I'm learning so much by doing research and preparation for the class I'm going to teach - so many gaps are appearing in my knowledge, it's a little unnerving. I am able to take a step back from my ego and say to myself that this is all part of the process of growing as an artist, but I can't help feeling that the shaky foundations upon which I've built my craft all need to be ripped out and replaced. This is OK though, a bit of updating is long overdue, and I think I'll come out the other end with more confidence.
The process really started back in April, when I did the workshop with Carol Marine in Santa Fe. She took us through some colour theory and a practical application of its principals. I realised with a little shame then that I have very little real knowledge of colour. I work intuitively, and this gets me by - I kind of 'knew' how to mix colours, in a really basic way which I couldn't explain. Carol's demonstration was a real eye opener, and the resulting works I did with my new visual vocabulary were by far the best paintings I'd ever done. There were still problems with my technique though - I was still flying by the set of my pants really, and today I found out why.
I painted a colour wheel for the first time today.
I've got a degree in art, and have spent the past 15 years making a career from painting, and I can't believe I somehow missed out on this really crucial lesson. I know a lot of artists I can engage in mutual bitching sessions about the quality of art education - both in Britain and America, and yet nothing really makes up for the idiotic ethos many art schools uphold regarding basic skills. So much emphasis is placed on being the most shocking 'artist' that people like myself who actually want to learn the traditional skills our forebears spent their lifetimes perfecting, don't get the opportunity until they leave school - and find a workshop taught by someone who cares enough about art to pick up the 'creative baton' and run with it some more.
And whilst I'm ranting, I would like to point out that the lack on instruction we had as regards health and safety practice in the studio, was not just ignorant, but dangerous. I'll be the first to admit that my cavalier attitude to safety is probably hard-wired into my personality (I'm also a rock climber) but when we were introduced to oil painting on the good old foundation course at Parc Menai - we were never warned about the perils of inhaling turps, or the cadmium and lead in our paints. We didn't have good ventilation, and weren't told that eating your lunch or smoking with oily hands was perhaps not a good idea. I realise that common sense should have prevailed, but excitable 17 year olds rarely think about their own mortality in that way.
My Environmental Scientist husband is probably going to read this with some relief, and wry smile, as he has been horrified at my appalling ignorance of safety in the studio. He built me a great ventilation box which attaches to my easel (thankyou Carol, again), and gently reminds me about safety when I'm caught up in the moment. I'm very stubborn though, and it takes some tact and patience on his part. I'm coming round to the concept of altering my practice to accomodate good healthy habits step by step. So much is ingrained in my artist behaviour that it's really hard to maintain my motivation when things aren't organised like they were. I've just moved into a new studio too, and I feel like a cat padding round and round until I'm ready and comfortable to work again.
I'm not going to start painting in gloves though - old habits die hard and I can't bear the lack of contact with the wood of my brush. I also refuse to wear a helmet when I'm climbing. I know that seems stupid to some people, but I've actually given up the type of climbing where it's most likely I'll sustain a head injury.
I've always been a very tactile artist, enjoying the mess and chaos of the creative whirlwind. The trick now might seem to be to find a balance between intuitive chaos, and considered, skillful markmaking.
The colour wheel was fun, in a slighty nerdy way. I'm not very adept at left-brain activities, but I find the challenge stimulating if it's on my own terms. The turquiose I was finding it impossible to mix in Santa Fe just came right out, and now I know how to mix it and many, many other really beautiful colours, I can feel the creative block I've been fighting with for the past few months lifting....right , I'm off to paint - yipee!!