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'...

2 comments:

  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!

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

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