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Quick Sketches: Preparing for a Series of Soft Toy Paintings.

Updated: Mar 1

Today I decided to go back to basics and do a series of five-minute sketches. In this post, I reflect on a new series of paintings that I am planning, and reasons why I am holding myself back.

I have been sitting on the idea of making a series of soft toy paintings for a while. The idea has been brewing for a couple of months, but I haven't quite got the momentum going yet.

This morning was an exercise in building that momentum. I set a timer for five minutes per drawing, and sketched from photographs of soft toys. These experiments were a lot of fun as they forced me to sketch very fast and loose, not allowing much time for details. I began by quickly sketching the forms, then used a darker pencil/pen in the last two minutes to add shadow. As I feel more comfortable, or perhaps more in control, with a pencil as opposed to a paintbrush, this exercise allowed me to begin creating reference drawings for the paintings I am hoping to start soon.

My group crit feedback at university last week was very helpful in getting the ball rolling on this new series of paintings. It's very interesting to hear objective feedback on your paintings without the bias or significance that you as the painter put upon your own work. It's also very frightening to lay your psyche out on the wall for others to judge, especially when your paintings have a deeply personal significance.

Ideas/comments that I took away from the group crit which I want to develop in my work are:

  • that the colour palette is strong (blue/green, with perhaps some orange as the first layer of paint); painting from life but not a normal palette

  • childhood; distance; loss; sadness

  • the idea of a childhood toy being isolated or abandoned, on it's own, not played with

  • the toy being 'on the edge' (abyss, precipice); still life at an angle

  • other reality - is it inside or outside? is it 2D or 3D?

  • the toys as characters/subjects (with a personal attachment) rather than objects

  • the ambiguous / partly unknown or unrecognisable space

  • contrast and tension

The colour palette of my recent paintings (blue/green painted on orange) is "not a normal palette," but is one that I feel captures my perception. I feel very connected to a still life painted with these colours, as I think it expresses something about the way I see the world, which isn't always obvious to me. The sadness, anxiety, and illness which accompany complex PTSD find some kind of expression and recognition in this colour palette. It is very interesting and quite healing for me to see the contents of my mind in this controlled way, and to look at difficult emotions and experiences voluntarily (i.e. not in the form of flashbacks or re-living.)

The subject matter (soft toys) points to childhood. It is a 'safe' object (or perhaps a 'safe' character) in a strange or ambiguous space. Before the group crit, I hadn't considered that in my paintings the toy is often painted as 'isolated' or 'abandoned', but that makes a lot of sense. It creates a tension in the work that something so comforting is placed in an uncomfortable environment.

This is definitely something that I want to look at further. By drawing/painting the same soft toy in different environments, I want to explore the relationship between object/space. The idea of the toy being 'on the edge of a precipice' is also very interesting, as it emphasises this tension between safety/danger and points to an 'on edge' psychological state, expressing feelings of hypervigilance, anxiety, paranoia, and terror.

The significance behind these paintings is deeply psychological. What they are really about is my lived experience of childhood and healing from complex PTSD. It is a very difficult subject matter that I intend to handle safely by being aware of my limits and connecting in with myself to check that I'm ok. The fact that I am painting this subject matter, although challenging, feels healing in the sense that I am gently reconnecting and engaging with difficult and repressed parts of myself. I hope that by following what feels most 'true' to my own experiences, I will paint something 'real', something "human, all too human" (to quote a certain moustached philosopher).

I came across a question today which has been troubling me for some time. Why am I not painting more? I wrote a blog post about this problem two weeks ago. I have been aware for a while that I am holding myself back in my painting practice, and perhaps also in life more generally. I enjoy painting - in fact, when I am painting I feel a sense that this is what I am meant to be doing. It feels right. It's fun. But I don't do it very often. I have been confused for a while as to why I am, on some level, avoiding painting.

I thought perhaps I was scared of making a good painting, of succeeding and being praised for my work. This I think is true, but on further observation, I think it runs much deeper. On my walk home today I become very aware of a deep shame that is holding me back. I realised that on some level, I am very ashamed of my work, which is a huge stumbling block to making paintings! This is not a surface-level shame, but a deep and all-consuming shame rooted in childhood which is holding me back.

It is perhaps, in the making of these drawings and paintings, that childhood feelings such as shame resurface. And perhaps that is the point - to become aware of these feelings, and to process them. Now that I've started to become aware of this deep shame, I will watch it, taking care of my inner child, and hope to process it so that I am no longer preventing myself from making art.

Painting is perhaps the rawest form of self-expression, if you allow it to be. It trangresses the limitations of speech, and uses the primal language of the subconscious to communicate our deepest and most well-hidden emotions. Painting is hard - but it is also fun, illuminating, and expressive. Painting can be healing, if you give it the chance and the safe space to act as a remedy for unprocessed experiences. My five-minute sketches have enlightened me today to the deep shame I am repressing, and allowed me to reconnect with that child-like fun of picking up a pencil and scribbling away, no matter the result. To make art with the joy of a child is the ultimate goal, anything else is a bonus.


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