Category Archives: Colour

Inspiration Monday: Gardens and Gardening

Ickworth Garden Temple - take a moment to reflect

Ickworth Garden Temple

(WARNING: photo-heavy post!)

You think gardening is for oldies, don’t you?

Not so.

Go and visit a big garden in your area, a park, a stately home if you have one nearby.  As you wander round, take the time to look at the flowers, plants and trees.  Take the time to appreciate the long vistas the designers have laid out for you to enjoy.  Think about why each plant has been positioned exactly there in the scheme.

The garden house at Ickworth House, Suffolk

The garden house at Ickworth House, Suffolk

Who has walked this path before you?  What is their story?  Read ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ if you can’t think of something better, or watch ‘Downton Abbey’ to clue you in to what might have happened in a garden like this, the secret assignations between the lady of the house and the gamekeeper, the Lord and the scullery maid, or the married gentry who came to visit for shooting weekends in winter, eager to continue their private affairs without their spouses knowing, stealing away into the shady nooks of the different garden ‘rooms’.

Inside the Yew Hedge at Blicking Hall, Norfolk - who might have hidden here?

Inside the Yew Hedge at Blicking Hall, Norfolk – who might have hidden here?

As for public parks, well, imagine all the spies who have met their KGB handlers by the duck pond, the mothers who have pushed their prams through the rose beds and contemplated running away from loveless marriages, the children who have imagined faeries and elves in the trees.

If writing is not your thing, you only have to look at what Monet did with his garden at Giverny to see that gardens can be an endless source of inspiration for visual artists of all kinds.  Maybe your garden flowers could inspire a colourful quilt or embroidery.  There is so much beauty in your back garden and local park – all you need to do is use your eyes.

arbour and urn cropWhat about getting your fingers in the soil yourself?  Gardening is a true art form.  It allows you to create a complete world within the four hedges of your back yard.  You might prefer growing vegetables to flowers, in which case, google ‘potager kitchen gardens’ to see how amazing kitchen gardens can be.

Roses in my own garden.

Roses in my own garden.

There is nothing like actually getting down to business with the mulch and seeds.  Yes, it is often hard work, and it takes time and patience, but it is so incredibly rewarding, creative and satisfying.  Even if you just have a tiny balcony or window ledge, you can fill it with pots of colourful bedding plants and grow-your-own lettuce varieties.  Go to any Mediterranean village, and you’ll see what marvels of gardening can be achieved with a few old olive oil cans, some white and blue paint, and some bright geraniums!

And once the hard work is done, you can get out your deck chair, and muse.  And then maybe paint a picture or write a story about your green empire.

Happy creating,

EF

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Inspiration Monday: Creativity is Catching

Top.BMPToday we had the pleasure of attending the opening of an art exhibition by a friend, Martin Battye FRSA.

Martin is a pal of my husband’s from the cricket club, but he is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Art, and his paintings are vibrant, vigorous and exciting.  It is always a delight to get to see his work, and today’s opening was no exception.  Martin is using oil colours on paper at the moment, and his pure pigments, textures and abstract designs are fascinating.  Scattered around the gallery were also a selection of his recent sketchbooks, and for all the wonder of the major pieces, I found these the most inspiring.  They show an artist’s process, the act of creativity itself, caught as if in aspic.  They contain the genus of the bigger paintings, as well as scribbled thoughts, poignant quotes and articles cut from newspapers and magazines.

I came away aching.

I want to do that, my heart said.

It’s been so long since I used my paints, since I dared to draw.

Lately, I have been remembering the two years of my art ‘A’ level course, when I started discovering other artists, the revelation of abstract art, the earthquake of Modernist artists, architects and designers like Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, Matisse and Rothko.  I felt so excited, so fascinated by their ideas and the pared-down beauty they created.  I was never able to liberate myself from the tyranny of the figurative, though, as they had, nor from my own self-abusive perfectionism.  I couldn’t, and still can’t, make a mess, try things out, paint outside the lines.

But what would happen if I DARED?

What would happen if I could BE MY OWN HERO?

The truth is that I want to create abstract art.  I want to make paintings that please me as much as Martin’s do.  I want to have his exuberance, his extravagant variety and colour, his sense of fun.

I keep thinking of Jamie Ridler’s exhortation to not judge the art you are called upon to make.  To just do it.

So I have decided to try and find out if I can recover that sense of adventure I had went I was 18 and reading about Modern Art for the first time.  I want to know if I can finally overcome the Nigel voice in my head that says I can’t get messy or paint outside the lines.  I want to find out, one tiny baby step at a time, if I can be the artist who lives inside me, safe in the knowledge that that artist will feed the writer, and vice versa.

