- Orla Stevens
The second of a new artist notes series & November colour workshop announcement!
Welcome to the second entry of a four part series! I’m writing a short collection of notes, to capture my thoughts on the benefits of creating art, broken into various elements of my practice. I hope these posts are interesting to share ideas if you’re reading this as a maker, or share some insight to the artistic process if you’ve never made anything before, but are curious to know what goes into a painting or object.
I’m working on a series of new paintings and projects, connecting the dots between various strands in my practice. At the same time, I’ve been developing various workshops and community orientated activities. Sharing and teaching always re-affirms just how important having accessibility to making is, and the benefits that creating with your hands can bring. Whilst I write my classes, I thought it’d be good to develop these ideas out for the wider world too.
Today, I wanted to share some notes on colour: how I use colour, and why colour is just so important - not just to me, but to people’s everyday lives. If you’re intrigued how I use colour in my work, and why my palette has been evolving lately, read on!
Close up of Detailed Colour
So, colours, what’s all the fuss?
For me, feelings, sounds and memories have colours. When I build a painting, I’m looking to translate a feeling or sense of a time. I do this through the way I lay colours next to one another, build them up, scrape them back, re-organise and perhaps most importantly, mix colours. Mixing colour creates a richness that develops through the painting, and layer upon layer of mixed colours creates a depth that no unmixed tube of paint can produce.
Colour is a constant teacher, and can say a million things, take you places, and alter your mood. Composing a painting with colour can be an improvisation, like music. So much of my painting practice relates to music, in the way it’s made, and I hope in the way it’s felt. In the process, you’re chasing a feeling, a phrase or a moment in your head, and getting it out on the paper. A state of trial and error, laying colour next to colour to see what it tells you. When it triggers the right emotional response to match what you’re searching for, you know you’ve got it. I think that right there is why colour is so important - it can light up your brain, change your mood and ignite imagination and energy.
'The Wind Sung to Me' - Colour as Emotion
Colours as Stories
All of my paintings have stories - I tend to work from memories I cherish, places I hold dear, and subject matter that should be preserved. When starting a painting, I’ll make a list of words or some sentences about what it is I’m trying to capture, a phrase I thought on the train or a snippet of conversation with a friend. For example, in my studio, a recent list looks like this:
Stories to inspire paintings
From these words, I’ll consider the energy I want my painting to have. This will then guide the direction and mood of the piece; allowing me the freedom to abstract my colours and access full expression. Sometimes, I write the words into the pieces, or on their backs as captions to their story.
Intuitive colour vs conscious colour
My training in colour has always been very intuitive and self directed. It has been for the most part, through practice and experimentation: a quest to create energy with colour combinations, using my gut and taste to guide me in the right direction. I think people have ingrained colour combinations that they’re drawn to. I’m not sure if this is learnt through a life from associations, culture and nostalgia. For me, I’m always pulled back to some combination on the spectrum of warm pinks, a combination of blues, and oranges. I’m always trying to make sure that my blue-orange combinations steer clear of Irn Bru hues: being a Scottish painter and all. Last year in the lock downs, I for the first conscious time, studied some colour theory. As a person who learns through doing, reading about colour instead of playing was a bit of a challenge, but one of those lock-down tasks set.
My love for Blue & Orange
As part of my past work with Print Clan, we developed a series of workshops inspired by the mighty Josef Albers book ‘Interaction of Colour’. I really recommend this book to all you colour boffins out there - and anyone interested in learning more about colour, especially if you have a logical brain. This book is full of puzzle-like illusions to challenge your visual perception, (certainly did mine) and unlock tools to have more control over the way colour combinations interact and are composed. It’s fascinating even if you’ve no interest in creating images yourself! If you’re less interested in reading, then ‘A Dictionary of Colour Combinations’ is a brilliant tool if you’re feeling stuck. As with all studying, I’ve absorbed some of the learning from these resources, and then turned off the conscious part of my brain - To let instinct take over again. After all, instinct and intuition are what keeps my work personal and rooted in lived experience.
Here are links to these books:
Where colour is taking me next!
I’ve been finding that working solely on site, or from photographs has been dulling the instinctual part of my brain - It’s all too easy to work with the literal colours in front of you, and neglect the deeper sense and experience of a place; a habit upon reflection I can see I’ve slipped in to. I’ve practiced this on site way of working intensely over the last three years.
