Surrendering to Paint

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Detail: Bow Wave (watercolour) work in progress

It’s happened again tonight, a delicious madness that ends in tears which merge, often literally, with the paint itself. I find myself on the other side of the room from my easel, not really sure how I got there, heart racing, gulping air and crying out. It sounds painful and in some ways it is, but it’s become a regular and welcome experience in my new work about the sea.

I suppose it could be like drowning, raw and visceral. I think painting the sea means touching the power of it and the cycles of tides and living species submerged in it through a process of examining what it looks and sounds and smells like, what it means, the stories it carries, the stories I carry, and so on.

Then there’s the technical stuff I really love – a flick of masking fluid here, some broad welts of squid-ink there, a fat hogshair brush or a sword-cut sable. I feel like a surgeon under my spotlight, selecting a series of precision tools. I’m slicing in, not knowing what I’ll find, checking I’ve got all the right settings, checking all the records I’ve gathered which culminate in this operation. I’ve painted this wave before but it’s not the wave I’m painting – I’m searching for something in the experience of this bow-wave; it’s not what I set out to do but it’s how I discover whatever it was that subconsciously drew my attention.

The paint runs and merges. I have a new brush, a filbert with whiskers which tickle the thick paper and send little snake tongues of acid yellow into a blend of phthalocyanine, alizarin and paynes grey. Across the lacy swirls of masking fluid it settles into small muddy dots on the surface and with a slap of lamp black the underside of the wave makes its presence known.

At once the feeling is of both power and vulnerability. The lacy spray of seawater/paint catches me unawares and I’m at the mercy of both the sea and the art itself. Against all the complexities of managing daily life this feels elemental and necessary!

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