Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dream work.

                                                               The pool in the dry streambed.

Last night I dreamed of a new way to work with oil paints and so this morning I rush out to the studio, light the fire and, still bundled up against the cold, choose a piece of smooth pressed paper and gave it a spray of clear varnish. A few passes over it with a hair dryer`s warm breath and I am ready to carry out my experiment.

Yesterday I was working with oils on that same type of paper and found that the paint soaked into the surface and defeated any attempts to scrape away the paint back to the white paper - I had to cut deep into the surface to find white again and ended up with a sliced up mess. Now, my thought is to seal the surface with varnish so the oil paints will sit just on the surface and I will be able to scratch down to the white ground and achieve the kind of scratched engraved effect that I am seeking. Now, what to use as a design? I cannot just smear any old splash of colours down on this lovely white surface can I? Nothing comes.

I begin to brush some squiggles with the scraps of colour left from yesterday. Red, blue, a touch of black. Now, out with the knife point and scrape through the fresh paint. It works beautifully! It is time to see if I can now allow my technical thinking to turn away towards a creative solution as well; to make something worthwhile of this splash of colours. I start smearing the painted surface with my finger - such a lovely buttery feel- and blend the colours. Forms start to emerge, I gently urge them out of the background, start scraping the paint away in some places and darkening the edges of some shapes in the foreground. The reds come naturally towards me and the dark blue steps back. Soon it is finished, whatever it is, and gets another spray of varnish for good measure. I move on to some more picture experiments for the rest of the morning, gradually shedding my coat and sweater as the studio warms up.

After lunch I wander back and discover my little experiment looks like something after all: a dry stream bed with a deep hollow in which sits a pool of water. There are rocks on my side of the empty channel with a suggestion of a sandbar and vegetation on the far side. This is what our stream bed looks like in the summer before the deeper pools dry up completely, even though right now it is full to the brim and noisily rushing down into the valley below. I could never have achieved such an effective representation if I had started with this as my objective. I would never have thought to picture this mysterious scene at this time of year. How does the mind work its magic anyway and why was I not completely happy to just think of it as an abstract little sketch? Did part of my mind know what it was doing all along and, with my thinking self signed off, was free to get on with the job?

After all, the technical solution came in a dream and it would seem that this is the dream that was meant to be painted. I am always amazed with the images that come out of the mist and settle themselves comfortably on the paper but am happy to have the help. You do the work, whoever you are, and I`ll work on the framing. What a team.

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