In the presence of trees

2013 March - In the presence of trees

March 2013 – Acrylic on canvas 80 x 60cm

Finally  I’ve been painting again & it feels a bit like emerging out of a long tunnel!

Over the last few years I’ve spent many hours painting  when I’m not teaching. I really needed to in order to get myself immersed in it again. Also I think it’s essential  for me as an emotional outlet, as well as for my thought processes & in fact to feed back into the teaching of art.

Creativity is something I believe needs to be encouraged more than ever. Art is an ideal medium through which to explore & develope one’s approach to life.   In a rapidly changing world, people need the skills to be able to come up with  solutions in order to adapt to new situations & solve problems & so on.  Every child finds their own solution within the boundaries of the framework the teacher sets.  Which is why each individual child demands  the teacher’s personal attention  because their work is different & therefore it  requires different advice. What they are trying to acheive is not the same as someone else, & this is the aim,  even though the initial guidelines were the same. When you are a teacher it can be frustrating trying to be in 28 places at the same time & when you’re only 10 years old you’re not always aware that you are not the only one.  Your problem needs dealing with and right now!

Recently I’ve been feeling  exhausted – as though my energy has been sapped by children (I teach around 220 of them every week!) & I’ve had little left over for my own work. I’m sure this must sound familiar to anyone that teaches.

Are you an artist (or a writer, musician …) & also a teacher ? What are your experiences in this regard?

I know that by painting it also gives me a certain energy that helps me deal with other areas in my life,  in the same way as when you take exercise it actually makes you feel more energetic eventually . But if you are so tired you can’t summon up the energy to start  then it becomes a negative spiral! Life is a constant juggling act to try to keep everything balanced & the scales are  forever moving. Which is another reason I suppose that I still haven’t got round to setting  up a proper website for example. I have decided that I have got enough commitments & I have to chose carefully how to spend my free time; That’s to say I have to put some things on hold for the sake of my sanity! It is still  a little bit frustrating though!

After the last collective exhibition I participated in I realised how most of the other artists were full time artists. In order to participate you had to be of professional status. (In France  everyone must have a “status”. So this means you have a number & your  social security payments are collected by specific organisations depending on your status or statuses in my case). On the one hand, if you are a full time artist, I suppose you have more time to dedicate to promotion & other  bureaucracy, but on the other hand you could end up creating for a market & being more limited. Because at the end of the day we all have to make a living. So at least I can paint what I want without feeling too much pressure from a commercial point of view (just  a sense of lack of time!)

If you are an artist/creator, full-time or part- time, what is your experience & how do you feel about this issue?

If you have to  produce results all the time then perhaps you feel  less able to experiment? One of my recent activities has involved cutting up one of my paintings in order to recreate it as a collage ! ( See below “Lines of life” which no longer exists in that form! )  Something fell into it, creating a big hole in the canvas, so  my idea was to try to make something positive come of it! At present though it is in a state of waiting, as I haven’t come up with a satisfactory recombination & maybe I won’t, I don’t mind too much really.

It’s important to engage fully in the process & that’s what I also really enjoyed with this painting – doing it gave me a feeling of liberty a bit similar to that which I felt from being in the place that inspired it in the first place. (Being on holiday helps too!)

Maybe some of you will be thinking I should cut this one up too 🙂 … but for me  the painting itself was the experiment !


16 thoughts on “In the presence of trees

  1. I think this is the most successful of your recent paintings – it really hangs together – beautiful composition. Well done for keeping going – I haven’t done any painting this year yet and don’t even have the excuse of teaching!

    • Well thank-you – I’ll certainly take that as a complement!

      What’s interesting for me in what you say is that someone that lives where I live (in the Basque Country) would never make that connection with Ravilious. Yet much of the landscape I see round here connects for me in some way with landscapes that were painted in Britain around the 1930s. There is something in the clear lines for example that you do also find in the South Downs, theYorkshire moors or Dartmoor.

      I sometimes wonder to what extent my interpretations of the landscape here are influenced by my English background. I asked an English artist friend of mine about this but she didn’t think that my work looks particularly English. Obviously there are thousands of ways to be British ! – so perhaps it’s just the context I live in that makes me perceive things this way.

  2. Hello Diana – thank-you for such an encouraging comment – you make me feel much better for what I thought was my lack of creating much work! Why do we always feel a bit guilty to ourselves about it?! Not all, but many non-artists seem to think that painting must just be very relaxing rather than that it requires concentration & a certain mental state in order to get anything out of it. Maybe people sometimes see it as art therapy ( which of course also has its place but isn’t quite the same).

  3. Hi Sonya. As in all things, I think we have to strive for balance. When we work for a living, sometimes there is so little time left over, but, for me, as a writer, I tried to find snippets of time to work on my creativity. Now that I am retired, those snippets paid off because I published enough poetry to earn professional status for purposes of our arts board. Now I have lots of time and I so admire anyone (such as you) who is able to keep up with their creative side and work for a lving too (I know you do showings of your work for example). In your painting, I admire that small group of trees, alone in the rest of the landscape. Jane

    • Hi Jane – thank-you for taking the time to share your experience on balancing things in your life! Glad you’ve got more time now & you are able to enjoy using it – I guess in a way it must eventually be more difficult for those people that never pursued something else when they do finally get more time when they retire.

