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Pondering on life

I’ve been making prints. Mono-type prints.

One day I spent 4 hours and made 8 or 9 prints. But only 3 were worth keeping, let alone offering for sale. Another day I spent the same amount of time but only one of about 6 was worthwhile. The 3rd day there were 2 and a possible 3rd.

Being an artist is not like any other creative business, for two reasons. One, it is the product stream, rather than the employment stream, that is so unpredictable. But the second is the most challenging. A friend who has run an eatery said the most frustrating thing was spending hours preparing beautiful food and have someone say, ‘I don’t like it!’ Selling art is just like that because art appreciation is so subjective. And it’s all based on emotion. My feelings as I create it. Your feelings as you look at it. Your favourite colours, or subjects, or styles.  
That 3rd day I showed my husband all the prints I had made and he immediately picked out one as his favourite, one that I had potentially discarded.
A painting might come together in an hour or take a year.  Making a print adds another dimension to that because, when ink on paper is subjected to pressure, strange things happen.
For a start, the ink thickens. This changes its tone. Different pigments react in different ways, some become darker or lighter, others more fugitive and some become greyer. With experience and a good memory you can almost predict these things. I say almost because there are other variables, too. How wet is the ink? How much extender did you use? How damp is the paper?
It is an exciting process, which is why I love it! But it can be frustrating too, because you can have a print that is almost ‘there’ and you add the final touch – and it ruins it.  
I’m so glad to know that life is not like that.  Yes, it can be unpredictable. There are times when we think we have everything worked out and then one little thing we hadn’t expected spoils things. But, when I make a print, I can’t ask the paper if it thinks this one will work, or enquire of the ink if it’s ready to play ball, or ask the roller to help me do it right.  Life is different.  Let me tell you how and why.
First of all, earth is not the first environment you have lived in.  You were in a world where everyone had spirit bodies, everyone except our Father.  He had been through much more than we could understand and He had a body of flesh and bone which could do things we couldn’t.  There were things we could do though.  
We could think and be creative.  We could study and learn, gain wisdom and knowledge, nurture talents innate within us. We could help one another and form friendships and be linked in families.
One by one our family members took their turn to go and live on earth. I’m sure we watched.  That’s why we sometimes have those déjà vu  feelings or experience an emotional response to places our ancestors lived.
One thing we knew when we were there was that Heavenly Father wants to help us. Everything He does is aimed at bringing us to the same state He has attained.  We also knew He would never make our decisions for us.  Freedom to choose is an inalienable right for all of His children, even though they make choices that are horribly wrong.
The second inalienable right is to change, your mind and your habits.  It’s called repentance and it works because one of our brothers was so perfect that He never made wrong choices and He loved us so much that He pledged himself to suffer for the things we do wrong.
His and our Father’s only objective is to bring about our immortality and eternal life. Because they love us so much, we can always turn to them in prayer and ask for advice. Unlike the paper and the ink, they are living breathing beings who have a better view of our future, and our present, than we do. So we never need to be alone.  We can guarantee that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are there whenever we need them.  
That doesn’t mean we get everything we ask for, any more than you would give your child whatever they pleaded for, especially if you felt it would be dangerous or not good for them. Prayers are always answered but sometimes the answer is no.
Have you ever been asked how to do something and taken time to explain it to the person, only to realise they haven’t heard a word you said?  Heavenly Father experiences that all the time!  An important part of prayer is listening.
Jesus taught us how to pray.  He said we should start by addressing Heavenly Father.  Then we should take a moment to thank Him for all the good things we have.  After that, we should explain to Him the things we need and why we need them.  
He also taught that, if we close our prayer in His name, He will plead our cause with Heavenly Father and whatever we ask in His name, that is right for us, we will receive.  
So life is different from making prints.  Things won’t always go the way we want them to pan out, but in retrospect we’ll recognise the hand of God, putting us where we need to be when we need to be there.  Last week an older gentleman with dementia went for a walk.  He walked for 10 hours and police and many of his friends were out looking for him.  As they prayed to know where to look, many testified that they got no direction but felt a calm peace.  The reason became clear when a family, who were simply on a day out, felt prompted to change their plans and get lunch in a different place.  On their way home later, they found the missing wanderer 10 miles or more from his home, on the other side of Bury St Edmunds.  Heavenly Father knew where he was and whom He could take there to find him.  He knows where we are, too, physically and metaphorically, and He knows how to help us.  All that is needed is that we ask and are willing to be helped.
 
