The most frequently asked questions by visitors to the studio are, unsurprisingly, about the process of making a painting: How do I make my work? How long does a painting take? How do I use the many notebooks accumulated around the studio? How do I know when a painting is finished?
It is so valuable to be forced to articulate the answers, as they form a check and balance for the myriad questions and anxieties that bubble up in the mind of any artist ( why am I doing this? Is it right? Is it good enough ..... whatever that means). So, as an answer to myself here goes: a walk around my working practice:
I always carry very small notebooks. I use these as visual diaries, making notes of images that catch my eye or that I wish to record. They will also be filled with brief thoughts and ideas; shopping lists and tasks to be done (I do love a list: order in a chaotic world). Then there are the doodles: absent-minded scribblings; then there is the quick sketching out and planning of a painting.
These notebooks are private and part of daily life.
I also use larger notebooks for more detailed observational drawings. These will sometimes be the preparations for studio paintings, but will also contain drawings for their own sake. I am not a 'topographical' artist - I do not just record what I see in front of me. It is far more complicated for me than that. Yet, deep in my soul I recognise that my greatest love and self-indulgence is my drawing. I lose track of time, with fists full of pencils and erasers.
For me, drawing is like dancing with a pencil: different pace, strength, direction and speed. I also use erasers as a positive tool - not simply to eradicate errors or unwanted marks, but to add to the complex web of marks that I create in my work. The same themes persist as in my painting - attempts to create a sense of depth: ambiguous atmosphere juxtaposed with moments of keen focus. Varieties of sharp and soft; light and dark to describe my subject matter. I start by quickly arranging the image on the page - a rough sketch, if you will, of a few simple lines - I then put in the darkest tones in a broad way using closely hatched lines ... but then I start the complex choreography of removing and adding - pencil and eraser darting and dashing over the page, until it creates a whole.
I will include moments of slow, intense focus as I draw carefully defining lines and remove marks in a specific way, then it's back to the lively movement across the paper. There is usually a tonal element to my drawings; at other times, drawings may comprise quick recording purely in line - the pressure on the pencil providing the emphasis; the lightness and weight of the marks giving life to the subject.
Intimate explorations of my world.
I only paint subjects that I know well. They are about my relationship with a particular place. I need to feel comfortable with the place; be able to close my eyes and see it, hear it, smell it even, and it is only then that I can start to explore what I want to say.
Often it is about the subtle changes in different light and weather, yet increasingly I am aware that I am also worrying away at the conflict between high detail and a fleeting impression. I think that this is to do with my eyesight. I am seriously myopic (with increasing astigmatism - no more straight horizons for me - and cataracts commensurate with my age - hues moving ever towards the blues). Without spectacles I live in a fog: colours lighter in tone, everything a bit misty. Yet close up, I can see detail as if looking through a magnifying glass. If you have a splinter in your finger, then I am the gal to remove it.
So all these issues are swimming around in my mind as I work.
I tend to work in series, exploring a particular image, idea or preoccupation in repeated works. I will work on four or more paintings at the same time. I move between them as I wait for the others to dry. This then also gives me a chance to look at a piece with a fresh eye. It is amazing how turning away from a painting for a while and returning to look at it can highlight what isn't working well or what else needs to be done.
I prefer acrylic paints as they can be used with pencil, inks, pastel, collage and retain their integrity. They do, however, require sympathetic handling. If over-worked, they will turn to mud; they continue to have a slippery consistency which many dislike after the rich viscosity of oils, but their colour is now rich and stable - and the range of mediums means that they can be used very flexibly. I start a painting by covering the canvas with a colour - usually something warm, like sienna or magenta. I used to use purples and blues, but as my work errs towards blue and cooler earth colours, I found that finished pieces could become very dark. The warmer under-painting creates depth and a cohesiveness to the finished piece. I draw in a rough composition - and even at this point, I can often tell if the piece is going to be successful and say what I want. I will then start the long process of splattering colours, then re-defining the image, then applying glazes and/or more splattering, daubing and texture until I feel the final image emerge. Each application of paint requires drying time before I can go further, so this all takes time - and hence working on several pieces at once.
The most frequently asked question is "how long does a painting take to complete?"
This is almost impossible - and pointless - to answer.
It is often followed by a question about pricing.
I would say "how does one put a price on an idea?"
It also implies that the longer one spends on a piece, the better it must be. Or should one price by area? A decision for painters of miniatures.
To calculate how long a painting takes and then apply a rate per hour pricing system would be depressing, as I continue to suppress my prices to make them affordable to the widest possible audience. Acknowledging the reality of a rate per hour worked would be crushing, but having been asked this question so often, I can feel myself succumbing to the pressure of advice from galleries to increase my prices significantly.
But when is a piece finished? Paintings usually announce themselves to be complete: a sense of calm descends upon them. Nevertheless, this doesn't preclude a decision to rework or over-paint a piece at a much later date! I see this as a positive thing: to remain happy with everything one produces could suggest that there has been no progress, no challenge, no shift in thinking.
As an artist, one is constantly striving: taking risks, having fun, experiencing frustration and anguish, challenging one's own practice. We should never be content.
It involves a lot of looking and thinking.
It's what it's all about.