  4. Sonya, I have been enjoying your paintings for a while. Do you paint on site, from memory, from photos or a combination of those?
    Having grown up at the North Sea, I am partial to water and now enjoy painting dunes and water in Michigan. Not fond of exposing myself to broiling sunshine or cold wind, I use photographs but now also try to paint from memory.
    This lovely picture could use a straight bottom edge. Recently, I invested in a 50 mm fixed lens to get rid of the curvature problem with zoom lenses.

    • Hello Birgit – thank-you for commenting – it’s nice to hear from someone who has been enjoying my paintings & then feels like saying something here.
      In answer to your question I use a combination of photos & memory. I try to express my feeling for the place above all, so the photo or photos are really a useful trigger from which to expand from. According to my partner he thinks I’ve made the painting much more intimate than the place is is in reality. In fact yesterday we went back there & I was waiting to see if our sons(who hadn’t been to the place before) would recognise it having seen the painting, but they didn’t – or at least not till I started asking them in a really obvious way, if it reminded them of anything!

      I’m not sure if the curvature thing isn’t just in the composition itself. At least, if there is a problem of curvature; then there must be in all the photos of paintings on this blog; I’m quite happy to admit that a professional photographer would do a much better job than me though. But that all goes back to what I was saying in my post about priorities of time & so on!

  5. Sonya, Thank you for your response. Perfect answer from where I come from. Photographs (I have a terrific, expensive camera) can only do so much. The rest is really how one feels about the place.

  6. Really feel the Ravilious in this one too, and John Nash… interesting about the English landscapes, perhaps those early experiences of landscape are wired in and it’s a case of being drawn to echoes of those shapes and lines and curves? This scene really reminds me of Gwynedd in Wales, around Mawddwy – there’s a particular clump of trees on a hill where Alan Garner’s Owl Service was filmed (and where he stayed when writing it).

    I always get really clear associations with a place and time from your paintings, miles away from the reality, similar to the way that people interpret songs and lyrics I suppose.

    • Perhaps we’re also wired in for responding to clumps of trees?! In a way I suppose it wouldn’t be so surprising because they provide a certain shelter for people. Many of these clumps in the Basque Country have a ruined shepherd hut &/or sheep pens associated with them. (I didn’t actually include one in the end because it wasn’t what felt right for the composition).
      I don’t know the clump of trees you mention- the only time I ever visited Wales was on a school trip when I was about 10! I do remember that I liked the landscape though, even then. I remember looking out of the windows of the coach on the journey there & being aware that most other kids didn’t seem to notice it or be interested in looking out of the windows at all. It would have been the first time I ever saw such hilly landscape. Being brought up on the outskirts of London, my main experience of (slightly) natural landscape was from Richmond & Bushey Parks (which I was taken to a lot). Apart from that & later on some walks around Shoreham & the North Downs, we always went to the same seaside place in Kent every year for our summer holidays.
      When I was a kid my dad, (who is mostly crazy about 19th Century English watercolours), according to him, bought a John Nash drawing – but I have no recollection of it at all – he later sold it I think – maybe it’s got stuck in the deep ressesses of my consciousness! (Just joking)

      Very true what you say about interpreting songs & lyrics – we all relate them to our personal experience as well.

  7. Hello Sonya
    thank you for this this beautiful painting and posting. Your children are very very fortunate to have such a sensitive teacher. But what a cost to you! I too love the little copse of trees standing stark and stripped in the landscape. But Spring is coming for those who survive the Winter. I love that you are painting. Sometimes in exhaustion all we can do is sleep and repair for the unfolding. But when we are rested we have to make time to create.

    I too have to find time for painting and another endeavour (consulting). Just last night I woke up and realised the connection. In both worlds I find models, which simplify the world to allow understanding. And I use the understanding to create. I create paintings in one world with brush and watercolour. In the other I help clients create elegant solutions through conversation. I laid down my brushes for over a year until the pain of neglect became too distracting. So I am painting again too. And I came here for some inspiration and have not been dissapointed.

    I have decided that balance is never going to happen. I will push in each direction for as hard as I can to grow as much as I can and will make time to rest as I can. I was encouraged by an interview I read with Twyla Tharp who (I think) started the NY Ballet company – anyway I remember her saying that they all wanted to dance but had to live so they all held down other jobs and just worked really hard. She wrote a book called “the creative habit” which I think would make a good read.

    All the best with your painting. I want to come and see more later. Right now consulting calls.

    • Hello Stephen – well thank-you for taking the time to write such a long message. I hadn’t realised you’d stopped painting – which just goes to show how long ago it must be that I visited your blog – it wouldn’t be the only one either!! We all have to prioritise I guess. I’m glad you’ve started to paint again. Did you feel a sort of guilt to yourself when you didn’t? That seems to be what happens to me when I’m less productive & it’s annoying because it somehow makes the situation worse because it’s like inflicting more pressure on yourself. It gets better when I come round to accepting myself & saying it doesn’t matter – then I feel more freed up again!

