Monochrome still-life, four legged mobility and the birth of the Printmaking Room

Any visit to YouTube I make tends to take me on a convoluted journey, not always where I would want to go but now and again to a valuable discovery. That’s how I discovered the channel of Alex Tzavaras called Simplify Drawing and Painting. In particular I was intrigued by a very basic monochrome sketch video of an onion and a mug and it’s making something so basic, and the removal of a broad selection of colours and painting subjects to enable real learning to take place. Alex, thanks by the way, I really enjoy your channel.

I decided to do something, I’m falling into the trap of thinking every canvas or paper I work on has to end up as something labelled and priced up ready for a buyer! That’s not how it should be at all. Alex endorses the message that sketching in oil, charcoal or whatever, but simply, is like training in a gym for an athlete and I tend to agree. That doesn’t mean the work has no value, if anything the value comes from the finished piece and the lessons learned by its production.

I took about twenty minutes to make the sketch along with the video although in bad light and with the computer screen on pause. Not displeased with the result and needing to explore more, I headed down to the studio to set up another still life and have some back to basics practice. So, I found a small canvas, an empty wine bottle and a tall thin pewter jug that I spotted in a junk shop in Stavanger and went about creating the scene. Once, I watched a video where Mark Carder is setting up a still life in his awesome, home-made lightbox (my next project) and it took him days! I thought to myself ‘seriously? Just get on with it’ but trying it for myself I can totally understand why he took so long. I had a very dodgy arrangement with an industrial lamp balancing above my objects, I decided to add one of my printmaking rollers (I’m supposed to say ‘brayer’ by the way) and tried endless set-ups, light positions and additional objects. The process probably took me over an hour until I found something worthy.

Quick study in oil, raw umber and white on oil painting paper.

I used a blob of burnt umber mixed with a blob of a Vasari colour I love called Shale, and a blob of titanium white. It felt strange with so little squeezed onto my palette and i was physically stopping myself adding ultramarine and indigo. I went with it, through the drawing stage. I spent too long drawing, the painting took so much lifework away, it’s like an overelaborate safety net that actually clogs up the painting process. It is important but trusting myself to paint should be more relevant. Lines down, I added my darkest darks, worked out the highlights and the mid tones, to put it into words is a challenge because it felt like a blur. I really was absorbed, I had my tea, music and no distractions so I got lost in the moment and actually had a lovely evening. I kinda know when it’s okay because I constantly look at my work and it doesn’t make me want to fiddle with it or feel embarrassed by it, there were even parts of it where I thought ‘yes, keep doing it that way’ and in this one it was the roller! During the painting process this was the area I had tried least on, that sounds bad… I mean I kept it loose with the intention of coming back to it at the end. When the ‘end’ finally came I looked at it and felt it needed to be left as it is!

Study of bottle, jug and brayer. Oil on canvas, Burnt umber & shale and titanium white.

The next day I toyed with the idea of adding colour but decided against it, not because it would look bad but perhaps setting up another still life and using a very limited palette would be a more valuable experience. In all honesty I liked looking at this little study too and I’ve been obsessing about doing more ever since…. but when you have a ton of other things to do it may have to go on hold.

Cendi’s stuff. Oil on linen

I’m loving working in the studio now, it’s a whole different level. I like having my dog with me and when I’m in the studio and she’s home alone I’m always distracted and perhaps a little guilty she may be bored. She’s absolutely chilled, doesn’t ruin or chew anything but we just like being together. I rode my bike to the studio with Tanzie running alongside on her lead, she was really well behave but it’s just an accident waiting to happen so I needed an answer.

The answer came in the form of the Croozer XXL dog trailer! It was expensive, fiddly to assemble (the instructions were in German) and it’s very big! However, it’s amazing build quality, genius design, sturdy and above all safe! We’ve had a few test runs and Tanzie is okay but needs a lot of persuasion to get in. She is fascinated by it and sniffs around it with great excitement – I know this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

“Your carriage awaits Tanzie… err Tanzie…..hello Tanzie?…….”

Finally the printmaking room is done!! I built the shelves last week and this week gradually filled them with beautiful printmaking papers as well as other types like textured Himalayan and toothed, tinted pastel paper. It’s great having the room to lay them out and not all squeezed into a display case and I take such delight in just looking at them, is that odd? It’s so much better than them being hidden in a zipped up bag that isn’t very accessible.

The graffiti on my printmaking room door

The printmaking inks look beautiful on the shelves as do the brayers on their individual hooks. But it’s also very practical, I can grab what I need with minimal disruption. So now the challenge will be to produce my first edition for Space 2:0. I’m a big fan of the changing seasons and as we approach Autumn and the beautiful shift in colours… and with a show coming up soon, it is a great idea to produce some prints to celebrate that, the same goes for winter too. I keep sketchbooks and drawing things at home so I can play with ideas anywhere really! I will get out and about with my camera for reference shots too.

Is it weird that I just love looking at this view?
Could this be my new ‘happy place’?

This coming week will be interesting, Jo is home and not working away, I have transport for me and doggo and one week to go before I head to Edinburgh for a portrait painting workshop with Alan McGowan, it’s a birthday present from Jo and I am delighted although we are apart and Tanzie in a kennel 🙁 there’s no way around it and I am very excited. A little worried about getting my paintings home again especially as I am meeting Jo in The Hague at the weekend and carting a weeks worth of wet portraits with me. We love The Hague, we lived there for over a year and it feels like coming home, might even sketch! I’ll check in soon with updates on all of this, bye for now.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Marilyn

    Love learning about your thought processes, challenges and things that bring you joy

    1. John

      And it’s always a pleasure to hear from you!! Aren’t you overdue a trip to Stavanger?

      1. Marilyn French St. George

        Oh wow, I’d love too!!! Definitely overdue.

        1. John

          Get it sorted then 😉

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