the fish flies over the waterfall


Today has been interesting. The fish has been through four versions. The first fairly abstract in the sense that it was the ‘notion’ of a fish rather than anything recognisable, and the second was painted so that it looked like the ‘crocheted’ fish (made by Roger K Newton and known affectionately as ‘Tiny Fish) used as the model in the original maquette studies. Break for lunch and a re-think. The third incarnation… by which time I was getting close to something approaching panic… was  a carp. Pretty enough with its eye-catching colour,  though it too failed to quite do the trick. Finally I painted what to all intents and purposes is a mackerel, but for the fact that it’s much bigger than any mackerel I’ve seen on a fishmonger’s slab. This now seems to be working for me, though I’ll know better when I see it afresh tomorrow after a good night of sleep. The mackerel’s markings appear to reference the patterns on Raphael’s wings, which telegraphs the ‘miraculous’ nature of the fish and the significance of it later in the story. Meanwhile in the landscape below the steep hill has sprung a conifer forest and through the trees tumbles a waterfall.

I can’t raise the easel any higher as it’s already jammed against the ceiling, and as a consequence I’m having to paint the lower third of the composition on my knees. This is far from comfortable and now everything is aching. Knees, neck, back and shoulders. I’m using one of those padded mats that gardeners have to ease kneeling while weeding, but still it’s a punishing position to be in all day. By the time I’m done my joints crack like an old staircase in the cold. Indeed when I go downstairs I’m not quite sure which pistol shots come from the staircase and which my knees! But the painting moves on, and so the discomforts must be borne.

9 thoughts on “the fish flies over the waterfall

  1. oh…this has been happening to me the last few days–over and over, the same little piece of panel, and it’s awful! i’m glad it’s over for you, that mackerel looks born to be there, and i love the way you tied him into the miracle subtly, via the patterns.

    paul’s timer advice is solid–get up and move around!! sounds painful….

    also, i like that you can see his foot inside the shoe. will you leave it that way? it’s oddly appealing 🙂

    • Sometimes one part of a painting is like a black hole waiting for you to fall into. I hope the fish was it on this painting, and that the rest of what’s needed will be a breeze. I sailed through the basilica today, which in so many ways was the much harder thing to pull off. You never can tell.

      Try walking away from the painting you’re working on and don’t go back to look at it until you’ve had some time off from thinking about it. I often find that the answers come to me overnight and that the problems are better dealt with when I’m feeling rested the following morning.

      The shoe needs some more work on it, though I don’t plan on changing what’s already there.

  2. Clive your monster mackerel is beautiful. So beautiful in fact it makes it impossible to imagine its predecessors that you describe (Did you ‘record’ these now-defunct incarnations?). As you say, it perfectly reflects the Archangel’s feathers. Quite wonderful.
    Sorry you’ve’ve been suffering for your art. I have an egg timer going off every 20 minutes when I work now to avoid a recurrance of the back problems. Sounds disruptive, but actually now I barely see it that way. It’s either stop every 20 minutes, or get lost in hours of the same abyssmal contorted posture…

    • Glad you like the monster mackerel. I can see now that it was just what was needed, Easy enough to recognise in hindsight, though yesterday in the middle of all that messing about I was in despair.

      Good to hear too that you’re watching your posture and avoiding strain injuries. You’ve had quite enough problems this year to go to whatever lengths it takes to avoid any more. The twenty minute egg-timer trick sounds a first class idea. Well done.

      How’s the painting going for your forthcoming show? Your card came in the post yesterday. Beautiful.

  3. The fish is absolutely beautiful, as is the segment of the surrounding canvas that is featured in today’s post. So rich in shapes, textures and colours. I just love it. I can just imagine how you must feel after hours of working in an uncomfortable position, It is not quite the same, but this summer’s work scraping many layers of paint off the staircase of the old house pushed me close to the limit of what my creaky joints could endure! Take care.

    • Hello Bev. I love it when you pop by while on your travels. Makes me feel a little as though I too am on the road to those places that appear so wonderfully exotic in the photographs on your blog, and that you describe so eloquently.

      Sometimes painting a canvas (or in this case a panel) can be pretty close to scraping down a staircase. There are certainly days on a large work like this when the endeavour becomes more like dogged determination than a flight of creativity and letting rip with the brushes. Repeatedly painting, sanding back and repainting the fish yesterday was just such an experience. Each fish was a different size and shape to the one before it, and every attempt meant patching in the surrounding finished paint. Impeccably and invisibly repairing a patch of Raphael’s trousers, the hill beyond and the foreground waterfall and conifers was not rewarding work, and for the most part seemed an exercise of increasing futility. Then suddenly everything came together and I reached a point where progress had been won. The last fish seemed at home. Nearly eight hours work until at last, just in time to lay down my brushes and clean up before supper, a bare six square inches of paint reached a state of completion. It scarcely feels possible, to have laboured so long and obsessively over that fish. But then again it’s located where the diverse elements of fabric, tree-tops and airily distant hills meet up and are layered in a fairly complicated manner, so perhaps the unwillingness to start in on it that I wrote about here recently, had been a tacit recognition of the difficulties I knew were awaiting me. I’d had no clear idea of how the fish should look, and whenever I feel that way it spells trouble ahead. I had to quarry it from my head, and there were times when that felt like brute labour rather than smooth going. Now it’s looking ‘right’ and I am content. Six square inches. I ask you!

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