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PONDERINGS on how life affects work!

‘Art has to be something that makes you scratch your head.’ So said pop artist, Ed Ruscha. I agree, but there are various reasons for being perplexed by art! I find myself ‘scratching my head’ in front of a hyper-realist painting, thinking, ‘why would you do that when a camera could have done the job for you?’ A much preferable reaction to any piece of art is, ‘What is the artist trying to say? What did they see here that I haven’t noticed yet?’  To provoke that reaction there needs to be some ambiguity in the image, or in the artist’s handling of the subject, something that makes you stop and look again.
I’ve been told that there is a hint of surrealism in some of my work.
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The Surrealists tried to depict the world intuitively, letting their minds ‘automatically’ dictate their imagery. Some seems weird, some amusing and some has had people scratching their heads for a century!  I don’t work in that way as a rule, though I have once or twice, and yet, when I think about it, every painting ends up that way.  The decisions that bring it to final fruition are more intuitive than planned.  As Paul Klee said, you know it’s finished when you stop looking at it and it starts looking back at you, in other words, when you can look at what you’ve done and not see every brush-stroke but rather, an homogeneous whole.
But another aspect of Surrealism is the symbolic nature of its content.  That is what occasionally creeps onto my canvas.  I want you to look at what I’ve painted and ‘scratch your head’, wondering what I’m getting at and then having one of those delightful moments when you suddenly see a thing or an aspect of life as you have never seen it before.
Here’s another quote that’s been on my desktop for awhile:
    “Being creative is not so much the desire to do something as the listening to that which wants to be done: the dictation of materials.” Anni Albers said this and, once again, I agree, with some caveats.  Certainly, when I am making prints, the whole process is driven by the materials I have to hand and the end result is rarely what I had in mind at the beginning.  Painting is a different process, though. For me, it tends to originate from something or somewhere that has had an influence on me.  A particular view, a walk by the sea, the rustle of a walk in the woods, an object I have collected, a feeling about something, any of these can cause one of those experiences alluded to above, ‘when you suddenly see a thing as you have never seen it before’, or become so entranced by it that you want the whole world to see it as you have seen it.  That’s why I make art – to share with you how I feel about life, living, this magical wonderful world we live in and the incredible Intelligence who designed and created it.
Simply reproducing nature doesn’t do that for me.  No reproduction can ever be as good as the real thing. What I can do is try to infuse what I paint with the feelings I have about it. The result might be recognisable, a familiar memory, like ‘Picnic in the Park’.
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But it might also be an abstract agglomeration of colour and line that just feels good!
I became aware of how much my work is affected by the feelings I have at the time of its creation some years ago when I was battling ME/CFS and struggling to do anything at all.  I managed to create one piece of work using a print I had made years earlier and the torn shreds of other less successful ones.  Coming back to it months later I saw that what I had depicted was my exact frame of mind at that time.  It was something I had never articulated in any other way or even recognised at the time.  This is the image I made:

