Dark skies and lightning hit trees portent a storm brewing

storm brewing grey cloudy sky photograph

Dark and brooding. Dark skies do not just occur at nightfall. Have you seen it when a storm’s brewing. So who’s turned  the lights out?  The sky weaves it’s own magic by creating clouds which filter out the light.  They hold water which absorbs the light from the sun. The clouds reflect the storm that is brewing.  So here comes the science bit. The size of water droplets (or ice crystals) inside clouds are much larger than visible wavelengths.  The visible wavelengths are  therefore scattered about equally by those particles. Very little sunlight reaches the underside of the cloud, less light is scattered, and even more is absorbed in the bigger ready to rain drops. The clouds appears dark and grey.

On a couple of journeys East in the early months of the last two years, I’ve enjoyed watching the deepening colour of the sky over the fields spreading into the distance. The amazing colours against the rapeseed flowers is particularly spectacular to see. Dark skies create a colour contrast of pink-purple-grey against the bright yellow. The heavy rolling clouds, the undulating sea of flower heads in their ploughed lines. They froth over the edge of the fields towards the road.

There were also storms in my head. It’s not always plain sailing when you get to that stage of life where the children need to be the carers for the parents. One of the first things you find is that everyone (both family and well-meaning friends) have an opinion but not necessarily the time or skill to assist. Once you’ve narrowed down whose opinion counts – the person being cared for – it can then be a stormy ride to try to achieve what they want.

I have to thank a friend who introduced me to a book called “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande. This takes you on a journey that you have not yet had to experience from a son who is a doctor. An illuminating read for anyone who is helping an aging parent with their decisions about how to be happy but safe in later life. It’s an uncomfortable glimpse into a possible future for many of us.

Balancing love and our fear of injury with their wish to continue to live as they have done (as an adult at least) for over fifty years until the inevitable mortality stops. It’s very difficult at times. Families feud.  I know some who have fallen out from trying to care for their parents with conflicting views.  One sibling may end up doing more than the others, either by choice or circumstance. The others may be totally absent and unaware of the stresses or feel left out or unappreciated. There are often dark skies that have to be faced but as with storms once the rain has fallen the air is clearer.

The lightning tree of which there are a lot visible between Herefordshire and Sussex is a nod to the damage that is done to us in old age whether physically or mentally. Electricity hits the tree and impacts the areas of moisture causing damage at either branch or root level. The skeleton of the tree stands damaged. However, the often whitish grey trees are given a new lease of life by the many animals and birds who find nesting places in the nooks and hollows. The dark trees have been burnt out but still provide fibrous matter or ash for the surrounding soil. The rolling fields remind us though that there is also growth and brightness. Hopefully the needs are worked out together and solutions are brokered that satisfy all. At least until the next calamity or moment which requires all to think – what now?

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Storm Brewing

40 x 50 cm canvas

Acrylic paint

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Making light of it; all those creaks and groans

Old bones. Creaks and groans seem to be the daily soundtrack to the effects of ageing. When someone has two medical dictionaries hidden in their sideboard you know that they’re curious about changes to their health. No surprise when the family has been visited by various forms of chronic diseases over the last ten years.
Those enquiring days have gone as my mother is no longer able to recall the location of those books. Instead she has reverted to a few mantras. If she catches her breath, or makes a few moans and groans there is nothing wrong apart from “these old bones”.
old bones detail of painting of treesIt was these thoughts that were in my head as I started this painting in response to the sight of ploughed fields against the cooler blue skies of spring.  The image in my head was clear.   Warm red-brown earth which had been ploughed, undulating with the hills, creating strong lines. The grassy bank not showing a lot of tonal change in the flat light. However, the shadows were very strong, defined and dark.
The image reflects a couple of spots on the journey along the A417 where hills rise to the side of the roadway. Sometimes the view is clear at other times it is visible through the trees. Those trees became abstract fragile bones similar to ribs. Old bones.
The picture is bright as there has always been an airy positivity and lightness to my mother’s response to it all. Her response to the professionals tasked with a ‘base line’ assessment was jovial but she also was keen to give the right answer. Wherever we went she has charmed the people and she continues to do that today. Yet the picture is also stark reflecting the fear of illness,vulnerabiity, and the fragility that often arrives in old age even if it is just “Old Bones”.
Paintings Old Bones in acrylic with texture old bones painting of trees placed on a fireplace