The training has served my understanding of natural colour, mixing processes and observation really well. Now, after all that practice, I’m looking for something more in my current work. Something past a view and towards the sensory experience, to tell a more personal story. This is something I’m very much in the midst of, so I can’t say much more than that yet. I’m looking forward to seeing how the developments unveil themselves over time!
Exploring colour in abstraction - a deeper dive in a new direction
Inspirational Artists to check out
I’ve been exploring and studying abstraction/non representative art closely of late, and would love to share with you some of my favourite artists that have been inspiring me with their incredible use of colour, as I push forward in my learning and develop my voice.
First up is Helen Frankenthaller. I’ve been in love with her vast paintings which immerse you in deep pools of poured colour, since I discovered her in my university studies back in 2014.
Another favourite is Joan Mitchel. The closest I’ve been to seeing one of these up close is via a face-time with my partner, when he had the luck to see them in person in San Fransisco. Much envy ensued, but their beauty carried through video still. One day, I’ll get to see them in person!
I couldn’t write this piece without mentioning the great Scottish painters Barbara Rae and Joan Eardley:
Left: Barbara Rae Right: Joan Eardley
A MUST SEE if you are living in central Scotland: please brighten up your autumn and visit Norman Gilberts’ paintings at the Tramway in Glasgow’s Southside. I left buzzing, full of energy after such a beautiful combination of colour and textile pattern:
There are too many people to mention: I could write a whole book of recommendations - so I will leave you with one last mention, and that is the vibrant Emily Powell. I dare you not to smile when looking at her work!
Noticing colours & why that’s a good thing
To finish up, I wanted to quickly chat about why noticing colours is a good thing, for everyone who is able, and why I like to practice it so much. Really at it’s root, it’s about the practice of noticing in general. For this context today though, let’s focus it in on colour, and how you might go about seeing more of the beauties in your day to day. To accompany this note on finding colours, I’ve illustrated a series of images to highlight some of these ways of seeing. It’s a wee evolving side quest I’m working on in the background, and I look forward to sharing with you what it ends up being. Maybe a book, maybe a map, maybe a painting, or a mural? Let’s see!
Ways of Seeing Nature
So, why? Colour, quite simply, makes me really really happy. I get a genuine smile on my face, and when it’s a really good colour combo, it’s more like a physical reaction (not to be dramatic). I’m no doctor or scientist so can only speak from experience when I say that colour really can lift my mood. For this reason, I challenge you to try a mood boosting game of self led Eye Spy. I like the questions: What’s the brightest colour I can see? What’s the ugliest? Why do I hate that one so much - because of what it’s beside, or is it the colour itself?
On really dull days it takes quite some concentration to find any bright colour in the landscape. Then you’ve got to really zoom in. You might even need to turn over a leaf or look closely at a rock when you’re out on a walk, or spot a beetle on the ground. In the city, skips and bins and construction sites are usually cheery pick me ups; really good places for sources of lost or unexpected colours. Seeing these leftover or unintentional colour sources has really helped me to find the beauty in many a city. Spotting these unusually located colours are usually all the better. Harder won, they remind me that there is beauty everywhere, if you look closely enough. And that for me, is reason enough to practice looking.
I’m delighted to announce the second of two workshops, which bring all of these things together: The first class explores mark making, the second, colour.
They will be held in Made in Stirling in November, and are both half-day workshops, independent of each other. No art experience is necessary: my classes are designed for all stages and abilities!
The aim of my workshops are to open up new ways of working, thinking and seeing how to approach a painting. You’ll leave with a whole selection of processes, techniques and ideas under your wing to have fun with for years to come. Ages 16+.
The first - now passed - explored experimental drawing techniques - to find a looseness and freedom in drawing from nature, and to uncover intuitive ways of working. If you missed out and would like me to run another in the future, reach out to let me know and I’ll see what I can do! Sunday 6th November 1-4pm
The second will be exploring expressive colour - how to use this power house as a tool to create and communicate thoughts, feelings and experiences, drawing on memories of being outside.
Sunday 27th November 1-4pm
Classes are £50 each and include materials.
If you’d like to book a spot, you can do so through the Made in Stirling website here:
Hope to see you there!