Painting as a Pastime by Winston S. Churchill

Painting is complete as a distraction. I know of nothing which, without exhausting the body, more entirely absorbs the mind.’

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Unicorn|1 July 2013|Hardcover|96 pages|a gift|5*

I was delighted on Sunday when my son gave me Painting as a Pastime by Winston Churchill as a Mother’s Day present. I read it straight away and loved it. The cover shows Churchill’s painting of his home, Chartwell. Churchill was forty when he first started to paint at ‘a most trying time‘ in his life and art became his passion and an ‘astonishing and enriching experience‘.

It was in 1915, when he had left the Admiralty and although he was still a member of the Cabinet and of the War Council he knew everything but could do nothing. He had great anxiety and no means of relieving it, left with many hours ‘of utterly unwanted leisure in which to contemplate the frightful unfolding of the War‘. So, he began painting.

I was amused to find out that he took the same hesitant steps that I took – using a very small brush, mixed a little paint and then ‘made a mark about as big as a bean’ on his canvas.’ A friend arrived and told him to stop hesitating and showed him how to use a big brush and splash on the paint, which he did with ‘Berserk fury‘.

But Churchill begins, not by  writing about painting, but about the need for a change to rest and strengthen the mind:

… the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts. … It is no use saying to the tired ‘mental muscles’ – if one may coin such an expression – ‘I will give you a good rest,’ ‘I will go for a long walk’, or ‘I will lie down and think of nothing.’ The mind keeps busy just the same.

What is needed are hobbies. And then he goes on to write about reading, and about handling books:

Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will. Read on from the first sentence that arrests the eye. Then turn to another. Make a voyage of discovery, taking soundings of uncharted seas. Set them back on their shelves with your own hands. Arrange them on your own plan, so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are.

But he considers that reading doesn’t provide enough change to rest the mind and that what is needed is something that needs both the eye and the hand – a handicraft. In his case painting fulfils that role. He talks about the fun of painting, the colours and the pleasure he found in not only in painting a picture, but also the pleasure he discovered in a heightened sense of observation, finding objects in  the landscape, he had never noticed before:

So many colours on the hillside, each different in shadow and in sunlight; such brilliant reflections in the pool, each a key lower than what they repeat; such lovely lights gilding or silvering surface or outline, all tinted exquisitely with pale colour, rose, orange, green or violet.

I agree that painting does relax the mind, but I love reading and can be thoroughly absorbed in a book so that I am unaware of the passing of time, just as I also know how quickly time passes  when painting (or in my case in trying to paint). As Churchill wrote:

Whatever the worries of the hour or the threats of the future, once the picture has begun to flow along, there is no room for them in the mental screen. They pass out into shadow and darkness. All one’s mental light, such as it is, becomes concentrated on the task. Time stands respectfully aside, and it is only after many hesitations that luncheon knocks gruffly at the door.

Reading this book was pure pleasure and has encouraged me to pick up my paints again.

One final extract:

Just to paint is great fun. The colours are lovely to look at and delicious to squeeze out. Matching them, however crudely, with what you see is fascinating and absolutely absorbing. Try it if you have not done so — before you die.

Painting as a Pastime was originally published in 1932, one of the twenty three essays in Thoughts and Adventures (whose American title is Amid These Storms).

A Short Book About Drawing by Andrew Marr

I have called this a “A Short Book About Drawing” because that’s what it is. But it is also a book about being happy and the importance of drawing and making, for a happy life. I’ve written books about all sorts of things, but I have never enjoyed one as much as this. (Introduction, page 8)

Reading this book was a pleasure. I thoroughly enjoyed it – it made me happy and it encouraged me to carry on with my drawing. It’s not an instruction book, but it’s full of insight into what happens when you draw and it’s dotted throughout with personal information, such as how Marr began drawing, like most of us at school, what he drew, and how he lingered over drawings and paintings, going to exhibitions such as those at the Royal Scottish Academy.

