Questions, Questions

I decided I should question many basic elements of my practice to see what they reveal to me and to get used to analysing all aspects.

Why do I dress differently when I am making?

I do wear a particular set of clothes to work in.

If it is creative, but electronic, work, then they must be comfortable and easy to fidget in. I don’t want any distractions from discomfort.

If I am going to be creative with physical materials, then the clothes must be ones I don’t care about or intended to get messed up – so I am not distracted by trying to keep clean. They must also be comfortable and allow free movement. To facilitate this, I now have 2 pairs of dungarees, which are both loose-fitting and cover most of me well. They are also now a physical record of project detritus from the last 12 months.

Why do I choose the spaces I do?

The same principle applies for me for the space I choose to work in. The space must be appropriate for the job. Messy and/or large scale works must be in the studio where I can be freer and carefree. Electronic or precise work needs to be inside where I can control and finely adjust my working environment.

Music, or something to occupy the ‘chattering monkey’ part of my brain is vital. For mundane electronic work, TV documentaries (with good narrative, but don’t need watching) or non-taxing ‘fluff’ are perfect.

Graham Norton’s radio show is something I try to use as a scheduled studio slot – I get to enjoy his radio show and do some work in a very focussed time period, which I have found works really well for me. Outside of this time period, I use playlists from my ipod (some tailored to mood and some not). Reflection or essays require unobtrusive classical music. All of these things decrease the likelihood of me being distracted from the task in hand.

I also prefer working in or around my home. I like being at home where I have everything to hand: materials, spares, books, internet, food and drink and most of all, my cats. When I work in my home I am far more likely to work for longer than away from it (when I long to be back in the house), so I know that a studio removed from the locale of my house would be underutilised and a waste of money at this point. To create a ‘messy’ studio space, I have converted my garage. Once I take the car out, I can use the space as a studio. I have white walls: one side for working on and the opposite side to display and reflect on work. I have podiums for physical items and a storage area for canvases and frames. I keep most materials in this space and have extra light, heat and a radio with ipod connector – but have to be aware that extreme cold does hinder paint flow at times. Preparation often occurs in the house, of if the work is more precise (about creating pristine lines or surfaces) then these are better done inside which is a more controlled area – and therefore I am more controlled.

I often read, draft essays or blog entries on my train journeys to Guildford. With a maximum journey segment of 50 mins, this timeframe is not too daunting and allows me to really focus uninterrupted.

Why the theme of colour?

Colour has been a mood enhancer for me for many years.

Combinations of blues and golden yellows/ochres have long been my favourites: evoking sunny days; clear blue skies; sea; sand and historical architecture – such as the colleges in Cambridge that I grew up with. Contrast, saturation and vibrancy are key here. Any colour palette that I create that does NOT include colours from that range (most importantly the yellow) appears ‘dull’ to me somehow.

As these colours occur most commonly (and are experienced by me mostly) in the landscape, I originally assumed that landscape was my mood enhancer – or the vibrant colours that sunshine creates. But in fact, on closer analysis, it is the colour combinations and intensity that are of delight.

By stripping away all other possible influences to leave solely colour, I can see how colours record and reflect my mood.

I choose to record 9  colours per day as this feels like a ‘goldilocks number’ to me: ‘just right’ to play with. There are enough to be able to play with in geometric patterns, to extract some from, but not an overwhelming task to complete everyday. It allows for the creation of a square grid: itself a playful format – indicative of tic-tac-toe – and allows the viewer to make their own lines and combinations from each palette.

I use the Pantone colour reference system because these include extensive swatch books with which I am familiar through my graphic design work. I understand how the colours are referenced and how they would reproduce electronically and in print. These references allow for the colours to be as consistent as possible across a range of different media.

My memory records in a photographic way – I remember positions and colours far better than any other elements. At school I would remember science diagrams by shapes and locations, but struggle to remember what words went into the description text. At work I can tell you where an image appears on a page, what is in it, what else might appear around it, but not what document it is IN. I was always good at the ’20 items on a tray’ game, where one would be removed – again I could tell where the gap was, but not always what was missing. I put most of this down to having had appalling eyesight from around 12 to age 37 when I had my eyes lasered. On removing my glasses, my eyesight would become a fog with no depth and I could not see clearly beyond 4 or 5 inches. Becoming spatially aware and remembering exactly where things (such as your glasses) are when you can see only a fog, becomes a vital skill.

