Today (Thursday 8th September)I took a day off and decided to go out in the car.
I was lucky enough to have been asked out to lunch by someone I really respect as a painter and felt excited at the thought of getting to know someone more who is a much better a painter than I am. Usually, if I meet successful people I am inhibited to the point of being rendered speechless, something those of you who know me must realise is quite a feat! But not with this painter. I am sure we could talk for a year…I had to leave after four hours just to make sure I didn’t completely take over her day.
In conversation about painting, painters and all things painterly, I found myself describing how I make my work. I started by asking a question and picking up a piece of A4 printer paper I asked about the proportion of a piece of paper to its own half and halved again, its quarter. Those of you who are mathematical will already be exasperated but I really struggle with why a sheet of paper halved looks to be a different proportion than its parent, whole. As I have come away without a tape, something I usually have in my drawing bag and finding no string in the house, I have been reduced to using the apron string, (which just fell off while cooking supper, I must see if I brought a needle and thread) and by marking it with a pencil, trying to work out ratios. I quickly gave up; the task is too complicated and I found instead a ruler that I slipped into my box in a last minute panic. I worked out a square, and knowing that I didn’t want to paint on that (I always think you need to be Tiepolo painting a Venetian dome to pull off a square, everything swirls into a vortex and unless you are painting heaven, it is difficult to make everything sit still.) I wanted a rectangle but not such a thin one as a half sheet. After trying one or two variations, I settled for cutting off three inches. I am not very happy at not being able to get the proportion from the piece of paper exactly but I am persuaded that is irrelevant and verging on obsessive although it is neat!
Having established a pile of paper and up until this evening they have always been an exact subdivision of a whole sheet, now all the same, I work in sequence. Yesterday I was working across 8 pieces, sometimes one after the other and on occasion all at once, something akin to printmaking. My reasoning is to find ways and means by which to circumvent the self-conscious. I often meditate before I work and most effectively when in the landscape with which I want to engage. I am bored with the representational, it is often easy on the eye but leads the viewer into a narrative of their own making. I would like to draw the viewer in but to challenge them to take a little longer, not dismiss the work by thinking that does or does not look like a tree hill sea. It is more an invitation to engage with the work to see if they can catch a whisper, a suggestion, a hint of an experience they may remember and set off a reverberation, a connection, not from the head but more positively, from the heart. Because of trying to distill the essence, it is essential to travel to the place, set myself within it and allow it to affect me, working at the subject from the outside in, so that as I become more familiar, the contours of recognition fall away and hopefully, something of the essential quality is captured. Not only do I want to make the work IN the place and OF the place but also, so as to be able to create a greater sense of connection, by making tools from found objects AT the place.
One of the features of this part of the Shetland archipelago is that along with strong winds and many varieties of seabird, there is also the strange characteristic of finding sea creatures on top of hills and feathers growing like flowers. Presumably the bird looses the feather in the ferocity of the wind and the quill lands, point down, embedding itself within a prostrate heather plant. And so as I walk about this headland I pick feathers reminiscent of some unearthly plant dropped there by angels! These are my brushes. And I have found them in all sizes and am developing a use for all but the very smallest which I just horde, amazed at their delicacy.
Whilst out drawing the other morning I met a man. He turns out to be the owner of this piece of West Mainland and was curious as to what I was doing, spotted from afar, he saw white squares and wondered what they were. My drawings flapping in the wind.
I have developed a canny way with bulldog clips and clip the drawings windward, to my clothing and my bag. Sometimes I put a leg through the strap and through the armhole of my waistcoat. I expect I look rather peculiar but luckily there are not many around to see.
Anyway on this occasion I was spotted. And this kind man came and introduced himself and we discussed the weather and the sheep. I remembered that we had met at a private view when I was here in April, and on being reminded of that he immediately asked me to supper. I was shy as I had only spoken to his wife at the exhibition and I thought she might be rather put out to suddenly have a stranger to feed. But I should not have worried. They are kind people and doing bed and breakfast themselves, are used to entertaining strangers. We soon discovered lots in common and I was fascinated to discover she had been trained by Cordon Blu and was examined by Constance Spry herself after a night out in London til 4am but she still got 98 percent for her caramel pudding with a caramel sauce!
Since our first conversation I have also discovered that she is in the midst of boiling up greengage damsons and Bramley apples to the same recipes we use from the big fat pink bible that is Constance Spry’s cookery book! Lots of talk about the cost of jam jars, how to label and how to charge and I felt momentarily disappointed that Norrie and I have now decided to stop our concoctions except for personal use.