As you may have noticed, I paint a lot of greyhounds! So, I thought it might be interesting to challenge myself to paint a cat for a change. This was based on a friend’s photo of her cat – not being a ‘cat’ person, i don’t have many photos of them.
This picture raised two main challenges – firstly, the cat is black, always a difficult colour in watercolours, and secondly, its very fluffy! The soft fur required a different approach to the sleekness of a greyhound.
I started with an underwash that was the colour i wanted as the final tone of the palest fur, avoiding the collar, bell and eyes.
After this had dried, I began to darken around the palest areas, so I used negative painting to highlight the palest sections, and lifing out some colour to soften the edges.
I repeated this step until I had reached the levels of contrast I wanted. I was pleased with the overall effect, although I am not sure I did by model justice! This painting is now available as a greetings card in the Farmyard section of my Love from the Artist page – click here to take a look.
I came across the term ‘ten thousand things’ recently…and promptly wondered why I had not encountered it before. The ancient Chinese used this phrase to refer to the unfathomable multitude of beings in existence.
The idea of ten thousand things representing a number beyond belief also occurs outside China. In Buddhism it is used to refer to the uncountable number of ways in which life force or Buddha-nature exists. The ancient Greeks had a word for it, myrioi, and this has come to us in English as ‘myriad’, which literally means ten thousand.
In ‘The Zen of Seeing’, Frederick Franck refers to the ten thousand things as being worth seeing and drawing; “It is in order to really see, to see ever deeper, ever more intensely, hence to be fully aware and alive, that I draw what the Chinese call “The Ten Thousand Things” around me. Drawing is the discipline by which I constantly rediscover the world”
And so, when we take the time to look, whether it is with pencil, paintbrush or camera in hand, there is so much around us that we realise we just pass by on a daily basis. How much do you really see? Make time to look – you will find it’s worth the effort!
Much is said of the rules of watercolour. You must paint light to dark, it must be transparent, you mustn’t use white…or, heavens forbid, black, you must sketch first, you need a limited palette, the list goes on. The rules of watercolour seem to cause such an outpouring of emotion by those who feel confined by their existence, that there is now quite a rebellion at hand, to break down the rules of watercolour and find a new way. Quite often this new way leads to an exploration of mixed media, which is of course a whole new topic in itself!
Having immersed myself in watercolours relatively recently, I have met this flood of changing perspectives head on. I have always been book lover and my natural reaction on learning something new is to buy a book on the subject.
After some initial attempts at throwing caution of the rules to the wind, I sought solace in some older books aimed at beginners. Here I learned the dreaded rules that are at the foundation of many heated arguments on the subject. I actually found it quite reassuring and by following these rules I made considerable improvements. This came because I began to understand how the paper, pigment and water worked together to create the painting.
It makes me wonder how many of these rules are actually quite sage advice, that helps beginners to understand the medium and learn to work with it. Once we have this understanding we can begin to explore further and try new things. That underpinning knowledge will help us to be successful in our attempts and to understand what may have gone wrong in our failures.
If I cannot draw a flower accurately I am unlikely to be able to create a convincing abstract interpretation. And if I don’t understand my pigment choices I am more likely to create the dreaded ‘mud’. By questioning and assessing for myself, I can learn the rules that work for me and the ones I want to deliberately break. I begin to know what restricts me and what supports my development.
Both yoga and Buddhism teach us to question and find our own answers. As is so often the case, a mindful approach to the matter at hand leads to greater progress in our journey.
What a lovely word serendipity is. I think it has to be one of my all-time favourites. The dictionary defines serendipity as meaning ‘happy accident’, something fortuitous that comes about when we were not specifically looking for it. According to Wikipedia, the word was invented by Horace Walpole in the 1700’s, after a fairy tales about three princes from Serendip (Sri Lanka) who had many of these lucky accidents.
You will often hear photographers speak of the importance of luck; the happenstance of being in the right place at the right time in order to create a stunning image. Of course, this sort of luck occurs much more often when you invite it in through dedication and perseverance.
Much of my contemplative photography is serendipitous. Spending much of my work time in a structured way, I find I don’t want to restrict my time out with a camera in the same manner. I rarely have a plan, or a goal, and these days I try to minimise the amount of gear I carry with me. Of course, I need to choose a destination, but this could as easily be the back yard as a mountain a 4-hour drive away. Yes, I will admire the view and store it up in my mind’s memory card, but you are then as likely to find me crawling round in the undergrowth attempting to persuade a grasshopper to pose before the sun goes in, or checking out the rain splashes in a nearby puddle.
I suppose some people would think I am a bit strange…
Having decided where to go, I like allow myself to be open to the possibilities that the day presents. Without any preconceptions about what I will photograph that day I remain curious about all that presents itself. I might spend hours or minutes on one subject. Who knows what that day will bring? That, for me, is the wonder of it!
I love taking pictures. I generally amass them in large numbers, even on days when I am being careful to limit the number of times I press the shutter. Just one more, maybe this angle now, and a couple more in case they are out of focus. However, my interest in post-processing is luke-warm. And even that may be an overstatement of the appeal that hours spent tweaking my images in computer-land holds for me.
Just recently I hit on another type of post-processing, one which I had never even considered before. Watercolour painting.
“Excuse me?” I hear you say, “Watercolour painting?” Yes, that’s right.
