Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday presented the most beautiful, hot sunny weather. I caught up with laundry and gardening in the mornings, but I also set myself an art challenge for the afternoons to work in a completely different way from usual. I was not to make habitual line drawings coloured in with watercolour, but instead to paint with gouache directly onto the paper.
The garden is sprouting, blossoming and budding all over and I wanted to get outside in the sun and paint what fascinates me. I pictured having a lovely collection of about 30 observational sketches by the end of the weekend; in reality I ended up with just these 10. It was slower than I anticipated because I spent a lot more time gardening and hanging washing on the line than I expected, but when I did start work in the afternoon there was a bit of a breeze, strong at times, which would suddenly blow my sun hat off and I had to chase it around the garden. The wind also kept turning the pages in my sketchbook while I was trying to work. I haven’t worked en plein air for many years, and I noticed a big change: nowadays I have to wear spectacles for close work, meaning my object was of focus when I looked up, which became a nuisance.
The main delay, however, lay in the materials and work method I had set myself. I hated it at first. Working without drawing went so against the grain I felt way out of my comfort zone and unhappy. I was using a sketchbook I made from Fabriano Rosaspina (a thick print-making paper) and Arches watercolour paper, instead of the tissues and smooth papers I am used to, and it felt rough and messy. The work I was producing was hideous and I wanted to give up, but I felt the exercise was a good idea and it does one good to get uncomfortable at times, so I forced myself to persevere.
The reason I challenged myself was to shake things up with my work. I felt I had been relying too heavily on linear work, marks, automatic actions and default shapes; I also have a habit of getting fiddly and over-detailed, which I wanted to break. Besides, the way I sit to make detailed drawing is bad for my back, and I get wobbly legs when I stand up which in turn makes my hands shake, and then I can’t draw because my line goes shivery. I don’t want to stop making detailed line drawings (my work as Heather Eliza Walker relies on it) but I thought it would be a good idea to take a break and try something completely different for a few days, and see what possibilities might come of it.
So, I did persevere. I got through the initial hate stage by allowing myself a compromise: I could use line and marks on top of the paint. That was satisfying, and I began to enjoy the colours and freedom of working this way. Then I found I could introduce painted elements such as stripes, introducing a satisfying linear quality which firmed the work up. The result was not the observational work I had anticipated, but being outdoors amongst the plants and flowers certainly informed it. I had no idea until this weekend what actually went on inside a quince blossom, or how things sprouted out of other things in different colours and shapes. I definitely responded to the interaction of what grows from the ground with sky and earth, and got out of myself.
Yesterday I scanned the work and found I really liked it, to my surprise. I feel I achieved something, and enjoyed being out in the fresh air. In spite of not producing the 30 beautifully observed Diary of a Country Lady works I had hoped for, I am happy with my 10 a bit weird and wonderful creations, which were observational in their own way and taught me a lot. My back and legs are better, and I feel healthier for it, too; so in future, I shall get half moon specs, tie my hat on with a scarf and get outside more.
Thanks for visiting, see you next week!