‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free…
I sometimes think that the Autumn, knowing what’s coming over the next few months, gives up little gifts as a kind of consolation. Winter’s coming, and where I live it’ll be grey and soupy. Sorry about that, sighs the Autumn, here’s a damaged quince, here’s a leaf containing more shades of red and green than you can name, here’s a late flowering rose.
Last Sunday – after a delightful, celebratory evening with a friend – I walked down to a nearby petrol station to buy a newspaper and a croissant (surprisingly good, believe me). On my way home, the wind blew a dried and twisted leaf in my path. The thing about following most creative journeys is that simple things can mean a great deal: the rotting fruit that I posted last week, for example, and now this leaf – a colour chart of Autumn shades. Almost anything can inspire, it seems.
I took it home and used it as a starting point, painting the colours much brighter than in nature and using broad brush strokes of watercolour. Only after the basic shape of the leaf was laid down did I draw the curling edges of the leaf in ink and add all the rest of the embellishments it now contains.
The leaf – my simple gift from a passing gust of wind – now sits on the table, growing ever more brittle and slowly losing shade after shade. If I had a German-speaking cleaner, no doubt (s)he would ask, “Ist das Kunst oder kann das weg (Is that art or can it be thrown away)?” The inspiration for this remark is said to be the famous incident around the Fettecke (Grease Corner) by Joseph Beuys. It consisted of 5 kg of butter installed in the corner of a room. On the day before a visit from a VIP, a janitor removed and disposed of it. As the result of a court case, the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia had to pay 40,000 DM in compensation to the owner.
So beware what you throw away. It might just be art after all.
We’ve harvested the first quinces from the tree we planted when we moved house a couple of years ago. They’re beautiful, like fairy-tale pears: great golden Maurice Sendak fruits that look like they might make the woodcutter’s daughter fall asleep for half a century after one bite. But too perfect to draw.
So when my beloved told me that she’d seen a boxful outside a cottage for passers-by to help themselves, it was worth the drive of some miles into the countryside to investigate.
They were splendid: misshapen, bruised, speckled, downy, knotty things, like angry little fists. I’m sure they’ll make wonderful quince jelly later this week, but in the meantime they’ve been willing models for a series of drawings.
Quinces on a hand-made plate (32 cms x 24 cms pastel on Hahnemuehle Velour paper 2015)
The sheet of twelve started off as a sort of morning pages exercise, but I decided to ink over the original pencil sketches and paint them with watercolour and watercolour pencils. The plate of three on Hahnemuehle Velour (above) was more challenging for me, being unused to the intriguingly soft texture of this paper.
Quinces on a hand-made plate 2 (30 cms x 23 cms pastel on watercolour paper 2015)
So I did a third on watercolour paper. This is probably enough quince drawings for one day, but I would just like to try one more after supper…
PS I was thinking of calling this post ‘An artist formally knows his quince’ but happily for all concerned decided against it.
Dimity & Other Stories (37 x 17cms ink on Farrow & Ball paint sample card 2015)
Click on image to enlarge
…but each one is only 3cms wide and 2cms deep.
The weekend before last, among the advertising inserts in my copy of the Saturday Guardianwas a Farrow & Ball colour chart for their range of household paints. There are two things you need to know about Farrow & Ball: their environmentally-friendly paints have a lovely chalky quality and they give them weird names. You can paint your living room in Dead Salmon, if you wish, or Churlish Green, Elephant’s Breath, Down Pipe or Pale Hound.
These pristine little rectangles were just too tempting. At first I just drew what their names suggested – a bone for Bone, a piece of knotted string for String – but then tried to be a little more creative. Surely Cornforth White is a jovial old cove for whom the sun is always over the yardarm; Clunch is an enthusiastic hug in the middle of the day; and Blackened could only be a man with a comedy exploding cigar.
So here is part one of my Farrow & Ball colour chart drawing project, largely drawn with an old-fashioned dip pen rather than the Uniball Deluxe Fine I normally use. Part two depends on continued inspiration and, more important, stamina.