What a difficult year 2020 has been for everyone, the world over. I have heard of much grief and loss – and what is more, loss that cannot be mourned in the normal way. I learned many things this year (as I am sure has everyone) but for the first time I understood that being able to mourn properly and attend a funeral is in fact a blessing and something to be grateful for, even as one deals with death. Being able to share that difficult moment with loved ones and friends, through which the heart grows bigger even if it is in pain, is, I now understand, a great privilege.
How many other things, therefore, have I overlooked? How many things seem only awful on the face of it, but actually contain glimpses of light and love and opportunities to learn? Perhaps that is the theme of the entire pandemic, this defining memory of 2020. So while we have witnessed political turmoil, the sorry outcome of untempered individualism (remember in the UK the panic bulk-buying and the empty shelves while some were left with nothing?), and suffering and sorrow on many levels, we have also witnessed the best of humanity. The depths of human compassion and fortitude; the selfless service of key-workers from hospital staff to delivery people; the calls for justice; the small kindnesses of neighbours or people we barely know; the long-distance support between families and friends and colleagues; the extra effort taken to say ‘take care’ and ‘stay safe’ at the ends of emails that no longer feel quite as robotic as they used to.
Even in the coldness and darkness of winter, there is beauty.
So with that knowledge, I thought I would express something of it via a paintbrush. With the announcement of ‘Tier 4’ lockdown (as someone commented, it was like having a question on a topic that wasn’t even on the syllabus thrown into the exam) and with families cut off from being together over Christmas, everyone I know has been feeling quite down. This called for a painting that was both calming and joyous to lift my spirits – to search for that light in the dark.
I usually use watercolours but this time I opted for acrylics knowing how they add vibrancy and boldness to a painting. The medium we choose in our art is more than that, it is also a statement.
Now I stress, this was rather experimental. The end result was not important here – the process was. Using art, the strokes of the brush, seeing colour, and creating something out of ‘nothing’ (of course it is not out of nothing but out of an unseen or unknown gift), as a way of manifesting the peace that lies within all of us but gets crowded out by noise and worry, was the point here. To not fuss with perfection or realism or pre-sketches – Simply. Paint.
Just as well, because I did not expect the colours to come out quite so bright. The yellow was particularly dazzling.
Here is what I mean – stage 1:
I thought I would be able to tone down the colours of the smial doors and windows (the lemon, lime, and three satsumas) and those gravel lanes. I’m usually able to subdue colours with overlay of duller colours or blotting (ah, the simplicity of watercolour!). So I stayed optimistic about those. Speaking of simplicity, the hobbits who live here might be of modest means, as I did not give them a front garden or gate. That is alright, I want to celebrate those hobbits on this occasion.
The trees though were a lot of fun. They had to be conifers, given the season, and they would be covered with layers of snow. So I just left gaps between the leaves to create that effect. After this picture I went back to the leaves and darkened them in places, which added a sense of depth.
I enjoyed painting the deep blue evening sky with a thick broad brush, very cathartic – a win for acrylic paint there. Ultramarine and Phthalo blue mixed to varying degrees is what you see.
Stage 2: I tried to then fix up the houses and the lanes and discovered that overlaying does not really tone anything down – it just, well, overlays with a brand new colour. Try as I might nothing could alter the fact I had two Yellow Brick Roads dominating what was meant to be a calm winter scene. I resorted to pencil to add some darkness and shade but it did not do much. The paint is stubborn!
Stage 3: I painted in the empty space with white paint – it might make a difference under different lighting, and so it seemed worthwhile. Lastly I added the snow falling- again I learned a proper painting by a proper artist would have paid more attention to the physics of snowfall. You don’t want it to look like rain (so avoid slanting). Nor does randomly placing white dots on canvas do justice to the majestic yet haphazard perfection of falling snowflakes. So in the process of this painting I made a mental note to pay more attention to the way snow falls the next time it does. Because it is both a science and an art – no wonder we find ourselves mesmerised when watching snow fall.
Overall then, I quite like the trees – they do bring me joy. And I do like the snowy night sky. I’d be quite happy to crop the painting as below:
The houses on their own without the paths might have been alright. Or at least just one hobbit house, seems to improve the painting. Yes – I think the cropped version you see at the top of the page shall be the “official” version.
But there is no redeeming those paths, alas. But I have learned for next time!
The final less than perfect painting then:
Before signing off, I want to say I am sure I was inspired by Artist Emily Austin, who has produced some beautiful wintry Shire artwork – do check out her work here: https://emilyaustindesign.com/hello
So that is it. I wish everyone a recovery and remembrance of the things you love and which bring you peace; may we all find the beauty of night and winter in one way or other.