Live Painting

Working with uncertainty, going with the flow.

I attended Martin Couzins‘ excellent Bar Camp after day one of the Learning Technologies event last week. I often feel lost in big conferences, but I really enjoy the fringe events, the more conversational, interactive stuff around the edges. I was at the event to meet and catch up with good people, listen, and live paint.

One of the interesting things about live painting at an event, is the not knowing. How will things go? Where will inspiration arrive from? Will inspiration arrive at all? On the way to the event, I thought of the people gathering to meet each other, and as I sat on the train I drew and cut out a face in profile. I’ve used various facial profiles in the past for an occasional art project called Passing Strangers and it struck me I could start (or maybe I already had started?) with a new piece in that vein.

On arrival at the venue I set out my paints and other bits and pieces, and as people began to gather, I got to work using the stencil I’d already cut, and some metallic paints. The stencil allowed me to work fairly quickly, and before long, this started to emerge. The design represents the hurry and rush of people at a big conference as they move to a smaller space, slow down, and begin to talk.

I continued to fiddle with this piece of work for a while – touching in marks here and there. Doubt nagging in my mind about where to go next, a not uncommon sensation in these circumstances. I eventually abandoned the safety of the canvas and wandered the room, listening to the conversations.

The room was noisy. Nothing was coming to mind, and even though I knew that whatever happens next is OK (even if that is nothing), I felt a little nervous. A quick check in with Martin revealed that time was running out. That knowledge seemed to release something in me, and I picked up my second canvas and hurriedly applied a layer of paint to it. This is a canvas I’ve used and reused a few times, revealing then obscuring images over time. I often over paint many layers like this. I used a credit card to get the paint down in a hurry, then rubbed and wiped it over with my hand to rough the paint up a bit over the previous layers, and help it dry more quickly.

Artist at work. Photo by Martin Couzins

I continued to work at pace – this piece was becoming less about what was going on around me, more about my response to a sense of nervous urgency. In the moment, I decided to make a guardian. Normally, I lay larger guardian designs out very carefully, measuring, mapping and plotting. Before I commit the paint to the surface, I want to know the wings are equal in length, raised to the same height. Here are some studio photos to give you a sense of that structure.

Working on a guardian in the studio.

On this occasion – I threw all that precision out of the window. I estimated where the centre of the canvas was, guessed the angle and length of the wings, grabbed the credit card and began to attack the surface with paint. I scratched and scraped and scored out my design, barely stopping to look until it, and the conversations were finished.

I think this might be my favourite guardian yet. It emerged almost unthinkingly, it has the basic shape and design, yet it is completely different. It appears to me to have been in the wars, yet it’s made it through to the other side, bearing scars and a sense of fragility for all to see.

Both designs are a representation of working out loud, examples of what can happen when you just do the work, accepting that not knowing is OK. The Passing Strangers canvas is 30cm x 30cm, and the guardian is 30cm x 80cm. Both are available to purchase, email doug.shaw@wgalimited.com if you’d like further information.

Thanks to Martin Couzins for the kind invitation.

Suddenly You Were Gone

I volunteered at a local school careers fair on Valentine’s Day this week. I felt a little out of place at first, among the banks, airlines, engineering companies and more, but as I set out my stall, I appreciated I had something useful to offer, and relaxed. I took along some of my art, and some work made by clients and various community groups, and spoke with kids at the school about aspects of running your own business.

In between the conversations, I sketched out a few mini guardians. I enjoy making and I thought it might be useful for others to see the process of me making too.

As I was making, some very sad news was unfolding. I found out after the careers fair ended, that our dear friend Cate had died suddenly, unexpectedly. I’ve known Cate for years, and though others know her better, she’s always been a lovely friend, lively, kind, and equally, fierce when needed. I saw her many times on her adventures to the UK and when I was fortunate to travel to Melbourne, she and I met up for a lovely evening of conversation, laughs and a glass or two of good white wine.

Cate was also a supporter of my work, and on that trip to Australia I hand delivered a Winged Heart print to her. I’m going to hide a Winged Heart and two of the miniature guardian figures together for this week’s art drop. The print recognises Cate’s friendship and support, and the guardians represent her and her lovely son, who we are thinking of and sending best wishes to right now.

Life is short. Hug someone you love.

Practicing : Part Two

Where do good ideas come from?

An evolution. Good work often reveals itself slowly.

On the 2nd January 2018 I painted this ghostly winged figure. I had recently finished reading Skellig, by David Almond. Keira recommended the book to me, and one of the characters is a mysterious winged creature, so I think that’s partly where the inspiration for this art came from. The book and its sequel, My Name Is Mina, are both excellent reads.

This painting quickly sold and was shortly followed by another in a similar vein. The second piece, much larger than the first, didn’t work, or at least that is what I initially thought. I played with it a little more, and liked it a little less, but it led me to produce this:

Which in turn, led me to produce more…

The greeny blue one on the left and the red spattered one on the right were both hidden as part of the free art project, and I made the orange piece in the centre during an LnDcowork at Herman Miller’s showroom, where it was subsequently bought by a lovely friend. The two gold pieces are available to purchase, so if either or both takes your fancy, please let me know.

A small but important modification then occurred, after Carole suggested to me the figures would look better without feet. I followed her advice and another free art drop piece came into being. Unusually – I was in the vicinity when this piece was found. Someone pulled up in their car and dashed to grab the art. They were in such a hurry to find it, they’d not put any shoes on before leaving the house. A shoeless person found the footless angel.

I liked this modification, and returned to the larger purple and blue canvas, overpainted it, and began to work again. A new figure emerged…

Halo Effect

I love this piece of work, I think it’s one of the best things I’ve painted to date. It has just returned from the framers and is ready, as one of three pieces which will be shown in March 2019 at an exhibition in Minden Germany.

All of this work emerged in a period of a few weeks. It was feeling good to make, and I still wasn’t really sure why I was enjoying the work so much, or why I felt so strongly compelled to keep going.

In March 2018 I attended Workplace Trends, both to live paint at the event, and give a talk on why creative practice at work matters. As I put together my pop up art studio at the back of the room, I listened to Nicola Gillen speak about psychological safety at work. I wrote about how Nicola’s talk inspired me here, and I started to paint the design you see below as a result of what I was hearing. The winged creature indicates a guardian within – open arms encouraging that sense of being sufficiently confident to speak truth to power, to be ‘myself’ at work.

Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself Again

I painted a lot that day, and the piece inspired by Nicola subsequently went on loan to the London offices of AECOM, where it spent a few months in reception, before being sold.

I am continuing to work with these winged creatures, which are evolving to represent aspects of mental health, taking responsibility, and wellbeing. The circular centre piece below is titled ‘Waiting To Hold You’ and is also heading to Germany soon. In addition, I’ve made several smaller sketches, and will continue to develop the project, titled ‘I Guardian’ for as long as it interests me.

Some of the many things I am learning from this project include:

  • Inspiration can come from anywhere
  • Keep going
  • Listen
  • Feel
  • Trust your instinct…Back yourself

At a time when people seem to crave things, faster, now, even sooner than now, I wonder: How often do you give yourself time to start, dip in and out, and keep returning to an exploration like this when at work? Good work often reveals itself slowly.