So… I’ve recently developed a small obsession with wolves.
I never before felt the calling for a funky jumper with a dreamcatcher and a wolf howling at the moon on it, but, you know, this just might be the time.
It all started with a story I wrote about a heroine lost in a wood. She was being chased and hunted down by a pack of wolves, which spurred some research and the more I found out, the more I wanted to know.
In creative terms, I started filling the ‘pot’ with everything wolves… wherever I looked I saw wolf symbolism, pack dynamics, parallels with us, another highly social, intelligent species, I wrote stuff down and started making sketches.
One day an animal life-drawing class I follow (www.wildlifedrawing.co.uk) sent word of a Wolf life-drawing class, in-person (I had done some great zoom sessions of Hawks and Owls before with them over lockdown). This class was with wolf-dogs, a wolf hybrid very close genetically to wild grey wolves. I jumped at the chance to join the fun, and when the time came, off I went with my art supplies and a big smile.
And I didn’t really stop smiling…the experience was fantastic.
Run in partnership with the Watermill Wolves who brought their beautiful beasts along for us to draw, paint and pet carefully :)
As well as great sitters, who snoozed a fair bit, they are talented animal actors, able to jump up, howl and snarl all for the price of a secretly supplied snack.
I had the pleasure to be sitting close to the handsome ‘James Bond’ who napped in front of me for a good period, giving me a chance for some great drawing time.
When they weren’t relaxing, the wolves were up, playfully pacing their area. Sniffing around, alert and very lean in real life. They were tall, for me their most distinguishing feature from dogs, that and their long nose and distinct mask-like fur colouring on their faces and along the tops of their bodies.
They were calm at times and intensely boisterous at others, and although a lot like dogs they had a more wired, intense energy.
When the session was closing and artists were giving their final pats, I got an unexpected wolf-hug from 007 - I felt very honoured. I like to think it was our deep wild connection that forged our connection and not the five minute belly scratch I’d given him earlier.
In drawing terms, sketching an animal in real life or from a reference photo, gets easier and stronger the better you know your subject. So it helped that I had done research, spent time observing wolves online, in videos or books and also explored that knowledge through my own sketches and writing.
I also find I check back often to what I believe the unique elements of my subjects are. Both in their physical makeup and their psychological identity as far as it relates to us, and most specifically to me. Symbolism, connection and emotional resonance all seem to play a part and I try to incorporate all of this into my work to bring an energy, narrative or sense of character to it.
It’s true that some of this energy, we bring without trying, without realising, it just comes as part of the expression package… but I find understanding the layers of knowledge and attention we bring to the creative process can help to inspire us and allow us to be more expressive and make more exciting work. Accentuating differences, allowing feelings and symbolism around a subject filter into the work, or ensuring dynamic lines are strong and characteristic, are just some examples of the tools of the trade.
A friend mentioned to me that all of my wolf-related energy and endeavour coincided with the time of the wolf moon, a full moon in January traditionally was said to have been a time that the wolves were more likely to howl.
Perhaps then I have just been a little moon-crazed lately. Howling in my own way.
Since the session, I’ve been making other work that feeds off my thoughts and experiences with these beautiful animals, it plays off all the wonderful things about wolves and what they represent to me.
I hope to have some more beautiful work to share with you one of these days, when everything comes together and the time is right.
Perhaps by the next Wolf moon :)
Thank you for reading x
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I could sit and talk at length about about the benefits of being playful, mindful, present, etc. and small talk you into a nice micronap, but I’m not going to do that just now. Instead I’m going to jump to the heart of the matter (for me at least)…
Play is the antidote to death.
Whether it’s humour, imagination, free exploration in whatever you are doing, play releases the mind from the shackles of order and your neverending to do list and brings your creativity into motion.
It’s well known how children’s play is fundamental to their development, it’s less discussed how critical it is to adult development and I think, emotional survival.
I’ve got a sneaky feeling that we should all be playing a lot more and creating more opportunities to play, as often as we can. The harder life becomes the more important play becomes.
So what counts as play?
Well - for me, art is a big part of my play. But so is getting into a great book, solving problems, getting into any kind of physical activity beyond the ‘when is it going to stop phase’ or laughing hard about stupid stuff.
