Inspired By A City

11,710km. 7 million people. 19 short days.

There’s a lot to learn about a city more than half the world away. A city that’s closer to Antarctica than it is to home. This post isn’t about art, it’s about thoughts. More importantly, the thoughts that Santiago stirred in me.

From watching England crumble at the semi-finals at the very bottom of the world, to hearing a silence so profound I could hear my own ears straining to listen, Chile is a surreal place. A country longer than some continents, a land of four seasons stretching from North to South.

Santiago felt to me like a social experiment. What happens when you throw luxurious shopping malls into the midst of strangled rivers, street-sellers and the socially under-privileged? Do you find conflict, neglect, empathy, or apathy? It seems the vast majority of the conflict arose in my own, and my husband’s deeply European minds.

We know of poverty: we’ve seen homelessness, perhaps not in our own countries but in Europe’s capitals. We’ve seen streets and schools depraved of love, but what I think surprised us most was the normality of it all. Inequality sits deep at the heart of this nevertheless wonderful city. Is it the fault of its present, it’s past or a sign of the future? I’m not sure, but I know that I was surely moved by one city’s fragmented, confusing pseudo-progressive normality. I love Chile: the people are wonderful, the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, there are beautiful natural areas, up and coming districts, but the rest seems to be a little jaded, a little stuck in the past.

But perhaps it’s not, perhaps I’m just a naive, middle-class European who needs to get out more. I’m glad that I was able to venture so far from home, far from my comfort zone and learn of the world beyond the Eurozone. It’s not all sunshine, but it is wonderful. For what is the use of travel if it doesn’t inspire us? From inspiring me to paint, to inspiring me to pay a little more care and attention to the world around me, and perhaps, a little humility too.

Map of human rights violations from all cross the world

Travel is hope.

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How One Painting Helped Me Grow As An Artist

I never really paid too much attention to my growth as an artist. I was more interested in individual paintings, or ideas, but if there’s one thing my most recent painting has taught me, it’s to embrace the whole experience of growth and development.

When you’re constantly trying to make each new painting the best one yet, you might in fact be missing out on the bigger picture.

If you search too hard for ideas, they will forever elude you. Epiphanies and muses are for lazy artists, but sometimes you’ll find that a painting really does just wander into your head, almost fully formed, and when this happened to me, I was compelled to grab it. As soon as the idea was there, I sat down to begin creating it.

And it wasn’t the painting process that helped me grow this time. It was the process of formulating and creating a project. From planning to choosing colours to figuring out what I wanted to say and why: this latest painting became more than just a painting. It became as experience. Just as with a good bottle of wine you want to savour it, or have that last delicious bite a little slower. That’s what this painting became.

Another hurdle I overcame with this piece was not getting trapped. Usually, there will be a point in every painting, probably after the blocking in stage and somewhere before the details, where I get trapped. I get stuck on a colour, or a texture, or an area that just doesn’t look right. But now I’ve realised that it won’t look right, but I can make it better.

Several times during this painting I made a few quite big corrections, as you can see below.

I re-painted the sky to give it a little more vibrancy and to get rid of the distracting horizontal lines.

I realised that I’d got some angles and spacing wrong, so again, I picked up my brush and started sketching over in paint where I needed to fix. And then I fixed it. I didn’t get frustrated, I didn’t lose my confidence, I just got on with it, and got over the awkward, teenage stage of the painting.

Overcoming doubt is the biggest lesson of learned from this painting. Whether it was an external self-confidence I had before I started painting, or a boost because of the painting, I’m not sure. But I’ve learned to overcome the doubt and love the process of working, re-working and getting things just right.

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Wandering Universe

The hue and the wing beat
Bound by the laws of Physics.

The eye and the nebula
Too wonderful to be accidental?

The paradigm shifts upon takeoff
The paradigm shifts upon implosion.

What a journey it must be when your feet
Barely touch the ground
To kiss the wind of the sea and the sound

of the stars.

Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook or Instagram (@cjwaterfieldart) to keep up with the latest in my studio. Hit the little ‘follow’ button on the right to subscribe to my blog. Thanks for reading! 🙂

Five Inspiring Documentaries for Artists

Inspiration. Sometimes, it comes to us in bucket loads, while other times it can seem as elusive as rainfall in Malta’s winter. But there are plenty of ways to kick start your brainstorming, by getting out in nature, reading a good book, or perhaps learning a new skill. When I’m not feeling particularly energetic, but I’m looking for a fix of inspiration, I’ll often turn to my favourite documentaries. Below, I’ve mentioned five of my favourites that I feel every artist should watch.

First Life, by David Attenborough

I could have listed all of Attenborough’s documentaries here, but there’s something extra special about this one. Nothing is more inspiring to me than trying to understand just how vast time is, and how the processes of evolution work together with the changing environment. From fractal proto-animals like Charnia (below) to the stunning Trilobites, you’ll surely get inspired by unique, abstract forms and the stunning scenery.

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Other Attenborough top picks: Life in the Freezer, Frozen Planet, Planet Earth II, Life Story, The Hunt, The Life of Plants.

Wonders of the Solar System by Brian Cox

This series, along with the Wonders of the Universe and Stephen Hawking’s Genius kicked off my love affair with the Cosmos and started my Cosmic Nature paintings. Never has complicated physics, destruction, beauty and chaos been described so eloquently and with such beauty. What’s great about these episodes is that they explain theories and ideas so clearly that you feel a little smug just for watching  and understanding them. The visuals are simply stunning, too.

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Last Chance to See with Stephen Fry & Mark Cawardine

This charming collection chronicles English writer/comedian/actor/activist Stephen Fry’s journey across the world with wildlife photographer and friend Mark Cawardine to visit some of the rarest creatures on the planet, following in the footsteps of Douglas Adams’ book and series made 20 years previously. From the sad failure to find the Baji river dolphin (a subject I also painted) to the touching tale of the Kakapo (oh, another one I painted) this documentary is full of joy, hope and adventure.

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I highly recommend reading Douglas Adams’ book, too.

Modern Masters with Alistair Sooke

Well, there should be an art documentary on my list, and this is one of those that gave me a new appreciation of Picasso. This particular four-part series chronicles the life and works of Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse (the end of this is extremely moving), Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso and features a good balance of storytelling, embellishing and historical accuracy. Though I wouldn’t call Andy Warhol a master, but perhaps that’s for another blog…

Matisse’s Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, France

The Story of God with Morgan Freeman

Whilst I’m not a religious person, this documentary is beautifully narrated and discusses many issues that are important to humanity as a whole, and to us as individuals, whether we’re spiritual or not. From understanding creation to the meaning of life, death, the Apocalypse and more, this is a fascinating insight into world religions, beliefs and culture.

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What do you watch when you’re looking for inspiration? Are you more of a film buff? Let me know in the comments!
Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook or Instagram (@cjwaterfieldart) to keep up with the latest in my studio. Hit the little ‘follow’ button on the left to subscribe to my blog. Thanks for reading! 🙂

Cosmic Thoughts – Existence

“No man is an island,” wrote the poet John Donne. I would add: no island is an island. Nature does not exist in isolation. It’s birth, evolution and daily chimings are dependent on the greater nature beyond our planet’s fragile borders. My mind wonders to the numinous thought espoused by the science of quantum biology that mutation in the genes of life-forms on earth could have been triggered by the sun’s rays affecting the way DNA copies itself in terrestrial veins. So the random mutations that lead, through non-random ways, to our very existence, could have come from the very fingertips of our star.

Aesthetically, too, nature is wedded to the cosmos. The colours of the sky, of plants, of the sea, of the rainbow, all of them, are dictated by the cosmos that veils our planet. And I can think of no greater masterpiece than a tower of starlight in free-fall over a tundra or a great lake. All we can do is be humble and get into that ring of beauty, see what we’re made of – literally.

neighbours
Neighbours, Watercolours

You can learn more about my cosmic nature paintings here.

