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Let the line flow


Essay on painting and drawing


     Some paintings do come more easily than others. A few years ago I had been working on a piece that I battled with for some time, when the girl next to my studio knocked on my door and invited me over for a cuppa. We had two cups of coffee, a long chat, and she had several cigarettes. After a while I started to feel slightly funny and put it down to the strong smell of turpentine. Then it dawned on me that she had had one joint after the other. When I went back to my studio, dazed by the smell of it all, I had left all inhibitions behind in the swirl of smoke. And what do you know? The paint now flowed freely. My brush became an extension of my right arm, and I got lost in the sensation of sweeping colours over the canvas. Then, with one final movement I swept the last brushstroke onto the work. Hallelujah! After weeks of struggle, I signed the painting, and closed up for the day.

     The finished painting should not show signs of struggle or hard labour. Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917) said: The artist should fear to become the slave of detail. He should strive to express his thoughts and feelings and not the surface of it. Because what avails a storm cloud accurate in form and colour, if the storm is not therein? The artist should be able to convey the passion and love for his subject, onto the canvas. The artist should be able to weave something of his emotional response to his subject he should be able to put something of his own soul into his artwork.

     To be an artist is a decision one makes. It's living through one's eyes, having an open mind, and being in touch with one's inner sensations. It takes years to learn the rules of life drawing and painting. Then it will take many years to learn to forget all the rules, in order to be able to bend them to one's own creative will. The freedom in expression that results through learning and then unlearning opens up many new avenues. Knowing the rules, being able to ignore the rules, gives birth to the unlimited potential in expressing ones thoughts, feelings, and sensations.

      To express his thoughts, his feelings, and his full potential the painter has many tools on hand. One of the main tools of the artist is his brush. The brush, an extension of the artist's arms, follows his thoughts, his inner muse. To use the brush with virtuoso is like learning to use the skills of the sword -forceful and decisive, with concentration and calm precision, yet free and swift. For the artwork to shine with energy one has to cut loose from the strait jacket of safe routines. Instead one needs to learn slapping paint and inks on paper, and let the freedom of lively brushwork take its place. "Make a mark and leave it", my art teacher Maggie Hambling, used to bark. Bold brushwork can breathe life into your drawings and paintings. Boldness, as Goethe proclaimed, has magic and power in it. Boldness transforms the mundane into something strong and vital.

     The creative vitality in my studio is reflected by: candlesticks on wooden tables, watermarks on drawing boards, quills, reed pens, charcoal, red clay and colour loaded sable brushes. We let the brushes loose: let them dance over the paper. Indian drumming pounds through the speakers and vibrates in our ears. Brush in hand -slapping, dragging red, blue, and green ink over pristine soft or rough texture. Make a mark and leave it! The smell of shellac wafts in the air. Black Indian ink, wet clay, and a multitude of colours smudge our fingernails. Our inner dialogue takes form and shape. Let it go, let it flow. Now I mix indigo and red. The brush halts in mid-air. With allegro I splatter, drag, and hammer colours all over the surface. One more dip into the ink vessel. One more dip into the unconscious. Colours swirl in my mind and find their way onto paper. Brush and pencil dance a furious pas-de-deux over the piece, feathered quills, charcoal, chalk and terracotta clay follow suit - all the while the model keeps moving. All the while we feel the beat of the drumming. All the while with our eyes out there on the truth we get in touch with our inner sensations.

     Sense, feel the position, taste the body - make a mark and leave it. Taste the music, feel the rhythm, sense the beat, and keep your eyes on the model. Charcoal marks on wetted paper are chasing black ink slaps; hard pencil lines rain down, and soft feather lines hush over the paper. Follow the model's bone structure with your eyes. Sense that pose and hold it. Hold that moment- hold that position. Hush! See that line, see that curve, and capture it on paper.

     The vocabulary of good drawing marks should be diverse and dialectic: opulent, poor, exploratory, decisive, tentative, emphatic, gentle, and abrupt. When the artist brush is no longer required to record a superfluous array of details, it can concentrate on creating bold forms and impressions of feeling and atmosphere. It is then that the artwork takes on a spiritual quality. Look below the surface -feel the mood of the model, sense the atmosphere, get in touch with your inner vocabulary, feel the music through the palms of your hands, and with your eyes fixed on the model, put brush to paper.

     Follow the beat of that heart, eyelashes quivering against soft cheeks. Follow the lines and curves of the body. A tanned hand covering the sex, the movement of a white curvaceous hip, sense the hot flickering candlelight dancing over that tender breast. Catch that moment and ban it on paper. Be there in the moment, and still your mind. Listen, not just with your ears but listen with your body, with your whole being. Like a river, flowing over rocks and pebbles let go of control. Don't give exactitude a chance to kill the music in your work.

     Matisse wrote: exactitude is not always the truth. The artist should follow his inner impulses. He needs courage, to let go of control. He must learn the rules to be able to break the rules. Not, to relax into any safeness, and he should trust his instincts and let the unconscious guide his hand. The artist must keep taking risks for his art to evolve, because it is only then, that he will be able to say something original and personal in his work.

     When the dynamics of inner vision and outer reality fuse together. When I paint what touches me, when the landscape of the soul reveals itself to me, when the music of the heart takes charge in my mind, when I follow my inner line, when I let go of control, when I let the unconscious guide me and let the line speak, then the chances of producing something meaningful in my art are good, and that without the need of grass.
©Olinger - Sunday, 31. May 2009










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