Language of Lines

My drawings in Dove Cottage garden usually start by finding a good twig. I dip it carefully into the ink bottle and I’m away. It seems appropriate to use sticks from the garden to make drawings and they tend to make interesting marks. I also use a trusty old box of watercolours and I have a favourite bench!

I have been painting in the garden intermittently for almost a year. As the seasons have rolled by I have discovered how much I enjoy the simplicity and transparency of watercolour.

I’ve been watching the gardens ebb and flow; the play of light across leaves; the pace of flower and shadow rhythms.

One day in early summer, I finished a sketch book and went along to the Heaton Cooper Studio shop for another (best sketch books in Cumbria) and found myself buying a concertina book instead. I can’t tell you how thrilling this has been! The excitement of opening up a new sketch book is always a great thing. But this was different. Somehow the folded format seemed to give me permission to use it in an entirely different way. I opened the cover, paused, smiled, then opened it in the middle, that was better. It felt right to start at the mid point… there was scope to work in both directions then and let the lines move across pages and fold into others. This book allows a timescale to be woven into the drawings. How exciting. So I started here…

I had found the perfect book. The marks kept moving in a fluid way across the pages. As I was looking and translating the light and colours on the flowers and leaves as they moved, I could just open up the next fold and continue… without even waiting for things to dry. It was seamless, and allowed the drawing to grow organically. Which it did…

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At some point I allowed the pages to unfold and they cascaded over the end of the bench… but I was so absorbed it didn’t matter. Then, of course, I could work in the other direction. A sort of counter drift of seed heads and leaves which was just visible like an undercurrent behind the flowers could also be painted… all at once! A new world of sketch book possibility was opening up!

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These were not static pages and I didn’t feel the need to work on them in any fixed order. After about an hour, I had a look at what I had drawn and decided to work back across in the other direction… letting new drifts of colour spill onto the pages in every direction is very liberating.

This was so much fun and it replicated the way I was looking at the combinations of flowers and leaves. I’ve developed a way of letting my eye sort of rove across them, so that there is not one focal point so much as a drifting across. I have been trying to paint the resulting rhythm… this book is opening up all sorts of new territory. It seems to fit with ideas I have been following in the studio, of making passages of paint which replicate the passage of time as your eye moves across them… an abstract way of trying to paint a change of state (at the moment daylight through to darkness… see the ‘Gloaming” blogpost)

I have taken the same book back several times over the last few months and so it has become a record of time passing. It also has various different rhythms overlaid on some pages.

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There can be one rhythm along the bottom of the page whilst another melody entirely can coexist at the top… and a few accents of colour can pick up a general thread throughout the book.

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This is exactly the right way to be painting my experiences in Dove Cottage garden. The tiny transitions and details can sit side by side with big sweeps of colour and atmospheric dispersion.

I reach for the perfect twig and make some careful slow lines, let myself spend time really looking at details… the delicate lines move over onto some bold swathes of colour from a previous session, but I like that… it sums up how this process is working… a sort of layering of experience and thinking is taking place… perhaps that is how thinking occurs here?

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An abstract language of marks is emerging and I am finding that it accurately describes my observations. But this is an abstract language. It is not representation. It is communication. More akin to reading a poem than looking at a painting. There is no focal point, rather a continuing flow… the rhythm changes and sometimes almost stops. It is as much about the gaps and pauses as the marks on the paper.

In places the marks are quiet and delicate. In others they are loud and bombastic. There is scope for reflection and echoing. Shapes might be mirrored or return in subtle formation over on the other side. Oh the other side. Of course, I flip the book over and begin (in the middle again) on the back.

And then of course I started to think about the very idea of this being a book. How appropriate to find marks landing on these pages which were replicating the rhythm and flow of the Wordsworth’s garden. Maybe this is becoming a sort of garden script? A language of marks and colours specific to this place. A contemporary language of paint that can sit side by side and converse with romantic era poetry.

The folds can act like a full stop or a scene change. Viewpoints can alter from one fold to the next… scale can too…

This amazing concertina extends to 70 pages and is double sided. It can be ‘read’ in any direction. The nature of the book means that associations and links can be made across time, as one page happily falls open next to another which might have been painted two months before. In the process of leafing through, new propositions are presented.

Then it occurred to me. This was not a sketch book in the usual way. This little book could become a finished piece in its own right… not a means to an end but an actual document of this experience. A collection of moments drawn from one spot. It can be ‘read’ in its own way.

Summer breezes might be persuaded to fill the pages, it can accommodate. Currents of air and counter currents, a scent can drift through. It has no need to conform to rules, it can record high level bird song with the low shuffle of leaves all at the same time.

It seems to me that painting is a poetic language which does not require translation. I have had some fascinating conversations in the garden with people of all ages from all over the world. Sometimes there is a language barrier, but the paintings seem to bridge the gap. I enjoyed a very companionable half hour recently painting beside an elderly Japanese lady who seemed to thoroughly enjoy watching my painting spread across the zig zags and who I think understood without any need for words what I was interested in.