a way for my brain to record the seen objects. Just making the shape with my hand is laying it down somewhere in my memory.  I have found that even the quickest and roughest of sketches will be of use to me later as reference material.  When it comes to working on a painting however, I do not refer to them directly.  Rather, I look at them before-hand, then close the sketchbooks and simply begin to paint, otherwise I can find them distracting.  It is better for me that I let my subconscious use them in the composition.  I am learning, over the years, to trust that part of my brain.  The best work is the freest work.  If I let it, it will do the work for me, rather than my conscious mind telling me what I "ought" to put there and what it "should" look like.  Forget "ought" and "should".

Bypassing the conscious brain is not easy.  It is perhaps similar to meditation - a space created by discipline.  It does not involve a random letting go, but learning to recognise gut feelings and working quickly with them to solve the puzzle of the painting, resisting the inevitable inner dialogue which will begin to discuss the elements laid down.  It is necessary to hold other mental intrusions at bay by strength in order to create a peaceful place to work.

All text and images ©2013 Carol Saunderson

Friday, 8 February 2013

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.


I often get asked about what inspires my painting.  The answer is really numerous things, although one of the major sources of input is that which is around me.  Basically, what I see in my surroundings is continually feeding into my thought processes and being mixed up somehow with all my feelings and musings about daily life.  It's as if I'm some sort of recording system, continually taking in sensations and impressions of the environment.  The work that I produce is about atmosphere and what it is like to be in a certain place at a certain time.

I'm very lucky to live and work where I do.  I love the shapes, textures and colours of the English landscape and the continual changes that the light causes  - sometimes subtle shifts, sometimes dramatic effects.  Every time that I look out of the large studio window the sky is a slightly different colour.

Some people love to travel far and wide around the globe.  In a lifetime they may encounter many different vistas, peoples, shapes and colours and have widely differing experiences.  For me, rather than a widely observed world, the little valley that I live in is a microcosm.  I have the daily opportunity to observe small changes and this is a different kind of privilege. The traveller can experience and record the exotic, I can observe the contemplative - looking at the same thing over and over again and being very aware of small changes. Slow consideration - the first appearance of buds, changes in the colour of the light as the days pass, the colour of the surface of a field as millions of shoots begin to emerge from the earth.

In the studio this happens with objects and images with which I surround my easel. In my peripheral vision I will pin up images that I like.  They are not in my direct line of sight as I work.  They are usually perpendicular to the painted surface, on both sides of me, and laid below my field of vision to the left and the right.  For example, I have a print of a painting by Vanessa Bell, faded postcards of paintings by Ivon Hitchens and Mark Rothko, photographs that I took of the interior of a boutique hotel interior with lots of bright, contemporary design, and photographs of our valley in the snow.  Pages torn from magazines with patterns on, pieces of textiles from 1950's collections by designers such as Lucienne Day and a Christmas card by Mary Newcombe.  Pictures of my garden, work by Barbara Rae and Archibald McIntosh and a postcard of an icon from a Norwegian museum.  What I find is that I tend to absorb these by a kind of osmosis.  I don't really need to practice mixing the colours in them that I like because I find that they "accidentally" get included in a piece.  I will often look at a finished, or partly finished painting and think, "there are the colours of that Rothko", or, as I did with my last painting, "there are the colours of that Vanessa Bell portrait".  Strangely enough, I had been looking at that picture repeatedly and trying to calculate how the colours were mixed, and then, without consciously trying, I had started to use the whole set.  My brain had solved the problem for me and just being around the painting daily had taught me something new about mixing and combining colours.

All text and images ©2013 Carol Saunderson
Painting is a detail from "Bright Light on a Windy Day"

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design


Just before 7am this morning, as it was getting light, I was aware that the robins in the surrounding trees were beginning to sing more powerfully and fluently.  This is an early sign of the year changing.  I know that the Spring doesn't officially begin until 20 March this year, but it feels as if we have made a marked step towards it, which I find a very hopeful sign.

When I heard the birdsong I looked outside to see the most beautiful clear blue morning.  I went out into the garden and photographed a perfect crescent moon over the rooftop.  Something about the deep blue against the shining white of the moon made me think of a William Scott painting and the simplicity of his still lives with cups and pans.  I love his work and was excited to see that the Tate St.Ives is holding a major exhibition of his work this year.

Why is simplicity in art so hard to achieve?  Simplicity has a really elegant beauty all of its own in which every element must be perfect in order for it to work.  There is no room to hide with shoddy or half thought through design.  Everything must be crafted perfectly and, for me, in a painting this means that adjacent colours must make the most satisfying combinations and each mark must have life and energy, which means spontaneous and confident mark-making.  The longer I paint the more I appreciate this quality in the work of other artists and designers and realise how difficult it is to achieve.  If I ever truly achieve it, it will probably take me a lifetime because I think that it requires the confidence and experience many years of working brings. That's good motivation to keep going.

Text and images©2013 Carol Saunderson

“I’m sorry this letter is so long, I didn’t have time to make it shorter.”
- George Bernard Shaw

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.

If you go stacking the wood today, you're sure of a big surprise…

We had a wood delivery yesterday morning.  Just as the truck arrived I heard a woodpecker start his rat-a-tat-tat in one of the nearby trees.  It seemed slightly ironic and it made me smile.

It was a bright morning.  I fed the birds and then set to work with the wheelbarrow to ferry the logs through to the garden, creating a pile in front of the wood store.  I find the process of stacking quite a satisfying job and like the way that the logs randomly "lock" together into a solid pattern.  I photographed the pink wheelbarrow in front of the unstacked heap because I enjoyed seeing the bright pink strip against the pale cut sides of the logs.

While I was stacking, the birds were coming and going to the food on the other side of the garden.  When I finished I went in the house and as I passed through the kitchen I looked out of the window and saw a pair of Jays land and begin eating.  Unfortunately, they were too sensitive to movement to let me photograph them.  A few minutes later, however, I heard a kind of high-pitched "clucking" sound outside, and, looking out of the window again I saw a group of about six red-legged partridges feeding alongside two sturdy pigeons.  As I left for work a few minutes later, my opening of the back door disturbed about twenty of them that had gathered at the bottom of the garden and in the adjacent wood.  I've only ever seen the odd one before!

At work I finished painting "Bright Light on a Windy Day"

All text and images ©2013 Carol Saunderson