For a while, I’ve been wanting to make a whole collection of work. I wanted to create an extended thought – a series of paintings that told a story. Such a story must naturally evolve and change as the work progresses, and the weeks pass, but I wanted to create something over that time that also remained constant and true to the original vision. A story that held its path, however meandering. A story of me, in those weeks or months that it would take to create it – something that would tell what I was about at that moment in time; who I was, what I was interested in, how I felt, what I loved.
A bold idea, for sure! I’m full of them. But I can’t say that I knew exactly what I was doing at the start. The truth is, that in the beginning, it was a whole mixture of thoughts and ideas, that solidified as I went along. I love planning, but in painting I do feel that sometimes one can be too planned, too regimented. Better perhaps to explore as you go. I did know, however, the paintings would be faces. I knew they would be women. I’m fascinated by both. I thought 20 paintings might be a good number. I’m the sort of person for whom, once decided, that’s it. So, 20 paintings it was.
I knew I wanted the paintings to be all the same consistent size. I had discovered Ampersand artist panels – a beautiful, wooden, environmentally friendly surface to paint on, so I bought up every one I could find of the right size, across several art stores. It was possible that I had every panel of that size in the UK at that moment! (Apologies if you wanted one too..!). It was quite a thrill when they all started being delivered, and fairly daunting too, as the tower of blank panels grew and grew in the corner of my studio.
I started to paint. I just got stuck in – sometimes it’s the best way. You can always start over if it goes ‘wrong’. Just making a beginning is the hardest part. I have piles and piles of sketches from life and imagination, so it was great to flick through all those and rediscover some of my old favourites, re-imagining them in paintings. I was immediately sucked in again to the stories behind the sketches. How did I feel when I drew that model? What music was playing? I can usually remember all those details. I became fascinated in rewriting the story of each sketch, and overlaying those stories with a new, up to date, narrative. How do I feel now, what music am I into now, what’s inspiring me now, what’s in the news, what am I passionate about today? All of that began to mix with the sketches and create something fresh in this new work. It was intriguing. Patterns started to appear, and details, and a pure love for colour and shape. I got excited about the edges of the panels, and the texture you can create by scratching out areas of paint with a craft knife. The joy of the painting was intense!
Every painting, as I did it, became the focus of a highly concentrated sort of passion. Each one was like an out- pouring of all my best effort. Think of the North Star – the brightest light in the sky. The thing your eye is drawn to. Useful for navigation, and very important. Each painting, each woman I painted, became like the North Star for me; the only thing in the whole sky I could see or think about. A point from which to plot direction. The start of a map, the beginning of a journey, the opening chapter.
And when each painting was finished, however long that story took to tell, I put it down and started the next, on and on and on, maintaining that high energy over weeks and weekends, days and sometimes nights. As the series grew, I was constantly referencing back and forth, making sure that the colours of all the paintings worked together, that the mood was right, that the technical details were consistent. I am obsessive, it’s true. It’s what makes me good at this sort of thing, in some ways. Was there constant thought – yes. Angst – yes. Sleeplessness – yes. Doubt – yes, never ending. Great joy – yes. Am I horrible to live with when in this state – I daredn’t ask! Temptation to give up – yes. Giving up – never! It’s always worth it.
As I went along, I realised how much each painting meant to me. Selling them, letting them go, would be like giving a gift from my own heart. So as I worked, I imagined each painting as a present from me to the new owner, with all of my love and effort and time and passion. This might not be the way to big business. I don’t much care. It’s definitely me (and… it’s definitely the way to exhaustion…)!
After a while, I started to think too about how I would package the paintings. If each one is a gift, then what about a lovely box, a ribbon, tissue paper? In a moment of serendipity, I found some lovely, environmentally friendly gift boxes online at just the right size. I put in an order and arranged for them to be printed with my name on! That was a big day. I remembered the ribbon on my best party dress when I was little. Velvet. I ordered three rolls. Call me whimsical, if you like. You can re-use the box and keep something special in it. The velvet ribbon can be used again (put it on your party dress, perhaps?).
Towards the end of the series, I began to panic. The painting, I love. The business side of things, not as much. Honestly, I think that’s OK. I can do it, and I can do it well. My Maths teachers who helped me through so patiently would be proud of me. But I do just prefer the creative side of my work to the figures! One day I will work out how to make the number crunching creative too (hopefully by out-sourcing it). However, that’s real life. Paintings made need to be sold. Then I can make some more! It’s possible that I was panicking anyway because the journey was coming to an end. I didn’t know what the conclusion of the story would be. Would my collection of work be a ‘success’? What would ‘success’ look like? Who even knows? What comes next? All thorny, difficult questions that keep me awake at night.
At the end, I fell into an exhausted little heap for a few days. Just truly shattered.
The truth is, I have no idea what’s next. Does anyone? My main hope is that others might see the joy in this collection of work, the love of the colour, and the passion of the thought. I’m so proud of it. I would hang each painting on my walls, but I hope each one will find a new home, a home that is powerless to resist its charms. I’ve managed to hold a thought over weeks and months, as I wanted to. I’ve told a story (and it didn’t meander too much). It’s all of my heart. I hope you like it.
You can buy my new paintings here:
I was helped along by so many lovely people:
The endlessly patient Stuart Smith of The Smithy Creative helped me prepare my scribbly handwriting for printing the boxes, which were marvellously created by The Tiny Box Company .
All the photos of my new work you see here were taken by the brilliant Yeshen Venema during a day in his studio – he’s such a pro. Go pay him a call.