My journey so far

I started painting 6 years ago. A local artist was running a botanical watercolour class just down the road from me and being so close I thought I would give it a go. I didn't care what the subject or medium was at that time, just that it was nearby. I had always liked the dream_of_beans_revised_without_framebotanical illustrations in my gardening books so I felt pretty sure I would like it. Once there, it was soon apparent that I loved the subjects we were painting. I loved getting right into all the tiny details. Using watercolours was fun too, very different from the poster paints I'd used as a kid in school! The 10 weeks passed very quickly and soon after we made our move to France.

Once the dust had settled and all the boxes unpacked, I set out, very excitedly, my studio. I was fortunate enough to have an enormous room where I could create to my heart's content. I went out and bought all sorts of paints and materials so that I could really explore and experiment. Now I had all the 'gear', what was I going to paint? I didn't really know.

I went to a charity event to raise money for the mountain gorillas and whilst there, someone gave me a book on Africa. It was one of those really big hard backed ones with loads of gorgeous glossy photos of African women. It depicted these women from all over Africa and showed how different tribes wore different jewellery and why. I was fascinated by all the detail of their jewellery and I decided to paint one of them. I zoomed in close and set to work on each and every bead and plait in the hair. I decided to use pigments because I thought I would get the same earthy colours. I spent weeks on that first painting but boy was I happy with the end result. Strange, because when I look back now, I don't like it very much.

Lavender_I_medium_without_frameI started going to a painting club and we had to do a painting to fit in with the theme of the Venice Carnival. All the students were then going to hang their paintings at a local cave for the summer holidays. I think I produced a competent painting. Everyone else seemed impressed. Basically, all that was happening at the club was that people would bring in a photo, then copy it. I found this quite easy. I copied a lot of pictures when I was a child. It was doing this which was partly why my parents discouraged me from persuing a career in art because they felt that I could only copy and wasn't a 'true' artist. I felt uncomfortable just copying so I left the club.


I carried on painting several more African women and bits of their jewellery etc. but I soon grew bored. I decided to try and paint some African animals instead. I did some zebras and again zoomed right in. I was working from a tiny little photo I'd found on the internet but was working on an enormous canvas. I didn't want to just copy from a photo, maybe because of what my parents had said, that it was like cheating, so I distorted all the edges. I made it look like the paint had 'run' top and bottom. I quite liked that, so I did some giraffes but they didn't turn out so well, so I gave up on that too.

I didn't paint for ages then. I really didn't want to just sit and paint from photos, I didn't want to do landscapes and I didn't want to do portraits of humans or pets. I wanted to be original. I wanted to do something that no one else was doing. If I wasn't a great painter, which I know I'm not, then I had to come up with an idea that was so different that no one would notice I couldn't paint very well. I had to blag it basically.

During this period of time I was lucky to meet an artist here who had taught art in the UK most of his life and was now living in France sodahlia_blue_medium that he could paint. I don't particularly like his paintings but he had showed me one or two of his 3 dimensional pieces which were very quirky indeed. I realised that it was this quirkiness that I liked. He offered to critique the work I had done so far and see if he could get me started again. He loved the zebras I had done and said it was a very well executed painting. That gave me some hope. He looked at all my paintings and held his hands over different areas in like a circle fashion, like a tunnel and looked through. It made me think of a lens, zooming in. He said that there were areas in all my paintings where the detail was excellent and that I had obviously zoomed into those areas that interested me the most. The last thing he told me was that I should ask myself what it was that really interested me and it would be this that I painted well.

After that meeting, I just couldn't paint. I couldn't think of anything that I really, really wanted to paint. There seemed to be so many things. I spent months just sitting in my studio, not painting, but thinking. I also spent a lot of time making decorative objects for the home which I really enjoyed, but I also wanted to paint. I phoned my artist friend up again and told him that I just had a total block. He advised me to just pick up a paintbrush and get painting. It didn't matter what but that I just had to paint again to get me back into it.

I decided to paint a rose but that I would distort it somehow. I wanted it big to accentuate the detail of the petals and I let the paint run top and bottom again. I did it on a white background, like a botanical painting, and it turned out OK. I enjoyed going back to the botanical subject that I had first started on before I came to France. I decided to do other botanical stuff and did a kiwi. I did a massive slice of kiwi with all the seeds and this turned out brilliantly. I knew then what I wanted to do. Or did I?

My husband worked in Vienna so I did go over there quite a bit. Whilst there, he had to work, so I spent my time going round some exhibitions. I came across an artist called Eva Hesse. She had died at the age of 34 from a brain tumour. Her early works were mostly drawings, all quite naive which I didn't like very much. I was rather bored of this exhibition but then, right at the very end were some of her works where she had used materials and these works were 3 dimensional works of art, though still hanging like a painting. In several of them she had used string. I was completely fascinated. It was as if a light bulb had been swithed on. I realised that I could put all my creative skills into my paintings!!!

big_tomato_reworked_without_frameI couldn't wait to get into my studio after that. I bought tons of string and material. I started taking photographs myself so that at least I was using my own reference and I could then blow up the photos to really see the detail. I had been using beans in my decorative items I'd made and started to photograph those. When I zoomed in, the black eyed beans had 'ridges' where the skin had dried. I thought I could represent these ridges in string and then overpaint it. I went on to produce 'string beans' which is a key piece in my series today.

I totally loved the metamorphosis that took place when I started to paint the string. For some reason, the string just added a whole different dimension. I was hooked after that and saw texture all around me and started to experiment with different materials. When I looked at a mushroom, I thought fibreglass, when I saw flowers, I thought folded fabrics, when I saw vegetables I thought string. It was weird but I just didn't look at things the same way anymore. I zoomed right in, like a lens on a camera, and then saw texture.

I feel now that I'm on the right track. I feel that I'm doing something which is within my capabilities but I can improve all the time. I feel that I've hit on an original idea and that the possibilities are endless. I'll be happy doing this forever.

© 2020 Cathy Savels. All Rights Reserved.

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