LAST NIGHT brought a sprinkling of snows that seemed to fall underneath the streetlamps only, but this morning the snow is gone. This corner of the country is the bare toe poking out from under the snow blanket that covers the rest of England. The skies have a leaden lowness to them here and the winds are chilly. We have discovered a little track that winds behind the carpark fence and takes you into muddy fields and eventually forests, where we've seen treeroots knotted like old ladies' contemplative fingers, abandonded trailers and puddles which turn the trees upsidedown. And we've eaten peanutbutter sandwiches and talked to horses with coats on, and worn our legs out walking for miles.
Back in the truck I have been hunkering down at my desk with an oil lamp and headphones and painted fervently, trying to pretend that the view out of the window is not tarmac.
Melanie has commissioned me to paint four seasons of crows, the winter aspect of which I made last October. She has been waiting patiently for the next one and I have finally completed it.
This painting has been through a gnarled struggle of sorts.. mainly because I drew it out onto the watercolour paper way back before we left Scotland and it has sat tucked inside the sketchpad ready to paint since then. Somehow the momentum of a work gets lost for me if I leave a gap that long within the process of working on it. So I tried to paint it and there were moments when I thought it might be getting somewhere but by the end I despised it. Really it was so dreadful I had to start again. And of course when this happens my confidence plummets to a place where I am convinced I can no longer do it.
I needed to replensish my reserves of inspiration and so buried myself in various Arthur Rackham books... A master and a half he was, and also an accomplished drawer of crows and gnarly branches. I looked in close detail at his lines and tones and marvelled. I think to try to emulate the old masters is a good way to learn, but it raises an interesting dilemma for me: because imitating a contemporary feels very wrong, epecially the copying of ideas ... so why is it alright if the artist is dead? Artists in days gone by would have always learned by copying their predecessors and I think this is an extremely valuable learning method, for somehow the knowledge enters you through the pen and bypasses your rational brain, eventually becoming lodged inside your subconscious fingertips.. so that you are just better at it than before!
It seems to me similar to the oral tradition of passing down stories from generation to generation, but instead of tales, design ideas and specific ways of making image are passed down, and over time this knowledge is naturally subtly altered with each person it passes through.
Ever since my schooldays, I have had an aversion to someone looking over my shoulder and copying.. it makes me cross, it is as if I am being stolen from. I remember an occasion when I was about 9 and we were asked at school to draw our initial made from all the things that represented the thing we loved to do best. I painstakingly drew a letter R with the straights made from pencils and paintbrushes and the semicircle was a protractor. (not that I was keen on maths, it just belonged to the contents of my pencil case which meant drawing to me) But being a slow dreamer-Rima, another boy whose name also began with R had taken my idea and got to the teacher to show his drawing first. I was very annoyed, but this beady-eyed teacher knew what had gone on, and told him off for copying. I was inwardly relieved. And to this day, the idea of someone taking something that represents me and passing it off as their own somehow panics me. It's as if on some inner level I am being erased I suppose. I think this is more relevant when it comes to ideas... it's ok to learn by copying another's technique, beneficial in fact. But it must be filtered through your own eyes and ideas before becoming an artwork I think.
So, I have studied Rackam's works at close proximity these last few days and been inspired. I have made a work not nearly as wonderful as his, it is different... it's my own ... but I was helped by a skilled teacher long dead.