Friday, 13 March 2015

USING COLOUR - RIDING THE RAINBOW


In this blog I am going to ramble on about one of my favourite fascinations - colour. As humans we are truly blessed with being able to see colour because of our eye structure. To other species, the world looks very different, even black and white, according to survival needs. I often wonder how our survival has been linked to colour. It is a vast subject that I am sure I will return to, but for now here are some starting points and thoughts that I hope will stir up your colour senses...

PIGMENT AND PAINT
Vivid colour occurs quite rarely in our natural environment. Flowers are an obvious place we experience colour, also in the patterns of butterflies or tropical fish, a rainbow, sunset or gemstone.

Colour happens in paint because pigments are present. Originally pigments were taken from ores and gems ground very fine. Nowadays, besides these 'older' colours, there are many more that are chemically produced. 
Pigments as powder are combined with liquid to make the paint workable, and may then be dried into solid or powder soluble forms [such as watercolour blocks]. This liquid 'binder' may be gum arabic, oils, or resins. 
Filler is also added - less in better quality paints - which bulks out the volume of the paint, and makes it commercially viable - pure pigment is expensive. This is why prices of the same quantity of paint vary.
The better quality pigment and binder is marketed as 'artists' or 'professional' quality paints which have a richer and more intense colour. Cheaper pigment and increased filler is used for cheaper ‘Student’ quality paints. 
There is a wealth of information about all aspects of paints and more in art supplies catalogues. Here are a few I use in UK that have good information and help:

www.greatart.co.uk
www.jacksonsart.co.uk
www.artsupplies.co.uk  [Ken Bromley]
www.saa.co.uk    [Society of All Artists] 

And of course if you are lucky enough to have a good local art shop, that's a great place to ask questions.


The wide range of colours now available is quite recent. In previous centuries, pigments were costly and highly prized because of their rarity. People travelled great distances to collect naturally occurring pigments from the earth that were sometimes more valuable than gold. In Renaissance commissions the amount of a certain colour to be used [usually red or blue] was often part of the contract so the artist could not get away with a cheaper job, and it added value and prestige to the finished painting. The history of colour pigments is a fascinating one, full of daring treks and amazing - often accidental - discoveries. I do recommend you explore them.
I especially like 'Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox' by Victoria Finlay - packed with stories, facts, and adventures. 

Thanks to the petrochemical discoveries of the 20th century and the resulting synthetic pigments, painters can now explore much wider colour options. New pigments have changed our everyday world, from emulsion paints to fabric dyes, from book illustrations to carpeting - it is a world of new colours. 
But despite all that choice, it is still [thankfully] well nigh impossible to make a pigment that glows like the red of a poppy in the sun or the blue haze of a bank of bluebells beneath the shade of trees. Frustrating, but true. In a later blog I will be comparing the merits of realistic representation and symbolic or stylised interpretations - a whole rich field to mull over.

Our helpful mind processes our everyday experience of colour selecting what it is relevant to the moment, such as traffic lights, or searching for a purple sock. So to develop and widen awareness of colour we need to pay attention to colour deliberately - make it the focus of the moment. 


PERCEPTION AND MIXING
We can train our colour perception in a variety of ways. A lot can be learned about mixing colours by copying other people's paintings. When I was at school we had a project to copy famous paintings, from Constable landscapes to Picasso portraits and Egyptian tomb paintings. Not only was it great fun, it developed skills of really observing colour and mixing paint. Why not try it yourself - you don't have to do a whole painting, maybe just a section that appeals to you.

You will find that pigments have individual characteristics, some fade more than others, and paints are usually graded according to their lightfastness - there's usually a lot of information on the actual product label if you look carefully. 
Some pigments are also more opaque than others - that is, light reflects from the top surface of the paint. Chrome Green is a sturdy, cover-all opaque pigment, whilst Sap Green is a filmy, translucent pigment that allows what is beneath to show through [light travels through and reflects from behind the paint]. Again, there is much information about this on manufacturers websites and catalogues and there is a good list of the attributes of specific pigments online at 'The Painting Guide - Pigments' and more valuable info on www.paintmaking.com.  

I make experiments of shades and mixes on strips of paper or card as a personal reference guide - it's a good idea to write the names and ‘recipes’ alongside the colours for future reference. Whenever I buy a new shade, or range of colours in a different media, I find it really useful to make my own 'chart', especially as some colours are not always apparent before water is added. You will also get to know the translucent and opaque qualities of the pigments this way.




Despite the wide choice of colours available, the problem of reproducing the colours of exactly what we see remains. Artists through time have had their own ways of representing realistic colours, and one solution is to use symbolic colour - which can evoke the observers experience rather than reproduce it exactly. There is no rule that says grass has to be green in a picture!



