#60: Ancient Skies

#60: Ancient Skies (Charcoal and Waterolor on Paper, Approx A4 size)
#60: Ancient Skies (Charcoal and Watercolour on Paper, approx. A4 size)

In this work I tried to combine two mediums that seem to come to me easier than oil painting – watercolour and charcoal. The photos below show the concept and source images.

The final painting (above) was done on Arches 300 gsm 100% cotton watercolour paper, which is a bit gritty and rough to my taste. The photo below is just coloured charcoal on a smoother paper, which leaves smoother edges all round.


I wanted some of the warmth of the landscape and clouds to shine through the charcoal, so I first did an underpainting in watercolour (below). Once this was bone dry, I worked in the charcoal. I am quite happy with the result, but the next one I will do on smoother, hot-press Fabriano cotton paper.


Here is a photo of the moment – during my morning walk – that inspired the painting. The photo shows the clouds much cooler than it was to my eye.


In the original charcoal sketch, I wanted to suggest some houses of the small town of Ngaruahwahia that you can see in the distance in the source photo. However, the image that came out looked more like an ancient city on a “a darkling plain. Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night.” [from Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach].

I am continuously amazed how the journey into art – the search for the one image that will  accurately touch and express that subtle, private emotion – can lead to greater self-knowledge and acceptance as much as it can lead to frustration and despair.

It is truly a wrestling contest with myself and with the will and the limits of the eye and hand. Lately, the paradoxical skill of controlling while letting go has been a feature of my journey, and also those of others who commented on my posts.

I recalled a poem by Herman Melville on art, and on looking it up, I was struck by how much I identified with how he touched this same paradox – “what unlike things must meet and mate”:

In placid hours well-pleased we dream
Of many a brave unbodied scheme.
But form to lend, pulsed life create,
What unlike things must meet and mate:
A flame to melt—a wind to freeze;
Sad patience—joyous energies;
Humility—yet pride and scorn;
Instinct and study; love and hate;
Audacity—reverence. These must mate,
And fuse with Jacob’s mystic heart,
To wrestle with the angel—Art.

Herman Melville, this version copied from Poetry Foundation

Thanks to all who encourage me with comments and likes, and especially those who follow my blog. I wish you all a good week of safety, health and contentment.

4 thoughts on “#60: Ancient Skies

  1. how unique, combining watercolor and charcoal, would have never thought of that one. I have combined watercolor and pastel which is similar I suppose. Absolutely beautiful and again, serene image. I am getting more of a calm reprieve (strong word!) from your latest paintings. You are on a cusp of discovery I believe. The last one is the start of another painting, correct? Again, a very thoughtful post. I learn so much about my struggles in you exploring your struggles! interesting…..looking forward to more of your exploring the artist abyss. lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Margaret! I really like the combination of watercolor and charcoal – helps to get deep darks but also able to get the airy lighter tones in color. I am not sure about permanency though. I will try fixative on this one soon and will report back on whether it degraded the image in any way. Thanks again for your kind comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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