I try to look for opportunities where I can, and try to make the most of them.
I find it lightens up life, a lot (which is generally hard and often boring) and allows my subconscious to have a roam around and stretch it’s legs.
When it comes to my artistic process, how I play can be quite varied and like most artists, is more a broader way of doing things rather than a structured set of activities. But I can give you some examples …
- I draw weird stuff in my sketchbook, (not cute-weird or interesting-weird, just weird).
- I sing along to stuff and love to hear other people singing (especially while they’re working)
- I enjoy a good wind up, although it’s often on me. I’ve got a stupid sense of humour and love the absurd.
- I spa with/tickle my kids, friends and family. Basically anyone who looks ticklish. Surprise attacks are the best.
- I love to hear kids mad/honest views on things.
- I befriend cats and dogs (I often use the dog language ‘play pose’ to bond with new pals I make).
I’m learning how to play the guitar, very slowly but surely. I make up little melodies.
- I (privately) like making up stories about strangers on the train or drivers sitting in traffic in the car across from me, there is a lot of drama.
In the studio…
- I play with leftover paint after finishing a session and see what happens. Some really good stuff can come out of these sessions.
- I keep snippets and cut out good areas of discarded work for collages and future projects.
- I set myself small timed exercises when I’m feeling a bit stuck - like 5 mins with a postcard and fineliner and see what happens.
- I set myself totally out of the norm projects to keep things interesting and break up big projects that follow similar lines.
- I search for obscure podcasts and radio stations of special interest and listen to new ideas and get the cogs turning.
- I enjoy walking and day dreaming.
- I observe as much as I can.
- I try to follow my instincts towards ideas, images, sounds and things of interest.
‘Towards Paradise’ Limited Edition Fine Art Print
How do you play and how could you play more?
Perhaps I can help… have a little read of this story and see where it goes in your head. Follow the thread where does it lead?
‘Behind the fallen fence panel was the alleyway. Behind that alley was the local cemetery, and beyond that, the park with it’s crisp, green cricket pavilions and the distant laughter of the playpark. We always felt that geography, always knew where we were in relation to it. It was a special thing, knowing how many layers of things lay between you and the dream.
We got together with the other local stragglers that were around, having gained permission from our mums on the basis of a sketchy promise to ‘not go too far’. Then we queued, whispering, at the place in the alley’s fence where two planks had rotted away and disappeared one by one like a line of small, scruffy limbo dancers bending into the unknown.
On the other side the graveyard stretched out, eery and sleepy quiet. Small green stones twinkled brightly like they had been mined from the Emerald city. We waited, assessing the terrain and reminded ourselves it took one long minute to pelt across to reach safe passage on the other side (another broken fence where we would emerge into the park and the best of times). Glancing around at the others, I knew they were no help. I had to go first.’ …
(Tell me what happens next)
To capture movement art is something many of us artists aspire to do.
Attempting to make a two-dimensional painting (or sometimes 2.5D - I love my lumps and bumps) into something dynamic is not always easy.
When it works though, it brings vibrancy and energy to an artwork, adding a spark of magic that wakes an artwork up and makes it dance before your eyes.
If we think about it, movement is THE key sign of life. It’s what all our senses are on high alert to detect at all times, evolved as we are to respond to our environment and interact with the world around us.
Movement is also characteristic of the elements at play, whether it’s the clouds drifting across the sky, the water racing around the fast bend of the river or the flicker of flames.
These things are so fundamental to us it seems impossible to extract and scrutinise how movement itself impacts us, but we can certainly feel that power over us - just imagining our coffee cup slowly moving independently across the table or instead reflect on the strange wrongness of a wild creature sitting prostrate in the middle of our lawn.
Sky and Crow, Limited Edition Print
The art of performance, film, theatre, dance harnesses dynamics.
Painting, like photography, is sometimes seen as capturing a scene or snapshot of life as if freezing it’s beauty forever - objects arranged are ‘Still life’ no less.
