Distant horizons

Afraid I’m having a bit of a hiatus in inspiration at the moment!

It so makes me miss – and appreciate all the more – those times when you can ‘see’ a painting in just about every scene or every photo that you look at! At the moment, every time I look for inspiration, I just see scenes or images that I don’t feel I have anything to add to, or they just don’t stir my imagination in any way at all. For those that do, I’m usually overwhelmed by them and don’t feel I have the ability to paint them!

The painting below was a result of this frustration combined with the momentum of this blog. I’ve posted something every week, almost without fail for over four years now (there was a total of four weeks in 2016 when I didn’t post something!).

I just can’t let a little lack of inspiration, motivation and enthusiasm break such a run!

We took a bracing walk at the weekend, starting from the top of Devil’s Dyke, which is just a few miles outside of Brighton. It’s a popular spot for it’s expansive views and great walks, and the skies are often peppered with gliders and hand-gliders that are able to circle for hours on the updrafts.

This view is looking out from Devil’s Dyke, over the small village of Poynings and the flatlands of The Weald towards the distant horizon.

Watercolour painting of the view from Devil's Dyke over Poyniings.
From the top of Devil’s Dyke looking over Poynings

There are elements of this that turned out okay, maybe the sky – but overall it does leave me feeling a little cold. It did feel good to using a decent sized mop brush again – this is a quarter imperial sheet – but I did also feel a little bit nervous and tentative, perhaps a little brush rusty!

It’s not the first time that I’ve tried to tackle this kind of expansive scene:

View of the Weald from Firle Beacon in the the South Downs

This was a half sheet painting that I did a year or two ago. It would be nice to think that tackling a similar view a few years on would show a greater sense of development!

There’s no denying that over the past few weeks, I’ve done less painting than I have during any period in the past few years, and I can’t help but feel that my abilities are waning along with my enthusiasm and motivation.

Admittedly, I’ve recently had to throw my focus into some other projects (such as some DIY /home improvement projects) which I’ve actually been happy to do as a break from the painting. As these diversions are gradually coming to an end, I’m hoping that II’ll be able to re-focus on my painting and rediscover some of my watercolour joie di vivre!

Thoughts on Distant horizons

24 thoughts on “Distant horizons”

  1. Pingback: 7 – Horizon – Beach Walk Reflections: Thoughts from thinking while walking

  2. I’m sure your passion and enthusiasm for watercolour painting will return John. Just keep the brushes moving regularly, maybe just do some simple watercolour sketches, or just have a play with colour on paper, maybe treat yourself (you deserve it!) to some new colours or other supplies you would really like. And don’t put pressure on yourself to create a large “masterpiece” (at least, not till you feel ready for it). Please don’t give up – I love to see your watercolours. You are very good at it John, you do have a lovely talent. I think “events” of this year have maybe just caused you to lose your way a little (it happens to us all); get your creative “compass” out, find your bearings, work out which direction you need to be going in and go for it! Don’t look back at how “lost” you’ve got – it wont achieve anything, just look forward to the future and focus where you need to be heading. You’ll be back on track, better than ever, in no time… !

    1. Hi Evelyn and thanks so much for such kind, generous and supportive comments, I really do appreciate it. I think you’re quite right, the momentous events of this year have undeniably taken their toll on my and left me feeling temporarily listless! As you say, no point dwelling on any of these circumstances too much and that I’ll be far better off focusing on the future, and my enjoyment of painting! Thanks so much Evelyn, it means such a lot to me!

  3. Hi John

    Glad to hear you survived the biblical weather while camping in Devon, I’m just off to Cornwall and it’s looking distinctly 4 seasons in a day! As you know, I’m very familiar with what you’re painting here, and they’re really evocative of those views of the downs. Especially the one from Firle Beacon, I love that one. So take heart that what may feel like a lack of inspiration may in fact lead to a period of quiet genius!

    Love to you and the family, and thinking about your mum too. Catch up soon

    1. Hi Bec and thanks so much for this! Not sure if you’re back from Cornwall yet so hope you’re having / had a great time and that the weather was kind to you! Look forward to catching up soon – we can still all meet up somewhere and be less than six!

  4. I don’t think that I can add anything but I totally understand what you are feeling. I am in a lull of sorts mainly to do with my father-in-law passing, the world events, the crazy dude in office and 2020 in general. Whew! It will pass. Don’t force it, things always change, hang in there!

