kathryn sassall artists blog

The Great bears down on Bern; green jersey winner Tour de France 2016

Green jersey winner 2016 Peter Sagan takes his third stage win arriving at the home of the bear pit, Bern in Switzerland a whisker in front of Kristoff. Certainly, a tour year to remember for Peter Sagan, as after a third place on the first stage, and a win on the second stage he claimed the first yellow jersey of his career.

“If I lose yellow, I have green. If I lose the green jersey, I have the rainbow jersey.” Peter Sagan, press conference 2016 Tour de France.

After Stage 11 he’d pulled off another fantastic sprint to upset the then yellow jersey wearer Chris Froome’s plans. When asked why he said “We are artists”. So he seemed to deserve a painting to capture a moment in such a strong year and for his wonderful words.

Sagan is shown moving towards his 3rd stage victory in Tour de France 2016, on the 16th stage, finishing in Bern, Switzerland. He beat Norwegian Alexander Kristoff by a whisker. The photo finish camera seemed to be particularly busy during this Tour.

The Slovakian, riding for Russian team Tinkoff, ended the tour with a second place stage win behind Greipel, which meant Sagan was the green jersey winner for 2016. On the 10th stage he had finished second, but it meant he also won the combative award for the efforts he had put in.  So for Sagan 2016 was a very good year.

This painting is in acrylic on linen canvas 60 x 60 cm [24″ x 24″] and 2.5 cm deep. The painting overlaps the edge by a couple of millimetres, and then the rest of the sides are painted in chalk-white paint.

Out of the darkness, so many stories unfold into the light

Darkness – journeys by night are lit by the beauty of moving headlights, pulsating shop signs, the glow of the setting sun or the brightness of the rising moon. Driving has been such a big part of my life seeing these pastel paintings of roads and cities at night capturing the feeling of movement and mood makes me smile. The atmospheric images  of darkness that Damion Maxwell has posted on ArtFinder have made me think about so many moments from my life over the last 18 months. The pastel work is wonderfully drawn.

Damion is observing what’s around him and capturing it. Such a simple thing to say, but a really challenging thing to do, when you’ve chosen nighttime for the subjects.  I love the way he appears to have painted with fast and free strokes of soft bright pastels. The perspective leads me through the pictures, but I just have to stop off several times on the way to look at other bits of action. Vibrant colours are singing off of the black background. A fleeting moment captured, giving an impression of the rush and steady stream of traffic moving.

The darkness really comes alive in “Drama on the hard shoulder” which appears to be just a random shot of vehicles travelling along the road. However, it’s one of those paintings which you can enjoy from a distance but you really should look closer. You gradually see more and more. So many individual stories – who is in what vehicle? Where have they been? Where are they going? Will the traveller broken down reach their destination? All the time the blue overhead signs calling my eyes to the back of the picture.

It’s great to then read that Damion is self-taught and still exploring mediums and styles. Interestingly his day job, which I’m sure is also very often a night job, is as a firefighter. Has that flicker of light in the darkness shaped his choice of subjects I wonder? To start with a dark ‘canvas’ and create light on it is an additional challenge. However, it does bring with it a sense of freedom to layer colours. Drawing light from the darkness. Then I read the descriptions and Damion has a good sense of humour and loves what he is creating. I think that shines through.

The latest series of pastel works that Damion has uploaded to ArtFinder include another magical image. He’s captured the rainy pleasure of “Late Night Shopping”. Those enticing windows glowing in the darkness, bright jewels of colour. the shoppers under umbrellas on a grey rainy night. Still out there enjoying the excitement of the thought of getting a bargain and probably a cup of coffee too. The choice of colours in this picture is lovely. Sherbetty yellows and pinks with a touch of orange and tourquoise blue making it shimmer. I am really looking forward to seeing more pieces.

It’s been fun to look around the ArtFinder online marketplace where I have a shop to look at other artists’s work in response to a competition to find an ArtFinder gem. I thought that I’d choose either a sculptor or printmaker as those are areas I don’t work in. However as soon as I spotted Damion’s work, after following a comment made by him on one of the forum posts, I had to put fingers to keyboard. Enjoy exploring his work.

 

Why scrumping in daylight is not a bright idea on the M4. Blue sky thinking?

