The Turning Tide

Today I sunk away into the familiar fruitful dark. The past few days I felt confident entering the studio, I liked my last two paintings and felt I had a method to work from concept to something I liked.

Tonight, the moment I stepped into the studio, I realised that had all changed. My last painting suddenly looked flat, dark and humdrum. I felt if I had achieved anything thus far it was nothing more than luck – which had now deserted me.


I have been here before – this change in confidence is like having a close travelling companion who suddenly changes personality. You cannot go on without him, but any step you take further with him will be risky, tough going. Creative work with him on my shoulder is torture and waste of material. What to do?

I have had my seasons with this companion, trying to fight things out. I always lost. Now I simply try to settle down, watch and wait for the tide to turn and limit any hurt to my self and those around me. So tonight, I set out to just put an imprimatura of Burnt Sienna on two blank canvasses. Just doing the work, no expectation of finishing anything.

The mind settled and in the end I took out two thumbnails of invented still lifes I liked (below), and started wiping away to create highlights. Slowly something emerged. I deepened some shadows and worked with lines of composition. By the time I had done, I had two potentially useful underpaintings (images above). I continue waiting…


My sincere thanks to all those who commented on my recent posts and encouraged me with likes. I plan to reply to your comments as soon as this goes to press. A special thanks to all of you who follow my blog.

I leave you with a poem of my own:


I’m doing strategy.
Not fine detail stuff.
Just the big blocks – markets, clients, focus, enemies.
My plans unfold almost by themselves.
I’m being guided!
The map emerges from the half dark
and conveys familiar territory.
It’s a house plan. I don’t need a plan –
I lived here as a child!
I present the strategy to the board.
They’re pleased:
“This will take us to the next level – our plan is our protector”.
Meanwhile, without strategy,
the slumbering earthquake
eight miles down stretches its back.

16 thoughts on “The Turning Tide

  1. I’ve always been a huge fan of the burnt sienna monochromes…. and I love your two above! The tones are so lovely, the transitions so smooth. Delightful to my eye. and, other people too have the same grinch come along at times too, to make them wonder “WHAT Am I doing?!” cheers, Debi

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Debi! Yes, I really like warm, monochrome paintings but it seems they cannot stand completely alone, unfinished as they are. I am sad to say I often “finished” such a painting and then felt the underpainting was better! But I guess that is all part of the learning. Thanks for your encouragement!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I especially like the second one. Something really poetic about the light. New Zealand had an earthquake on the week-end ? and your poem concludes with it? And is also about your childhood home in So Africa? I notice the sideways way you present the thumbnail sketches and it seems — in that presentation — like a third monochrome composition unto itself. The sienna color is so beautiful and expressive. Something shimmering about these pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Aletha, it is interesting that three people here commenting said they like the second one best. I struggled with that one because something behind the cup (?) does not look right in terms of depth. The way the composition is now, I think I will have to darken the left side so that the cup sort of peeks out of the dark, which stretches my skills a bit. Also, my wife is complaining my paintings are too dark!

      The alternative is to keep the background lighter, but for some reason this did not look right when I did the underpainting. Always interesting what resonates with people!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not sure what your “something behind the cup” references, but for me the cup seems connected to, rather than separate from, its background — which is an element of abstraction (doesn’t look quite real) that I like about it. But if it bothers you, perhaps you should go forward with it. It is interesting what resonates with people. Really figuring out what resonates with you — that’s more difficult sometimes because we have the painting we see always in competition with the murky painting in our minds.

        Going to sound a little mechanical, but here goes anyway. Digital photography is such a wonderful invention. You can take a really good photo that captures 85-95% of the character of the work and then — okay, there it is — or was. You can go forward with changes, having the earlier version as a reference or bit of nostalgia. Personally, I think paintings should be “finished” whenever possible — meaning that you continue working on it until you flat run out of ideas. Sometimes setting something aside assists in finishing it because over time you begin to see it differently, get new ideas, etc. But not finishing is just not finishing. I think you learn more by going forward. You risk screwing up a picture that you liked. But without taking that risk, you limit your growth.

        It’s always an individual decision however, picture by picture.

        Regarding other matters, I’d say that 95% of the time a wife’s advice should be heeded. I’m less sure about a spouse’s artistic advice … that might fall into the 5%, but most of the time a man is wise to listen to his wife. Or to seem to. But then I’m very biased. I wonder what the other ladies here think ….

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks for your thoughtful comment Aletha. By “something behind the cup” I think I meant that the cup seems to appear out of the background too suddenly, the change from dark to light seems to abrupt which makes it seem like the cup is glued to a background rather than floating there. I am working on the problem – trying different things until it seems right, “going forward” like you suggest. But it is hard going, my self-confidence is low at times and that can lead to a total confidence crash – which happened last night. But luckily there is always the morning after!
        Good thoughts from you also about finishing a picture, there is an interesting discussion on PaintingPerceptions about this – one master painter said something like “a painting is finished when there is nothing more you can add to it to take it closer to the objective” – basically, if you add anything after that point, you move away from the optimum again.
        You are 100% right – we learn from moving forward. I agree it would be a cop out to leave a painting in the beginning stages – warm and vague as it seems, we cannot grow by stopping there.
        My wife is 100% in agreement with your comment about taking a spouse’s advice (surprise!). But more seriously, I found someone supportive that is also close to you often reflect things we feel but cannot say. I find it easier to paint darker – but I noted that some of the contemporary masters on actually paint in a very light key – for example, there is one lady who painted a lot of landscapes from the top of one of the World Trade Centre buildings. Beautiful paintings, and mostly in a very high key. But my sense of color is not yet developed enough – I have a lot of learning to do still in that regard. Upward and onward!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Oh yes, and about the poem, I actually wrote this at the time of the Canterbury quake a few years ago when, many people lost their lives. At the time I was into business planning, positive thinking and that sort of thing, and It dawned on my how brutally honest and pure nature is. Several levels there, not sure I can explain. Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. No problem Margaret – it happens to me all the time. No idea where all these lost comments are floating around. It is interesting that you also like the second one. That is the hard one for me! Let’s see how I go with it. Many thanks for your comment and interest, I hope your own painting is going well. Your watercolors of the creek (at your home?) are great!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks FraggleRocking (I am getting better at typing that tongue twister!), I am a bit stumped on which colour scheme to go for but I have some ideas. The second one is a bit more challenging for me, I struggle to fit the dark part behind the cup into the composition. Good for learning!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. FR is a great shortener 😊 I am imagining burnt Sienna’s and burnt umber shades and yellow ochre with a hint of cadmium red! But that is my vision not yours, I am liking so much to see the workings of your pictures, it is so interesting!


      2. Thanks FR, good vision. I wish I was that clear when I entered the studio tonight. I “painted by coincidence”, meaning just working without plan or vision and hoping for the best. Predictable outcome, wiped off. Oh well…back to basics. Another try tomorrow. Hope you have better luck with your reflections!


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