Thursday, 11 July 2013

When my naughty little sister was a portrait.

Some of my work

When I first started this painting malarky again I was almost too emabarrassed to call myself an artist.  I might tell friends and neighbours, 'oh, I'm doing a bit of painting.' but it was in a very off-hand, low key sort of way.  There are plenty of people who didn't know me when I used to paint - everything from portraits and landscapes to plant-pots and loo seats (yes I really did, there are still some loo-seat originals knocking about in various far flung bit of the Highlands),  I expect those people thought I was talking about decorating, cos I did do a bit of that too.

When I used to paint, I had no problems telling people about it, because I had things I could show them if they demanded I support my claim (not that anyone ever did of course.) It was easier in a way to pop pictures of my work up on Facebook, which I did, and share my progress, because I got useful feedback and I had to post images to help with my Facebook stats.  And, of course, I didn't know those people and if they hated my work I didn't have to see them next time I popped in to buy a chicken at the butcher's.  (mind you, since I started my Facebook page I've made some very lovely friends online, but that's another story)

Then, bit by bit, I got back into painting and did a lot of different things, tried different mediums and utilised my very rusty skills, and gradually those skills began to come back and I began to regain my confidence. I remembered techniques and little tricks that I used to use, and I did a few portraits as well as landscapes.   But what I really wanted to try was a portrait of children, because that is really hard. 

As an artist, you need to aim for a good likeness when painting a portrait and if possible you need to try and get at least something of the person's character onto the canvas.  Painting a portrait of children is a real challenge, you have to try and get the proportions right, the composition mustn't dominate and children are so very rarely still. But I really wanted to try

I had done some portraits of my own children, and did manage to achieve a resemblance.  When I showed them my paintings they didn't hate them on sight - which I counted as a plus. wasn't enough, I wanted more.  This is easier said than done, if you no-longer have young children of your own. How do you even start that conversation?



Luckily, I got my chance.  I was chatting one day on Facebook to a friend of mine, Lindsay, and she said that she liked my work, Lindsey has the two most lovely little girls, children that I have known since they were babies, so I asked Lindsay if I could paint them.

Lindsay was great, she sent me a selection of lovely photos of the girls to work from and then basically just left me in peace to get on with it.

I scrapped my first attempt pretty early on.  Lindsay had sent me a photo of the girls laughing, in the sunshine.  But they were wearing hats, which meant their faces were obscured and in shadow, and they were also in a woodland that meant the background was far too 'busy' for a portrait. 

The background was far too 'busy'

The second photo that I used had been taken when the girls were playing in a large concrete pipe.  The background was pretty plain, with a nice wee landscape as part of the composition and that's the one I finally went for.

I did the background first, blocking it in quickly and then I started on the older girl, H.   H is an enchanting child.  She is sweet and funny, but also gentle and somewhat shy.  I made several attempts, but couldn't quite get her essence.  She disappeared into the background or stood out far too starkly, i couldn't catch her sweetness or her fragile prettiness. So I prevaricated and Lindsay  must have thought the painting would never be finished. 

Then last week the weather was awful, wet, cold and stormy.  My children were away and one morning I just decided that enough was enough and I had put off working on the painting for far too long.  So I shut myself in the studio with the omnibus edition of the Archers and Verdi's operatic choruses and got to work.

H was very tricky to paint

I left H as she was, though I was far from satisfied with her and started work on R.  If H is a somewhat reserved child until she gets to know you, then R is a force of nature. 

R, is a force of nature and appeared quite quickly

 She was so easy to paint in comparison with her sister it felt like she arrived on the canvas and wouldn't be ignored and once she had arrived H was far easier to coax into completion.  Once her sister arrived everything seemed to fit into place and I finished the portrait within a couple of days.

H, is very sweet and more reserved than her sister

I was very lucky that Lindsay had supplied me with such a good photo as I had to do very little work on the composition and could concentrate on the images of the girls as can be seen from the photograph below

It was good to have a very clear photo to work from

Thankfully Lindsay and the girls were delighted with the portrait as can be seen from the lovely pic that they sent me and I've managed to get a nice shot or two to share. 