He refers to artists and their paintings without including illustrations – the only paintings/drawings are his own!  He writes that ‘there isn’t a single drawing here I would regard as a real work of art, but I think most of them will encourage people to try for themselves.’  

He draws most days. This book was written not long before Marr suffered a stroke and it was only after he found himself drawing again – on his iPad – that he began to feel himself again. I would have liked more details about his drawings, about the medium he used –  some are obviously digital, and others are pencil sketches, but others are less obvious, maybe pen and wash?

It is a short book – just 144 pages – but there is a lot packed into those pages. Here are some more quotations that give a flavour of the book:

Chapter 2 ‘On Drawing and Happiness’:

Flow is the proposition that we are happiest when concentrating as much as possible on something that’s both quite hard  and for which we have an aptitude. … Drawing is a source of happiness and inner strength not because it is easy but because it is hard. (pages 30 -35)

Chapter 8 ‘When Did Normal People Start Drawing’. This is a very interesting chapter moving through the centuries and countries until the 1700s in London when

… the real drawing craze spreads from small numbers of enthusiasts to the new middle classes.

Marr states:

Drawing will make you a better person – not morally, necessarily, but it makes you think. It will help you see the hidden patterns all around you, and make you a discriminating lover of landscape, faces and mundane objects. It becomes an education, which changes your brain as much as learning to play the piano or to dance. It is about striving to become more fully human. (page 90)

Today we have been well educated to understand that most of us cannot draw. In the nineteenth century, foolish folk, they did not realise this, so they went off and drew anyway. (page 92)

A Short Book About Drawing is a special book. I thoroughly recommend it.

I read it because I love art, but after I finished reading I realised that it is another book, and a very different one, for the Read Scotland 2014 Challenge as

‘Andrew Marr was born in Glasgow in 1959. He studied English at the University of Cambridge and has since enjoyed a long career in political journalism, working for the Scotsman, the Independent, the Daily Express and the Observer. From 2000 to 2005 he was the BBC’s Political Editor. He has written and presented TV documentaries on history, science and politics, and presents the weekly Andrew Marr Show on Sunday mornings on BBC1 and Start the Week on Radio 4. Andrew lives in London with his family.’ (copied from the back cover)

Pastel Painting

For a change I thought I’d write about what I’ve been painting and some painting books.

After dabbling with watercolours and trying out acrylics I’ve settled on pastel painting – or at least the paintings I’ve done recently have all been with pastels, using a mix of soft pastels, hard pastels and pastel pencils. Pastels are pure pigment, held together with a small amount of gum. You can use them on their own or blended together. You do get your fingers messy though!

First a couple I’ve done of our cat, Heidi.

HeidiA while ago I posted a photo of her in her little tepee – here it is again:

Heidi's new bed P1080027

I tried to paint it, but I haven’t got the tepee quite right – it just looks like a frame:

Heidi in her tepeeThere are loads of books on watercolour and oil paintings, not so many on pastels, but I have a small selection that I’ve found useful. They all begin with the basics, explaining the different types of pastels and the various techniques, composition and giving step by step demonstrations of how to build up your picture.

Pastel books

  •  The Pastel Artist’s Bible, edited by Claire Waite Brown – this is spiral bound so it’s easy to use and full of good ideas, but the illustrations are quite small. This is more of a reference book than an ‘how to paint’ book.
  • Pastel School by Hazel Harrison – another good book of reference on techniques and developing your own style.
  • Pastel Workbook: a complete course in ten lessons by Jackie Simmonds. This is what it says in the title, with lessons in landscape, water and skies, still life, winter scenes and sketching.
  • Pastel Painting Step-by-Step by Margaret Evans, Paul Hardy and Peter Coombs, a lovely book, with large illustrations from three artists demonstrating a variety of styles and techniques.
  • Painting with Pastels, edited by Peter D Johnson, another book of demonstrations by different artists, which I’ve found very useful for the descriptions of how each artist works. It highlights the fact that there is no correct way of painting.

