Spots Of Time, Scanning the Gaps and Night Drawing

Several things are happening at once!… I’m going up to the Isle of Iona next week to be Artist In Residence for a month, so preparations are under way and excitement is mounting! I’m keen to finish the paintings I am working on in the studio before I go.

More about this later, first some drawings outside… I had a great time watching snow clouds coming over the lake. Then an ominous shift in water surface, graying colours and blasts of freezing air and I was caught in a sleet storm. It was challenging keeping up with the colour changes and disappearing landscape as well as keeping hold of everything! Inevitably the sleet came fast and furious and eventually the gusts of wind threatened to blow my paints in the lake. Time to retreat! Drenched and strangely invigorated I took my soaking sketchbook home to dry .

I worked on the drawings afterwards and love the marks made by the weather. These pages have the movement of the clouds and the freshening wind, I think.

January also saw me doing some nighttime drawing. A bright moonlit night on the high, open expanse of Caldbeck Common, red lights of the TV mast, clouds moving across quite fast, cold, an almost full moon. It’s a strangely private and appealing thing drawing at night.

Drawing the moon seems to give another perspective on life, it brings a fresh sense of scale and has given rise to some “cosmic” marks in my work lately and various experiments with paint.

Here are some photos of the work in my studio today. Some of these are finished paintings (left on the wall to inform the new work) others are still evolving.

I always have books open on the studio chair and recently these have included Pierre Bonnard , Chinese Painting and the Abstract Expressionist Catalogue (from the recent exhibition at the RA).

“Spots Of Time” Oil, Acrylic and Pencil on Canvas by Alison Critchlow



I have taken a series of photos of this picture as it developed. The constantly updating tiles on my phone were the initial inspiration. I liked the idea of using that structure and concept to start a painting. I wanted each square to be like a compressed pocket of time filled with sensations and observations from different days spent at the lake.

Looking at the painting reminds me of dropping a ball bearing into a maze and watching the route it takes. Because there is no focal point your eye makes its own journey through the squares, tracking a rhythm based on colours, marks, patterns. It finds several easy routes but is halted each time and eventually tries being systematic and reading from the top, from left to right, like a piece of text… until it diverts again onto another route of associations. Rather like following a train of thought then veering off on a tangent before re-joining the flow.

Your own ability to find sequences and make connections creates the movement across the picture. In this way the viewer makes their own “reading” of the painting. A bit similar to Chinese hand scrolls, which do not try to depict anything, instead they chart an inner journey. The scrolls also have no static viewpoint, so the same painting can take you through various paths, twists and turns by showing you the view from above, below, close up, at a distance and all of this can be incorporated in one painting. The marks too are all about suggestion, there is no superfluous detail, brushstrokes and textures are used as abstract marks in their own right. Ancient and very modern at the same time! Very inspiring. Literally a journey through time.

I was speaking to Susan from the Wordsworth Trust recently and told her about this painting, “Oh” she said “It’s like Wordsworth’s spots of time“. What a wonderful phrase and she is right… William Wordsworth coined this phrase to explain the way childhood memories can nourish the imagination and be recalled to inspire and uplift a person in moments of drudgery.

Another friend said it reminded her of a QR Code. I really liked that! That is exactly it; the painting seems to inhabit the space somewhere between a “Spot Of Time” and a QR Code.

A condensed reference for the memory, as well as a means of sharing information and perceptions.

Apparently bar codes are read by scanning the gaps between the printed lines. I’m not sure if QR codes work in the same way but I like this idea. It seems to me that the “gaps” between the more concrete areas have infinite possibilities.

It was important to me that this painting was quite loose and freely painted; able to overlap or move across into other squares. There needed to be spots of colour and areas where paint has seeped between the grid, hinting at these gaps. So “scanning the gaps” seems very relevant, as does storing data. Encoding spots of time in fact!

Now back to Iona preparations… so far I have booked the ferry ticket and ordered all the essential paint supplies. Very exciting ! I have a studio to use up there and am planning on working outside as much as possible, so I am priming boards, stretching canvases and plan to pack up oil paint and all things waterproof! All being well my next blog post will be from the Hebrides!