Freedom

  When I was tearing the pieces, it was totally random yet there is a hand reaching out as if longing to be outside that window. The feeling of entrapment so often accompanies chronic illness.  Your mind is still willing, but the body won’t respond. I had days when just getting up and dressed was so exhausting I needed to lie down again. Keeping going, making yourself do the things that are harder than usual is a real test of character.  It also builds testimony.  Many days I could not do even what needed to be done without help.  Not physical help.  I am fortunate to have a husband that is totally devoted to providing that.  There is another kind of assistance that is available from nowhere else but God.  He can understand feelings you don’t understand yourself, bless you with answers to prayers you didn’t know you had prayed, because He loves you and knows you as an individual one of His children.  He has known you for eternity so He knows you better than you know yourself. In the extremity of illness, I learned how powerful prayer is and how much my Father in Heaven wants to help me.
When I began to recover my prints took on a different aspect.
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I still could not operate heavy printing presses so I would hand-burnish prints, setting the plate in a jig to hold it still and taping the paper in place over it so that, when the energy ran out, I could leave it for ten minutes’ rest and go back to it.  The colours I chose were bright yellows and reds. The square images were simple and often linear.  When I put them in a group show with some friends someone said, ‘Ah, there’s Wendy’s happy corner!’ Oh, the joy of being able to think creatively and work again!
Now I’m wondering whether your mood affects the way you buy art, too.  Are there some paintings that you gel with more when you are feeling low? or feeling happy? Some you like to contemplate when you need to chill?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

PONDERINGS on making mistakes

Congratulations to those who spotted the error in my last posting! No, it wasn’t Scientology. It was Theosophy. Oh dear. Fancy making such a public mistake confused face.


It set me pondering though, this time on the value of making mistakes.

I recall learning to ride my bike. How ever hard I tried, I could never keep it upright long enough to turn the pedal.  Then we moved house and the boy next door invited me to try riding his father’s racer across the field. Every time I wobbled he somehow held the bike, and me, upright.  He pointed out what I was doing wrong each time and, being a ten year old boy, he simply did not believe I couldn’t do it. I think it was because he believed in me that I did too. I couldn’t reach the ground so I was in danger of falling off many times but, by the end of the day, I could ride a bike! 

Maths lessons were rather similar. I’m not sure I made the same use of my errors there, though there were many of them, since I still have trouble keeping track of numbers. Nevertheless, it is mistakes that help us learn. Mixing the wrong two varieties of red and blue and finding instead of purple, you have brownish grey is a quicker way of learning than memorising colour charts and, as often as Mum says to two year old, ‘Don’t touch, it’s hot’, trying it and feeling the hurt is what really helps him remember.

According to the Bible, we’re supposed to become perfect.  So why, you might ask, are we sent here in such a fallible condition?  Why can’t we be born knowing everything, understanding everything?  It would be so much easier.  Wouldn’t it?

Have you ever sat through a lecture on a subject you are already very familiar with and found your eyes glazing over, your mind going into day-dream mode and, before you know it, the session is over and you leave feeling the whole thing was a waste of time?  I think life without the opportunity to make mistakes would be a bit like that.

On the other hand, if during that lecture, something wakes you up.  You might hear the familiar topic being described in ways you hadn’t thought of before.  Life’s failures can be the wake up we need, the means of seeing things with a new perspective.  Through them we may learn empathy and gain a sympathetic understanding that enables us to bless the lives of others. Perhaps its not so much the error as its consequence that is the teaching moment.  

Each misstep or stumble provides the opportunity to reassess how we place our feet, to determine new directions, find a way of performing better and getting further than we have before. Few mistakes are terminal. Mostly they just show us where we need to learn a bit more or take a bit more care. So next time I cite an historic fact, I’ll check my sources before I publish winking face .  Enjoy your mistakes, miscalculations, blunders, wobbles and other aberrations this week and may you learn some truly life-changing things!

Ponderings on understanding art

A friend told me the other day she had looked at the image of my print from all directions but couldn’t understand it.  It made me think.

First of all, do I understand it?

Sometimes the art I make is so intuitive, especially when I’m printmaking, that I may not be really clear why I like it or even what it’s about!
All I do know is, where it began. So, first of all, here’s the print again. All things counter -matted

 

And here’s where it began.

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The tulip was drawn twice on the left, at different angles and then the main lines picked out and refined.