Often there is implied movement in the subject, for example, we know that the grass, clouds or the treetops might move in the breeze if we think about it, because these things do in real life, but some artists paint in a way that gives the impression that the grass is shifting, the clouds racing, the tree tops ruffling, showing us this aspect of a scene adds authenticity, the sense of weather and brings in the constant change that would be at play in a real scene. These artists ‘unfreeze’ the scene, draw us in to inhabit it, add other levels of sense and experience to a picture.
Like many people I grew up reading comics and cartoons, and as a young teen I discovered anime, Manga, fantasy art and developed a love of beautiful book covers showing incredible, dramatic scenes.
I think this is where my love of a dynamic, heat of the action, artwork began, and although my art is often quite different in style, I still love these types of art and they continue to inspire me with their energy, excitement and storytelling.
Break, Limited Edition Rugby Fundraiser Print
If I had to give an unofficial guide to creating movement in art (I’ve had my own intuitive but varied art education) I’d probably give some tips on the following things…
Choice of line, shape and composition, although obvious is so vital. I often select the most dynamic options, and then see if I can make it any more dynamic, to add energy to my work.
It’s not just what you do, but how you do it. Physical, fresh, instinctive mark making is expressed in the work as authentic, raw and honest reflections of the artist at work. It comes across really powerfully and can be used as a tool to depict movement, energy and physicality in the work, I love this part of my painting now despite having been a much more detailed artist in the past. If just for fun, give some expressive mark making a go and you’ll see what I mean.
Muscles are the agents of movement, they create and react to it. Studying human and animal muscle structure is a celebration of all things movement, and I could do it for days on end. I study things moving, not just sitting down, I like to see what happens as they move, what shapes and interrelationships interest me. I can really understand Masters like Leonardo Da Vinci becoming so obsessed with understanding anatomy for their art that they dissected cadavers. The more you know the more fascinating it becomes.
Personally, I think it’s often underrated that air moves. In lots of different directions. I do love a bit of science and have looked in the past at air currents and thermals to help my work but even the smallest appreciation will add to the authenticity and energy of a work - no landscape is actually still, and any movement of a body or a thing, also moves the air.
5. Cause and Effect
…which links nicely to cause and effect. When we’re using a reference photo, painting from imagination or even outdoors en plein air it’s really helpful to think as well as to look (which much of our artistic life is structured around). We have to use our imagination at times to predict what would be different about a scene if a fox had just walked through it, what would be the signs that there is a breeze in the air. That cloud across the sun has cast shadows here, but in just a minute a hint of light will shine through here. We make it more real by anticipating or accentuating the interrelationships between the subjects and the environment they are in is a great way to bring the experience of real life into paintings.
6. Time Bridges
My own term (thank you) linked to cause and effect, but this is about taking account of the past and future and artistically representing fragments of these alongside the present to help to portray movement. Sounds a bit freaky, I know, but it’s quite simple in practice and really effective.
Have you ever seen or heard of the first film ever made? In 1878 Helios (or Eadweard Muybridge) released a series of photographs of a rider on a horse. Sequential freeze-frames of ‘The Horse in Motion’ stands as a seminal event that took photography into the new world of filmmaking.
Using a time bridge would be choosing a snapshot of the horse to paint, then using the previous slides and the following slides to see where the horses legs and body had been and was going to and adding flashes or indications to the painting you chose to give something of the actions that had been and/or are about to happen - voila. Working really well alongside an expressive style, this is a great tool in the armoury for dynamic work.
7. Practice drawing moving things
This is the hard part, but it really helps you to connect with movement and sew all the things mentioned above naturally into your work. Whether it’s sketching birds from your kitchen window, drawing sports players in your local park or working from life drawing classes where the model changes pose or moves around the room. Become more confident and less tight with your mark making by trying to capture life on the go, the results are fun, haphazard but very exciting and will hugely improve the sense of movement in all your work.
The Owl hunts in Silence, Limited Edition Print
For me is movement, is vitality, and vitality is life.
It’s so essential to the energy and engagement I’m looking for in my work that I try my best to celebrate it.
I’m always looking for that spark of magic to get my art dancing off the canvas.
Cover image: Fighting Crows, Limited Edition Print - for more info contact me here.
Thanks so much for reading x
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