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  • Writer's pictureAnna Curston

Thoughts from the Art Studio: 29th February – 19th March 2024

Hello lovely people! I am back again - with that art studio update I promised! I have actually been consistent with not only painting, but also sketchbook work, and writing notes on each ‘studio’ session. I am more immersed in art than I have been since I finished my degree, so I think that perhaps the winds are finally changing on my art slump! It is still early days, but I’m feeling happy and confident!

Back at the end of February, I decided that I wanted to make a real effort to get back into art. Not just working on big paintings, not just using painting as a tool to interact with astronomy, but working on the foundations of my practice and reminding myself of why I loved my degree so much. As well as making an effort to continue developing my skills as an artist.

I began with colour mixing, reminding myself of secondary colours, how to mute highly saturated colour by mixing them with their complementary, and how to create coloured greys. I got hands on with my colours (it is important to remember that even though ‘red and blue make purple’, your specific pigments will make very specific variations of purple and so your colour is limited by the specific pigments you own). I usually only work in 1 or 2 colours (plus black and white) so I want to push myself to explore a more varied use of colour. It could also be fun in the future to explore substituting a dark, complementary colour for black to see how this changes the look of a colour scheme. (instead of red on black and white, try red on dark green and white for example)

For the time being, I need to remove all ‘constraints’ from myself and my work. I intend to let my subconscious guide my paintings for now, rather than a specific idea. My only guiding principles will be colour, composition and paint - just like the good old days.

With this in mind, I created a new painting. The composition came from an old Autumn 2021 sketchbook; I played around with it until I was satisfied with how it fitted into a circular canvas shape. After the composition, the only ‘planning’ I did was pick out two colours: Brick Red and Phthalo Blue. After that, I just let my intuition guide me through the painting, and it began much like my paintings have done for the past two and a half years. I put down come initial colour, visual texture and marked out the starting composition on the surface (and not forgetting the obligatory paint pouring). This time, however, I didn’t just utilise my ‘classic’ pouring technique, I also used dripping. I haven’t (intentionally at least) used paint drips in my work since the autumn/winter of 2021, but I felt drawn to do it for this painting. So, I did.

The dripping went far better than I expected. I managed to get the paint just the right viscosity to allow me to control the drips – luck more than judgement; it is not an exact art (at least not the way I do it!) I also did not allow myself to use any black in the painting, forcing myself to contend with directly interacting colours. (Black acts as a calming separator for colours, allowing more colours and textures to be near each other without feeling too busy/ messy/ confused. It stops areas of colour from interacting and so is a great tool for calming down paintings.)

A circular canvas with an abstract painting made of a geometric shapes and a swirling pattern of blue, purple, yellow, red and orange. Like the night sky peaking through a haze of light pollution
Peaking Through - Acrylic on Canvas - March 2024

When I initially put the green on this painting, I thought I had ruined it. As it was, it looked wildly out of place and was doing odd things with the other colours. However, in an impulsive decision inspired by flowers, a splatter of bright orange over the top of it brought it back into harmony with the rest of the painting.

Creating this painting helped me come to a bit of a realisation with my use of colour, see my last post for details, but despite the laziness, I think the colours work together.

I have yet to begin a new painting, but I have begun preparations. Due to the fact I am focusing a lot on my colours now, I have not instantly jumped into a new work, but am experimenting with ideas beforehand. My explorations of colour (not just for the next painting but for all future ideas) started with me beginning to break down some of my favourite artist’s paintings into their constituent colours. It was during the breakdown of a Milhazes and a Rae work that I found the two colours (an orange and green) that have inspired the beginnings of a new colour scheme for my next painting.

A page from a sketchbook. Colour swatches. Exploring a new colour scheme for a new painting
Working on a new colour palette

I came up with two versions of the same colour palette; one felt warmer in tone, the other cooler. I decided to work with the cooler toned, ultramarine based blue colour palette (the only difference between the two versions is one used ultramarine blue, the other, phthalo blue). I like both, but the phthalo palette felt a bit flashy and separated compared to the the ultramarine palette. This I presume is down to two factors: ultramarine is a ‘softer’ and less intense hue than phthalo blue, and crucially, all the colours in the ultramarine palette share a colour component with at least one of the other colours in the set (the same is not true for the other version). (The blue, for example, shares a component of pyrrole orange with the orange colour and ultramarine blue with the purple) The colours feel more cohesive because of this.

I also have been once again ‘collecting’ compositions. I haven’t done this in a while as I’d been rigidly, solely using astronomy for inspiration and thus only finding compositions from space objects or directly from my head. There is no reason however, that I should not still maintain the practice of searching for compositions around me; I don’t even have to use them if I don’t want to, but it is good observational practice.

The compositions I have collected thus far are quite varied, but due to my current train of thought, they naturally narrow down quite a bit. Some are flatter, others more layered, and there are a few very simple ones that aren't right for me to look at right now, but could be really interesting to explore at a later date.

It may not have escaped your notice that my paintings tend to be quite busy and complicated; I tend to stay away from simplicity as I think it scares me a little. The less is on a painting, the more exposed all your marks feel. I think that it could be a really good challenge to set myself the goal of creating a series of very simple paintings at some point. But we shall see what the future holds!

I feel like I am quite close to starting to put paint on an actual new surface now, and I’m pretty excited by it. I feel like I have finally remembered why I like art and why I like painting, and it has stopped feeling like a task and started feeling like something I need to do again. Huzzah!

I will finish on that positive note and wish you all a good week ahead. Stay curious and creative, and I’ll see you next time!


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