Basically, it’s a stylised tulip flower with splayed leaves, simplified for the purpose of printing with stencils. My original plan was a composite print made up of quadrants and I made a couple of those, but when you’ve used a stencil on top of wet ink, it picks up the ink on its reverse.  It is just too tempting to use that by printing the piece on another, or even the same sheet of paper, with the inky side down. This reverses its position and starts a whole new creative process!  Before this stem was yellow, (see below), it was used as a stencil to block out purple.  Printed in reverse in became a purple stem.  Instead of printing it on a clean sheet, I printed it over a print that hadn’t worked very well and, with the addition of some other inky stencils, some using drier ink or less pressure, the image began to take shape. I liked the balance of colour and shape, so it was a ‘keeper’.  Obviously someone else liked it, too!

 

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one quadrant of the composite print showing the stem part.

So, knowing where it came from might help, but it could be that knowing too much can spoil it since it might not say ‘tulip’ or ‘spring flowers’ to you!

Appreciating art, whether it is abstract or not, has to do with feeling as much as seeing.  I asked my neighbours what prompted them to buy works of art and the universal response was, ‘because I like it!’

 

One of my neighbours described for me a painting she had bought many years ago, ‘because she liked it’. Words such as ‘it reminded me’, ‘it looked like…’, ‘the colours were nice’, didn’t really describe the image.  They were her feelings about it, the memories or associations it evoked.  You see, liking a piece of art really has little to do with what it depicts.

I have a shelf full of ‘art books’, literally hundreds of reproductions of famous art-works. My journey into art began with books borrowed from the library.  Reading the background helped me see that there was more to abstract art than meets the eye.  Yes, that is what I meant to say!

At college, I was introduced to the work of Abstract Expressionist artists such as Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Cy Twombly and Willem de Kooning in reproduction.  We looked at images of their work and learned a bit about the purposes and origins of the movement.  Rothko I could live with and liked some of his colour combos, colour being ‘my thing’. The others I wasn’t so sure about and Pollock I wrote off altogether. Years later, I went to  the Abstract Expressionist exhibition at the Royal Academy.  I walked into the rotunda and was stunned.  It was wall-to-wall, floor to ceiling (because that’s how big they are) Rothko’s. I stood in awe, dazed by the intensity of colour but also the intensity of feeling.  It was as though the paint came off the canvas and enveloped me. I didn’t want to leave.  But there were other things to see.  Wending my way round the exhibition, I found the de Koonings underwhelming compared to their reproductions I had seen.  Then I came to a wall of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings.  I was going to walk quickly past, giving them a cursory glance.  After all, these weren’t real art were they? But I kept getting drawn to one here, another there.  There was more depth in them than I expected. They are quite measured in the application of those seemingly random drops.  They seemed to be saying something.  I still wouldn’t necessarily want to live with one, but now it is because of the disturbing feelings they provoke rather than because I don’t like them or understand them.  Rothko and Pollock were both influenced by Scientology which suggests that everything is spiritual and so, like Wassily Kandinsky they were concerned with the spiritual in art. The image was nothing if it did not embody and invoke feeling.

This is true of all forms of artistic expression.  I remember being overwhelmed when I first saw one of Monet’s ‘Waterlilies’ in the flesh. I realised that he wasn’t just depicting flowers in his garden.  He was trying to convey to us how they made him feel.  Music, too, has the power to transcend the notes on the page.  A youthful member of our congregation brought tears as she played her cello for us in Church on Sunday.  I felt the Spirit because she did, too, and so had the composer.  Art is a powerful thing.  That is why it has been used, or misused, as propaganda throughout the last century and before.

So I think I have two messages here.  One is obviously, don’t write off an unfamiliar form of art without letting it ‘speak’ to you in person.  The other is, don’t write off your own artistic endeavours, be they drawing or playing the piano, because they are not perfect reproductions of your subject or score. The more important question is, ‘Do they say something about you? Do they share the way you feel about the thing you are depicting or performing?’  Doesn’t look like a dog?  Don’t worry. Sometimes even a dog doesn’t look like a dog, especially when it’s really excited by something!

