Sorry – this isn’t a post about using Instagram filters! Just a view on how we choose to see the world, and why that’s so important (especially these days)

The beauty of a misty morning seems to appeal to everyone and recently we have had some wonderful misty mornings. In Chiswick House they currently have an installation of Chinese lanterns. Last year some of these were rather incongruous; cartoon ducks against a Palladian mansion anyone? But through the mist there was something quite beautiful about the display this year as the colours were softened but glowed against the greyed out landscape…

no filter used – only what nature provided…

When I shared it on Twitter this photo was noticed and used as the changing daily photo for our local website; it seems we all enjoy the mystery in such images. When things remain a bit hidden it allows more of our imagination perhaps. Seeing the sharp details, all the detritus of life can become distracting; instead the mist draws a partial veil across reality and lets us get lost in the space.

Against what we might expect, removing some of the visual information makes it easier to see the overall impression. The mist gives us a filter for what we see. Once there is a restriction in place we notice other things about what we are seeing.

Through the mist, nature allows us to see things differently. In painting, it’s the role of the artist to choose what restrictions they put in place so that the focus of the painting becomes clear.

Sometimes the idea is strong from the outset and at others it develops as the painting progresses, but you can bet that in any successful painting there have been a million considered decisions about what to include and what to draw a veil over.

This painting began simply as colour forms on the panel, and although it’s far from being finished, as I continue to add forms and marks, it’s beginning to make suggestions to me. Of perhaps a coastline, the way the land cuts into the sea. I’m not painting a specific place, but of course I’ve been to the sea many times. Places become part of our history – we can’t cut off from memory. All these are part of me while I’m painting and I’m learning to allow them to influence me, rather than control them.

As I was working on this painting I became aware that there were links between the colours I was using and this view I had noticed earlier in the week as I dropped my daughter at school. I wasn’t thinking about painting at the time (it was too early to be thinking much rational thought to be honest) but I looked and saw a certain stark beauty in something as simple as a pile of dirt by the roadside. That soft grey blue mist and the fragments of rusty orange netting. The birds flying across at just the right moment were a chance occurrence that was simply the icing on the cake!

This is what I love about making art. It all comes together somehow. What we feel, what we see, what we remember. Paul Klee wrote “Art does not reproduce what we see. It makes us see.” If art sharpens our perceptions and makes us more aware of the world around us, that’s an important role!

But sometimes we also need a filter. I know I’m not the only one finding the current political climate difficult. I don’t believe the answer is to shut ourselves off. I want to be aware. I want to do my best to see things clearly, to be observant and ultimately to make decisions about what I can do to make a difference. I don’t want to reproduce without trying to check the source is accurate, but I also need others to be a reliable filter. That’s what we have journalists for, and editors, and writers and people prepared to be out there and keep us informed.

I can’t take on world leaders but I can choose what I read and support whoever is trying to provide a balanced and considered view. However there are also times when I want to filter out the news and remind myself that there are still wonderful things in life, even in a pile of building rubble.

If you’d like to visit and rejoice in a rather magical mixing of history, different cultures and spaces, you can see the light festival at Chiswick House, London until 26 February 2017 more details here







To create art you have to accept that a certain amount of the time you spend will be wasted. You have to show up and do the work anyway, knowing that the first three hours you may spend going in circles. But you also know that those hours may be necessary to get you to the point where you make a series of decisions in ten minutes which can turn the whole painting.

By it’s very nature art can be elusive – if we knew in advance which things would work then it starts to turn into a bit of a predetermined factory line of production and takes away all the excitement of surprise.

So a certain amount of exploring time is essential. But how much?

“When I work I work very fast, but preparing to work can take any length of time.” When I posted this quote by Cy Twombly on Instagram it had a huge response from people who recognised this feeling of preparing to work – the act of being ready. It became clear there was big distinction between procrastination and preparing. Procrastination will see you do almost anything to avoid doing what you know you should be working on. Often from a sense of fear or doubt or self judgement, or – let’s face it – sheer laziness!

There are different forms of preparation too – practical time spent cutting paper, preparing grounds, cleaning materials. All valid, time consuming tasks, and a necessary part of preparing, but still not really the main task at hand.