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Crossed lines of communication and vision; a journey by car

Crossed lines is a mash-up of observation and thought. Journeying back from Cardiff one evening, as a passenger in the car, I was able to take in the passing scenery. The hard corrugated metal fencing, the telephone lines strung up adding to a feeling of speed.  I took a few snaps to catch the changing fading evening light. The sky seemed to be on fire; the fields reflecting the glow made me think of battlefields.
It was not long before my mind wandered. Crossed lines often occur when people are talking at different levels of understanding or expectation. When agencies and service providers are involved our family’s experience suggests it is inevitable. Not with one another, but with all of the agencies and service providers that are involved with health and old age. Even within one building people still work in silos.
It has often felt like we, as a family, are battling to try to get everyone involved that needs to be over the last two years with care (which we are not trained to provide).  Copying over and over forms and documents to make applications for so many different reasons. Explaining to people over and over what power of attorney means and why they really can accept it. Asking people to stop sending paperwork to someone who does not understand it.

As I was painting the birds on the wire arrived. They are a nod to Leonard Cohen’s song about being free. Taking off from my  memory of a time when I was travelling in parts of Japan. The telephone lines zig-zagged across the city of Nagoya. Birds looked like musical notes on a stave.
Sometimes painting does that. Starting as an interpretation of something straightforward like a view from a car window, the memory mixes it up with thoughts and visions. The underpainting develops and is eventually totally obliterated by expressionistic applications of paint. Colours flying off the brush.
Crossed Lines is finished with layers of gloss varnish to emphasise the feeling of looking through a window. Like glass it’s not a perfect finish, it has a few bubbles and pimples. The surface reflects the lights and colours around it. If you enjoy vibrant paintings this is one for you.
[ezcol_1third]Crossed lines, 40 x 40 cm. Acrylic on canvas.[/ezcol_1third] [ezcol_2third_end][/ezcol_2third_end]

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How confession got out of the box; making an impression

sketch idea of confession painting by kathryn sassallBringing confession to light, meant combining images from different sources. The sketches highlight the ideal positions of the two people involved. Then I used a sideways shot of a friend to define the ‘professional’. A head shot of my mum was used to create her portrait; she loved the idea and happily posed face on to the camera.
Texture gel and a stiff brush was used to create the effect of the wood of the confessional box. The uniform pattern of the grille was causing me concerns. Whilst the underlying acrylic layers were dry so I could wipe off any errors, I was not sure how to get the regularity of the shape and repeat in the grille pattern.male head portrait in acrylic from confession painting by kathryn sassall
I looked at buying a piece of fretwork which could be painted and pressed onto the canvas. Testing on another canvas it was clear that the spring in the canvas would not let it take the impressed image smoothly. Screenprinting was ruled out for the same reason – the canvas would have to be taken offstretchers to make that work.
Spotting someone on Instagram who was creating individual prints from stamps I started to look at pre-cut pattern stamps and the possibility of uncut stamps.  They were not very big or in the right design. A friend suggested a potato would have a bigger footprint. I confess to having loved making shapes when younger and printing cards or patterns with potatoes.  It was then I saw someone making greeting cards by stamping using shapes she carefully cut from erasers of different sizes.
Perfect! I got a large eraser which I cut into the desired shape for the fretwork for the grille. A few tests later to get the right size, texture of paint and colour, I started to layer the grill on top of the portrait of my mother. A few touch ups, and highlights later the paintings was out of my head. It was great to create the image  as I’d originally imagined it. The darkness and the light in the faces. The story behind the idea is in the previous blog here.

No smoke without fire. What comes to light at the confessional?

white pot with candle and ash in japan in photo by kathryn sassallHow could a visit to a memory clinic result in faces in the light showing in the darkness of the confessional? Well, like many NHS scenarios a question arises about whether you do or have been smoking at any time in your life. It was the response that was a surprise.First the hesitation to respond, and then the nervous sideways look to where I sat, trying to be supportive, but not informing any answers.

Then slowly and hesitantly a story of wartime unfolded. The worst night of the bombings, my mum had been living in London. They had gone down into the Underground. It was so intense that night that mum and a number of her neighbours lit up for the first and last time. You could see in her eyes that she still felt that it had been naughty and that she had confessed at last.