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PONDERINGS on light

Light is an interesting subject. Without it, there is no colour and no way of seeing.  Sunlight, or an approximation of it, is essential to plant germination and growth and thus to human life.  Light is the visible evidence of energy. Its associated heat causes evaporation that becomes rain to keep plants growing and enables us to hydrate.  Without light, we could not identify things, people or even ourselves.

The 19th century saw both scientists and artists developing a fascination with the theory behind colour and light. In their attempts to portray what the eye really registers, Impressionists and Post-Impressionists employed ever more scientific methods to juxtapose colour and cause the eye to see things differently. Michel Eugene Chevreul’s book,  The Law of Simultaneous Colour Contrast (1839), influenced artists such as Delacroix who employed complementary colours to enliven his images. Monet, painting the same object at many different times of day to observe the changes effected by light, yet employed the theory of complementary hues to give intensity of colour.  Cezanne’s many depictions of his favourite mountain exemplify these pseudo-scientific applications and Seurat’s and the Divisionists’ placing of dots of pure colour to coalesce in the viewer’s eye is directly attributable to a simplified understanding of Chevreul’s theory.

One colour, viewed beside another, is changed in intensity, hue or tone. I use a slider of green threaded through three swatches of colour to illustrate just how different the same green can look when juxtaposed with complementary or analogous hues. When we first had our conservatory, I tried taking photographs in there, forgetting that we had tinted glass! After several attempts to get an image true to its colours, I realised that the tint, although not noticeable to my eye, affected the photographic reproduction. Similarly, only a day-light simulating bulb will illuminate a painting in its true colours.

In much the same way as light affects colour, colour affects mood.  We experience this phenomenon every time the sun comes out and colours warm up.  It makes us feel better.  There is more energy in the air when the sun shines!  A room painted blue feels cooler than the same room with yellow walls. Yet the temperature is actually the same. Which brings me back to truth.

‘Let’s shed some light on it’ is a familiar expression meaning to explain the truth about something. Yet the light one individual casts on a subject might be at odds with that of another.  Just as the appearance of Monet’s haystacks changed as the angle of the light changed, so ‘light’ being cast from my angle may produce a different ‘take’ from that emanating from your viewpoint. Which is true?

In all probability, they both are, each reflecting a different aspect of the truth about that topic or object. Unfortunately, we seldom take this into account when assessing the opinions of others and contention ensues. I have been so guilty of this for most of my life. it has taken me seven decades to understand that there are other views than my own that are, or at least, may be, equally valid!

When designing an image we consider forms, tones, hues, attempting to arrange them into an harmonious composition. We try to balance the dark areas against the light, knowing the one will make the other stronger. A balanced view, like a balanced painting, is a harmonising view. Allowing others’ ideas to have some validity as well as, or in spite of, our own is the way to a life filled with light. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

A friend had an appointment to have a minor operation the other day but when she got in to see the Registrar she was told she had been sent to the wrong doctor and needed to see a Consultant before the operation could be performed. She received the news with equanimity in spite of her disappointment. The Registrar asked if she was alright, wasn’t she angry? This dear woman told her that there was no point in being angry and anyway, it wasn’t her fault. The Doctor said that she had expected a ‘shouting and slanging match’ to ensue because that is what had happened to her before.  How sad that we should react in such negative ways to people are only trying their best to help us and what a wonderful example of the light of Christ my friend was that day.

One of the great things about light is that it makes things visible and more comprehensible.  In the light we can see things for what they really are and the ogres of the night turn out to be shadows of our imagination. To bring more light to the world, we, too, need to be who we really are, not some figment of social media imagination or our own dreamscape.  Socrates wrote:

‘The shortest and surest way to live with honour in the world is to be in reality what we would appear to be.’

