Since I started painting in earnest, I often compare the proces of painting, under a teacher, with that of writing, with an internal or external editor. We all have internal critics, who sometimes serve us well, telling us when we’ve stuffed up or when something doesn’t work, and sometimes serve us badly by stopping us from taking risks, making a mess, going fearwards. If you have a teacher (as in painting) or and editor (in writing), they take on this function, and sometimes they do a better job than you can do yourself, especially if they have a lot of knowledge and experience. I don’t usually work with an editor for my writing, as I am an editor myself, but I do share my writing with friends, and listen to their feedback. In painting, I am a complete novice. Now, in the last quarter of my life, I’ve plunged into it, after a lifetimes of doing other things, apart from a few brief flirtations with it. Although I don’t visualise when I’m awake, I’ve been told I have a good eye for seeing what is there and putting it on paper. What I need to learn is technique, and also, when to free up (the main style I paint in, with biodiversity as my subject, is traditional realism, fidelity to what I see) and when to make a mess and interpret. This comes in when I’m doing backgrounds. I haven’t done any landscapes yet, and I imagine it will come to the fore more then.
The final step, once you’ve signed off on a painting, is getting it framed, and this is very important. Because it is visual, I think it’s more important than the format, print and cover of a book. Today, I took my framed phascogale (the unframed canvas is below) down to art class, a little anxious that the mount and frame I”d chosen for it were too dark. But no, it’s just that I need better lighting in my living room, a couple of spotlights. Hanging on the wall in the Caldera Gallery at the Rainforest Centre, it looks wonderful, and all the subtleties of colour and texture show up. To my delight, Andy, my teacher, was delighted with it, and said we’ll make some prints of it. His approval means more to me than a good review would because he’s seen it grow, he’s helped me through all the mistakes I’ve made, and I think he was surprised it turned out so well. And I guess the good thing about hanging a framed picture is that people don’t have to pick it up and open it, like they do a book, to appreciate it.
A funny thing happened on the way to the car park, when I was leaving, chatting with a guy who’s in the same class. He said “When I saw you I thought ‘That old bird won’t do much! But I was wrong. It’s fantastic.” I took the compliment, but privately laughed at the context of it. I don’t think of myself as an old bird (and he’s not young), but at least he was honest.