Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Saved by Vellum

So it's been an odd week. I apologise for the intensity of my most recent posts, but I think it's important to note as it influences one's work. Since I last wrote I have been seriously trying to deal with something internal. It's not external. It was, but it now no longer is. After frightening myself with my Hosta, I decided to just step back a bit. I went on a lovely bike ride. I am also now embracing my new job of looking after two cats and I've changed my music. Regardless to say, I felt disheartened by something and got a little blocked. I started to feel rather petrified by the AMOUNT of work I have to do between now and Spring. I am not procrastinating (never been much of a procrastinator luckily), but I am feeling a little mired and this has certainly blocked my flow.

So, I decided to get on with another commission... the Ginkgo. It's ok, but I am not really happy with it. I spent a week on it and then yesterday I put it to one side to get on with another commission (bit of an odd one, which I'll explain to you all at a later date). The project involves me having a work in progress on vellum. Luckily for me, I have a piece of mounted vellum. Its roughly A5 in size and was gifted to me by Sam and Christabel McEwen in 2013. I remember that when they gave it to me I cried. How silly. Anyway, for the past year and a half I have stored it in a box all wrapped up in tissue paper. I have got it out on occasion and just started at it. It reminds me of a time when I felt connected and understood by a ghost. It's strangely comforting.

After a half day of painting - drawn in and first layers of paint.

So yesterday I got my comfort blanket out and decided that the time to put some life onto it had finally come. I ordered some 'back up' vellum for the commission the day before, but something within me knew that I needed rescuing from this stagnant cave I seemed to have walked into and I thought about Rory. I needed to paint on his vellum. I needed to take a risk. Completely petrified, it certainly took me a while to actually pluck up the courage to paint on it. First of all I had to nip to the bakery and buy myself a massive chocolate croissant in order to zing up my sugar levels to the point where I became less timid and more gutsy. Then I messaged Dianne Sutherland to ask if I really needed to pounce it (I didn't have any at the time, but it is on it's way in the post) and then I just thought 'it's time to just get on with it'.

After a half day - a sense of scale...
I had two images of what I wanted to paint in my mind - either a sprout or two conker shells. I went with the conker shells as sprout was the wrong size for the vellum I had. I almost choose to paint one shell, but I liked the way the two shells spoke to each other. I was drawn to the masculine-feminine energy and the tension in the space between the barbs from either shell. So, with this in mind, I drew the drying husks pretty pronto and got going. Before I began I quickly reflected on a demo Sarah Gould gave at the Chelsea Florilegium and I remembered how everyone says you need a dry brush. I recalled Rory's teeny brushes in the showcase at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art and I re-watched Martin Allen at work in the Rory film. So when I started painting I was thinking 'dry, dry, dry' and 'small, small, small'. It didn't really work. I needed a bigger brush (I am now using a 4 Kolinsky spotter brush alongside a 0) and more water than I thought was possible. One thing is for sure, you do need some water to blend everything together. I was rather surprised by this, but I have concluded that it is because I am in Spain that I need more water. We are experiencing very warm weather at the moment and everything is drying out at a rate of knots.

Conker Shells - a work in progress on vellum

So this is what I have managed to do so far. I am happy with it and I am getting into the groove. I find myself forgetting that I am painting on vellum. It feels like second nature. Maybe I was a monk in a past life?! On occasion, I do suddenly remember I am painting on vellum (usually when something marvellous happens to a pigment) and I sit and think about it for a while. I think about the animal I am painting on and where it might have come from. Some people disagree with the whole vellum thing and that's cool, I respect that, but I couldn't think of a better use of my skin. To be culled for my skin, well that pretty harsh, but if I knew that it would make someone this happy and produce something beautiful, and that a part of me would not only be immortalised and treasured, but also used as an educational tool to hundreds of people, well I wouldn't be too upset.

- next post - my thoughts on actually what it is like to paint on vellum... Beyond the normal thing of 'it's tricky' or 'it's fantastic'...


  1. I empathize with having to muster the courage to go forward with a painting, sometimes it feels a bit like jumping off of a cliff to me. Your work is looking marvelous...I am sure that Rory would be pleased that you are using his vellum, particularly for something so intriguing and lovely!

  2. Love what you've done so far, keep it up!