‘grasslands’ 2020


‘grasslands’ digital study no.1 2020


‘grasslands’ digital study no.2-2 2020


‘grasslands’ digital study no.4 2020



I created these landscape studies entirely on Procreate for iPad. At the moment my ‘normal’ when working in 2D is either to make a ‘real-space’ .. I mean physical, actual .. colour sketch on paper first so that I know roughly where I want to go, or to make an actual pen drawing which I then scan and convert into a transparent ‘layer’ as a basis for developing further in Procreate or PaintShop Pro. But in the case of these landscapes I didn’t have a defined composition in mind, rather a recipe to follow involving particular shapes and actions, which could produce a number of different outcomes. This is very similar to how I’ve always worked with actual materials in 3D .. with an initial purpose or ‘theme’ in mind, but creating forms in response to what the material suggests or allows, those forms becoming a ‘group’ or a collection which can be arranged or displayed in different ways.

So in this case my purpose was ‘flat landscape’ and I wanted to see what the criss-crossing or ‘shredding’ of a soft-cornered rectangle might look like. There always has to be something that’s fixed .. something which anchors or contains whatever else develops in a single composition but just as importantly establishes a shared identity if it becomes a series. If ‘recipe’ is a fair analogy .. I could think of this shape as the cake tin. I see the rectangle (or a square) with rounded corners as very ‘contemporary’, not only because it associates with tablets and smartphones but also because the rounded corners are currently favoured for logos and .. more significantly perhaps .. for the icons on your desktop. The geometric perfection of this shape .. combining right-angles, straight parallel sides and circles .. is not easily achievable on an iPad (at least, not on mine), but in any case I wanted to ‘feel’ those angles, those parallels and those curves, rather than just generating them. So I constructed a fine outline with hard pencil on A4 paper; scanned it; converted that into a transparent PNG, and used this as a template for filling the shape in Procreate. I like having at least some fusion of old and new methods.

Now, to cope with the impossible number of possibles presented when working digitally (and rather too late to repair my conflicted attitude towards working in this way) I make a point of choosing a limited number of ingredients .. or ‘actions’ as I’ve called them .. to work with. Limitation strengthens focus! For me this brings digital work more into accord with how I’d work physically. If I were trying to achieve these compositions with paint on paper I wouldn’t have a room full of brushes to choose from .. just a few well-chosen ones at most. Neither would my actions with these brushes be unlimited, but dictated by all sorts of physical boundaries ranging from the consistency of the paint to the dexterity of my fingers .. but also including things like certain pleasurable actions or elements not being repeated ‘ad nauseum’, because everything in the physical realm takes effort, and this is on a meter. I believe it’s these physical parameters, together with years of relating to them, that makes physical artwork truly personal, and it is the discipline of taking considered risks and  ‘coping with limitations’ that brings about artwork which is truly thought about!  So maybe you can see where this is going .. I think these are some of the reasons why so much digital art remains quite honestly impersonal, trite, undisciplined and unconvincing .. in spite of everything!

But, to get back to my purposely limited range of actions, for the ‘grasslands’ I wanted to ‘shred’ the basis shape in one or more places and build groupings of thin and thick, mainly slanting, lines; I wanted these to superimpose, sometimes opaque sometimes transparent; I wanted the darker lines on top to be more defining and tapered; I wanted to break up certain areas with quick, freehand, gestural hatching; I wanted to create layered effects as much by erasing away as painting on; lastly I wanted all the lines that were supposed to be straight absolutely straight and sharp. I wanted these things mainly because I knew they could be achieved, from past digital work, so its fair to say that here the ‘material’ was dictating the work in, what I feel is, a natural way. Most of it was possible (very simple to do, in fact) because of Procreate’s ‘Quickline’ action, which allows drawing a rough straight line with the finger and holding fingertip in place until the line straightens. If this is done after modifying the brush setting to the longest possible ‘Start Taper’ the result is a good-looking needle shape.

When I make things out of wood I’m guided by what I can hold comfortably while shaping, and since my wooden ‘objects’ or collections of forms are meant to be played with this is appropriate. Sometimes I’ll find an offcut which doesn’t have to be altered much, and even though working with wood can be dozingly satisfying for long periods, there’s always a ‘buzz’ from saving a bit of effort! Most often the thicknesses of my wooden forms are dictated by the thicknesses the timber comes in. Over the course of time I’ve tuned my aesthetic, even my objectives, to these physical conditions. When I’m making things out of clay there may be fewer physical limitations, but in another sense clay is even more physically determined because it’s so impressionable. Unless you’re abiding by strict naturalism in making, say, a portrait bust (sometimes even if) your fingers will move, at least partly, the way they want to, a way that’s natural to you and different in others. So especially if you’ve thrown in your hat with ‘non-representational’ form your anatomy could play a big part in determining and styling what you do!

In digital many things are simple to do, many actions are very quick, but it’s a mistake to think that digital work is quicker in every respect. It’s only quick up to a point, and often that point is the one when you feel that there’s something that could be better, but you don’t quite know what that is, so you start changing things .. and from there it might go on for a long time, mainly because of all the choices!

On the other hand, and there certainly is a big one .. if I’d been physically painting, I would never have had the time and patience to test and erase all the stages that even these three simple-looking examples had to go through before I was honestly pleased with them. I originally started the digital work, a few years back, because that was mainly what I wanted .. a means of making good, precise colour sketches which I could work on, alter, juggle with, all relatively risk-free until the point came when they could be ‘signed off’ with satisfaction. The intention then was always to reproduce them in paint, but in truth I’ve hardly ever done that so far, partly because the scale can’t be changed ‘just like that’; partly because reproducing them would be a lot of work, for relatively little ‘surprise’ (and that really is a tough one), and lastly because I’m quite happy just looking at the digital ones as they are.