Friday 13 February 2009

Gnarls in the Branches

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.


nina said...

oh, rima, you speak so strongly for ME (and many others) as well! the topic of imitation is one that i stand very firmly and strongly against (not the topic, the actual act of copying), and i've suffered the loss of friends, blog readers, publications because of the firm stand i maintain. your work is very much your own, and so is mine. why others can't learn the techniques and branch out from there is beyond me. i was recently interviewed on a bead blog and i was, again, quite frank in answering the interviewer's questions regarding copyrights and imitation. grrrrrrrrrrrrr.....
on another note - i'm happy to see that you are still in touch with your readers, and i'm enjoying your travel stories - even if the travels right now consist of long walks behind a parking lot. you will always be able to find beauty wherever you are, i know this. love, nina (and the artwork, by the way, is - as always - magnificent!!!)

Morag Lloyds said...

I love reading your blogs I dont always add a note but I come by often.Your just such a lovely person and I think what you are both doing is what everyone should do at some point in their lives, we have all become so cut off from nature, living within our four walls. Its good for the soul to get out and live in it.. thats how I feel on the boat anyway.If we still had our farm you could of stayed forever!! and I would have brought homemade soup out at least once a week! People are funny and its hard to understand what makes people so hostile but it is usually fear, fear of the unknown.

Its lovely to see you over at twitter Hope you got my message and I love love love your latest work.I also love Arthur Rackham and I can imagine how chuffed he would be that his influences as an artist live on after he has gone.

Im about to open a second etsy shop this time tiny art Ill let you know when it opens

your both a couple of stars x

Morag x

Jess said...

Arthur Rackham's work has always been my favourite and I agree about learning by copying the masters. When I have copied, it does stay firmly within my sketchbook! Ideas are more difficult to own because we're all subjected to so much media these days, as well as the art from the past, that it's impossible to trace the source. Your painting is gorgeous and has your style, it's lovely to see you painting again :)x

pRiyA said...

When I first started illustrating, I was taught the term 'to appropriate', which for me means what you have mentioned in your post - to study the style/composition and technique of another artist (usually always a great master) but to make it your own. It helped me immensely till one day, I found I didn't need to do that anymore! But how well you describe all this in your post.

The illustration of the crow is so amazing. It is definitely a Rima.
Thank you for the great link to Rackham's work.

Margaret's Ramblings said...

Once again your words and drawings fill me with awe. I love the tree trunk (s) photo. So much that I have it on my desktop (hope you don't mind) just so I can take my time and absorb it. Where are you at the moment, hope it's something warm and dry. Margaret

Gretel said...

Ah, the amount of times I've got my Arthur Rackham books out and cribbed his colours...and yet this is so very lovely and very Rima.
Absolute bugger about the parking, I do wish I had my Devon farm with a little corner for you.

Unknown said...

Hello, I found you through Priya, at the plum tree. Just wanted to second others by saying that I relate so much to what you said about being copied, and your sentiments regarding this subject are strongly felt by me. (and I agree!) Your work is wonderful - I will be back!

Griffin said...

I hate copyists too. To copy someone else's work to me is an admission that the copyist is too feeble-witted to use their own imagination.

I love Rackham too and Edmund Dulac. Your picture is wonderful, shows the influence of Rackham without being his. It was said that Dulac drew with his brush and Rackham painted with his pen. But for me the best thing about Rackham after his work is that he was a distant relative of Red Rackham the pirate!

Half-heard in the Stillness said...

I love your painting Rima, it's so you, I really like the way the foreground looks like old parchment paper or as though you have painted upon marble. A witch must live in the cottage that's for sure, and the crow may be her familiar.
I agree with you that someone stealing your work and passing it off as theirs is like an assult. Arthur Rackhams painting was wonderful but then so is yours! We are made up of particles of all the things we have encountered along our journey, yet each one of us is unique like snowflakes.
Hugs, Jane

Alettesiriane said...

