What should I paint?

Tonight I put the imprimatura on three canvases I mounted on board and primed last night. Since this is still wet – I have no painting to complete and post tonight. So I thought I would post an image of an old watercolour I did in 2011:

Watercolour, approximately 28 x 19 cm (2011)

This is not a favourite of mine – I normally paint my watercolours on Hot Pressed Paper (very smooth). In this painting I used a rougher paper and the result was not completely satisfactory to me. This is an imaginary landscape, based on a thumbnail sketch. I have to admit, however, that the composition and subject matter was directly inspired by Thomas Aquinas Daly’s beautiful paintings.

I gained so much from Aquinas Daly’s book Painting Nature’s Quiet Places that I am forever indebted to this artist. One key thing I learned from him is that watercolour can really be pushed to provide deep, strong colour and tone. As Daly put it “[watercolour] need not be treated as the intimidating, fragile endeavour that I had previously been led to believe“.

Another thing was that strong horizontal lines in a composition provide a restful effect and serene quality to a painting – something I almost always strive for. I am still influenced by this and it is why many skies in my landscapes feature strong horizontal patterns.

But what I am most indebted to Aquinas Daly for is his discussion on “choosing a subject matter”. I realize that many artists are happy to paint whatever presents itself to them. But I have always found it impossible to paint anything that does not connect with something emotional or primal in me. I also learned that other  – some really good – painters also struggle with this question, and it is not just that I am lazy. As Aquinas Daly puts it:

…my deep emotional involvement in my subject matter is the essential ingredient that carries my work. For years I floundered in a quandary over what to paint, until I realized the most rudimentary fact: that I should paint what moves me, and if handled with some degree of facility, it should in turn move others. The mistake I feel a great many artists make is in labouring to render material that is totally devoid of feeling…

If a subject matter doesn’t incite my emotions and possess my full sensory attention, it simply doesn’t get painted…

By selecting my subject matter with sentiment, I feel I incorporate a spiritual dimension that is the essence and true strength of any vital art form.

Thomas Aquinas Daly – Painting Nature’s Quiet Places

(out of print)

I am sure some artists may disagree with this sentiment, but it just happens to resonate with me. As always, many thanks to all who have encouraged me with likes and comments and especially those following my blog.

How different is the road we come to take from the road we planned to take! The road that carries us to where we need to be contains no ecstasy. T.S Eliot knew this when he wrote:

You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

T.S. Eliot – excerpt from Four Quartets


6 thoughts on “What should I paint?

  1. Thank you so much for this beautiful, inspiring post. The watercolor is lovely — serene and peaceful, quiet and reflective. I followed your links and looked at Daly’s paintings, then read a bit about his book. The excerpt you shared really touched me. Yes, we need to “paint from the heart” and choose scenes and subjects that have meaning for us. I’m learning this more each day. Eliot is one of my favorite poets. I quoted from one of his “Four Quartets” recently in one of my blog posts. We must go by “a way of ignorance”…how else can we learn? I’m so glad to have found your blog. Your paintings and your thoughts have put me more in touch with myself and with who I want to become. I am grateful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks for you thoughtful comment, as always. I am so glad it meant something to you. Eliot is amzing to me also, his poetry is not only beautiful to listen to, but also contains highly succint descriptions of truly complex patterns in like. Thanks again for you encouragement.

      Liked by 2 people

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