In our daily chats, mum mentioned that she was enjoying the afternoon programme “Father Brown”. Set post first world war, a story of a priest and his community centred on his relationship with the chief of police in solving the numerous crimes that occur. Being pre-watershed it’s Grantchester without the bare-chests and between the sheets scenes.

In one particular episode the police chief is in the confessional. It struck me how the light was passing through the fretwork and hitting the dust. The confessors face hidden in the darkness and by the grille. The light falling on the face of the person being confessed to. The idea for a painting started to form.

This painting is tonally dark, but actually reflects a moment of light relief. The confessor looking through the confessional grille. We see the the light falling on the face of the listener.

[ezcol_1half] CONFESSION Acrylic on canvas 50 x 40 cm.[/ezcol_1half] [ezcol_1half_end]confessional painting of a women and man[/ezcol_1half_end]

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Feeling the joy of the golden light of early Autumn; showers, sunshine and shimmer.

peeling tree trunks golden light photograph by kathryn sassallGolden light is streaming through the trees and into your eyes when driving towards Hereford on the A417 and M4 in the early days of Autumn. A rain shower creates small pools of reflection in some of the leaves which have already fallen. They reflect the golden light which lifts my heart as I journey through the highs and lows of a challenging time.

The roads have been heavy with commuters and holidaymakers. The hard-shoulder has a scattering of over-heating cars and the stationary vehicles from minor shunts between the over-eager and often fractious families. People rushing not having time to appreciate the cloth of leaves that is beginning to pool under the trees or the threads of golden light between the tree trunks.

It’s a heat that has not been fully felt by my mum as she has become less and less mobile. She stood at the door of her house looking out at the garden she would no longer go into. The garden she tended for years until the breaking of a hip meant that she could no longer enjoy the creativity and enjoyment of gardening. Shrubs would quiver as she approached with the pruning shears, but now they were enjoying a chance to spread their branches until a gardener was instructed.

The painting of “All That” captures the moment of travel and a storm of emotions. The gold is mirror effect foil – look into the pools of light – what do you see? It all reminds me of a favourite poem by W.B. Yeats called The Cloths of Heaven. Old age seems to be treading on her dreams. She created the embroidered cloth in the garden which is dappled by the light through the oak trees. Change being inevitable but feared. Yet it is light, warm and embracing.

[ezcol_1half]“All That’ is an acrylic painting 40 x 40 cm on shallow canvas.[/ezcol_1half] [ezcol_1half_end]trees in golden light acrylic painting on fireplace[/ezcol_1half_end]

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Still got the blues, but I don’t need saving!

detail of an acrylic painting of a wood with bluebells“The Blues”  call and memories respond. Bluebells have always meant a lot to us as a family. Their blooming heralds the spring; spotting the blues amongst the trees whilst driving along brings a smile. These wonderful flowers making the most of the light before the tree canopy covers over.
The beautiful original British violet-blue bells hanging lop-sided off the dark green stems. They grew in the woods next to the house where I was born. Those oak woods were full in springtime with white wood anemones, buttercups, bluebells and children having fun. The odd cow also got involved when it escaped the farmer’s field next door.
The bluebells fight with the wild garlic for space and to be the strongest scent in the woods in Sussex  in early spring. A much-needed walk with a friend last year as we shared the ways in which we were coping with supporting our parents. How sad it can be to try to keep going forwards knowing that you are losing a loved one every minute of each passing day.  Busy bees. Us and the insects which welcome the early nectar that these flowers bring.
Yet the beauty has been shared. Many years ago (before the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 prohibited it) some bulbs from our garden were taken by my dad’s family to Canada. On a recent visit  my great-aunt confirmed they are still blooming there.  Comfort. Love. Protected.  A walk in the bluebell woods can be very restorative.
“The Blues”  was on show and SOLD at the HACS group selling exhibition themed “Light’ at the Apple Store Gallery, Hereford in July 2017.
See more about the technique used to create The Blues in the previous blog.
[ezcol_1half]”The Blues”
Light Series
50 x 40 x 1.5 cm
SOLD July 2017

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acrylic painting of a bluebell wood[/ezcol_1half_end]

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What did I use to create the splashes of blue light? Sticky things of course!

a test of pebeo paint on paper There was no sketching prior creating this painting. Having spotted the splashes of blue whilst journeying I knew it was a particular moment that creates it’s own type of light. The image was in my head quite clearly, after I had reviewed photographs that I’d taken over the last four years in Queenswood, Hereford and in Sussex. It was how to translate those thoughts to the canvas?