I stopped by thakfully sp.I hope you do not have to use your energi thinking of hostile neighboors now.Your work i wonderfull .

Anonymous said...

I think there is a big difference between imitating someone's work in order to learn from them or in honor of them and copying their work and passing it off as one's own.

I can see a bit of Rackham in your work, but in no way is there anything wrong with that! :-)

I remember in grade school a boy copying my idea for a science experiment (putting a freshly cut carnation in colored water so that the petals become colored, showing capillary action!). I was so upset, as he turned his in earlier, and he was nowhere the student I was. Luckily I think most teachers know the truth of these things, as yours did.

mama p said...

I'm so glad you took the time to be with Mr. Rackham-- he is one of my favorites, too-- and this latest piece of yours is one of my utter favorites. The patterning of it is just so rich, and wonderful. I love the way it makes my eyes dance around-- on the surface of it, and then deeper into each detail.

I have been so inspired by your blog for the last year, finally I resolved to DO something with that inspiration, and funny enough, I picked up a GORGEOUS book to "copy". It's "Night of the White Stag" by M.C. Helldorfer, with illustrations by Yvonne Gilbert that are just stunning. (With your love for detail, you may love her too.) I realized that I have been so out of practice with my drawing that I didn't like the "language" I was getting across; I figured that by spending time with a "language" I DO like, I'd find more of that accent in my own work in time. I don't think I could ever copy great work; I just don't have the skill. Yet it's like how musicians can communicate with their art-- sound-- perhaps it's similar for visual artists, who experiment with the forms each makes, in concert, dead or alive, same room or other, in order to come up with a beautiful visual conversation.

That's my hope, anyway. :)

Susan Tuttle said...

in reading your last post, i am deep in thought. what you and your significant other are doing is showing others alternative ways of living -- your example is a gift to others -- a light -- saying, "it doesn't have to be this way. we don't all have to be sheep. follow your heart. find life off the beaten path. live. really live."

when you encounter the hard-nosed, bitter folk, you are witnessing both their fears and deep callings for something different and regrets for not following their hearts.

your way brings tears to my eyes. it is an authentic path.

i admire you both.

press on in your own way.

i am rooting for you!


Anonymous said...

I am sorry to hear you are encountering such fear from others. Fear is the great eliminator, fear of something new happening, fear of someone not being exactly as we imagine our world to be -- it is very sad.

I went to the Etsy shop as I told you I would,to purchase the little witch in the bottle, but something went off when it came to the checking out, and I never got to enter my information. Now it says its sold out (to me of course) and won't reset itself. So if it comes back to its senses, the paying machine part, I still do want to have the little witch.

I think you are terrific!

Anonymous said...

Oh you have "cracked" the crow indeed! Beautiful.

Anonymous said...

such an interesting topic/dilemma.
i have come here for inspiration.
i head over to nina's blog and find it in her photos and jewelry.
i have files of images, books, you name it that i sit and pour through to find the "muse" i need on any given day...

yet, my work is completely different.
my photo realistic color pencil drawings have no resemblance to your magical other worldly paintings, nor do they look at all like nina's narrative necklaces.
but yet i need the visual feast to produce what i do.

shouldnt that be the point?
to take in from all around, mush it all together, and have something unique and personal come out?
and yet, there have been times where i have been fearful (maybe not the right word, but..) of putting certain drawings out there because i know they will be pilferred from in a way that will feel violating.

all we can do is trust that it goes beyond our technique or aesthetic. its something inside that the copy cats can never take.

its something my dear, that you and you alone, have in spades.

Yoli said...

Just stopped by to wish you and Tui and Happy Valentine's Day.

Kim said...

This is a very different Crow to the Winter one, very puckish :) But still charming.

I so understand what you say about copying. It's something I'm very strongly against. People who simply copy are letting themselves down, as they aren't allowing themselves the chance to grow. A copied picture lacks the story that the artist had, with the page, paintbrush and his/her imagination.

