Recently, I've been letting myself play on vintage paper as my painting surface.
My love for vintage pages is twofold.
1, I am drawn to old things, antiques, repurposed and thrifted items, so a vintage book seemed the perfect place to journal my progress for the next 100 days. I'm currently participating in a 100 day challenge where I paint something new every day and share it online.
2. I love the way inks sink into old, yellowed paper. The tinted colour brings a base that is already golden and primed, and the way fluid acrylic and inks interact with the paper is so soft and sensual, while heavier body acrylic glides on like silk.
Here's an example:
I seriously wish I could get vintage paper as a huge surface, but unfortunately I have tried, and it melts down with too many layers and pills out.
So my next step was to try raw canvas, and see what the differences are between cotton that has no product applied to harden or mold it and canvas that has several layers of gesso already applied before purchase. I've seen other artists do this but shied away from it because I wanted to come to it organically, when the time felt right, and not because others around me were doing it. Over the last month, I decided I really wanted to give it a try because my style is shifting a little and I don't want to hold myself back from possible learning.
I'm finding that raw canvas is gorgeous for that soft, sinking look, of the paint blending into the material and creating a transparent but traceable mark. I love how the colours interact, like they are a part of the grain of the canvas, whether watered down a little or left heavy. However, when I use heavy body acrylic, naturally, it also sinks in and sticks to the fibres of the fabric, lending less to that smooth glide and more to a choppy, textured feel, which I am not mad about.
In contrast, when painting on a gessoed surface, I find it hard to achieve that pulled, melted look and easier to achieve the firm glide of where I want my marks of heavy body acrylic to be. This is the magic of art, for me, learning to try the same thing in different ways and learning what technique I like more than the other. It's the closest way I can describe science in my brain. I'm conducting experiments, logging data, and doing more experiments with the results, then I get the share and talk about my findings.
In other words, is science magic?
I'm going to keep working with raw canvas over the next few months while I compile some new paintings, with a tentative release for January. We'll see if things change on the dates.
I measured out the canvas and cut it to fit the size of a 24 by 30 wood frame. I didn't realize the fabric would shrink so much once I applied the heavier body paint, which looking back now only makes sense. So far, I haven't stretched the canvas over the wood frame, so I am not sure if I will get back a little bit of the size in stretching it out. It also crinkles a little in the areas where there is less paint, so if I want to keep some of the raw canvas colour as the background, I'll have to be mindful of this for next time and cut out some extra room.
Give the fabric lots of time to dry between layers, especially if wanting that layered and melted look. I started with a light wash of white titanium fluid acrylic mixed with water and let it dry over night. In the morning it was ready for another layer of white, without it being watered down, to create some lovely texture.
Use a pencil to mark the edges of your composition, not a pencil crayon. Then you can erase the marks when you are done. Rookie mistake.
Be mindful of where you want the paint to over lap the edge and if you want room between the edge and the composition of your painting, this is kind of lost in the process because the canvas isn't stapled to the wood frame yet.
That's it for me. I'll post more about this process later!
I spent a month in England. Looking back, it has been the most restful time of 2020. I am so appreciate of my privilege and ability to travel and that I returned to Canada before things hit a level of chaos in regards to the pandemic.
I started out my travels in London, staying at a Wombats hostel. I gotta say, staying in a hostel in your thirties verses staying in a hostel at the age of twenty is a way different story. To say the least, I really didn't like it. I knew I wanted to get to the coast and be by the ocean, so I ended up leaving London two days early. I took in as much as possible in the meantime, enjoying long walks, markets, the Tate Modern Gallery, vintage shopping, and a horribly sexist play by none other than Shakespeare. Yep, you heard that right. The Taming of the Shrew is a despicable play in my books, but I loved the theatre experience nonetheless. London does not stop, it feels and looks like it goes on forever. I actually found this really overwhelming, especially while travelling alone.