The finished painting

I now have a long list of paintings that I want to complete, this time totally without guilt, as H is no-longer watching me reproachfully from a corner of the studio, but is part of a completed painting which is with its new owners.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Nearer God's Heart

'All gardeners live in beautiful places
Because they make them so '

An innula in bloom in my garden last year

It's really cold again today so for the first time in a long time I'm not spending time in the garden.  My garden has been my sanctuary for a long time. When life was stressful, (and my life was very, very stressful at times!) being in the garden helped.  I found it meditative, relaxing, recalibrating.  After a few hours spent in the garden I always felt better.  But I never thought of it as being part of my art, part of my creative life, until reading this blog, by artist Vicky Stonebridge.  The article is well worth reading because Vicky writes passionately about her garden and what it means to her, and her words inspired me to think again about my own garden and what it truly means to me.

When I stopped painting several people asked me how I coped, how I as a self-proclaimed creative person, managed without being creative and I thought I knew the answer.  I still made things, with my children, or when working with other children both through work and voluntarily. At Rag Tag, I got a great deal of satisfaction from working with creative people and helping people discover their own creativity.  But thanks to Vicky's article I realised that all along I was being creative without really realising it.  Vicky says, "Growing things, or encouraging things to grow and rearranging them is a wonderful artwork, a meditation, a communication." and those are the words which had such an impact on me and made me look at my passion differently. I have been thinking about it, meditating on it, whilst I've been building an alpine bed, and reclaiming a large part of the garden that was left to grow wild when the children were small

This entry is the story of my garden.

The garden before - May 2000
When we moved into our house in 2000 it was a wreck.  It was cold and dirty and pretty horrible, but it was all that we could afford at the time.  My husband had just lost his job, it had all been pretty nasty and very upsetting and we had two small children who were also struggling with the experience and who needed somewhere to play.  So we moved in, camped out in a shabby house and the first thing that we did was work on the garden.


At that point it was a muddy slope full of broken glass and stones, without even any grass - not that we could lay grass as my husband is allergic to grass cuttings.  So we had to think again.  We hired a garden designer (Colin Johnstone of Skye) and sat down and discussed our needs and our very limited budget and then we built a garden.

We needed somewhere safe, that the children could play in, filled with tough plants that could with-stand a bit of punishment.  We needed somewhere that we could sit in and escape the world.

Colin and his men did the landscaping and we bought a few plants and begged a few more and learned that our neighbours were kind and willing to share cuttings and advice and slowly but surely our garden became magical.  We learned it is very fertile, faces south and is hidden from the road.  It gets plenty of rain and just enough sun. It is a perfect place for a garden.


My children played in the garden when they were small.  My daughter pretended that she was Mary Lennox and learnt to skip, my son hunted dinosaurs and they both played pirates.  We sat in the sunshine and told stories.

and stories

 The garden was a place for adventure and it became very overgrown, in a very short time.  Untamed, a beautiful wilderness that the children and their friends and our animals explored.





Occasionally I would spend time reclaiming the paths and trying to tame at least some of the weeds, but, nevertheless, for much of the year it was a riot of colour.  As my children grew I got to spend more time in the garden and now that they are young adults I have more time than ever.  These last few months have been somewhat back-breaking as I dug over soil and got rid of deeply entrenched perennial weeds, but it has been a voyage of discovery too. 

I found toys that my children used to play with, each discovery brings back a memory.

and teddies
I repurposed their old fort, listened to the birds and watched the bees and butterflies (of which there an abundance right now).  I listen to the noises from the street and yet I'm removed from them in my own secret garden.

The fort is now a compost heap

 Every day there are surprises, things that I have forgotten become uncovered or something flowers when there weren't even buds the day before.  In the evenings I often leaf through my well-thumbed gardening books and take inspiration from the pictures and spend far too much time on Pinterest planning and being creative.  My garden brings me joy.

If a garden is like art then to me it's like a watercolour painting, because you can decide the effect you would like to achieve, put together all the components and imagine how it will look and then your creation surprises you.  But once a piece of art is completed the artist has no more input, however, a garden is ever changing ever evolving as these pictures show. I get just as excited when a much cherished plant flowers, or when the sun shines and I get to sit outside as I did yesterday for a couple of hours as I do when I finish a painting.  And if it goes wrong, if something doesn't work, then it doesn't matter because there is always next year.

I love painting, I love my studio, but an artist is always striving to make things better, nothing ever looks as good on paper, or canvas as it did in my head.  In the garden things often look far better, more beautiful than I ever dreamed they would

The viewing deck is at the top of the garden

The view from the deck

French Lavender in the sunshine

Sown by Nature

New alpine bed with cat guardian

The Japanese Maple

The Spirit House that my son bought me from Thailand for my last birthday

I love this statue of a mother and child

A wise guardian

My little 'helper'

The garden as it was today, July 2nd 2013