I hope you find a nice place to stay soon.

Take care

Kim x

Alettesiriane said...

Do come to Norway I have 2 places for sure you can stay and will find more.Have a good week to come!

Cat (darklingwoods) said...

I completely understand, your new piece has a wonderful bit of Rackham flavor but its still all yours. I think all we see and soak in goes into our creative wells. I too dislike outright copying, I am that beady eyed art teacher ( I work with 12 year olds) so I deal with that often ;)

Michelle said...

I love this crow. Can't wait to see what spring crow creates within you.

Ciara Brehony said...

I think it's interesting that you relate the childhood memory in this as I think we all have similar memories.
I think Erin has it there when she talks about other peoples work sometimes being like a starting point for our own evolvement of ideas. If we are true to ourselves, then it will always be something that is totally our own.

I adore the crow... my new favourite Rima-picture methinks!

Vita said...

Rima, it is an amazing piece you came up with!
Loved reading your thoughts on copying and studying the masters. The knowledge that we get through the fingers is much different from the others!
Our whole family is following your journey now. Sending you a bit of spring from our gloomy New York

Acornmoon said...

I love your painting, it's both very Rima and very Rackham at the same time.

Shayla said...

That's such a beautiful piece! It feels like home.

Also I'm glad to have a name to go with some of the prints my mother had of Alice in Wonderland. I never knew who the artist was.

Barry said...

Your work, your lines, your art is so distinctive it hard to imagine anyone successfully copying you.

Le lapin jaune said...

Todo es tan perfecto!
amo tu blog

mister M said...

j'adore toujours autant ton univers, à trés bientôt, tout est superbe

Anonymous said...

I love the first and third picture, you can almost see the age and magic there. The roots of the tree would love that in my back garden.

Anonymous said...

Love it Rima. I like the way you have crept closer to the settlement.

I think we have to be inspired and influenced by those who have gone before, but there is no sense in being slavishly true to another person's work and not your own. The world needs more beautiful original things.

Well done- the painting is gorgeous.

Anonymous said...

Hello there - I've just found your site via your avatar against a comment on someone else's blog. I've just ccompletely lost myself in your writing for about 3 quarters of an hour - I swear I was with you there in the van for a while! Funny to think you passed through the town where I live (Lincoln) on your way. It's mind blowing to think of the number of other people's lives trundling along when you have no idea about it.

What a brave move you've made, and I know from a friend who lived in a houseboat for a few years that it's not easy to reject the house-with-electric-and-running-water option. So if you're having to content with scared neighbours as well then I certainly don't envy you. It sounds like it has its rewards though, in which respect I do envy you!

I love your work, and I'm also a big fan of Rackham. I love the way his stuff looks like it's been burnt onto the page - the lines have such permanence. That little violin drawing at the bottom has a similar quality.

I'll certainly be back here - thanks for taking me to another place for a while!

BT said...

What a wonderful post Rima. As you so rightly say, all the apprentices would study and copy the work of their masters and tutors, then try and develop a style of their own. Your style is SO your own and it is wonderful. I love the crow, as will Melanie, I'm sure.

Sorry you're still in the car park!

tamerajane said...

Lovely crow!!

I have a Rackham tattoo:

getting a little old and fuzzy these days, 10+ years...

Ottilias Veranda said...

Hi I just found Your blog through an One World One heart participants bloglist! I´m so glad I came here. You are a master at illustrations! And Your absolutely right about copying...I try to learn techniques by looking at others but I never claim the work to be mine! It´s just like learning music...No one expects You to make up a tune by Yourself when You are learning. There are far too many copycats out there who don´t give credits to the ones they have learnt from. My humble efforts in the artisitc area are done late at night after work and after putting my 3 children to bed...wich means not very much time. So take good care of the time You´ve got now when You can draw and paint whenever You like! I´m a fan of Genadij Spirin also!It´s quite a journey You are doing...I must read moore about it.
Thank You for sharing Your adventures! I have bookmarked you and will definitely be back later (when I have moore time!)