Daylight scrumping is unusual. There’s a spot on the M4 where a lone apple tree sits among the other trees. One day the fruit was just too tempting. A white van parked on the hard shoulder area in broad daylight had on the roof four guys scrumping.

As I drove on carefully, slowing down,  as many of the drivers going by were distracted by this sight, there was another car driving along that hard shoulder. It was a white car with fluorescent stripes. My brain switched to cartoon mode. The police car seemed to be slowly prowling along lifting one tyre at a time as it crept forward.

pencil sketch for toffee apple I have moved the location of the tree for my painting. The early sketches were just of a line of grey roadside fence. The final painting includes the beautiful grey-pink hand-crafted stone walls that are noticeable in different places along the route. These walls snake along the side of the road – solid and dependable.

Daylight robbery aside …

After I told my mother this tale, she reminded me that one of her favourite things used to be a sugary toffee apple. Her eyes were bright as she recalled a fair from her childhood on a green in London  (Tottenham or Lambeth most probably).  Toffee apples were also a post-war treat that my father bought for her when they went to the beach in Kent. Happy memories.

Also, I recalled the intense light of the bright blue skies with airplane trails from when my two sisters and me would play in the orchard part of the garden. Apples and cherries from the four trees there tasted like no other fruit ever does. The skies in the Summer holidays were always so so clear blue and it was so hot. We played out in the daylight without a care in the world.

In conclusion, it would be lovely to think that the four guys went on their way with the ability to make an apple crumble when they got home.  Perhaps with lashings of custard or a dollop of clotted cream to reward their blue sky thinking.

Toffee Apple
50 x 40 cm canvas

This painting is part of the “Light” series. More tales in the previous blog here.
Acrylic

 

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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?

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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Journeying from expressionism into abstraction. Can you see the wood for the trees? 

Experimenting with abstraction was part of the task I set myself in the first two months of 2017. I wanted to release the need to observe so closely to capture detail. Experimenting to capture the essence or emotion of a moment through marks and colour.
Tree trunks made of newspaper that reflected the conversations that had been had around Brexit and other key events n 2016 looked too flat and still. The addition of paint before and after the paper collage, began to add some life and depth, but no movement.

flicker test lines for painting

Some of the colour combinations were interesting. Complementary colours giving the test piece a bit of vibrancy. I saw a painting in Abergavenny at this time where luminescent paint had been laid at an angle across the painting which appeared to create movement in the changing light. I mixed some with different colours to see the effects as well as just laying some across the already painted acrylic lines.

A small test of lines in a limited colour palette which also had bowed lines to bring in movement seemed to create an effect. However this was not translatable to a piece twenty times bigger. Sometimes scale makes it. I concentrated on a simple palette of colours (tonal yellows, purple, brown, blue and pink) and the direction of lines for the trees.

The shrubs below became pyramids of hawthorn – dark leaves and white flowers. Feedback on the piece was not getting the idea of flickering forest.
So the painting was sanded and gesso relaid. The second painting dropped the idea of the shrubs and the darkness.
It concentrated on the light in the trees. Some arcs where added to the straight lines Luminsecent paint was laid in some of the areas at the top of the painting. The flicker was still missing.Finally I laid over more dark trees. I then used acrylic paint pens to create the forest.
Different thicknesses and lengths of the darkest colour have helped create the effect that I wanted. The finished acrylic painting has been sprayed with satin varnish. Staring into the top right (the area I’d normally see first travelling) and then moving your eye level across and down to the bottom left corner creates the flicker I was looking for.
See previous blog for more about this painting and the completed work.

 

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How many trees does it take to make a forest flicker?