Posts on paintings

On the 6th anniversary of my blog I wrote about a selection of books that I’ve enjoyed over the last six years. I thought I’d also look back at some of my favourite artists and paintings, that I’ve written about. It’s taken me quite some time, but here they are, with links to my posts.

(Click on the images to enlarge them)

Claude_Monet The Artists House at Argenteuil1

The Artist’s House at Argenteuil by Claude Monet,  oil on canvas painted in 1873, now held in the Art Institute of Chicago. I especially like this painting because of the colours and also the figures adding personality.

beata-beatrix

Beata Beatrix by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, completed in 1870, oil on canvas, held in Tate Britain. This portrait, mourning the death of Lizzie Siddell, shown in a trance-like state, was inspired by Dante’s poem La Vita Nuova about his love for Beatrice.

ChattertonChatterton by Henry Wallis, 1867, oil on canvas, 1856. Thomas Chatterton was an 18th century poet who committed suicide. Peter Ackoyd’s novel Chatterton tells the story of the artist’s suicide.

Van Gogh Church at Auvers-sur-Oise 1890-6

 Vincent Van Gogh’s Church at Auvers-sur-Oise, oil on canvas, 1890. I love the colours and the wonky perspective.

Hunt Birds nestPrimroses and Bird’s Nest by William Henry Hunt (1790 €“ 1864), an English watercolourist. The date of this painting is not known – thought to be during the 1840s. It’s a still-life arrangement painted indoors. For more information about Hunt see Craig’s comment on my original post.

william-dyce-blog

Pegwell Bay, Kent, a Recollection of October 5th, 1858 by William Dyce 1859 €“ 1860. I love the sepia colours and the geological detail.

Turn of the Century Salon: March

Turn of the Century Salon

The Turn of the Century Salon, is a monthly literary event where you can share recent posts related to literature or authors from the 1880s-1930s. One of Katherine’s suggestions for this month’s post is to find a work of art or music within the same time-period that reflect the book and share it.

After reading Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man I decided to read more of his works, including his poetry and bought The War Poems of Siegfried SassonWorld War One British Poets: Brooke, Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg and Others, edited by Candace Ward. I’ve also borrowed Sassoon’s Memoirs of an Infantry Officer and Siegfried Sassoon: a Biography by Max Egremont and am slowly reading through these.

I’m familiar with some of the World War One war poets, such as Rupert Brooke (The Soldier – ‘If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field That is forever England), Wilfred Owen (Dulce et Decorum Est), and Thomas Hardy (Channel Firing) and so on, but I hadn’t read any of Sassoon’s poems.

They are satires condemning the war. Sassoon described his poems such as The One-Legged Man as “satirical drawings”, which he intended to “disturb complacency”. Here is his poem In the Pink

So Davies wrote: ‘ This leaves me in the pink. ‘
Then scrawled his name: ‘ Your loving sweetheart Willie ‘
With crosses for a hug. He’d had a drink
Of rum and tea; and, though the barn was chilly,
For once his blood ram warm; he had pay to spend,
Winter was passing; soon the year would mend.

He couldn’t sleep that night. Stiff in the dark
He groaned and thought of Sundays at the farm,
When he’d go out as cheerful as a lark
In his best suit to wander arm-in-arm
With brown-eyed Gwen, and whisper in her ear
The simple, silly things she liked to hear.

And then he thought: to-morrow night we trudge
Up to the trenches, and my boots are rotten.
Five miles of stodgy clay and freezing sludge,
And everything but wretchedness forgotten.
To-night he’s in the pink; but soon he’ll die.
And still the war goes on; he don’t know why.