Hastings, one of the ocean front cities of the English Channel, stole my heart. Victorian houses were tucked into the hillside, Tudor style buildings were hidden in downtown Old Hastings, just steps from the oceanfront. Further up, away from the ocean, a lower income area with garbage out front and oddly coloured brick townhouses loomed over it all. It was a mix of everything old with the breath of the ocean. I spent most of my time walking along the water and ducking into random little stores, book shops and little markets. I found cute coffee shops where I plucked away at a novel. I learned early on, in London, that my second time to England was not meant for me to be mega-Rachel and write a entire novel like I pre-determined. The ocean and Hastings taught me I needed to rest. To sleep in. To read manga. To talk with my flatmates, to walk and take in the Oceanside. To stop the over thinking and the anxiety and just rest. I listened to my body. It was the best thing I have done for myself this year.
I stayed in Hastings for two weeks, and it was not enough time. Here is where I am gleaning most of my inspiration for my newest series. The colours, the emotions, the breath of the ocean, the memory of being there with the feel of rocks and pebbles under my white sneakers, the quiet of a calm mind, the lovely people, the newness of a place being experienced for the first time, the storms. The cold of England in the middle of February, which requires a plethora of sweaters. I only packed two.
From Hasting, I travelled about 6 hours up to North York, to the coast again, this time the North Sea. I rode by train through York and Middlesbrough and Saltburn-By-The-Sea. By coach, I rode about an hour out of Saltburn to a little tiny, crack of a village called Staithes, where I stayed in an Airbnb called Laura's Loft. Laura Knight was an artist who lived in Staithes during an artist movement in the 1800's where she and a handful of other artists lived and worked and drew inspiration from the village. Staithes is a an old fishers village with a handful of shops––a tea room, a gallery, a butchers which also sold breads and jam and dairy, and two pubs, all on the same winding cobble street that stretched from the highway, dipped into the village and wound around the ocean front.
Pure magic. There is no honey better for the soul than a fishers village on the tip of England, settled between two cliffs that bring in the tide hour by hour. Seagulls woke me up at 6 in the morning. The sun touched the loft for a few hours during the day. Dark came at 5pm when the pubs got busy. Staying in Straithes was the only time I drank. The beer was good, light and prickly, and it got me buzzed fast. It was a quick, brisk walk from the warm pub to the cold embrace of the loft, where I had to light a fire in order to stay warm all night. Worth it. The paths along the Cliffside's carried me to several other villages, all in a days walk from Staithes, with the same low-key energy and friendly accents and people wondering what I was doing on the edge of England alone, to which I answered, "I'm writing. But mostly, I'm resting."
I headed back to Canada on March 3rd, right before international flights to and from Canada closed due to the pandemic. My heart has been stuck in England ever since. I'm planning on going back to Staithes in the summer, hopefully in the next few years or so, no rush on that. It got a big part of my heart, and I would love to return with a friend or lover. It is the most magical place.
Travel, people. It opens up so much.
I often write poetry to get through some hard, emotional times. Writing in a flow state without judgement or planning helps me to get a perspective that I otherwise might have missed.
I usually keep these therapeutic and sacred poems for my soul, for me to read back on a year from now and get a glimpse into the girl who struggled but showed up and did the work to get me to this place.
I often read these poems with wonder and nostalgia because I no longer relate to the person who wrote them. It is a form of child work, for me, letting my inner child speak and be heard, and then honouring her words and reflecting back on them.
Sometimes, bits of these poems make it into my titles. In my experience, flow state is flow state, whether it is with a paint brush and canvas or with a pen and paper. They are both emotionally freeing gifts for me to engage and be wild with, let it all out and then take a step back and see what transpired. What little secrets was I hiding from myself? What little nitty-gritty details made it through the creases of my subconscious?
The process of matching poetry and painting is then very intuitive.
It can also be really messy, which is why I choose to keep these poems for myself until I feel ready to share them.
One of my titles is named after a recent poem. And I want to share it with you here. I think it is a gift to be vulnerable, and I want to honour the vulnerability my paintings and creativity bring out of me.
Does Anyone Know Why We Seek Out These Connections That Fall Through The Cracks Of The Cosmos?
I shoved a handful of pebbles into the front pouch of my backpack
while you showed me a rock with the universe wrapped around it.