The Pantone swatch books are the easiest method I have found to match a colour seen in the books with those in my memory. I could try to mix the colour manually with a colour mixer – but the possibilities are so vast and daunting, I fear I would never create the nuances I crave. I also fear I would find an exciting colour in the process of mixing and never get to the point of creating the colour intended. The luminosity of an electric mixer is also problematic – as our naturally seen colours are not generally backlit. Although Charlie Brooker makes an excellent point in his book ‘I Can Make You Hate’:

…you wake up and watch a screen until it tells you it’s time to leave the house, at which point you step outside (appearing on a CCTV screen the moment you do so), catch a bus (with an LED screen on the outside and an LCD screen on the inside) to the tube station (giant screens outside; screens down the escalator; projected screens on the platform), to sit on a train and fiddle with your iPod (via the screen), arrive at the office (to stare at a screen all day), then head home to split your attention between the internet (the screen on your lap) and the TV (the screen in the corner) and your mobile (a handheld screen you hold conversations with).

Brooker, Charlie (2012-10-02). I Can Make You Hate (Kindle Locations 100-105). Faber and Faber. Kindle Edition.

So maybe I should stop worrying about backlit colours. Perhaps backlit colours are now more prevalent in our everyday visual palette than natural ones.

I understand that experience can also have an effect on your perception of colour and the time elapsed between me noting a colour and picking its match, may allow for a colour to ‘warp’ in my memory as that item/colour becomes more or less important over time.

I no longer use an eyedropper on photographs to define a colour as this feels to automated – and is also ‘warped’ by the camera/lighting colour cast recorded. Thus adding a further level of impurity to the colour in my memory. Even if I store a photograph in my daily diary, I will not use the colour dropper to define the colours, but will manually pick the Pantone colours to ensure I include my own perceptions of a colour: hence more clearly reflecting my mood and response to what I am seeing and remembering. I feel that without my own personal, emotive input, the colours would be too mechanical and appear so.

Why grids and stripes?

A 3×3 grid is a natural presentation of nine colours. Squares and grids naturally migrate to stripes. Stripes have less interaction with their neighbours: stripes have 2 neighbouring colours to influence their own colour, whereas a grid has a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 8. By using stripes the distortion of colour by the interaction of its neighbours is less in stripes – therefore retained as much purity of colour as possible.

Why do I use the materials I choose?

I like painting on raw fabric as it has a more intimate and less formal feel to it. I feel better connected to the materials and can flex and manipulate it as I paint. I suggest that this material choice lends itself to less formal forms such as environments and shapes: grids and stripes better suit the formality of a stretched canvas with crisp, sharp edges and uniform lines.

The representation of pure, solid colours is important. To create these I have experimented with emulsion paints on canvas to give a very flat, matt surface. To disrupt this colour I have tried underpainting with other materials to flatten the texture of the primed canvas such as eggshell paint and polyfilla. This creates additional colours on the canvas by flattening the surface to allow super-smooth, pure colours to be seen (therefore a perceived lighter colour than that on the textured part of the canvas where light and shade is also seen and mixes with the pure colour). I have also tried experimenting with varnish and stripes of filler to create lines (and therefore tonal variations) under and over the flat colour. This disruption of the pure colour reads as a mood does to me. Moods change and flux and although they are one thing, they are never constant in the way we think and are often influenced or knocked slightly ‘off’ by external forces or changes in perspective.  I like that the viewer has to interact with the work (by moving around it) to change the way the light falls on the canvas in order to see these hidden lines and colours.

Stretched canvases invite the use of formalised lines and therefore also the use of disruption. I have also been experimenting with heavy textures created from polyfilla. Again, these can only been seen clearly when the light passes over the canvas.

I have recently begun working with monoprinting. This is a way of creating work quickly and easily but with a unique snapshot of ‘now’. I love the intensity of colour that you get with this medium and the way you can experiment with marks and intensity from the same plate of colour, but which changes with each impression made. I find this method of experimenting with colour very free and informal and will be blogging another post about the recent monoprinting course I attended and the outcomes. The background paper colour also has little effect on the printed colour unless it is very thin ink – I like this because the background can be used to further enhance or diminish the colours. I also find that I can create the abstracts in colour which I long to do, but find impossible to create ‘consciously’ in any other medium or fashion.


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