Still Treading Softly

I want to use this blog to think out loud.  For three years I worked within the structure of the MA.  For the last six months I have been free to do whatever I want.  This should be liberating, which of course it is, but it then requires a self imposed structure and a self generated sense of purpose.

It took three months to emerge from the deep trance-like state that I had found necessary to focus on, what was for me, the huge challenge of the MA.  It is only with hindsight that it is evident that this was happening.  I read page-turners and played with paint, but steered well clear of challenging myself.  The space created allowed time for reflection, and an insight into a possible future as a professional artist.

Painting is a solitary task.  I enjoy the time alone with music to suit my mood, but  local support is a necessary pillar for motivation and survival.  Our crit group is now in place and has already taken me on an unexpected path.  I attend occasional networking groups with fellow artists.  I am about to become more actively involved with one of the exhibiting groups I belong to, with a view to increasing our collective profile.  The experimental drawing and exploratory colour group continue, which together with social media activity, leaves surprising little time to paint.


Tread Softly l, Watercolour on Canvas 100 x 100 cms

This painting is about the ravages of time, how hope lives on in spite of the knock backs.  It will represent the final painting in the series.


Detail from Tread Softly l

Following our crit discussion I am now working on two further canvas paintings (100 x 100 cms) to create a Tread Softly series.  I wanted to work on two simultaneously to explore different approaches.  The first specifically works with the warm and cool colour wheels, the second expands on that in a much looser style.  The question posed by the crit group was what happened before the first finished painting and what happened after.

Work in progress Tread Softly ll

Watching paint dry and detail from top left corner.

The second stage, where the general direction is clearer.


Detail from lower left and top right.

The final work 100 x 100 cms


Tread Softly ll has become the start of the series, full of hope and dreams, with only the slightest of anxiety.

First stage of Tread Softly lll



Second stage as the form takes shape.


Detail from the second stage of lll, mid left and mid right.

Stage two of this painting revealed much frustration and I wanted to develop this idea.


The work is not finished, but I now need to live with it to determine its final destination.  This may be weeks or months away.

The series so far:



Tread Softly

Throughout the Autumn I have been exploring abstract figurative images on paper, effectively a sketchbook in loose pages.  The aim was to find a way of incorporating my exploratory drawing work into paint.  I am still a long way from achieving this, but I am pleased with the outcome so far.  The works are all 20x20cms.

I now need to live with the work for a while before deciding what to do next with this project.  I would like to explore more expressive mark making from the drawings, and maybe use theses images as the basis for larger works, but for now I am content that the figurative work is feeding through to the painting in an unconscious way, after all that was the basis of my exploration during the MA.

Alongside the smaller works I have been battling with a larger work on canvas, revisiting again and again over many months, finally resolving after suggestions from our new crit group, set up to support such a situation.


Tread Softly  watercolour on canvas 100×100 cms

Details from the work.

The work evolved from a visit to Nunhead cemetery on an icy January day.  The visit was preparation for a print course to be run at my son in law’s studio.  The peace and observation gave time for reflection.  The snowdrops offered fresh hope that the year would be different.

Nunhead Cemetry (2)

I am now working on a second large image to follow on from this work.  This series is about hopes, dreams, realisation, acceptance or otherwise.  I have little idea how this work will develop but I know it will be emotionally charged.



What Now?

15 July

A strange in between place, no pressure, no deadlines, no running track.  Launched like a bird into the wide blue yonder, qualification trailing my name.

I am sitting inside.  Outside the faint breeze has reduced the temperature to a more modest 30, down from 35 yesterday.  The time away lying by the pool has given me time to reflect on what happens next.

I have submitted recent MA work for some Open competitions, a long shot, but if accepted, comes with a feel good boost and hopefully, wider recognition.

In the meantime I have been reflecting on how to move my work forward.  I like the idea of working in series, building on the knowledge of work and self, gleaned from the previous series, but this time there will be more planning, exploration of form/ mood/colour/support/size.

More planning has the potential for more procrastination, so it will be important to be honest, but  working within such a structure feels right for the orderly me.  This will not preclude the more decorative work, which will offer light relief and balance to the more intense and emotionally draining series.

So what to paint?  I am working on two ideas.  The first abstracting the figurative drawings and mark making from the exploratory drawing group, revisiting older paintings, to create a historical trace of the journey from decorative to figurative, an exploration of the luminal space between.

The second, a more demanding and emotionally charged project based on historical family letters that I have yet to read.

I want to work with the academic year to have the body of work developed during the Autumn/Winter months, and I will be scheduling the work once I have had a chance to read the documents, review the timings of the submissions I plan to make and quantify the volume of work I need to produce for the Opens and local group shows.

To support my self imposed academic year, I have joined a local crit group run by Paula McCarthy at the De La Warr Pavilion.  I will be presenting my work in December to the group, with the focus on the experience of undertaking an MA in later life on a distance learning programme.  I have never spoken about my work in public before, but I feel now is the time to push myself and be uncomfortable.  In the Autumn I will also be forming a local crit group with some fellow members of the experimental drawing group, with a view to a joint exhibition in 2018.


Just Click my Heels

What a blessed relief it was to submit my PPP and Contextual Study for assessment.  The end is in sight and I am now free to focus on the last few paintings, which are in various stages of completion, safe in the knowledge that even if I couldn’t complete them, I have already produced enough work for the exhibition.

Exhaustion and stress do not really explain what has been happening for probably the duration of this journey.  Absence or disconnectedness would be a closer description.  The process of packing so many new concepts and ideas into a lethargic brain has induced a permanent trance-like state, where the real world is somewhere over there.  The next year will be about reestablishing a balance, gardening, walking, even cleaning, inspired by Alison’s project.