Leaning over me, rolling it in your earth scented fingers,
you said it was a wishing rock.
You tried to skip it over the water.
It plunged into the rusty depth of the lake,
spluttering up spits of reflection.
I asked what you wished for.
the warmth and wrinkles reaching your eyes,
and didn’t tell me,
and I was glad
because I didn’t know you well then,
I just knew that you used words like brusque,
maybe because you wanted to seem
maybe because you like words.
Does anyone know why we seek out these connections that fall through the cracks of the cosmos,
like the rock on water,
like words on a screen.
I’m using the pebbles I stole from the beach on the art I started the week you got scared and decided to give up.
Life is cyclical. The universe does wrap around.
And I still wonder what your wish was.
© Rachel Neale, 2020
In January 2019, I had my first exhibit as an artist. It was exhilarating and a dream come true, something I had wanted to do since my early twenties, a goal that drove me forward with my painting and my creative community.
Quickly after the exhibit, I got sick. Right smack in the middle of winter when it's cold and dark and no one wants to be swimming in head mucus. After pursuing my dreams and goals as a creative, I had burnt myself out. I say this without judgement, because burn- out is so prevalent and easy to do, especially in our current North American climate of work work work (something I truly hope we are starting to understand and dismantle in the last few months of extreme change). Getting sick and learning how much I had been putting my body through, I took a long hiatus from painting and focused on writing. But I did not truly rest until February of this year when I took a month off and went to England. What I mean by truly rest is I did not hold myself to a standard of having to do. I stopped. I took in England. I took in the ocean and land. I ate scones with jam, crepes from the grocery store and steak pies. I spent time alone in the sunshine and the wind. I walked. I walked a lot. I wrote poetry. I read manga. I saw the old. I slept.
I truly rested without expectation from ego. I took a step back from needing to prove.
With this rest, I was able to learn what I wanted to paint next, where I wanted my energy to be, what expression and emotion I wanted to reflect in my artist style. That means, the strokes and emotions I put on canvas drastically changed. I found I was looking more inward for what I wanted to create and less to social media and cultural relevance. Being relevant is a state of ego I have always been wary of as an artist and a human being. Because what does staying relevant actually mean?
To me, it meant holding my art up to the definition and standard of what others view as substantial and valuable, and this was causing me to look outward. So I rested and looked inward for what I wanted to express. What kind of marks did I want to make? What emotions did I want to expel? What is my true style? What will keep me wanting to build and learn and grow as an expressive person? What will challenge me?
I am drawn to texture and layers in art. This is naturally where I go. It feels like reading a book, like riding a bike, like living a former life. It is intuitive and there, waiting, ebbing at me as a person who gets to explore and use this lens of the world I am offered. Texture and layer is also naturally what I am drawn to in other artists and art forms. So I started to form ideas in my mind, and I did not push the process. I let it come to me day by day.
The ocean came to me, again and again. The force of it. The impact. The connection I feel to it, though I never grew up by a big body of water. The wild, vehement, changing nature of it. The mirror it holds up to us. The tide, coming in with a force and withdrawing, a deepness we do not fully understand, hidden treasures under the surface, endless, wide, ferocious, cold. There is so much we can learn from a massive body of water.
And as I started to paint again, I let my hands do what they wanted to, without forcing them or forcing a particular idea. If the thumbnails I had drawn changed, so be it.
My constant is building up layers and washing them over with new layers, peeling those layers back and exposing the underneath, the underlying, the deepness.
I am okay with this change because if comes from deep within me. From spending time with myself and honouring who I am, the rest I needed and the experiences I hold close to my heart.
Last year, after the exhibition, if I had been shown how much my art would change from the pieces I had just created, I might have had a mini panic attack and questioned why I paint. Well, I got to ask myself that question during my hiatus. I also got to learn that I will need more breaks and rest in the future, and that too is okay.
I paint because it connects me to my deepness, to a place I do not fully understand about myself but that feels the most like coming home and being warm, like being still and not needing to look anywhere else but to my hands and my heart and the things I have learned.