Inspired by Martin’s creative process, EXPLORATION is my word for March.  I’m going to explore my creativity and have some fun.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

(If you are in Norwich, do visit Mandell’s Gallery in Elm Hill to enjoy Martin Battye’s wonderful work, open Mon – Sat, 10am to 5pm.)

Happy Creating,

EF

Journal Friday: Art in your Journal, or Why I had to lock Nigel in the Garden Shed this Morning.

Diary Page mental energy groundedThe title for this post, “Using images in your journal”, has been in my editorial diary for weeks, swimming around, getting crossed out and rescheduled.  I knew I had to write about it, because Art Journaling is a huge movement, and one everyone can enjoy.

So why couldn’t I bring  myself to write about them?

In a word, Nigel.

Nigel, if you haven’t already come across him on this blog, is the name I have given to my inner critic.  At least its the one only one thats printable!  He is the psycho-demon-fuckwit-critic-from-Hell that sits inside my head, barking orders at me, making sure I keep being a Good Girl so that people will love me.

Yeah.  Right.

In the case of my art, I can identify exactly when my drawing became unacceptable.  Nigel began with the voice of my ‘A’ level art teacher, Bob Taylor.  I had always been a passionate artist, and while I always knew I wanted to be a writer, I felt that earning a living might enable me to use my art skills.  So I took Graphics at ‘A’ level, intending to apply to Art College.  When I told Bob Taylor this, he said the following:

You’re a good draughtsman but you don’t have originality.

Yeah, right.

Looking back on it as a much wiser adult, I can see what he was saying.  My art at that time was very constrained.  I was too busy producing what I thought other people wanted, and not following what I wanted to do, or breaking out and breaking rules.  My art was, frankly, pretty boring.  But being a Good Girl makes for boring.  Regardless of that, its a pretty cruel thing to say to a 17-year-old who has always dreamt of a sunny studio in St ives.  I suppose he was trying to save me many years of misery and disappointment. I just was not ready for Art School.  Or perhaps he had picked up on the vicious Nigel voice inside my head that kept me in check.  Whatever the reason, I quickly lost my passion, and ultimately abandoned my art.

Now I am pretty blocked.  Nigel says I shouldn’t draw unless I can make something perfect and professional, something of the kind I admire in other artists.  Only the best is good enough for me and you, he says.  And if you can’t make it perfect, why do it at all?

This morning, I locked Nigel in the garden shed with a ball gag in his mouth, and got out my diaries.  Because, you see I do draw.  Sometimes.  Where no one can see.  Where no one can judge.  And because a picture, as I learnt so long in Graphics class, can say so much more than words in describing a feeling.  I draw how I am feeling.  Sometimes.  If I am feeling daring, or desperate enough.  In my diary, it doesn’t have to be perfect.  It just has to be got out on paper.

Here are a few of my drawings.  Nigel is very unhappy about my publishing them here, and he wishes me to point out that they are not up to my usual artistic standard.  I would like to point out that you don’t have to be able to draw, let alone draw like Rembrandt, if no one but you will ever see the images!

sleep sketchThis one is about my illness and the days I spend unable to get out of bed, which are frequent.

grumpy bear 1 grumpy bear 2

This is a feeling I had one day that I wanted to personify, in the hope of recording how to get rid of it.

hound sketchThis was the product of a night of insomnia.  Once I had drawn this rabid dog, something I felt compelled to do in a literally physical way, the feelings I was struggling with literally dissolved, and I went back to bed and slept for seven hours straight.

The point I want to make is not whether I can draw or not, but that you can use images to express your feelings in your journal without fear of judgement from others.  If you can’t draw, or can’t bring yourself to draw, paste in images cut from magazines, or postcards.  Collage is a great art form you can try without fear of criticism.  There are lots of ways to express what is pent up inside that are nothing to do with words.

Don’t let Nigel limit you.

Journal Exercise:

I am going to talk more about this, as I feel like I have opened up a rich seam, now that I have got over my block about it.  But in the meantime, you get to do some more shopping!  Go and buy yourself some nice coloured pens or pencils.  Sharpie ones are good and bright, but I like Staedtler Triplus fineliners and Berol Colour Brushes.

Reread my previous post about colour, and play with your pens or pencils inside your journal. Makes some marks.  Doodle.  If you fancy drawing, do, but don’t be critical of what you produce.  This is not about getting a grade A.  Just have a play.

What colours and shapes express particular feelings for you?  How do you feel when you use a particular colour?  What do certain shapes mean?

During the week, keep your eyes peeled when browsing newspapers and magazines, or even junk mail.  Pick out images that speak to you.  Pull them or snip them out and stash them in a box for future use, or stick them into the pages of your journal and write about how they speak to you.