With my camera, I frequently find myself looking for abstractions. I use photographic techniques such as intentional camera movement, long exposures or my Lensbaby to add movement and blur to my images. Time does not stand still and I like the way these techniques reflect the inaccuracies of our seeing. Whilst watercolours can be used to create incredibly detailed paintings, they also have the power to bring softness and a depth that draws out the essence of the subject, just as I am trying to do with my camera. So, I thought, why not take the picture and then paint it?
I should say at this point that I have absolutely no experience at painting and drawing, beyond the specimen pictures I had to produce for ‘A’ level Biology many years ago. My interest in arts and crafts has always leaned towards fabrics, wool, thread and beads. So this is an entirely new adventure. I smiled to myself as I remembered that a fair few people seem to take up painting when they retire…is this wishful thinking?
Taking a mindful photograph and then creating a mindful painting from that image. I’ll let you know how I get on!
Recently I have been finding myself increasingly drawn to the technique of ICM when I am out and about with my camera. If you haven’t come across the term, it stands for Intentional Camera Movement. ICM defines a style of image-making where the camera is deliberately moved whilst the shutter is open. This can result in anything from a subtle ethereal quality in the image to an abstract riot of merging colours.
On days when i hoped for extraordinary and find myself struggling to engage, a foray into ICM can be just the ticket. The most bland and boring scenes can be transformed, providing there is at least some degree of contrast, in either tones or colours. A view which barely begs a second glance can produce the most beautiful images with ICM. This is a great way of jump-starting your creativity when nothing seems to inspire!
For me, the pictures I create using ICM are a way of accessing the emotion of the scene and connecting with the essence of what is before me. Key elements of the subject come together, to create a greater whole. These may be qualities that my eye observed, or ones that become apparent in the resulting image. Whatever the outcome, I always learn something new about my subject or myself.
Why not give ICM a try yourself? Here are some tips to get you started:
- Adjust the aperture and ISO to get the shutter speed you want. I find that anything from 1/6 second or longer can produce interesting results. Obviously the longer the shutter is open the more movement you can make in the time.
- Use the lower light levels at dusk and dawn to your advantage, or make ICM a project for a cloudy day to get the shutter speeds you want.
- Try different movements; slow/fast panning, jiggling, rotating, or just hold the camera at arm’s length and let it wobble! With a longer exposure, try combining stillness and movement.
- Use the preview screen to assess your images and adjust the cameras settings. Perhaps you need a different shutter speed to capture the most effective image, or to vary the type of movement.
- Spend time with the scene and reflect on its qualities before deciding on the type of movements to explore with your camera.
I have been reflecting this week on a news article about the amazing find of cave art in a rural part of the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi. There are paintings of people, animals, and stencils made by blowing paint around hands held against the cave wall. Due to the growth of stalactities over the paintings, it has been possible to date them…to 40,000 years ago.
The researchers suggest that the development of art demonstrates the beginnings of human intelligence as we understand it, that we are distinguished from other living creatures by are capacity for art and abstract thought. Art is the basis for invention, imagination and the exploration of the possibilities of our world that have contributed to our progression from those cave dwelling hunter-gatherers to the modern techno-beings that we are today.
The timescales are hard enough to conceive, let along the huge leap from hand stencils though centuries of creative expression and technological development to the artistic medium that is digital photography. Today I hold my camera with awe and marvel at how far we have come. Wonder is a humbling state of mind.
On a workshop I taught over the summer, I asked participants to create an image to take home with them. A photograph that would prompt them to reflect on particular qualities they would like to enhance in their life. Something they wanted to make more time for. An attitude they wanted to cultivate. Or perhaps simply a reminder of the peace and relaxation they had experienced during our few days together. As someone suggested, a picture that they might stick on the refrigerator, or even turn into a fridge magnet!
I find these little prompts and nudges can be so useful as I get back into my daily and weekly routine. After less than a week it can feel as if you never had a break and time flies by. Before I know it, Christmas has arrived and the weeks have disappeared in a blur. What gets lost in this hectic whirlwind is the time to just ‘be.’ It is so easy to bounce from one thing to the next and spend any time between in a numb state of neither being nor doing. Watching TV and scrolling though Facebook posts come to mind…
Perhaps our good intentions become lost in the mayhem, or we never feel we have the time. We slip back into our habitual ways of responding, because this is the line of least resistance. That’s when a picture on the fridge comes into its own. A simple daily reminder of our good intentions for bringing change and improvements into our life. A magnet for the future!
If you want to try this yourself, here are three simple ideas for decorating your own fridge:
- A peaceful scene from a favourite holiday destination
- An image to evoke a sense of space, freedom, openness…you get the idea!
- Something that makes you smile
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the innocent!
I was reading this week that we are more likely to remember negative events than positive ones. Our brains seem determined to store up the bad stuff and seek it out, rather than recognising the good things when we see them. Furthermore, whatever we observe, we influence the event by our observation. And so the process of looking is influenced by your state of mind as you look. And if you don’t like what you see, you are more likely to remember this unpleasant vision!
This led me to wonder if perhaps one way to tackle this less than desirable trait is to get into the habit of finding something positive in all our experiences. Instead of our memory of the morning being of the fact that the bus was late, hot and crowded, how about remembering the enjoyment of the walk to the bus stop? Noticing the clarity of the blue sky, the subtle details in the puffy clouds and the sensation of a gently breeze on our skin before the heat of the day kicks in.
In film photography, we create a negative of the scene we wish to record. Black is white, white is black. The enlarger reverses this in creating the print, and so we see the positive side of the situation. This process shows us that there are two sides to everything, it is just a matter of looking, of being receptive to what is there.
I will be taking a short summer break from writing this blog. Have a great time finding the positive in the negative and I will be back in September!