End of 2020 and The Shire in Winter – Painting in Acrylic

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.

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10 Responses to End of 2020 and The Shire in Winter – Painting in Acrylic

  1. ajshannon2014 says:

    Lovely post, lovely peaceful painting. Personally, I didn’t even notice the paths until you mentioned them. I thought I’d share a LOTR painting I love: https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4534/38902592611_c28b0b25ce_c.jpg
    Thanks, and happy Christmas.

    • Earthoak says:

      What a kind message! Thank you so much for reading and enjoying the painting. And thank you indeed for sharing the LOTR painting, it is beautiful and hopeful – very much a reminder of light. A happy Christmas to you too!

  2. Rahima says:

    I love this piece and I’m so glad you decided to paint with acrylic, I find each medium offers its own flare to a painting and can help widen an artist’s artistic range. I really enjoyed reading about the journey/stages you went through before you completed this painting and looking at the cropped versions, all three stand alone very well. The pieces evoke different emotions and thoughts for me. For example, the two pieces with the hobbit homes. The cropped version for me connected me to the words you wrote, this year we have had to separate and  face doing a lot of things alone, and we found we are stronger than we think. This home stands strong and can withstand the changing climates if faces just like we all have done, we all are doing the best we can and that is enough. 
    When I see the un-cropped piece, seeing the homes side by side, reminds me of  being connected to another, in this case a neighbour. That this pandemic has alerted our awareness of our basic human need to find connection, be it with loved ones, pets or even with nature, I am reminded that I thrive when I make a connection to another life source.  Lastly, the two paths reminded me of life, that we all have to walk it alone but knowing that others face it too, it helps us to keep on walking. our own.

    • Earthoak says:

      Thank you for such wonderful, insightful reflections! I am really honoured that you pondered on the painting in this way. What original and profound concepts you extracted from it. You are absolutely right, there are two distinct feelings depending on which version of the painting one views, and that is something I did not consider when I did the ‘cropping’, but perhaps it subconsciously was there. The solitude (of the one house) is something I have been reflecting on a lot lately, the way in which it offers space for thought and creativity and calm. But at the same time, the solidarity (of the two houses) and the community that has been missed during this pandemic is also cherished. Who knows how the mind works! Was any of that in the back of my mind or my sentiment as I was painting? Do paintings have their own life separate from the painter, such that they become different things through the interpretation and reflections of others? Either way, I am so glad you added your thoughts here and gave me much to reflect on! Thank you.

  3. Karak says:

    This is a much needed & beautiful piece.
    I’ve always been drawn to expression of feelings through nature.
    The vivid colours against the blanket of snow reminds me of the snow we experienced in December/January 2017/18, we went through a very tumultuous month, to say the least, but with the first drop of snow, a new ray of hope arose within.
    There’s something so divine when a dark night is lit up by a magnificent cloak of snow. This is actually highlighted so emphatically in your picture 🙂 thank you for sharing.

    • Earthoak says:

      Thank you Karak for taking the time to read and to ponder, and indeed to share. What a great way to see snow fall – a ray of hope. A gift, a descent of blessings even. I know it can cause havoc, but anything that contains such unfiltered beauty and magic surely must be appreciated at its essence. I’m honoured you feel the painting captures some of that, what a compliment. Thanks for your generosity!

  4. Karak says:

    And I love the fuzziness captured in the conifers ..I’d love to sit in that hobbit house with a mug of hot chocolate and lembas 😋

    Keep painting & writing!

    • Earthoak says:

      Ah you remind me of lembas – I love the way everyone has a different view of what lembas looks and tastes like. For some reason I have always imagined it as have a soft filling, and sweet – perfect accompaniment to hot chocolate.
      I am glad you like the fuzziness – acrylic allows for that I think, whereas watercolour produces cleaner lines.
      I remember walking through some woods this autumn, and passed a beautiful silver birch – the leaves were gold and yellow, and exactly like you have said, looked fuzzy, shifting and blurred to the naked eye. When I took a photo, everything became precise – the lines of the leaves, the colours separated…and it made me realise that sometimes exact likeness is not the purpose of art, and isn’t it amazing that our eyes can turn images into art in a way that cameras can’t? That is where a painting does more than a like-for-like photograph. Thanks again!

  5. Of course, two hobbit households side by side would take the trouble to keep the paths up to their doors snow free. They would even welcome the opportunity to generate some warmth through the activity whilst enjoying the opportunity for neighbourly conviviality. When I was a city dweller snow was always a cause of lots of laughter in the street as we would dig one another’s cars out so journeys could be undertaken. Owners of four wheel drive vehicles would attach tow ropes to those vehicles for whom even the efforts with shovels were insufficient. Dickens describes the merriment so well in his Christmas Carol and we haven’t changed that much.
    Much as I love The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and I do love it very much, I have never been able to regard the snowy woods into which Lucy Pevensie emerges from the wardrobe as anything less than magical, even before the entrance of Mr Tumnus. Perhaps I might tire of snow if I had to endure 500 years of it but given the way in which it seems to have deserted us in England in recent years I would welcome it as an alternative to endless rain and grey days that seems to typify an English winter now.
    Thank you for offering this to us. A post from you is always a welcome event. Merry Christmas!

    • Earthoak says:

      Thank you very much for this wonderful reflection, Stephen. This has certainly added to the possibilities of this painting, the possibilities for imagining. Your description of the merriment is another reminder of how something that might otherwise be seen as negative, an inconvenience, can be seen in an alternative light. I have fond memories of shovelling snow from roads alongside friends and strangers too – you are so right, it does somehow become an occasion of mirth and togetherness. The freezing cold feels less so from the activity, and there is almost something reviving about it. Not the mention the joy of a hot drink once indoors! It is not dissimilar from digging soil – community tree-planting is always a lot of fun, especially so in the cold somehow.
      I agree, the snow, the sudden silent blanket of white as Lucy steps through the wardrobe really does add to the other-worldliness of the story, it would not be the same without it.
      I always value, and also learn from, your comments, thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. And a Merry Christmas to you too!

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