 

 

 

 

PONDERINGS on faith and art

pexels-photo-753619.jpegWhat a fascinating, and sometimes frightening, planet we live on!  Natural phenomena become ever more horrific in their effects.  Long-accepted ‘verities’ are more frequently challenged as scientists ‘disprove’ the things we thought we knew or yet another ‘political correctness’ is invented.  The digital age has dawned and is flourishing. The expansion in communications capabilities has changed our experience of the world, as well as producing a new and different milieu for artistic expression.
The News is available 24/7 and tells us constantly of ‘what is’, and it is almost always depressing. Everyone’s economy is unstable and no one knows whom to blame next.
It seems that everything around us is in constant flux and personal as well as corporate stress is the condition in which we live.
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So what is the future for art?
What is left for art to do? Is it even relevant to make art in today’s environment of disposable everything?
I believe that art has never been more relevant.  Perhaps the growing popularity of paint as a medium, when critics told us, ‘Painting is dead’, is evidence that artists need to express themselves in images, however abstract.  When every spoken word has to be filtered through ‘will it offend?’, we need artists who can share their ideals in other ways.
40,000 years ago a person took a piece of soft stone and drew an animal on the wall of a cave. Those who know theorise that the drawing had mystical or religious significance, invoking the help of the gods in satisfying the hunger of the community. So, perhaps,  began the association of art with the expression of personal and community faith. Is this not something we still need to do?
Reading the descriptions, the ‘architect’s plans’, for the Tabernacle in the book of Exodus, one is struck by the intricate artistic detail required and the symbolism involved.   From knobs and candlesticks with carved plant forms to rich embroidery on the curtains and fabrics died in glorious colours, it was a place suited to the worship of the Divine Creator and a reminder of the covenants the worshippers had made.
At some historical periods, the expression of faith in images was essential.  From the overwhelming beauty of the Sistine Chapel to the simple murals in parish churches, artists and their commissioners, shared their understanding with those who would see.  When the general populace could not read, and the Bible was not written in their language anyway, the only way they could learn the gospel was through paintings on the walls of churches.  Those that survive in the parish churches of Britain show how medieval painters attempted to relate the Bible stories to the everyday experience of the congregation, helping people see that it applied to them, too.
It could be said that, whatever an artist’s ‘faith’ might be, it is expressed in the art produced.  Whether it be a Surrealists’ belief in the importance of dreams, a Rothko- or Kandinsky- like obsession with colour, or the expression of a particular religious belief, traces are visible in the work an artist makes.  Where there is no spiritual faith, scientific exploration of form or colour takes its place. Science is still a belief system.
Whether you worship in a mosque, a cathedral or a chapel, the architecture is designed to lift your eyes to heaven.  In this age of despair, depression, violence and sadness, surely art needs to do that more than ever.  The time for showing people how awful the world is, has passed.  It is now made obvious through perpetual imagery on the media.
Now we need artists who can create work that shows us how things can be and helps us want to, and know how to, do something about it.
We need to be reminded of the sheer beauty of things.  The delicacy, yet strength of daffodils in the snow, the elegance of a bird in flight, or simply the beauty of colours and the way they make us feel, these are things the artist can show us how to see.  They will lift our hearts as we understand that some things don’t change and there are still actions we can take to make sure they continue to uplift us.
verge -detail -2You don’t have to be a dreamer or a romantic to believe there is a fundamental beauty to life. Even in our darkest hours, the sight of new Spring flowers or a new-born baby reminds us that the things that really matter are unchanging and worth celebrating.  Don’t think you have to be a Michelangelo either.  There is also art in the kind word, the friendly smile, taking time to help. We can all make the world a little bit more beautiful, wherever we are. As artists, let us not be afraid to express the beliefs that are fundamental to our individual being, just because someone says it is ‘out-moded’, ‘archaic’ or ‘irrelevant’.  Whether you place your faith in God, in Science or in Self, shout it out in images of uplifting beauty and colour.  Let us move forward determined to raise each person’s eyes to what CAN be!