Cosmic Thoughts – Light

The lights we see from stars and planets emit a beautiful array of colours. But light isn’t just about illumination. Light is the very DNA of a celestial body’s chemical make-up. By using spectroscopy, astronomers can deduce what elements are present on a planet or star. Each and every element in the universe, when burned, gives off a unique set of colours. And these are the same anywhere across the vast universe. Strontium is a reddish purple. Sodium is yellow. Potassium is lilac. Copper is blue. And so on.

If you look at a rainbow, you are also looking at the chemical make-up of our own sun. Our sun is about 70% hydrogen and 28% helium – which isn’t surprising, because those two are the most common elements in the universe. And as you can imagine, for a painter, knowing that colours play such an important role in the decoding of the universe – colours are essentially the bar codes of existence – is a great inspiration. So when you look at the night sky, and you paint it, you pay very careful attention as to what each and every colour you’re using actually means.

Colour then, is the language of the universe. The phrase ‘the music of the spheres’ should be redundant – the universe is quiet, but it has some very loud colours!

Dog Galaxy Watercolour Painting
The Running Dog, Watercolours

You can learn more about my cosmic nature paintings here.

Painting Rarities

Unless you’ve lived in a hole for the last 48 hours, you’ll know that the United States hosted a magnificent and rare spectacle yesterday; the first total eclipse in the region in 99 years.

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The International Space Station whizzing past the sun, just before the Moon takes a bite out of it. Joel Kowsky | NASA | Getty Images

As the earth went eerily still, eerily cold and so rapidly dark, the moon made its debut – obscuring the sun like a giant 8 ball blocking a cosmic snooker pocket. Glasses off, but only for a fleeting moment. The moon gave the sun its diamond ring  – then, glasses back on, and all of a sudden the light returned, like the sheets being pulled from your morning slumber.

People laughed, they gasped, they screamed, and they cried. What is it about this unique and extraordinarily precise phenomena that moves us in such a way? Is it the shock to our circadian rhythm, is it our fear that the sun may not peep out the other side? I witnessed a partial eclipse in the UK in 1999, and was glued to live streams yesterday. From the other side of the world, I was hooked.

A Great Eclipse Painter

A secondary source to my eclipse inspiration came from the works of a painter I’ll admit I stumbled across by chance (thank you, News Feed!). If you haven’t heard of Howard Russell Butler, and you love art and eclipses, you’re missing out.

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Howard Russell Butler, “Solar Eclipse” (1925), oil on canvas 

It’s not simply that he painted beautifully serene and emotive paintings of eclipses and other cosmic scenes, as well as landscapes. His works are beautiful in themselves, but what I find most remarkable as how he managed to plan out and sketch his eclipse paintings in 110 seconds. Once he caught his eclipse, he scribbled furiously, coming up with exceedingly complex values and mathematical symbols for the different hues of the light, the corona and the beads. All this, whilst the picture in front of him vanished.

Find out more about his amazing works

From art to photography to fashion, weirdly ridiculous and indeed mind-numbing flat-Earth theories, eclipses have inspired us for centuries. As an artist, I see great potential in this subject, and plan to take full advantage of its publicity 🙂

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Rare, Watercolours

I had started painting the stunning California Condor some time ago, and then, inspired to paint an eclipse, I found that the two would fit together perfectly.

Just like a total eclipse, the California Condor is a rarity, too, as one of the world’s most endangered birds, an enduring Native American symbol, brought back from near extinction by an expensive and dedicated conservation and breeding project. This magnificent bird is surviving, but by no means thriving.

I’m definitely going to work on another eclipse piece, but I’m waiting for the Muse to strike first! I have a few ideas…

Appreciate the rare things. Love them.