      I think you are right about the balance thing – in a way it’s maybe because our Western culture encourages us to be so goal oriented, which can’t ever be satisfying because as soon as you get there you have to be finding the next goal, whereas we have to remind ourselves that the proccess is what our life IS. What I’m tryng to say is that because we are alive there must be a constant flux & so balance can never be reached because there are always constantly changing interactions.

      I ‘m sure someone else could sum up all that waffle far more succintly than I just did – anyway good luck with the painting ( & the consulting).

  8. Hi Sonya,
    Your questions to us, your readers, ring a familiar bell. Many times in my working career, I have had to deal with just that balance issue. We can’t do it all, but we try, especially because someone as committed, talented and successful as you are with your art has no choice about painting or creating. It’s like breathing itself. It’s a soul necessity.
    We need the balance of working for a living plus creating. We don’t create in a vacuum and whether we see it or ot, we are fed by our daily experiences, whether this be a job within or without our discipline of painting.
    But when the balance is upset, we need to bring ourselves back to centre.

    Most of those who work full time as painters end up, usually, doing their own promotion and administration, and all the “housekeeping” activities of managing the studio are also spending time doing many things besides their brush to canvas activity, which leaves them, also with a balance issue.

    I taught for about 4 years in secondary school and found it impossible to have the balance I needed for myself. It’s true, in teaching, that you impart your creativity and it takes away from your energy and creativity for your own work, but children , and in my case, teenagers also can give so much back with their open ideas. I used to see 350 children in one rotating school schedule. It left me about 15 seconds per child, which really meant that some kids got attention and some did not.
    Eventually I taught at college level and that was much better, as those who were attending were there with a purpose for learning, so there were no discipline problems. People who decided they didn’t want to attend just dropped out or changed courses, which meant that those who did attend wanted to sop up what you presented to them. Still, my creativity was largely spent thinking out how I would get them to understand and be able to use their new knowledge.
    No matter what nationality of teachers I have spoken to, all express their experience with school systems as inadequate in respecting the Arts. Psychologically troubled kids, academically slow kids, misfits, are dumped into art classes because they can’t cope with them in either academic classes nor shop classes such as woodworking and electricity. Administrators barefacedly say “anyone can pass art”. Classes are too large. There are no funds for materials. The teacher ends up supplying things from his or her own pocket. There is little value placed on art through the government, and it passes down to the school system with least support possible. In British Columbia, the last government (election is May 14th), art was removed from the school curriculum altogether, along with art and music. Cuts apparently had to be made to programs. Art and music were the first to go. How tragic. Now only the privileged children are able to have art lessons. I’m hoping that will change if the government changes.
    But getting back to the artist,
    You as an artist must find a balance for yourself. If you can’t devote as much time to your art, then you must find other ways to feed that need. Like more photography, which helps store up imagery one wants to paint when there is time, constantly painting in your mind as you move through landscapes on the way or coming back to work, reserving holidays for painting activity or workshops, drawing in small format by keeping a small notebook in your pocket for this purpose, and any other ways you can find to keep the art part of your daily life.

    I have now retired and am enjoying a greater freedom with my time. I find that the administrative part of being a full-time artist takes up a lot of time but I am happy that I don’t have to go commercial. I’ve joined a contemporary artists collective (The Fort Gallery, Fort Langley, BC) which gives me one solo exhibition per year and a few group shows and that gives me the impetus to get a body of fresh work together, fueled by my own ideas, not those of a commercial need. it also gives me a community of artists to respond and interact with, which provides me with inspiration and encouragement. We also provide the group members with mentorship. It’s been very helpful. So I encourage you to find one or create one when you are able to do so.

    I notice that you were selected for the Palm Art Award. Keep on going with these sorts of things. You will become noticed. Your work is excellent and very individual, personal. Just hang in there. Keep creating, keep painting, and try to have an exhibition at least every two years.

    Enough, from my high horse…..
    Just a last comment,
    I really like this painting. I don’t mind the bottom part being the way it is. It gives a circular, sinuous feel to the composition.

    I hope you have a summer free to paint.

  9. Hello Kristin

    Well, thank-you for your enormously supportive message. That’s really kind of you to take so much trouble & very much appreciated.

    When I wrote this post I think I was just recovering from the previous school term & taking a look back at things as a way for me to work out where to go next.

    Your suggestions to “store up imagery one wants to paint when there is time, constantly painting in your mind as you move through landscapes on the way or coming back to work” are exactly what I do in fact. There must be millions of images we paint in our heads that never even make it to canvas or paper.

    It’s a really important way to keep seeing I think. Hard to imagine not doing so. Well, actually it isn’t, in the sense that when you are surrounded by other people, this contemplative way of seeing is far less possible, unless you are able, or choose, to cut yourself off from them.

    Perhaps the work we create is simply the result of our drawing from this constant process of both absorbing & analyzing the world around us. So that when we do pick up the paintbrush again, the mental work we’ve been doing has already prepared us.

    Thanks again for so much encouragement.

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