newspaper trees test for flicker paintingThe light between the trees trunks flickers. It passes by so briefly. There’s a spot on the M4, going East, which makes my eyes twitch every time I drive along. Uniformly planted in rows the light behind creates a natural bar-code. Bright light versus darkness. Forest flicker.
Tall trees. The trunks are dark and there is little foliage early in the year. The branches are high and some at a sharp angle presumably to try to find the sun. Below there are dark shrubs and tangles of brambles creating mounds of darkness.
Different times of the year means the sky and the fields behind create a different vibrating hue. Sometimes there are energetic brights and sometimes cooler pastels. The light flicks on and off as the car passes by. The trees are dark and icy greens or blacks and greys or cool pinks. The colours change. The light behind them bright.
Even in the rain the trees create a flicker of movement. They are lashed by the water which makes them even darker. The sky behind still paler although it’s now a pinky mauve grey. The shrubs below dripping. The only flowers below the trees are those in the bushes at the front. Spikes of white early in the year. On this side of the road purple rhododendrons give some colour to the spring journeys.
It’s not noticeable when returning along the carriageway going West. Too close to the trees, the detail of the bark catches the eye instead. Silvery greys on dark rough trunks. The flicker of light transformed into shadows and the darkness of the bushes as the eye-level changes.
This abstract work is created from images in my head from the journeys East noticing the forest flicker. Trying to keep it minimal.
Forest Flicker
40 x 50 cm acrylic painting

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Through the square window; how to capture the countryside shrouded in darkness

The countryside is in darkness. Looking through the window of the train I’d taken notes and a few smartphone photos. Despite the speed of the train the eye still is able to take in each field, tree, pond and fence in the deepening darkness. There is a blur of things that are parallel to the train track. I sketch when I get home.
The sky is still not quite that inky darkness, it’s only just losing the benefit of the light of the sun and gaining the light from the moon. The train window adds another dimension of grime, oily film, scratches and reflections.
Starting with broad brush loads of sunset colours, the background was layered in. Using the photos as reference for the colours, the darker shades of purple and blue for the sky were added leaving hints of the setting sun behind.
Shades of green were mixed to create the countryside. Flicks with the broad square brushes started to create the fields. Allowing time for drying the build up of darks, was then highlighted with some lighter tones of the previously used colours.
I’d done a small test piece of colours and ways to apply marks for the different elements that I wanted to capture. So I grabbed the garden stick, loaded it with paint, and whipped it across the sky to create the light blur of movement. The same method was used to create the dark criss-cross patterns of the tree line.
Are the dark marks in the fields of grass, crops and water on the train window? Are they trees closer to the train as it speed by? Fences, perhaps?
Resin application on paintingOnce dry, I wanted to make the painting feel more like a dirty train window. Again I tested on a small sample of canvas with resins and varnishes. I chose to use three layers of resin which gives a hard finish to the piece. It also enabled me by working into the layers in different ways to add the ‘oily’ film that the window had in places, and the scratches left by previous travellers.
So this semi-abstract painting gives an impression of the light and colours seen through a murky old train window.

Taith Tren

Acrylic Painting

40 x 40 cm canvas

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Peering through murky windows at the falling darkness

photograph of treesStaring into the darkness through the windows of the train on the way home from Wales. Thoughts racing through my mind of the darkness actual or implied in the exhibition I’d seen at National Museum Cardiff.  Thoughts of  what had to be done when I got home. Distracted by the scratches and dirt on the inside and outside of the windows.
How are those circular marks made? Who made them?  How does that dirty film cling on? The window has it’s stories but does not shed any light on them. Peering into the darkness there were flickers of lights. Dog-walkers with head-torches. Cyclists on paths. Flashes of reflected lights in water from fishermen, tree-lights and the slip of moon.
Colours still identifiable in the dark space beyond. Shapes and patterns flashing by. The fields still visible as the darkest rich deep greens. Trees and shrubs showing darker against them. Texture has been flattened. Other colours reflected from the clothing of the people sitting in or passing through the train carriage.
I’m making lists of things to do. A few smartphone photographs. Jotting down notes to jog my memory when I paint my interpretation of this fading light – the train journey (Taith Tren)  Mae’n daith flinedig.
Listening in to the sing song voices of fellow passengers. Workers on their way home to a meal – home cooked or being collected with them at the station. Friends who’ve been shopping sharing what they’ve bought with everyone. A happy crowd of people heading into the night.
This is my journey one night. From Wales to England. Speeding along. Body and Brain. On the train. Murky windows. Darkness engulfing the countryside. Taith Tren. The next blog talks about how the painting was created.

Taith Tren

Acrylic Painting

40 x 40 cm canvas

painting of darkness Taith Tren on mantlepiece

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.
Crossed lines, 40 x 40 cm. Acrylic on canvas.

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