This has been an extraordinary journey, not least because it has been all about proving to myself that I can do it, and I have, and every drop of sweat has been so worth it.  There were times when I despaired, felt out of my depth, overwhelmed, but as my daughter said, if it were easy everyone would be doing it.  Now I can reflect on the distance traveled and the lessons learned.

My voyage of discovery has taken me into the big wide world and deep in the annals of time.  I have read dozens of books, some of which I understood, some of which I will return to reread at my leisure, informed by my research.  I have discovered the world of art and artists in all its extremities, and learnt that it is OK to challenge and be challenged.  I have learnt about pigment, about colour, about visual manipulation, about time and space.  I have been awakened to philosophy, to psychology, to Taoism, to the world of possibilities.  Most importantly I have learnt that the way I work is not random, but underpinned by robust academic scrutiny.  I now have the language to talk confidently about my practice and my work, secure in the knowledge that ‘resemblance’ is just a pleasant human weakness. (Oxlade, 2010, p. 139).  My journey has, surprisingly, also brought me back to where I started many years ago, with thin diaphanous washes, the difference is that now my work is underpinned by knowledge and purpose.

Indian Summer

Indian Summer, 2005.  Watercolour on paper 76 x 56cms

Where now?  Chinese, Japanese and South Korean artists and art practice have had a profound effect on my work.  Taoist philosophy, meditation, subtlety, calligraphic marks, trace and line will all be explored as I move towards Oxlade’s ‘feelings about form, and space between form and formlessness’  (Oxlade, 2010, p. 151).


High Days, 2017.  Watercolour on paper 76 x 56cms

One thing I know for certain is that there is still so much to learn and I will never stop being curious.

1  Oxlade, R, 2010, Art & Instinct, London, Ziggurat Books


What’s happened to my Parachute?

Family photos, by their very nature, usually involve people.  I am not a figurative painter, so the work for the exhibition is like sky diving without the instructions for the parachute.

My strength lies in mood and emotion, not faces, hands and feet.  What is frustrating is that even when I do capture ‘that look’, my rational mind realises that it is the wrong place and has to be moved, not easy in watercolour.

Paintings 6-11 in the Family series are all at the ‘face’ stage.  A challenging day ahead.

Sisters, watercolour on paper 76x56cms

Kitty and Girls, watercolour on paper 76x56cms

Grandfather and Girls, watercolour on paper 76x56cms

At the Seaside, watercolour on paper 76x56cms

At the Inlaws, watercolour on paper 76x56cms

Final Day, watercolour on paper 76x56cms

Peeling the Onion

Watching Francis Bacon:A Brush With Violence on the Beeb last night, I realised why I hadn’t been eager to paint for more than a few minutes on each painting, for the last few days.  The issue was where to next.  If I resolved all the works I would have to move forward, and I didn’t feel quite ready to.  Two aspects were concerning me, the ‘abstract painter hanging on to form’ comment I had unexpectedly written in my Pecha Kucha, and the word ‘fragmented’, which had bounced off the pages of Ehrenzweig’s book and also formed part of the process for a couple of local artists I admired, Patrick Goff and Marie-Louise Miller, who are both using colour and fragmentation to make bold statements.

Patrick Goff, Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 ins

Image result for marie-louise miller

Marie-Louise Miller from the Colour Conversations series  Acrylic on canvas.

Bacon’s dalliance with violence and pain is evident in his work, but it is expressive use of colour supporting the fragmentation and the process of fragmenting that are of particular interest.  I had been considering the idea of tearing up a copy of my current series and reconstructing.  Seeing Bacon working from photos rather than life models, and often crumpled versions of the image, confirmed that this was a possible next step of reaching the ‘essence’ of the form and perhaps, as a byproduct of the process, letting go of form.


Collaged paper on paper 43 x 61 cms

Tearing the copy of Grandma & Me creates an image that replicates the Ehrenzweig’s unconscious scattered fragmentation.  My conscious mind still reads the original image, much in the way that we are able to read words where all the letters are jumbled except the first and last.


A crumpled version of the same image feels like a more appropriate starting point to develop the work.


This is the enlarged photocopied crumpled image.  Interestingly the copying process has added cerulean and ochre to the whites, colours that Celia Paul used in much of her work.

Francis Bacon, Self Portrait 1969

Interestingly in Francis Bacon: Fragments of a Portrait from the BBC archive, at minute 26.10, talking of chance and what he calls accident taking over, when he says that consciously he doesn’t know what he is doing, critic David Silvester asks Bacon ‘When you take chance you mean something more than improvisation, you mean as if you are really working without making conscious decisions? What are you thinking about?  How do you suspend the operation of  rational decisions?’  He replies that ‘I am thinking of nothing, but how hopeless and impossible this thing it is to achieve, and by making these marks, about which I don’t know how they will behave, suddenly there comes something which your instinct seizes on, as being for a moment the thing by which it could begin to develop…an ordered image that has come about by chance.’ Note: I have since learnt that sketch books were found following Bacon’s death, that confirm that the ‘chance’ element was a mystique that Bacon liked to encourage, but was far from the truth.

I start a new work with the working title of Devil Child as part of the first series,img_1323

to look deeper at the three stages of creativity, as defined by Ehrenzweig.  This represents the first stage where Ehrenzweig states ‘The creative mind must be capable of tolerating imperfection.  Creative man [or woman] awakens from his oceanic experience to find that the result of his work does not match his initial inspiration.  The unconscious linkages established in the manic-oceanic level have not been fully translated into surface coherence.’ p193

I also start the research piece for the second series.  I am definitely letting go of form, but is this the right direction?



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