Aunty Pat's portrait

Once upon a time, I was an art student, then I was an artist, and then an illustrator. Always in watercolour. However,  I've had a painting block for nearly four years and one of my things for this year is to pick up things I've neglected - mostly for unavoidable reasons.

Actually, my biggest painting block is with oils - it was my first love when I was a teenager and yet I've only been able to make myself paint one (still unfinished) oil in 25 years. Yes, over two decades. That's some block.

When I was taking photos for my first newsletter, I included a work in progress, Aunty Pat. And I was taken with the light in this picture, as it made a nice portrait. I hunted out some old brushes and paints and set to work before my stupid neurosis could take over. So my studio table was cleared and refilled and a little canvas started.

Here is where I made the first basic error - putting in a warm, creamy brown background, which in hindsight, would have been better as a cool grey or blue.  At the time though, it was enough just to be actually painting again and to my surprise, feeling quite happily at home with it.

It went quite well to begin with, until I looked at it later and realised the light was all wrong; in the photo, the light falls from the right, so I painted her that way. But the background is lit from the left. I had forgotten the most basic thing I'd been taught, 'always look for the light'. 

The next day, I set about correcting it and while it was now pedantically accurate, I had lost the freshness of the paint strokes. However, this was not about doing a perfect picture, it was an exercise to get me painting regularly again. 

In putting down a similar background colour and tone, I found it almost impossible to get Aunty Pat's furry (or rather, woolly)  head standing out as sharply as I wanted, without bringing in too much white. And then I added too much black (which I rarely used in the past and now I know why) to her foreground ear and it just looked messy and dead, colour wise.

But I persevered, and finished it. I don't like it. I know it's the thing nowadays to be terribly pleased with anything one has created, but I had an old fashioned art training, which taught me strict self criticism, in order to be able to improve. And at the end of the day, I broke my oil painting hoodoo. And that was what it was all about. 

I'm going to write this one off to experience and do it again. 

I did sign it though. 

I envy people who can just pick up a brush and sail away happily. For me, it has been like not being able to eat my favourite food: it is, as they say, complicated and may even sound odd. Nonetheless, my inability to 'just paint' has been very real and frustrating. Like being able to swim well, but not able to enter water and still wanting to swim.

I'm off to spend some kindly given Christmas money on some decent brushes, paints and a couple of canvases. I've got a lot of painting to catch up with. Twenty five years, to be precise. 

If you haven't signed up for my newsletter and would like to see the other photos of Aunty Pat, as well as read my tips for getting equal length limbs, you can find the archive here. (You're not obliged to sign up, just click the link for the January newsletter)


Deb said...

I know what you mean. I'm working on a project at the moment which will be a gift for someone else so it's made to their colour palette and preferences. Technically I know it could be better, neater. I see the flaws others won't but it's helped me develop my skills a little more and helped me fulfill a need to create something. I hope now you've been smacked with the mojo stick, the rest will follow :)

Lynda (Granny K) said...

Lovely to see you painting again. I think the painting is super!

Angela said...

Well, I couldn't paint a recognizable picture of something if my life depended on it, but I am in awe. I also find your assessment interesting as it gives me some idea of what a painter looks for, and sees. Happy for you that you got past your block!

Mac n' Janet said...

You're like my husband who also paints. When he looks at one of his paintings all he sees are the mistakes, whereas I see the joy of it. I like Aunty Pat!

Caroline B said...

Great to see you pick up the brushes again! Don't worry about the self-criticism, it goes with the territory but is what spurs us on to do better next time and each painting is always a learning experience. The more you do, the better it will get - but you don't need me to tell you that! Hide that black though, it can kill a painting stone dead - I tend to use burnt Umber & Indanthrene blue or indigo mixed for my darks.

Granny Sue said...

Have never tried painting except for furniture and walls and the like, so I am in awe of anyone who has the talent to put something in front of them onto a canvas.

Frances said...

First of all, Gretel, I just love the name Aunty Pat. Your felted figure is rather wonderful, with lots of personality. I can understand why you wished to paint her portrait.

It's now been almost 14 years since I've done any oil painting, although as you know, I still do a bit of watercolor work now and then. I think that sometimes I tend to criticize my painting before I've even begun. That's what creates my block.

I found your tale of the Aunty Pat portrait very interesting, and do look forward to seeing some more GP oils as 2016 unfolds. Nothing like new brushes, eh? xo

Jess said...

I completely understand the not doing it. Believe it or not I'd much rather sit and knit or crochet than paint. Knitting's straight forward, it is what it is.
Auntie Pat is gorgeous and such a good sitter for a portrait! I love it that you're painting again, I can see how the beautiful simply lit shapes in the photo appealed to you, it reminds me very much of the pure clear shapes in your illustrations. xx

Acornmoon said...

I don't know why you lack confidence , I know you paint beautifully. I have one of your paintings to prove it!

Lin said...

Hooray! You broke the seal!

I look forward to more adventures in painting. Yours, of course....I have no painting skill whatsoever!

jerilanders said...

I have to say that I like Pat, I can see how fuzzy she is and I admire the fact that you even attempt oil paint. I hate to use oil paint. I am a miserable failure with it and stubbornly stick with my watercolor and gouache. Also, I think it a good thing to be self critical, if you don't go overboard. I have countless pieces that I look at from every direction and they never make me happy. The eraser is my constant companion and I find myself re-doing even the simplest of things over and over again. So there! Keep those paints out and never again go 25 years without using them..especially since you are buying new brushes!

Vintage Jane said...

I am impressed by anyone who can paint because I know I can't. Keep it up and learn to enjoy it again!
M x

Puddock said...

Great to see you painting again Gretel!