    1. Hi Margaret. So sorry to hear your news and I can only agree with you. It’s been the craziest of years! It’s no wonder so many people are feeling completely frazzled and out of sorts! Sounds like were all going to be hanging in there together – and I can take some comfort from knowing that I’m keeping such good company!

  5. Hi John,
    In response to your question about the brushes I use for my watercolour and gouache paintings I don’t use my best brushes, my sables. I think it would be a bit too much for them but I have lots of ‘cheap’ brushes I’ve bought at places like the Works which are surprisingly good, so I tend to use those. If you have any synthetic brushes they’ll do the job.
    What I enjoy about it is that you can add lights onto the darks and build up layers, so it’s not unlike oil painting but without the toxicity. Do try and do let us know if you do. It seems to work best on hot press paper which you might not have, but try it on the smoothest paper you have. Coloured card works brilliantly too. Have fun!
    Carole x

    1. Hi Carole and thanks so much for these tips! I’m not sure whether this is something I feel ready to launch myself into right now but… there’s a painter that I was introduced to recently by the name of Fred Cuming and I really liked his oil paintings so the idea of being able to try something similar with gouache is certainly appealing! Thanks so much Carole, all best wishes

  6. By the way John I have also to thank you.
    You mentioned Saunders Hardback 300gsm sketch books and I have now received mine 11 inches by 10 and it is excellent, just what I had been looking for as I usually use Arches 300 blocks for larger paintings
    So many thanks!

    1. Hi Brian and thanks so much for this! So pleased you like them. That format (almost square at 11 x 10 inches) sounds quite interesting – I’ve rarely stepped outside of the A4 and A5 formats for my sketchbooks!

  7. Time to SHAKE IT UP MAN! Do something completely different! Dare to get wild! You’re in a rut and the only way out is to try something totally new. I was feeling much the same so that’s why I turned to making Gelli Prints for a while and it’s been a new challenge and been the answer to my lack of inspiration. So far, I’ve made 2 mini books with the crazy abstract mess I’Ve made. First one, a bit sloppy is 2 inches square, the 2nd, much better is 3 in square, starting with a sheet of paper 12in square. The ‘book’ takes shape because of the careful way you cut the printed sheet into one long string of paper which you then fold and glue the backsides together. Then you add collage or stamped decorations. What’s the point? What’s the point? Same as any abstract art. It’s emotional and your mark making and the collage things you add are YOU; your personal response is your’s alone
    This time of the year always points to the end. It’s not yet envigorating, bright colorful fall, it’s just still too hot then chilly and rainy and a perfect time to get a bit crazy to shock your system out of it’s larthargy.. .believe me it works! I doubt you want to make mini books but why not haves FUN just playing with colors and darks abstractly and see what develops? I did thaat last time I was stuck, started watching (and learning) Uffe Boesen and it did wonders both for my spirit and my work which doesn’t look like his at all but wish you could see the difference! Doing the same ol’ thing only makes matters worse. We all need to grow, not repeat.

    1. Hi Margery and thanks so much for this vigourous ‘shake’ to the system! You’re probably quite right – I just don’t even feel that I’ve got the ‘get up and go’ to take your advice at the moment! I’m hoping it’s a lull that will pass soon – I’m not much of a one for moping around feeling sorry for myself!

  8. Hi John,
    Well your painting of Devil’s Dyke doesn’t leave me cold at all…I really like it, with its dramatic sky and good strong greens. I love the houses too.
    I think it’s very natural to feel a bit flat at the moment, after all that’s gone on and I think you should be kinder to yourself! What I do when I lose enthusiasm is I change to a different medium, sometimes gouache, very occasionally oils or acrylic and also my preferred one after pure watercolour, watercolour and gouache. All you need is your usual palette and a tube of white gouache, and off you go. It feels so different to watercolour painting so that makes it exciting. Do have a look at Nathan Fowkes.
    I’m having a David Curtis revival at the moment, watching his dvds and feel inspired again! Perhaps try that with a favourite artist.
    Anyhow I do hope you’ll be happily painting again soon and feeling better!
    Warm wishes,

    1. Hi Carole and thanks so much for this! Some great advice here. I’m familiar with the wonderful work of Nathan Fowkes but I’ve never previously felt tempted by gouache but you make it sound really fun! Do you use the same brushes as you do for your watercolours? I also like the idea of revisiting some of my favourite watercolour DVDs for some inspiration. I had also been hoping to make it to the Mall Galleries for the Royal Institute of Watercolour Painters exhibition that’s on now but I’m not sure that I’m going to be able to manage it now which is a shame. Really appreciate your advice Carole, many thanks, John

  9. I love to see your work, but make sure not to allow the blog to become the only reason you paint. And don’t worry about losing ability. At your level, it’s like riding a bike and will be there when the muse returns.