Symbolic colour can also by-pass the need to mix colours. For when pigments are mixed, they lose intensity. This subtler colours may be what is planned and desired, but it is also what often puts off the beginner, as they feel they have done something wrong, made a muddy mess....  No, this is simply the loss of pigment intensity and happens whenever we mix pigments. I often paint 'straight from the tube' for this very reason. I like bright!

Colour depends not only on its own vibrancy and hue, but also from its interaction with the colours around it - an ever-changing and shifting relationship. This variation happens whether it is in a painting, the colours of an interior, a wrapping paper design... This relationship happens in our experience of our environment - poppies glow redder because of the green or gold colours that surround them and the contrasting dark of their centre 'eye'. Also of course the light in which the colours are seen plays its part.
Josef Albers was a painter and colour theorist in the C20th who evolved a series of experiments around colour behaviour. Look him up - his work is amazing. Based on his method we can play with different coloured backgrounds and like colours placed upon them, and vice versa. Cut up coloured paper works really well for this.  The examples below show the varying interaction of colour and tone, the central blocks are the same on each pair. Yes really! This kind of experimentation really trains the colour perception.









Decorating colour charts are also fun to cut up and play with in this way - especially the custom mixing charts supplied by DIY stores. Try cutting out individual colour squares and placing them on different coloured backgrounds - and keep swapping them round. It's magical!

USING COLOUR STRIPS
I like to use colour strips to explore and focus on colours, and here are a few ways they are used. Take a page of a coloured magazine photo, painting reproduction or advertising brochure and study it simply in terms of the colours. Notice the predominating colour/s and take a separate strip of paper, and mark bands of colour on it - the colour 'ingredients'  of the page, rather like a bar code. Turning it upside down [below middle] will help you look more objectively.




record the colours on a strip of paper



photo cut into strips


Now [above] cut the picture into a few broad strips and re-arrange them so that the mind does not see them with realistic associations and notice how the colours interact in the new arrangement. 
The colour strips can be kept and may form inspirational starting points for other pictures you make, or  colour schemes for a picture starting point. the collection of colours holds the feeling and qualities of the original photo, whether it is sunny meadow, misty street, dark forest or tea table.

I often make a colour strip before I make a painting [below], and pin it up beside the easel, or tape it to the side of the paper I am working on. This initial colour plan helps me stay within a 'family' of colour relationships. And if the colour starts to lose its way - often happens - I can also use the strip to compare and introduce new colours, before committing them on the actual work.


photo collage + colour strip

painting in progress on easel

MUSIC OF COLOUR
The colour  interactions of a picture are very akin to music  - it might be loud, rhythmic and full of gusto, or drift along in muted tones. My spirit guides tell me to 'listen' to the colours and make the patterns and harmonies like melody and rhythm. It is this musicality that we absorb without realising it when we experience a picture, whether it is a photo in a magazine or painting in a gallery.

So I wish you happy listening, observing, appreciating colour... following rainbows...





Sunday, 8 February 2015

BLESSING WITH PAINTINGS

I have a new intention for this blog, which is to share with you thoughts, and creative and technical [how-to] information.
Each entry will have a focus, and also be a chance to share with you what is going on in the studio. I have been very occupied since my last post with publishing the new book, 'Gardens of the Soul: making sacred and shamanic art' and with all the publishing aftermath, interviews etc. It is being well received - full details on the website or on Amazon.
Now it is time for me to re-enter the studio with renewed energy and bring in some new skills - I have signed up on book making and lino printing courses - will post what happens next [subscribe if you don't want to miss it!]

And so to the present, and the theme of this blog, which is exploring the way a picture can be made as a blessing. The following is an account from my book telling the story of a painting that I made as a specific blessing:
BADGER DREAMING
People often underestimate the power of giving blessings. A blessing can be anything from a loving hug to a full on ceremonial event or energy transmission. A large part of my painting work is about making images that act as blessings. We do not need to be authorised, or trained, or specially equipped to send a blessing, whatever form it takes. We ask for the blessing to come from the highest and purest source we know - it is not from our personal energy, we simply make the connecting request.
When making a blessing painting I hold the phrase ‘For all my relations’ in my intent. This dedicates what I am doing to the benefit of all beings, every relative in creation - the trees, waters, creatures, winds, the swimmers and fliers and creepy crawlers. It is a phrase and concept familiar in Native American spirituality.
A blessing by-passes the permission needed for direct healing work, as it does not seek to change or manipulate, it is simply a gift of compassionate love. 
Making a blessing painting answered a dilemma I had a couple of years ago when I had been asked to donate a painting for an auction to raise funds to oppose a local badger cull in Wales, where I live.  Badgers carry TB, and culling them was supposed to stop it spreading to cattle.  My problem was that I did not know whether the cull was necessary, or would even work. So I decided I would send a blessing to the situation and the outcome could be in Spirit’s hands.
With intention I asked for a blessing image for the badger nation, that their tribe would continue strong and also for wisdom to prevail in the heated debates going on around the problem. This is the painting that came to me. I felt the robust sturdiness of the badger people as I worked, their deep and ancient connection with the earth, with digging, with the sensations of being in an underground home.
The spiral composition - an unusual one for me - came instantly as I meditated with the canvas. Then the badger face appeared in the centre of a spiral - I had never drawn a badger before and had to do some drawing from badger photos to get to know exactly what it looked like and connect more deeply with its medicine power. I kept focusing on the intention of bringing in blessing throughout all the processes of making the picture.
The trail of badger prints came next, and there are seven intentionally, so that the blessing is made for the next seven generations of badgers, not just those here at the moment. They plod their way around the spiral and into the future. 

