A few days ago I came across the images associated with this major turning point in my artistic life, the point at which I realised I no longer needed to be precise all the time and that I had finally acquired the ability to scribble. And since, for some people, that seems an odd sort of aspiration I thought I'd share a little bit about what happened and why I regarded it as "a good thing".
Neither of the images I'm posting are a great sketch or a great painting - but both will always be special to me because they mark the corner that I turned................
Before I begin I probably need to explain that I've always been "very good at drawing". I personally found that having an emphasis on being accurate made it almost impossible to sketch and scribble. I was very much into having control over my pencil of choice and being precise. If I tried to loosen up my drawing I'd end up thinking "that's not right" and then focus on correcting a drawing rather than making a picture with enough marks to make sense of it.
The turning point came while on my second painting trip to Bali in 1997. We stayed in Ubud (the cultural capital of Bali) and visited a cafe which has a pretty intimidating sort of backdrop for an artist. To quote from the current website for the Cafe Lotus (and do check it for the photos which show what I mean).
The setting is magnificent even by Balinese standards: a large lotus pond framed by ancient flowering trees with one of Ubud's main temple complex, Pura Taman Kemuda Saraswati, serving as a backdrop.It has potential paintings every which way you turn - the first time I visited in 1992 I think I spent about an hour wandering round and round totally transfixed by the place and totally unable to work out what to do.
So on my second visit, I was armed with my sketch book and viewfinder and was determined to make life a bit easier for myself by working out what I was going to do "properly".
After wandering around with the viewfinder, I plumped for painting the view from the top of a stone plinth set into one side of the huge lotus pond which looked down on the pond and towards the long verandah area where people sat at rattan tables eating and drinking. In theory I was going to do the classic thumbnail sketch and work out the crop (the edges of the image), define and check my pattern of values in monochrome and work out what I wanted my focal point to be and adjust as required. All in a "thumbnail" of course!
In practice, it didn't quite work out like that. My so-called "thumbnail" was a complete page of an A4 size sketchbook! But the focus on working out what to do and making decisions was there.
The really important thing about this drawing is that it is the very first one in which I didn't try to do a perfect drawing or even complete it when tackling a subject.
I knew that I needed to have some sense of the patterns in terms of the main forms and the values within the range that appeared relevant to this painting - but beyond that, time spent on drawing meant less time for painting. So I scribbled in as much detail as was required............
Focusing on a sketch as a working drawing rather than as an end in itself also meant that I could record important notes about the scene on the facing page of the double page spread. As I made my sketch I noted down what seemed to me to be the important things I needed to remember. On this occasion my page of notes is headed up with "rhythms" (which was obviously what I wanted the whole picture to focus on) "light and shade passages" and "verticals"(against the top section - the verandah area), "diagonal plates" as a reminder of how the lotus leaves looked and tilted and how they needed to be located on the page (note the single diagonal line in the drawing) and "horizontal" for the bottom section (reminding me about how the water looked). I wasn't a very articulate note-maker back then but I do find it interesting that those few scribbles and notes bring back my intentions and things I noticed on the day I was there.
Making notes is a practise which I continue with to this day. I don't always get to finish work on site and it's always useful to have reminders of what the colours were, what the texture of something is or looks like or whatever else seems relevant such as how the marks need to be made.
Notes which take you back to the place are also really helpful. I have one sketch where I wrote down all the songs being played while I worked and every time I look at that list I am taken straight back to that place. What better way of getting yourself back into the groove when picking up a painting to complete it?
When I do these sketches now I usually put them on the ground where I can see them easily while I do my plein air painting. (And that's always a good test of whether value pattern works or not as well). In that way I can stay focused on what it was that drew me to that scenes and how I envisaged it being at the beginning. That's not to say I don't make choices and even change my mind as the painting progresses - but it does help me to avoid losing my way. Which can be particularly helpful if the painting is large and/or complex and needs to be simplified. And believe me painting lotus pools come into that category.
And this is the large pastel painting (25.5" x 19.5") I did at the cafe. I still enjoy drawing something accurately if that's what takes my fancy - but now I have a choice and I can scribble too if I want too!