Liisa from Sweden

Anonymous said...

Hallo ther Rima and Tui!!
I have loved reading your delightful and descriptive blog and viewing your phantasmagorical magical and atmospheric and truly stimulating and inspirational! And wonderful pictures! We miss you in this chilly corner of high-lowland Scotland. Thank you for all the gifts you left behind you and for having touched our lives. I can see you both so clearly in the soup and the pipe. Keep well. Ollie and Biff send lovexxxxx Angex

Rima Staines said...

Hello Ange!! How very lovely to hear from you! I can't reply anywhere else but here... thanks so much for your sweet message, we miss you too and often think of the cats :)
And Phantasmagoria is one of my favorite words! I wonder if you have an email address I could write to?
We may well pass by South Lanarkshire one fine day and see you again... sending very much love, Rima and Tui xxx

Renee said...

Rima it is fantastic.

Don't doubt yourself because you are one of the most incredible talents I have ever seen.

Love Renee

DrBobUK said...

Hi Rima,
I love the crows ...
Crows seem to be around a lot for me at the moment. One more 'coincidental' crow and I may even put finger to keyboard about it over at 'Beneath the Willow'. I'm not sure how connected you are at the moment, but if you get the chance you might like to look at a view of crows from another direction. I find the TED talks generally uplifting and the idea of us developing a partnership with crows brings a smile to my face.
Here in London Spring is uncoiling slowly but assuredly - best wishes for the coming season.

Anonymous said...

Hello Rima!

I have just found your lovely blog and lost myself in it for the best part of this afternoon. I am full of admiration for all your work and envious of your travelling life...

If you ever find yourself in Belgium I hope you will free to come and park your wandering house in our garden, it's not perhaps as rural as you might like but I could offer you plenty of hot tea. (I'll keep an eye on your blog to see if you mention it and email you if you do.)

Best wishes

tlchang said...

Lovely work - as you are wont to do. I also loved the photo of those amazing trees and gnarled roots.

Many hugs and warm wishes.

Wandering Wynie said...

I recently stumbled across your blog and lingered awhile because of the similarity to Rackham, whose illustrations I adore. That said, your work is very different yet equally as beautiful in my exceedingly humble opinion. You seem to have an incredibly interesting home life too and your accounts of it are fascinating! I'm looking forward to reading more :)

Wayfinder Ali said...

I stumbled upon your blog after glancing through a featured home design community on livejournal, where someone posted about your little house.
I absolutely adore your work and individuality! And I'm really jealous of your little house. I have several friends I rock climb with who spend months at a time living in their vans traveling the country to climb, though their little van homes aren't nearly as charming! I hope to one day go on my own epic, living out of a van, adventure.
I also love Arthur Rackham and others (Alphonse Mucha, John William Waterhouse, Howard Pyle). I am a leather artist, not a painter, and I can barely draw. I feel your panic when it comes to people copying. Luckily, there aren't as many leather crafters in the world as painters so I feel a little less nervous. I learned leather work from my parents. We pride ourselves on quality and aren't afraid to learn from those who are more skilled, or share with those who haven't learned our techniques. That said, I haven't yet publicly announced my new business plans for fear someone else, with more money, will develop the idea before I can. Its frustrating feeling torn between needing to sell your work, and wanting to keep it to protect your own creative identity.
already you have inspired me to create (a bracelet of tiny, cored out tree trunk married to rich buttery walnut colored deer hide) and I plan to keep reading about your wonderful adventure!
With admiration
ps. I have an etsy. my username is backstreetleather

Anonymous said...

ola, suas fotos sao lindas,que mundo maravilhoso que eu nao conheço. um abraço,feliz 2010!