I waxes, and I wanes, sir; I ebbs’s and I flows

oil painting of Crosdale, work in progress

work in progress, painting of Crosdale, large version of 6×8 plein air, oil on canvas, 18″ square

This post’s title was stolen from Mervyn Peake’s poem in his book “Rhymes Without Reason”. The poem is about feeling ill but the lines could describe the back and forth of the painting process just as well.

Mervyn Peake was a brilliant artist as well as a poet and novelist. I often read “Rhymes Without Reason” as a child and I can still see the strange, brightly-coloured illustration that accompanied the waxing and waning poem, showing an enormous lady with large nostrils sitting in bed while a doctor surveyed her from the end of the room across a swirling carpet against a background of psychedelic wallpaper.

The picture became etched in my brain, along with many of the other illustrations, and the brightly-lit, vaguely nightmarish room seemed real, as if the scene was taking place somewhere, in the night, in a nearby dimension.

This week has consisted of plodding along with works in progress while the world outside becomes ever more frozen and slippery. The sun is beginning to find its way into our home and has revealed that my studio space (which is so tiny I can only use it for painting small pictures – larger indoor work expands into the living room) needs some attention.

Apart from lots of dust on high shelves which I can’t reach there are things which are obsolete and need removing. A wire loops across a wall leading to a non-existent speaker and the remains of past projects – a brush gaffered to the end of a garden cane, a set of three yogurt pots with watercolour blobs inside them – should probably be tidied away.

photo of shelves in artist's studio

shelves with an assortment of paintings and other dusty things

Two paintings have been lurching along their paths towards completion. I am quite pleased with the Crosdale one seen at the top of the post. I find it difficult creating a bigger version of a small, quickly and freely painted plein air work so when it goes relatively well it is a boost to morale.

The Whitewell painting, which is being created based on a tiny drawing, has progressed in a darkwards fashion. Perhaps with Nolde’s failed experiments in mind, during which he produced ‘grey sludge’ I seem to be heading in the same direction. Still, all is not lost and I hope to be able to bring some light and colour into the picture as work goes on.

If it all goes wrong I will have learnt something, even if that is not to begin a picture with a grey-green underpainting. It has certainly made all the colours and tones do quite unexpected things compared with starting from a white canvas.

dark oil painting, work in progress

the Whitewell painting has become extremely dark

The array of paintings on my studio wall reminds me of a plan I had to create an elaborate mount to display around a dozen small glimpses of the landscape in one big frame. It seemed like a wonderful idea until the reality of carefully cutting all of those tiny openings in a huge piece of mountboard sank in … maybe not.

photo of studio wall with paintings

paintings on the studio wall

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