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Abstracting the landscape - getting my paintings to say what I want them to?


Abstracting the landscape is my conundrum, it’s also my job. Translating the scene before me is a thrill when it goes well, but is not always easy to do. Personally, I’m not interested in painting fully representative images, but neither am I drawn to total abstract, yet! Often it’s the case that I don’t know what it is I want to paint as I sit there. Sometimes there’s a hook- something more obvious that draws my attention and I pull it into my work. Like the drifting leaves in this meadows painting. Once I have that hook my painting seems to flow or maybe connect is a better word, with my experience of that landscape.


Other places are harder to translate and put down on canvas. There are motifs everywhere - stones, pebbles, rails etc but they aren’t what is drawing me to the scene. It’s hard to quantify and this is often when my nemesis - the horizon line appears and I end up with an unsatisfactory painting, which I know lacks the energy of the place and my experience of being in it.


Yesterday I felt a little closer to finding a way of grasping what I want to say in a painting- it doesn’t have to say everything but it must say what’s most important to me. Discernment maybe? Or maybe it’s simply sitting and asking the question- what is it, in this moment, that is making this place so compelling? I’ve come to realise that the answer is vital to me being able to rework these sketches back in the studio. Using them to inform a larger piece of work I need to recall the essence of the attraction, the hook.


Persistent playing, sketching and reflection in any spare minutes, while I’m out and about is helping train my eye and approach. I remind myself to ask - what is it I’m drawn to or love about this place , therefore what am I trying to convey. Now I think about it, I’ve been making it very hard for myself sketching without digging deeper into what it is about my experience that I want to portray.


This realisation came whilst proped in a beach chair watching my family splash about in a pretty but unremarkable estuary near my home. I took a few minutes to exercise my sketching muscle, fell into drawing the scene and felt a rising frustration as a poor representation appeared and the horizon crept in. I wasn’t concerned with the colours, as I often just pick them at random to see what occurs, but the composition screamed BORING!!! at me. So in my most patient inner voice, I asked myself, what is it that I am loving about sitting here? And the answer, surprisingly was, space. The uninterrupted, openness of the wide, deep estuary. So that’s what I held in my mind whilst I sketched and felt the connection and flow. A little switch had been flicked and something clicked into place.

Do you sketch to inform your bigger pieces? How do you capture the sense of place? Let me know I love to know how other artists achieve this in their work. www.suzanne.nicholl@gmail.com



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