I did a couple of test squares. I trialled a solvent based paint, which was described as giving a hammered texture effect by it’s maker. This only seemed possible by really flooding the surface. That was not going to upscale to a canvas 100 times bigger. So I returned to acrylics and brushes. The colours flowed on to the canvas to build up the layers of the background tones. Creating painting with layers will ensure that it changes tone in different lights.

I then did a test of a texture gel to see what sort of finish I could get for the flowers and leaves. This was applied originally by brush which made the results too choppy.  Then, abandoning the paint brushes, I picked up a green flower support stick which I’d brought back from my mum’s house. Rolling, thwacking. pressing.
test of structure gel textures

Firstly to paint the thinner trees in greys and silvers, and then the pattern on the larger trees that I’d laid down. And finally the foliage and flowers. All of this led to the creating a painting with texture, which is expressionist,  which allows the imagination to create the bluebells amongst the long green leaves. I even managed to remember to stop and take a few pictures along the way which can be seen below.

The story behind the final painting “The Blues” which is part of a series inspired by the theme of Light is in the next blog. “The Blues” was SOLD in exhibition in July 2017.

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Raining all day, but it’s pretty in pink.

Acrylic painting of trees in the rain with pink skyGrey skies kissed with pink. The cold cold days of winter. And then there’s the flick of silver. It feels like it’s been raining all day. Cresting the hill and seeing the rows of trees. Bare of their leaves. Shimmering. Some bent towards each other. One somehow balanced across their tops. The shine of the rain on the peeling bark.

It’s observation at reasonable speed as the coppice comes in to view at the top of the road incline. The braking for the corner and narrowed road for the bridge has been completed as the trees are passed.

Repeated each time I journeyed back to Hereford in the winter months of January and February over the last two years.   Each time adding to the picture building in my mind of movement in the stillness and the cool colours of the season. It wasn’t always raining of course.

Every time making me feel lighter as I got further away from the concerns, emotions and shades of darkness that lay in the distance from where I’d travelled. Being close to being back to the comfort of home. Then a few days of uplifting respite and the distraction of concentrating on work before starting the journey again.

The painting’s name reflects the comment of someone who saw the piece and said, “Pretty in pink”. The lead actress of the film of the same name, released on February 28th 1986 – just happened to be called Molly Ringwald. “Wald” is wood in German. “Ringwald” is painted in acrylic sometimes mixed with luminescent medium, plus silver acrylic. On a cotton primed canvas 40 x 50 x 1.5 cm.

See more about the mediums and unusual tool used for painting Ringwald in the next blog.

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Explorations of light and life

PhotoLightFireSparksWassailingHereford

I’ve created or finished fourteen paintings this year so far, ten of which are in response to “Light” an open call selling exhibition for members of  Herefordshire Art & Craft Society. The theme is “Light” and it takes place from the middle of June to the middle of July at the Apple Store Gallery, Hereford.
“Light” is an interesting word. It can relate to the electronic radiation that enables us to see objects [noun] or to explain a mood [verb] or by adding white to colours to give tone [adjective].
I usually create ‘noise for your walls’ which reflects the visits I make to sporting events. Capturing people in motion in expressive colourful paintings in acrylics and oils.  Due to ‘carenting’ needs for my elderly mother it has not been possible to get to as many events in the last eighteen months, so the inspirations have been closer to home (horse-racing) and from last years Tour.
After seeing this quote by Arthur Ashe (tennis legend) I have approached my art practice this year with the following in mind: –
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
I have spent a lot of time on the A417 and the M4. The roads appear to me to be in corridors. The walls are created by the grass and rock banking, natural stone walls snaking along the edge of farmers’ fields, native trees and flowers creating hedging.
The amount of journeys has meant that I’ve been able to repeatedly observe the change in seasonal light and the difference in the planting in the counties travelled through.
As the ideas and paintings have evolved some have become entwined with conversations with my mother, my family and supportive friends as we all journey through the varying shades of light and darkness that come with our own and others illness and old age. There have been some illuminating moments.
I’m aiming to create two blogs for each painting. One will concentrate on the ideas and emotions behind the work and the other the techniques involved.