Many times we prepare for creating new work by drawing pre-studies or reflecting on the painting that exists so far; sometimes this is necessary but too much advance thinking can stop you in your tracks. Instead I wonder if Twombly is talking about the preparing which happens actually on the canvas or within the drawing?

Is the sense of preparation Twombly is referring to, the time needed to sink into the work itself?

In life drawing I always take time to allow my arm to move across the paper without the charcoal or pencil actually touching the paper. No marks are made. Is this wasted? There is no evidence of the thought involved… but this is a helpful way to feel out the confines, to reach towards the edges, to anticipate the stretch and feel how you will fill the page. It’s a familiarisation which allows you to make stronger marks once you do begin to draw with more confidence.

Now we’re onto something that’s definitely not procrastination!

I’ve moved through all of these stages – first using my sketchbook to simply create marks. Using drawing materials alongside paint allows for an immediacy of choice. With painting there is always a degree of forethought as you must first select and mix the paint, but using other materials gives space for a more instinctive choice, especially of colour and I was interested to see combinations emerge which were certainly not planned.

Then I scaled up to some more fluid drawings with paint. Using black first means whatever marks you make will be bold from the start and that’s a strong starting point which encourages braver moves. There is no point in tinkering with details at this point…

I don’t know the answer to how much time needs to be spent preparing. Whether you call it planning or just thinking. I do know that whatever marks you make on a page have an inherent energy. You can see the speed in which they have been made and that brings a certain energy which I find essential to bringing the surface to life.

This is the preparing made visible. In a full painting many of these earlier marks may be covered as the painting progresses but they give you a sense of where to go and become an inherent part of the overall painting even if they get covered up.

This year I’m trying to keep track of work. I know that there is no predictable relationship between studio time and how many ‘finished’ paintings are actually produced, although it would be interesting to find out! So instead I am simply noting how many hours each week I spend within my studio.

Last week I told a friend that on one day, even though I had been in the studio for 4hrs I was only going to make a not of 2hrs because for some of the time I had been faffing… her response (she’s a writer) was that it ALL counts.

Faffing, procrastinating or preparing? The only answer is to be honest with ourselves – we know it in our hearts which is which. Don’t you?

I’m not going to lie – getting back to school routine this week has been hard. Getting up in the dark is not my idea of fun. Add a bit of a cold wintery weather into the mix and I would far rather be tucked up under the duvet for a gentle start to the day with my book and a cup of tea. Even better if someone else has made it!

The restful time over the holidays must have softened me up and I felt sorry for my daughter so I have been driving her in the mornings. We start off scraping the ice from the windscreen in the dark, and by the time we get to school, the car has warmed up, the radio had played at least once decent song and the car heater has kicked into gear. Not so bad.

By the time I’ve dropped her off and the dog and I have arrived at the park it’s starting to get light. There are a few crazy people running and trying not to slip on the icy pathways. Must be some kind of new year resolution going on – I prefer an easier start to the year; something that might guide me. In the past I have chosen ‘scale’ and this year I’m toying with ‘clarity’. It hasn’t quite settled into place yet but it has a gentle definition which appeals. A softer form of decisiveness.

The sun is trying to shine, but my fingers are still frozen when I take off my gloves to try and take photos. I’m not sure why I bother – I know my phone camera can’t capture the colours I see or the details which are starting to wake me up… the steam rising above the buildings on the skyline, or the gently changing blue.

It’s frustrating but also becomes a challenge to try and capture some of the things I’m becoming alert to. I find myself crouched down to change my viewpoint – what I want to record is different from the way the camera ‘sees’ it. Often it picks up too much and I need to simplify what is within the shot and decide what the focus is going to be.

As ugly patches of grafitti become a thing of beauty it gets me lost in looking at the world I can see and working out what is of interest. Most of these photos get deleted as my phone crumples under storage issues, others I never look at again for months, if at all.

But the simple act of waking up my eyes and tuning in again stays with me. If I look back through old sketchbooks I can see ideas and visuals resurface. They feel familiar and yet it still surprises me how the things which appeal are so intrinsic to each of us.

Noticing these random connections is essential in making art. It’s like working out a puzzle without a guide. I have no idea how this year will develop or what I will create. There is no clarity yet but somehow it’s all connected.

So congratulations for making it through the first week! Ease into your new year and start as you mean to go on.