    Right now I should be decorating my half -finished kitchen but I’m glued to the watercolour. I’d miss the weekly inspiration of yours but I guess we just have to let it ebb and flow.

    You’ll come back even stronger!

    1. Hi Joanna and thanks so much for these kind and wise words of advice! The website can sometimes feel like a pair of shackles but, when the painting has often failed to be my carrot, the blog has proven to be the stick that’s kept me painting. You’re quite right though – the time may come when a break from the blog is what’s needed! I envy your situation right now, preferring to be doing the watercolour than painting the kitchen! In my current frame of mind, I’d much rather be painting a kitchen! Really appreciate the advice Joanna – thank you!

      1. So even when your motivation is low and you think your “…abilities are waning…” you still manage to create a darn good painting. And yes there is improvement since the previous expansive painting you show, but that is a darn good painting too!

        Go easy on yourself…it’s hard to look at one’s own art with a stranger’s eye, and see the good points, we tend to focus on the negative. Believe us John, you are very good indeed!

        Why not do something a bit different – set up a site to sell your art (FASO looks good), organise an exhibition, write an article for a magazine, try a different medium, record a video for YouTube (you are far better than most on YiuTube), create a class and teach via Zoom….just have a break (just not so long as the break I had!) Whatever you do, hope you get your mojo back soon.

        1. Hi Ray and thanks so much for your kind and supportive comments, I really appreciate them! Thanks too for the suggestions – all good and definitely worth exploring further. I think before I start exploring these avenues, I first need to rediscover my mojo as you say, I need to regain my love of watercolour painting first! Hopefully, now that I’ve got some of the other pressing priorities out of the way, (such as my various DIY projects) I can return the focus of my attention back to painting! Thanks again Ray, all best wishes

  10. Well, blow me down if I haven’t been having my own little period of low output, too. Mine, however, is a bit more specific; I was commissioned to paint a portrait after my Portrait Artist of the Week endeavours during lockdown and had a period of 8 weeks during which I haven’t completed a thing. Every time I was inspired by something I thought, “I’d better get going on that portrait first!” Finally finished it yesterday morning and now the world is my oyster. It’ll appear on my IG soon once I’ve got permission to put it there.
    As for your effort… That’s a lovely billowing sky. I love the way one can play with colour in clouds and in hair and in tarmac and anywhere else that people think is just black, brown or white and you’ve done a lovely job here. As for making tangible improvement over time; I think that every time you start a new picture it should be challenging and not something that comes easily because you’ve done it so many times before. I met a potter once who designed a range of cups, saucers and mugs which were beautiful and got featured in the Sunday Times Colour Supplement. He now makes nothing but that design and has done ever since. Doesn’t sound like much fun to me… Once you’re that “good” at something, there’s not much point in doing it any more as far as I’m concerned.

    1. Thanks so much for this Rob – many congratulations on the commission, I look forward to seeing its unveiling on instagram in due course! Thanks too for the kind words about this week’s effort. I’ve also heard familiar stories about artists/makers becoming creatively imprisoned by the success of one particular style or type of work. I think I’m just feeling a bit out of sorts with it all. I think a year of constant upheaval is maybe beginning to take it’s toll! My daughter will hopefully be returning to school next week (for how long is anybody’s guess!) so this may herald another shift! At least it’s nothing terribly important, just some time and a bit of paint and paper – need to remember to keep it in perspective!

  11. Hi John
    It funny that I have had this slight lethargy too
    After a great burst of paintings during lockdown with a defined theme to them I now cant decide what I really want to paint a watercolour of
    I do hope it goes soon for us both
    Keep blogging though always enjoyable to read

    1. Sorry to hear that you’re in a similar boat Brian – I suppose we can take some comfort that we’re both feeling a little adrift so it’s obviously personal! While I can’t yet embrace these moments of listless-ness – I do accept that they’re all part and parcel of most long term creative endeavors . Hopefully, just as we may be sharing a ‘down’ at the moment, we can look forward to sharing an ‘up’ in the near future!

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