I know many of you have been busily producing daily watercolours for World Watercolour Month, a wonderful initiative by the tireless Charlie O’Shields.
So far – 19 days in – I’ve managed the buddleia that I posted last week and this watercolour of a toad (I have been away quite a bit). I’ve been given a book of wildlife studies by the Cornish artist, Kurt Jackson, whose work in a variety of media is never less than interesting and often inspiring. I used some of his loose linework and spattering techniques in this image of a chap I’d disturbed while pulling up weeds in our garden.
Did you know that the common toad can live for up to 40 years? A particularly large one once made his home under my Mother’s garden shed, occasionally ambling out and frightening her when she was gardening. ‘Toad’ was also the title of an endless drum solo that took up an entire side of a vinyl album by Cream, but the less said about that particular toad the better…
In painting terms, it didn’t go as smoothly as planned on our Andalusian holiday. Although I have Felix Scheinberger’s book on watercolour to hand where he warns specifically against it, I was too focussed on the ‘finished’ picture instead of what he eloquently calls enjoying the 100 small steps on the way.
Then one day the owner of the cottage where we were staying (near Grazalema) left us a plate of fresh cherries. Their various shades of red – from deepest blood to an almost yellowy orange – begged to be painted, not in any mimsy, nineteenth century Sunday afternoon sort of way, but boldly and loosely, enjoying some of the 100 small steps.
So here are two, painted in the shade of an Andalusian summer’s day, noting once again that it just needs some small inspiration – a gift of cherries – and hearing what the masters have to say.
A few weeks ago I had a spare Sunday in New York City and was able to visit the new Whitney museum, down in the gentrified Meatpacking District. I read somewhere that New York is losing its neighbourhoods, with the whole island so expensive that it’s becoming a homogenised space for the very wealthy. The old ethnic areas are rapidly becoming part of an overpriced whole. Certainly a couple of years ago I stayed in a bed and breakfast in Harlem, something that would have been unthinkable 30 years ago when I first visited the city.
On my way back to the midtown area from the Whitney, I came upon this charming house somewhere around 19th Street or so. Outside was a skip, a sure sign that this, too, was in the process of gentrification. It was a beautiful Spring afternoon and the house begged to be drawn. When I got home I painted it in these vibrant colours to reflect the feeling of the day. In reality it was a pale blue. Let’s just call it artistic licence.
Ah, southern Europe! Grilled squid, a crisp dry white wine, crusty white bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, the sun shining on a zinc table, the scent of the Mediterranean, the perfume of oleander and wild irises, warm evenings and a sky full of stars. The above drawing is one of the views from Le Mazet des Cyprès in Provence, but I wonder if the little abstract below isn’t a better evocation of the beautiful South with its range of Mediterranean blues?
In the latest issue of Artists and Illustratorsmagazine, a contestant on the recent BBC TV Big Painting Challenge – a reality show featuring amateur artists – claims that she found the criticism of the two professional judges, Lachlan Goudie and Daphne Todd, unnecessarily harsh and even rude at times, and was called ‘an illustrator’ by one of them.
I know that some fine artists think illustrators are mere hacks but it seems to me a rather spurious distinction, especially when some artists of unquestionable reputation, David Hockney perhaps, are able to slip between the two without any sense of having to dumb down for their illustrative work. Furthermore, if some evil demon could wipe out an entire artist’s work overnight would we miss Tracey Emin more than Maurice Sendak, or Jeff Koons more than George Herriman (below)? Personally I’d prefer one frame of a Krazy Kat comic over Koons’ entire oeuvre but I know there are others who would see Herriman as a ‘mere’ cartoonist while a Koons vacuum cleaner in a Perspex case is a profound artistic statement.*
It seems a little like the argument about whether all classical music is somehow more accomplished than all popular music. In the end it’s just sound, just as art and illustration are both marks on a surface.
So is the picture above an illustration for a cookery book or a meditation on the graphic quality of red and green chilli peppers? Ultimately, does it matter?
In the Fen Country (collaged watercolour squares 2012 A4)
A few years ago I attended another of Annie Rice’s inspiring workshops, this time on watercolour landscape painting. After a few warm-up exercises, we were sent off into the Norfolk countryside to paint. There were water-filled ditches, banks covered in wildflowers, wind-twisted trees that were hundreds of years old, clumps of bulrushes, a derelict barn…but I chose a level field with a distant line of conifers. The resulting painting was the dullest thing you could imagine. When I got it home I was about to throw it in the recycling when I noticed some of the details were quite appealing, so I covered it in a grid of squares and started cutting it up. The more evocative bits were pasted onto a piece of thin brown card to make the image above, far more interesting in its semi-abstraction than the amateurish source painting.