Pushing Against the Edge

The process continues.  Working from the collaged charcoal image, rather than the original photo, creating a visual detachment, rather than an emotional one.  Understanding the colour basis of grey, mixing the grey I really wanted, proved easier than I had expected, using Indigo (dark blue with a hint of yellow) and Alizarin Crimson.

All images are on watercolour paper paper 43 x 61 cms.


Collaged and charcoal

The next step was  to draw a ‘ mark making’ outline, using a needle tip bottle to create the charcoal like marks, selectively washing the lines with a flat sponge brush.  The effect works, but has a sketchy quality.


As part of the process of combining drawing with painting I applied tissue before approaching the image again as above.  Much as I favour this random result in our areas of my work, I don’t feel it works for people.


I then decided to strip away the outline and just work with the illusory wash.  This is the first layer.  I have been revisiting the work of Paul Feiler, Kitty Sabatier, Roy Oxlade and Emily Ball, who each strip away in various ways.


Mixing a grey with printing ink, I applied a background surface, overworked with watercolour needle bottle lines and brush wash.  The effect is pleasing, but wash areas look too contrived.


Using coloured printing inks, I repeated above without the washes.  I like the effect and the colour adds vibrancy.  I am used to working slowly and this process was over in a heartbeat.  One to reflect on.


I then repeated the printing process using watercolour for the printing.  Again pleasing and has possibilities.


I am keen to embody the Giacometti approach of teasing out the image, rather than drawing an outline.  It doesn’t feel a natural way for me to work, but I do need to remember that it took him many years master this technique of losing oneself in the image, the most immediate evidence of the unconscious mind in action.  I am reminded that Hyunmee Lee produces around 300 drawings in preparation for a series of paintings.  This approach is also the slowest and most meditative of the processes that I have experimented with.


Returning to  watercolour washes, using vegetation for mark making, I worked over the illusiary wash (image 4 above).  I am pleased with the effect of the woman’s face, which has an unconscious, abandoned energy, but less so with other areas, which feel more conscious..


Abandoning the outline, I sponge printed with watercolour, adding minimal needle point details to bring the image together.  Whilst the image works surprisingly well, a series of works in this style would have an element of gimicry, that would detract from the emotional content of the image.


I feel my progress is slow, as if I am sculpting to release the image within.  It is surprisingly exhausting.  Writing is a welcome reflective release.  Each step has been directed by my intuition, be it to other people’s work for inspiration or to familiar, but forgotten processes.  After each image is complete I wait silently for direction.  I have one more process that I want to try before considering my options, one that returns more closely to my ‘natural’ practice, one that includes more layering, less immediacy, a more meditative approach.


This final image combines strategically placed tissue, texture printing, watercolour and emulsion layers.  The slow process of layering, the finger moulding of the paint, reflecting, the dialogue with the image, feels more connected, more meditative, more me.  The lower half of the work has echoes of Celia Paul’s work.  This was not by intention, but by ‘tuning in’ to the sensitivity required to produce this type of figurative work, the possibility will always be there.

Throughout this project I have been reflecting on my colour choice, particularly after Ben questioned it in my  tutorial.  I am reminded of Hyunmee Lee’s video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_S_hd_WgDI and her writings on her colour choice http://www.hyunmeelee.com/ , working with black and yellow for several years before moving consciously to blue and black.  Her methodical process of exploring ideas (several hundred in her case, a more realistic dozen for me), of limiting her palette, of layering, exploring gestures and surfaces, removing and leaving traces, of meditating and responding from the unconscious, her Eastern philosophical approach.  So much I have carried into my own work, much I was already doing, without understanding.  Someone has said that this is OK and that calms my confusion.

This project, (quite apart from the MA itself), has been an interesting and intense journey.  Each decision regarding direction has been directed by my intuition.  A methodical, conscious process which deliberately lacked  spontaneity, (although I feel that that will come as my confidence grows).  I am not sure I could have achieved this result without such a process.  The creative element is reflected in my dialogue with each individual image.  I am comfortable with the outcome.

I feel I have finally, finally made a real breakthrough in terms of who I am and where I am coming from.  Nothing has changed and yet everything has.  The next stage is to produce the work, which somehow seems less daunting, and be able to articulate what has happened and is happening.  The process has worked, the pain was worth it.


Author: susanmilleruk

Watercolour painter living, working and loving Hastings and St Leonards on Sea. MA in Fine Art.

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