Drawing on your surroundings

Dartmoor weekendI’ve just come home from a glorious weekend in Dartmoor; blue skies, fresh grass, the English countryside at its best. Great for an afternoon relaxing with a book, but not so good for me looking for new inspiration for paintings.

It can feel wonderfully restorative being in such beautiful natural surroundings but a pictorial representation would appear too perfect. Like the sickly image on the box of Devon fudge or photographs of sunsets that look as though they are taken with a filter, such images leave me with sense of smug perfection. The greens appear too clean, the sky too blue, the shapes and contours so round and lush. I’m more inspired by bleak landscapes, Autumn skies, the sharp bracken of winter twigs…

Dorset Heath by Alice Sheridan

Dorset Heath by Alice Sheridan

So I’m stuck with a conundrum:

How do I take what is around me and turn it into a new source of inspiration?

This is an eternal struggle of the artist. We all look at the same world but through our own eyes. It is the filtering process of each artist that takes what we all see and reinterprets it on a unique and personal way. In a class all drawing the same still life, you will still end up with as many different versions as there are students. So we all need to find a way to work out our own interpretation.

Remote a Place to Ponder by Charlie O'Sullivan

Remote a Place to Ponder by Charlie O’Sullivan

I’ve long appreciated the work of Devon artist Charlie O’Sullivan . She finds her way through landscape using a narrative often using stories or conversations as starting points. However the paintings are still about our place in the world and her figures are fairly set within their landscape surrounds.

So with a summer ahead of me, I have a new challenge; to use what I have available to create what I want. (Without knowing what I want at the beginning of the process!)

My art training always taught me to draw from life. Draw what you see not what you think you can see is the first lesson at art school. And it serves you well – don’t make assumptions about what is in front of you. Learning to trust your eyes and listen to the commands they give you means that sometimes you have to over-power your literal brain.

So I will have to over-power the part of my brain that tells me that summer countryside is boring! I will have to find something that intrigues me enough to make a drawing about it.

At this stage I have no idea what it will be;

  • the contrast between sun and shadow
  • simply a collection of colours (I quite like the idea of collecting colours…)
  • resolving everything to black and white marks as a distinct retaliation to the colours all around

It’s so easy to get distracted while you are drawing and put in far more information than you need. Often it can be beneficial to draw the same thing twice: once to gather your information and then again to focus on what you really want to distill from the subject. Last week I wrote a post about Matisse who was the master of keeping things simplified so as I draw I try keep one thing in mind:

What inspired me to do this drawing?



6 replies
  1. Sally
    Sally says:

    Interesting post Alice – I feel inspired by lots of green and blue skies but struggle to feel inspired in the grey of winter! I know what you mean about the chocolate box pictures though – I love landscapes and struggle to photograph them without it looking too cliched and boring. I haven’t found a solution to this yet as it’s the cliched scenes that draw my attention!

  2. Nina
    Nina says:

    Sounds like an interesting challenge Alice. I enjoy photography and am always trying to find interesting ways to photograph landscapes and countryside. I tend to focus on details, or unusual features.

    Look forward to seeing what you come up with over the summer!

    • Alice Sheridan
      Alice Sheridan says:

      Thanks Nina, I’m sure there is a lot of crossover with photography. All to do with interpretation… details can be a good focus – anything that encourages you to consider scale or a change of perspective. Do you have a similar photography challenge for yourself over the summer I wonder?

      • Nina
        Nina says:

        I haven’t set myself a photography challenge this summer, but I’ve previously done a few month long ones. One was on the theme “green”, and I got lots of other bloggers to join in. It was interesting the differences between the things everyone chose to take photos of!

  3. Lynsey
    Lynsey says:

    I wonder if it’s not the summer landscape as much as the landscape itself and the fact that it is something you are used to. You see what you expect to see. Where I live the green is set against a backdrop of black – the Pennines and Pendle Hill. Go an hour north and you reach the rugged scenery of the Lake District. Another hour or two North and we are in Scotland near my in-laws where the green is in stark contrast to the purple heather. An hour or two West and we reach the multicoloured peaks and Llyns of Snowdonia. And there is nothing more uninspiring than the rain we get the rest of the year! Perhaps it’s not a change is season you need but a change of scenery!

    • Alice Sheridan
      Alice Sheridan says:

      I think you’re right Lynsey – the challenge will be to look past what I’m assuming and find something new. No ‘lazy looking’ on my part. From that point of view it could be more interesting to find something new inthe familiar rather than to rely on either a change of season or a change of scenery.

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