Big little garden of delights


I’m quietly optimistic that I may have found a new, old way of working that suits me down to the ground and I’m quite confident it will open the door to some exciting new paintings.

When it comes to my ‘arty’ activities I have a very specific requirements and starting points. I’m always looking for a simple activity that I can get on with without thinking too much while I (half!) listen to free podcasts of Zen meditation talks from the San Francisco Zen Center (ha ha!) website www.SFZC.org

And, because I’ll be flying off to SE Asia again in a few weeks for a lovely 3 months in Cambodia and Laos, I need something that’s easy to carry with me; so nothing too big or heavy!

What drawing gives me is a quiet, relaxed and contemplative space where I choose to sit and wile away many, many enjoyable hours doodling while I soak up the inspiration and the insights in those Zen talks. And because that’s what it’s all about and I’m enjoying the process rather than being in a hurry to get something finished, naturally I’ve tended to work on small, highly detailed drawings that I hope have a sense of spaciousness about them.

Like the Buddhist monks with their wonderful sand mandalas, I’m always hoping my drawings convey something of that Zen commitment to Living in the Moment that inspires them but not being a religious person myself I haven’t been able to settle with Buddhist imagery as the way forward. In finding images that say something about our ‘Ground of Being’ I have often preferred to look at our place in Nature.

After seven years of making, ‘Life in the Hedgerow’ acrylic ink drawings, recently I’ve had a sense of ‘casting around’ for another, equally rich seam of drawing/painting possibilities to create that same space. And I think I’ve found it!

On a lovely, if slightly chilly October day last week I went out into the little garden in front of our house and I took some photos of the very Octobery and seasonal shrubs and plants that are doing their thing there.

Then I surprised myself, once again, by choosing a completely different photographic starting point to the one that I had planned! Instead of imagining a stylised picture, combining all those wonderful Autumn plants and setting them in a beautiful rural English landscape, rendered in a limited colour palette using a detailed ‘illustration’ style, I found myself fascinated by just one of those photos and the beautiful, subdued, autumnal colours in it.

So I’ve taken that photo as my starting point! The problem was, ‘copying’ a photo to make a painting is something that ceased to interest me many years ago. So I needed to find a way of working with that photograph that would capture my imagination and open the door to many more of those hours of peaceful contemplation ‘while drawing occurs’ that I love.

As it happens, I’ve been digging out some old Street Art books these last couple of weeks, hoping to stimulate my creative ‘street’ eyes by flooding them with images of graffiti and street art, so when it came to deciding what to do with my photograph this time, I remembered how much I enjoyed making a wall-sized mural out of lots of wooden panels with lots of of collectors motorcycles painted on them, for a friend of mine in the Eighties. I remembered that lively, big painting experience.

So I decided to make something big out of something small! And to use a method that would deliberately ‘take a long time’, as in, involving many hours of drawing while listening to podcasts!

And that was it really! One thing led to another and before you know it I’d put the photo on Photoshop and divided it into a 16 square grid. Then I’d cut out 16 square pieces of card that will eventually become the surface of a metre square painting.

Then, being a glutton for peace and quiet, I went back to Photoshop and divided the first of those 16 small squares into 16 even smaller squares!

And then - seeing as I have all the time in the world! - decided to do a series of rough drawings first using the grid of those 16 smaller squares to transfer (copy! Ha ha!) the image on to paper before tracing a fair version on to the card.

So, the idea is that sixteen 30 cm square panels of card will become individual acrylic paintings that will combine, edge to edge, to make one big, highly detailed, beautiful square acrylic painting that looks a bit like a little patch of my front garden.

At least, that’s the plan, and so far I’m really enjoying it. It suits me down to the ground!

You know what they say, it takes all sorts!!!!


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