Just two days after emerging from quarantine in Malta, we found ourselves back in lockdown as the coronavirus surges around us. With nowhere to go and with a new appreciation for just how risky it is to go out, this was the perfect time for me to get back into my art studio, after a very quiet few months.
I decided to challenge myself to an entire day in the studio. It was a personal challenge, escaping the monotony of quarantine and mum life and seeing how much I could get done. I thought about what I wanted to paint or draw and made myself a list of goals, with no idea if I’d get any results at the end.
I’m glad I made these goals ahead of time. Having the day roughly planned out gave me something to get excited about, instead of simply stepping into the studio, rattling around getting all my mediums out and giving up from decision fatigue.
My tasks for the day were pretty simple:
- Work on my Wild ABCs project
- Finish my quarantine abstract painting on paper (after several failed attempts)
- Touch up some old paintings
- Create a full charcoal drawing
- Be bold and re-work an old painting
What I Created
I started early, up and in the studio at around 8am (after making myself a cup of tea, breakfast and feeding my son) and got to work on the Wild ABCs. I had several panels prepped and ready to go, and the next letter in the series in the early stages. What’s great about these paintings on panel is that I can work on several at a time, switching between colours and pieces as one section dries.
I sketched out ideas for the letter C and was pleased with the initial concept. Hoping that it would work out as well in paint.
After a couple of hours, I took a mental break and looked around the studio for some paintings that needed some TLC – and had needed it for years! I re-painted the sides of my small Pluto painting, and filled in a missing leaf on another. Small, five-minute tasks give you the most satisfaction!
Then I decided to switch mediums and tackle the charcoal drawing. I’d done a few smaller charcoal works in my sketchbook when I was pregnant, and really wanted to try a larger, more detailed piece.
A brief search through my books and I settled on the Small Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy near to our own Milky Way. The NASA image is stunning in composition, and I love how the light frames the galaxy. It was a challenging piece to recreate in monochrome, in a medium I had barely used and knew little about.
So no one was more surprised than me. This turned out to be my favourite piece of the day!
For two weeks in quarantine, I’d had to be our son’s sole carer, and whilst the experience was tough it was also beautiful. I had little time to myself, but I did squeeze in five minutes of daily sketching, documenting our quarantine experience with abstract ink and watercolour sketches. Granted, these are no masterpieces, but they weren’t meant to be. They were simply indulging in the moment and creating intuitively.!
However, I challenged myself to producing an abstract painting on paper. I’d already tried – and failed – several times painting on the nursery floor (not literally!) so I didn’t have high hopes.
Here’s the finished piece. The colours are inspired by my son’s bright peppermint hued playmat and grey star carpet, where we spent a good deal of our time. Apart from that there’s not a lot I can really say about this. I guess I have a long way to go in my abstract art development. But I’ve challenged myself to keep trying some abstract works in my new mini sketchbook.
After a lunch break (I’m no starving artist) I thought about which painting I’d like to rework. I had no specifics in mind, and I was annoyed by the fact that I’d previously wrapped up most of them for storage, so I couldn’t browse through them as freely as I’d like. So, honestly, I grabbed one that was handy. It was one I’d been in love with, but one I’d always felt needed something more.
Having been reading up a lot on colour theory and harmonies, I knew what Eclectus needed: blue! And lots of it. I sketched out a simple cosmic background which I thought would complement those rich reds.
No going back now!
It’s been a long time since I’ve painted anything on a larger scale, so being able to go a bit crazy with my brush getting the first layers down was exciting and energetic. I could see the potential in those blues as soon as I started.
I still have a long way to go, but I’m happy with the progress. The sky is bright yet does not compete with the parrot. The foreground will introduce a few low palms (the Eclectus parrot is a rainforest bird native to the Solomon Islands, Northern Australia, Indonesia and New Guinea) and brings some complementary mint greens and purples into the painting. So far, so good! The painting’s mood has been enhanced and the composition is stronger now too.
Soon though, the sun went down and I realised that I need to invest in some decent studio lighting. I called it a day and went to play with my son and tuck him into bed, very satisfied with what I’d accomplished, and even more glad that I stuck with it for 11 hours.
I learned that I could sit (or stand) in the studio for an entire day without getting frustrated or bored. I’ll admit, around 5pm I did start flagging a little, but nothing a quick visit from my son and a cup of tea couldn’t solve. I think the key was having a plan before I started, otherwise there would have been a lot of paint pushed around and nothing to show for it.
I also fell in love with the versatility of primary colours. I’ve always worked with limited colours, but recently I’ve been mixing using only red, yellow and blue and have been amazed at the infinite shades and tones that can be produced. It’s also helped me mix a little more instinctively, while learning more about the relationship between colours.
Reworking Eclectus was probably the biggest gamble of the day, but the one that paid off. It’s a painting I always wanted more from, and I can’t wait to get back to it and watch those colours and the night come to life. What is it with birds and the cosmos? There’s a magical connection for me that I just can’t let go.
Everything I created can help to inspire future projects, series and has taught me a lot about pushing my creativity. I’m still rubbish at abstracts, but I’m great with charcoal. I’ll hang on to all of these pieces for future inspiration, perhaps for the next art challenge…
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