Throughout the book there are 'Suggestion Boxes' to inspire and encourage. Anyone can make a picture life this. You will already have done some, using familiar symbols like hearts and stars, written in cards or letters. You do not need any special materials or skills - just something to draw or colour with, be it biro, felt pen or crayons, and something to do it on, any kind of paper, card or canvas will do. Then with an intention of blessing in your heart, go for it!

SUGGESTION BOX 
Make a painting or drawing to bless a part of our wide family of relatives that you feel needs it; whether it be whales or bees, family or friends, forests or rivers; as you work picture that aspect as vital, healthy and strong. It does not have to be a realistic image - use symbols, colours, that you feel in your heart are right. it can be a simple or  elaborate as you wish - just call to the ‘blessing’ that is needed and trust what imagery comes. Do not let the difficulties, or facts, or size of any ‘problem’ distract you from the process - just focus on the love and power that is coming to them through the blessing painting from Highest Source.

TECHNICAL BITS + TIPS  [happy to answer emails on specific questions]: 
> Any materials are fine. It is the intention that counts, not the finished product - like a love letter to the world.
> Symbols often create a stronger connection to an energy, like a handprint or stick man for a human, a paw print or even the name of the intended recipient. cartoon style teaches and communicates a lot very simply
> Just do it - the more we think about this kind of picture making or try and 'get it right', the more it can seem impossible. Just let the picture appear as you sit with your intention in a quiet space, even if what appears surprises you... 
> Size doesn't matter - if you feel put off by a big piece of paper use a sticky note or postcard, or a blank greetings card. No rules to blessings except keep your request to the highest source you know and keep focusing on the recipient with positive love.
> If the blank whiteness of the paper freaks you out, you can deliberately 'mess it up' with a preliminary layer of crayon or charcoal, splash it with coffee, or a wash of paint - worry will close your heart up, so make marks joyfully! You can always have a practice piece of paper alongside to try things out on as you work - I often do.
> no reason why you should magically be able to draw anything from a star to a badger - find pictures, copy them, trace them, draw over printouts from google, until you get the main construction and shape. Pick out the main construction / bone structure / patterns etc of your subject and remember many 'famous' artists avoided putting in difficult stuff like hands .......  : )

AND FINALLY .... here are some other blessing pictures that I have made, I know that their beautiful energy transmits into the world continually - as your pictures and postcards and notes from the heart will. The last one below is dedicated to the new journey of my friend Ann, a special artist and true earth lover mystic who passed into spirit last week. 

BLESSINGS!

ALL THE HEARTS IN THE WORLD
BIRTH OF A TREE
MOON BLESSING
HARE BLESSING

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Picturing peace and healing

I am still hard at work on the new book [see previous post] and preparations for the Nant-y-Coy residency which is on from August 14th - 19th. Nany-y-Coy is a beautiful old watermill converted to a gallery, giftshop and yummy restaurant at Treffgarne Gorge, Wolfscastle, a Pembrokeshire beauty spot. In addition to seeing my paintings exhibited and watching me at work, the more energetic visitors can also enjoy the nature trails up to the spectacular rocky outcrops above the gallery.
If any of you can drop in I would be delighted to see you.
And do tell anyone else you know who may want to come visit.

The new paintings have taken me into a larger scale, and this does bring a new feel to how I work. On a larger surface the act of painting becomes more expansive, often dance-like.
It also brings challenges to a small studio space and the dance area is rather limited!

Here is a work in progress which I hope to have ready for the residency exhibition.


It is based on the idea of the great Tree of Peace, a part of the setting up of the Iroquois Confederacy on  the North America / Canada region. The warring Native American tribes united under this pact which brought a much needed peace treaty. The story was told of a Great Tree of Peace which was so tall that all peoples in the area could see it standing high above the forest. The people buried their weapons beneath its roots to seal the agreement. And whenever the tribes saw it high in the sky they would remember the agreement. I am painting this to remind myself - and anyone who sees it - that we need to respect each other and creation, bury our weapons, whether cold steel or cold words and thoughts, and find ways to live without conflict.

