“Time and reflection change the spirit little by little until we come to understand.”
– Paul Cezanne
I’ve just been spring cleaning my studio and feel freshly inspired. Although it’s a full-on job, it gives me time away from painting in my studio, to pause and reflect. It shows me, again, that creative ideas and development can come from anywhere. It was a beautiful spring day to clean out and reorganise my atelier, full of hope and promise which is just what an artist needs. It didn’t quite go to plan but then that is the way with artists. Dusting my glass shelves, of course, I became distracted. I house my treasures upon them. Those objects that I collect whilst on walks, travelling and gardening. These items help my progress through giving me new ideas and reminding me of a colour combination I love or a range of mark-making to explore. In these times of quiet contemplation, I always seem to be drawn to a different part of each item which gives me an endless supply of inspiration. I keep my journal handy in order to note down these thoughts before they are lost, swept away with the dust.
In moments of quiet reflection our minds embrace the sea that we have never crossed. “ Holmes
My treasures consist of an eclectic mix from birds’ nests, stones, shells, to animals’ teeth (elephant, buffalo, zebra and a whole gazelle jaw), lichen-covered sticks, feathers and lumps of wood. I am drawn to them by their colour, texture, pattern, what they remind me of figuratively and literally, and the memory that each one holds for me personally. I have quite a hoard. Who knew I can store so much in my atelier space? I hold the birds’ nests in high esteem. (I should reassure you at this point I only take the nests when they have fallen out of trees or are clearly not to be used again.) Each one is a jewel of craftsmanship (I think there should be a word “craftsbirdship”!) I have an enormous nest, the size of a medium garden planter. It is made of large twigs and thick clay mud. It weighs a ton. I believe it belongs to a crow or magpie. My smallest nest is so delicate constructed of strands of hay and grasses, coated with vivid green moss and lined with feathers. This is the best. I would choose to be raised in it if I was a bird. Sadly, the moss is slowly fading. Yet, as an artist interested on the transience and fragility of life, this is a totem for me and my progress. The birds’ nests display their incredible ingenuity and creativity in building such a wondrous home. I once watched a film on Bowerbirds in Australia building their ground nests. They contemplate every selection and placement of moss, twig, stone in order to entice and welcome their mate. Like me, they collect their treasures, bones and shells, rearranging and altering to decorate their nests as works of art. Such diligence in creating individual aesthetic design! I also found vast circles of hornets’ nest in my chimney that I kept for a while before endowing them to an art department for drawing. When I looked up the huge chimney breast, it looked like a giant snake coiled up in there. Again, I marvel at their expertise in creating this beautiful sculptural piece.
I love the poem by Nina Bagley, We are Gatherers. It describes me and so many other artists I know.
We are gatherers,
the ones who pick up sticks and stones
and old wasps’ nests fallen by the
door of the barn
walnuts with holes that look like eyes of owls,
bits of shell not whole but lovely
in their brokenness,
we are the ones who bring home
empty eggs of birds
and place them on a small glass shelf
To keep for what? How long?
It matters not. What matters
Is the gathering,
The pockets filled with remnants
of a day evaporated, the traces of a
certain memory, a lingering smell,
a smile that came with the shell.
I have just bought a wonderful book full of botanical studies – but of birds’ nests, not plants. Although the plants interwoven into the nest or the branch which holds the nest are equally beautifully portrayed in some pages. The artist, Susan Ogilvy, became fascinated when she found a sodden lump of a nest fallen from a fir tree. She brought it inside and as it dried it erupted into a jewel-like nest. From that point she was enthralled and began painting them. Using her book, Nests, I have been able to identify my favourite nest as that of the smallest European bird, The Goldcrest. The monogamous couple build this exquisite home together and care for, up to twelve, tiny eggs.
In my spring clean, I have also turned up old works – not sold but too good, in my humble opinion, to throw away. These too, I use for reflection and critique for future development. It is surprising how a small part, a colour combination or area of brushwork, or scraping back, or layering up can lead me on my next part of my creative path. I keep a journal as well as a sketchbook which helps chart my progress. It is useful at those times when mid-painting, one becomes a bit bogged down in its direction. This is usually when I am trying to force myself upon the painting in my intended direction but my painting has decided to go in another one. Although at times frustrating, I love this dialogue and it reminds me that the artist, the paint, the canvas or board all playing an intricate role, that every mark demands the next and the creation of every work is a conversation; a journey to enjoy. The world is fast and we can lose ourselves and our thought process too easily. So, in this simple job of spring cleaning, I find a meditative break. One that inspires and directs me and helps me understand my journey as an artist.
Reflective thinking turns experience into insight.” John C Maxwell
If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always be where you’ve always been. TD Jakes
You can see some of my treasures and current work on my new website www.wendyroylance-art.com
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I’m sure you are aware of the wonderful and beautifully illustrated book, by Charlie Mackesey, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse – a lovely story about a journey full of contemplation, kindness, friendship and empathy. There are many other books that pick up this theme of contemplation, each in its unique way. I would also recommend to you The Book of Pebbles, by Christopher Stocks and the fabulous artist and printmaker Angie Lewin. Stocks writes about the visceral appeal and together they explore why we pick up pebbles, what we see in them and why do we take them home. It celebrates their inherent beauty, infinite variety and happy associations with time and place.