Looking for more information about this poem I found this description in Siegfried Sassoon: a Study of the War Poetry by Patrick Campbell (page 94):

‘The first of my outspoken’ war poems.  I wrote it one cold morning at Morlancourt, sitting by the fire in the Quartermaster’s billet, while our Machine-Gun Officer shivered in his blankets on the floor.  He was suffering from alcoholic poisoning, and cold feet, and shortly afterwards departed for England, never to return.  Needless to say, the verses do not refer to him, but to some typical Welshman who probably got killed on the Somme in July, after months and months of a dog’s life and no leave.  The Westminster refused the poem, as they thought it might prejudice recruiting!!’

Reading Sassoon’s war poems brings home the horrors of war, the deaths, the devastating injuries and the appalling indifference of the war leaders and the lack of understanding of the people back home.

Similarly some works of art were considered controversial and not suitable for public viewing. Such a painting is Paths of Glory by Christopher Nevinson showing the corpses of two dead British soldiers lying face down in the mud among barbed wire behind the Western Front. Their helmets and rifles lie in the mud next to them.

Paths of Glory by Christopher Nevinson 1917 Oil on Canvas Collection: © Imperial War Museum

This painting is held in the Imperial War Museum website. Its description is:

“The title is a quote from ‘Elegy Written In A Country Church-Yard’ by Thomas Gray. ‘The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r, And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave, Awaits alike th’inevitable hour. The paths of glory lead but to the grave.‘ Whereas the poet reflects on bodies dead and buried in a church-yard, the so-called ‘Paths of Glory‘ have led these soldiers to death in a wasteland.

Paths of Glory‘ was famously censored by the official censor of paintings and drawings in France, Lieutenant – Colonel A N Lee. His concern presumably being the representation of the rotting and bloated British corpses at this stage in the war. The decision was confirmed three months before the opening of his exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in 1918 but Nevinson still included the painting with a brown paper strip across the canvas, blatantly inscribed with the word ‘censored’. As a result, Nevinson was reprimanded for exhibiting a censored image and for the unauthorised use of the word €˜censored’ in a public space. Predictably, the stunt created the publicity Nevinson desired. The painting was purchased by the Museum during the course of the exhibition.”

This was the ‘war to end war’! The pity is that it didn’t.

Saturday Snapshot: more cat pictures!

This time it’s the Cheshire Cat!

Last Sunday was my granddaughter’s birthday. Her party had an Alice in Wonderland theme and so instead of pin the tail on the donkey it was stick the smile on the Cheshire Cat.

I drew a cartoon version of the Cat and M and I painted it in pink and purple stripes:

here’s the Cheshire Cat minus its smile:

and here with smiles added by the children blindfolded:

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Cats: Drawing and Painting

I drew this last week, copied from a card, using pencils and pens. It’s made me keen to try painting/sketching our cat Heidi. She’s white so I’ll have to use coloured paper, or a coloured background.

I looked for help in this beautiful book:

 Cats: Drawing and Painting in Watercolour by Lesley Fotherby. This is what she has to say about drawing white cats on white paper:

You can’t paint the cat in white, so you have to paint the background and leave the cat to show up against it, ie look at the negative shape, paint that in and the positive image will appear. (page 96)

I’ve tried negative painting before and didn’t find it easy. She also suggests using pencil and paint and to illustrate the technique shows this painting:

There is so much in this book, from using different materials, paper and techniques  to showing how to depict movement and markings and composition. I’m going to study it and have a go.

Previously when I’ve posted photos of my sketches some people have commented that they wish they could draw. I can only endorse what Lesley Fotherby writes in this book:

Many people feel that being able to draw is a gift and that either you can draw or you can’t. It is true that some will find it easier than others, but in fact drawing is a skill which can be learnt like any other. As with other skills, it can only improve with practice, so do not be discouraged if your first efforts are unsatisfactory. …

Learning to draw is a bit like learning to swim: you can stand on the side of the pool and listen to a lecture, or you can jump in, wearing your lifejacket of course, and feel the element around you. Then you understand what they are all talking about. (page 8)