Intentional painting like this is a beautiful way to send out constructive spirit waves into the world, weaving strength and loving wishes into whatever you feel for in your own heart, whether it is for the whales or bees, the climate, your community, a local river - holding a picture within as you make your physical marks of the subject healed, and whole, and full of well-being and vitality. It doesn't have to be a grand project - it can be a doodle which you do with intent and focus and above all, love.

Everything we send out, our thoughts, words, as well as actions, weaves into the multi-dimensional web of life. This co-creating from the heart and mind really works on all levels, and is scientifically proven to have a beneficial effect on the physical world. So all we need is time set aside to doodle, sketch, write a love letter to the earth, capture those word fragments of healing that will drift into view if we sit in quiet reflection of how truly wonder-ful our world can be.


Recently I have also been guided to paint and 'transmit' the power of meadow with intentional painting. Meadow energy is quiet, gentle, and incredibly ancient, deep and healing. It encompasses the relationships of plants in balance, herbs and grasses and flowers; the insects and creepy crawlies and the humble unseen ones beneath the earth; it honours the flying relatives, the butterflies and hoverflies, the birds and midges; it is a totality of sounds, colours, smells and feels. By working with images of meadow I have come into more and more awareness and contact with its energy and healing 'soft connectedness'. So I send you all some meadow with these pictures.


Walk in Beauty

Faith

Sunday, 4 March 2012

ARTIST IN THE CORNER

For some months I have been working on my new book, provisional title 'Making Sacred Art', for Wisdom Books. It is taking me on a rich journey of discovery about what I actually 'do' - my process as a sacred artist, and through it I am finding many new creative tracks to explore. With over 40 full page paintings and more sketchbook pages, artwork and photos, you can see it is quite a task. But a very exciting one. The eventual book will be published later this year and will be 150 pages full colour, combining stories of my own paintings, technical tips, and suggested ways to explore the different ways sacred art can expand awareness and nourish soul.


                   
Book plan and paintings queue!
Full page illustration in progress

There is a real flowering of visionary, sacred, intentional art right now and in the writing process I am connecting with many wonderful artists via my researches. The common thread with them is the value and power of art to link the soul with healing and nourishing energies. The modern 'icon' movement perhaps. Certainly these artists have deep and beautiful connections to spirit, and the world certainly needs all the connection it can get right now.

At this point you may be imagining I am sitting in a sun-filled studio, filled with inspiring music, engaged in a daily celebration of life through image and paint, with a wide vista of the natural world beyond panoramic windows. Or is that just my fantasy?

Reality check - most of the time is spent in tapping away at my computer, staring blankly at the wall. avoiding housework and re-writing lists of contents and illustrations. The studio is a small bedroom with tiny windows, but yes, I do have a view of my wonderful green Welsh Valley, and the sun often shines through the skylights. Soon the swifts will be swooping past the window into to their nests in the roof above me and I will hear their squabbles and the magical first chirrups of young.

My studio at present
In the process of writing the book I have been aware of how much I love sharing the creative processes of sacred art - both the inner journeying work and the practical art techniques. I also love myth-busting the assumptions so many of us have about 'being an artist'. Like my studio fantasy! Making sacred art is not about 'being' anyone, it is not a job description. It is a 'doing' that is a natural and essential process for healthy living. It is a dance of soul and world, a celebration of our stories and aspirations. It is an act of love and connection.

So .... off soapbox Faith, back in reality.... out of my book labours has come a wish to share more with people how we can all create beautiful expressions from soul and heart. So I am offering myself as an artist in residence - the 'artist in the corner' - to selected venues and groups. For this I will arrive with a small exhibition, set up a temporary studio and offer small workshops, talks, individual guidance and 'have a go' art sessions. I will also work in the temporary studio and be open to visitors watching over my shoulder.
What makes this different to other art residencies? Well, that is where the sacred bit comes in. I am seeking places that link to the sacred in some way, healing centres, retreat houses, holistic health centres, intentional communities and the like. At my last residency at Nant y Coy in 2007, many visitors commented on the atmosphere of peace and healing that made them linger and talk to me about the work and the spiritual aspects of how it is created.
Previous residency at Nant y Coy Gallery studio
Beautiful river walk beside Nant y Coy
So I am really excited about this prospect, and if any of you know of likely places in UK please send me details. I have another residency already booked this year in August at Nant y Coy, a beautiful soul nourishing gallery and restaurant in Wolfscastle, West Wales. do call in if you are holidaying in the area [final dates tbc - watch for details on  www.earthstarcentre.com]

I send you all blessings and sunshine from the Cych valley, catkins, daffodils, woodpeckers and the green shoots of spring.
xxxx