Category Archives: Creativity

Hockney and painting the passage of time

Last year I bought and read the book “Spring Cannot be Cancelled” by David Hockney and Martin Gayford. It is a wonderful and easy read and is largely conversations and thoughts about painting and art in general. David Hockney was locked down in his farmhouse in France during the Covid outbreak and spent his time drawing and painting there (much of it on an iPad). The book is gentle, humorous, and full of insights and thought-provoking ideas about what art is and how to do it. I kept thinking – “Wow, I never saw it that way before!”

One thing that I had never thought about was the way that you can use a painting to tell a story through time. You can use it to lead the viewer on a journey, either through a landscape or through time.
This is exactly what happens in the Bayeux Tapestry that depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England.

Martin Gayford writes, ‘It is a picture that is almost seventy metres long and half a metre high (and more than nine hundred years old) that lacks what he (Hockney) has long yearned to escape: those neat edges that confine the conventional rectangular picture frame. He points out that at the bottom is the ground, the top is the sky, and, as you walk along from one end to the other, two years of time pass.

He also says that ‘it has a different relationship to space and time. There is no fixed point for a single linear perspective to recede towards, no frozen moment. Instead, it flows backwards and forwards from England to Normandy, across the sea and through the unfolding events from 1064 to 1066.’
Now that to me is a great piece of art!

David Hockney created a similar, but much smaller, time travelling drawing of his gardens in France. He used just a few colours and plenty of dots and stripes to convey his message in a sketchbook consisting of a single sheet of paper that opens out like a concertina.

‘Hockney’s panoramic concertina drawings of his garden are smaller in scope, both in territory and time, but they include several acres of ground spreading to all points of the compass, and the length in seconds, minutes, or hours that it takes to look hard at all that.’

A journey through time

When I read this my artistic world suddenly opened up. I had always thought of paintings being a moment frozen in time – a bit like the creative version of a photograph. Here is the landscape as I saw it, here is a still life as it was. There is no sense of time, apart from the one moment captured in paint. But now here was the possibility of creating art that took you on a journey through time.

I thought I would have a go. So I made myself a little concertina book and took a small selection of coloured brush pens, and went outside to take a trek down the garden path.
Here’s a short video showing you how it worked out.

If you’re inspired, then why not give it a go!



Loosen up your brushstrokes

Here’s a handy tip for you if you want to loosen up in your painting. I remember many years ago now when I attended evening art classes at Leith School of Art in Edinburgh, being encouraged to tape a piece of charcoal onto the end of a 6 foot bamboo cane, and draw with that. This was supposed to develop hand to eye co-ordination, at the same time as loosening up our student drawings. It certainly did that!

This exercise below is based on that idea, and it really works. I frequently paint in this way now and a new dynamism has come into my paintings. You can watch me do this here:

I wonder how you hold your brush.
Over the years I have seen many of my students (myself included!), hunched over a piece of watercolour paper with noses almost touching the paper, tongue out in concentration, and fingers holding tightly to the tip of the brush to control every brush stroke. Now this approach is fine if you are adding details to the last stages of a painting (which is when they should be added, not before). But if we start off a painting by using this method of controlling our brush strokes and keep doing this all the way through, then the whole painting will end up being tight and possibly lifeless.

Again, there are times when this is the right approach for a detailed painting, but I’m talking here about loosening up. So how do we do that?

 Have a go at this to see for yourself how it works: take a medium sized brush loaded with paint and hold it as you would a pen, that is hold it tightly near the business end. Now write ‘my name is …’ on the paper. See how neatly you can write your name (fig 1).1.1

Next, move your fingers to the very tip of the brush handle, furthest from the hairs, and hold it lightly between your finger tips, a bit like a musical conductor holds a baton. Stand up so that the paper is at arms length from you and paint a few test squiggles and lines on the paper, flicking the brush with your fingers, and see how the lines are hard to control and develop a life of their own (fig 2).

1.2

Now try and write, ‘my name is …’ once more, holding the brush in the same way (fig 3). Has your writing ended up loose and scruffy? Is the writing more ‘arty’ and are the brush strokes more varied?

1.3

Just by holding the brush in a different way, and stepping back a little from the paper, you have been able to loosen up your painting. The challenge now is to paint a picture using this technique. Don’t worry how it might turn out (it’s only a piece of paper and a bit of paint!), but feel the freedom of painting in a slightly uncontrolled and looser way.

And over everything HAVE FUN!!