Happy Journalling,

EF

Inspiration Monday: Colour

colorful-paints-WallpaperThe fact that human beings can perceive colour has been a huge influence on our development and our cultures. Colour has helped to protect us from danger, and find good things to eat.  It has helped us to define who we are in relation to others, as well as what we believe.  These days, it is as widely used in marketing and medicine as it always has been in art and fashion.  Colour blindness can prove a significant disability.

Thinking about how we respond to colour can be a rich seam to plunder for creative purposes.  The artists of the Fauvist movement, such as Matisse, and later Abstract Expressionists such like Mark Rothko, used intense shades of colour to convey and provoke emotion.  Both Matisse and Picasso made blue nudes, but look at the images they produced:

blue-nude picasso

Picasso Blue Nude 1902

blue nude Matisse 1952

Matisse Blue Nude 1952

Matisse’s vibrant cutout provokes a very different response to Picasso’s sombre meditation on grief.

Blue is the perfect colour to think about as an example.  It is culturally significant in many ways.  For example, the pigment lapis lazuli, a vibrant blue, was the most expensive pigment available to Medieval and  Renaissance artists, so was reserved for only the most important figures. Thus, the Virgin Mary is always pictured wearing a blue robe.  In Medieval England, blue was worn as an amulet to ward off ill-health, probably because of its Marian associations.  (This is why brides still wear ‘something blue’.)  In contrast, in some cultures, blue is shunned as the token of death, ghosts and bad luck.

We identify blue with calm and peace, and blue light has been used in urban areas with some success to reduce violence.  Blue can also be associated with depression – we talk of ‘having the blues’.

Conversely, red is seen as a vivid, energetic colour, associated with lust and sex.  We speak of the ‘scarlet woman’ for example.  It can also be interpreted as a warning of danger, as in ‘Stop’ signs and traffic lights.  Rooms painted red look smaller to our perception, but also warmer and cosier.  A blue room looks airy and spacious, but can seem rather cold.

Our emotional response to colour is also of interest.  We speak of ‘warm’ and ‘cool’ colours, and choose the clothes we wear by colour according to our mood.  I wear bright red all the time, but my mother accuses me of looking ‘too bright’ when I do!  My sister has such a visceral response to the colour lilac that it actually makes her nauseous.

I never really appreciated the importance of colour in the landscape around me until I moved to East Anglia.  I grew up on the south coast of England, by the sea.  There, the beaches are formed of toffee-coloured flints and broken, bleached shells.  The sea is often edged with emerald green seaweed, and is invariably the colour of cold coffee.  The crumbling sandy cliffs are the colour of ginger, and are held together by clumps of dark green gorse which turns acid yellow in spring.

The colours of the Norfolk coast are much more muted.  The beaches are pale sand, bound with dunes of khaki marram grass.  The sea is often indigo or petrol blue, and the skies are milky even in the most brilliant of summer weather.  Here, the prevailing colours are buff, dun, woad, grey.  They make the south coast seem gaudy by comparison.

As an artist or writer, you can use all this to your advantage.  The psychology and culture of colour can set the scenes for your images and stories.  Imagine a woman walking into a grey room in a scarlet dress?  (Artist Jack Vettriano uses this kind of contrast to huge effect!)  Imagine what people would be whispering behind her back.  Imagine what the response of the man she is meeting for dinner might be.

Creative Exercises:

Spend some time thinking about your own responses to colour.  What colours do you have in your home, and why?  Do they remind you of happy memories, or are they just there?

What are the colours you predominently wear?  How do you feel in them?  Go to the shops and try on garments in colours you would never normally wear.  How do they feel?  Why would you normally shy away from them?  What do you think the colours would say about you if you appeared in public in them?

Spend some time sitting on a bench in the high street, watching passers-by.  Note what colours they are wearing.  Are you drawn to them because of their colour choices, or repelled?  What do you think their colour choices say about them?  And what do you think they are trying to say with colour?

Keep your eyes peeled for colour around you.  What colour is your front door, the doctors’ waiting room, the toilet in your favourite restaurant, the plaster of the building across the road?  What shades are the trees, the earth, the sky?  What do these colours mean to you personally?  How do they make you feel?

You might like to spend some time with your writing notebook.  Choose a colour and write a word association exercise, scribbling all the words that come into your mind in connection with that colour, no matter how outlandish they might seem.  Now go back and examine what you have written.  Does your list suggest an atmosphere, a story, an image?  Play with whatever comes up as a response and see where it takes you.

There are a host of books you might like to read in connection with this subject.  Here are a few:

The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier

The Colour by Rose Tremain

Colour: Travels through the Paintbox by Victoria Finlay

Happy Colouring,

EF