I’ve seen the light!

I love it when serendipitous encounters suddenly shine a light on some undiscovered aspect of myself.

On my way back from a delivery a few days back, on the spur of the moment, I popped in to see Sarah Silver of Bastian Contrarian, an experienced copywriter and skilled translator, and a friend. We had a good chat over coffee and then she invited me to see the studio of Nick Logan, an artist and wonderful oil painter.


Nick Logan’s Portrait of an Old Man (work in progress) after Rembrandt

While looking around Nick’s studio, my attention was caught by an oil painting of a bearded man – a work in progress. I discovered later this is an homage to Rembrandt’s “Portrait of an Old Man”.

I love art in many forms, I go to exhibitions, have my favourite paintings etc. but I don’t know anything about the actual technique of painting. Three years of art classes at middle school made sure of that. All I remember of those years is trying to paint a landscape with a tree a sheep and a road (or perhaps it was a stream)… failing miserably and not getting any real tuition on what I was doing wrong or how I could have improved… so I never really tried again. I can just about use watercolours to give a bit of texture to my sketches before I present them to the clients but I don’t really know what I’m doing.

Looking at the painting that Nick had been working on though, I saw something I had never seen before (probably because for the first time in my life I was looking at it as work in progress rather than as a finished piece).

When I visualize my furniture, when I sketch it, draw it and even when I am just doodling I see objects in solid blocks. I basically draw in the same way as I make: one square block here, one block with a corner cut off there, etc. Everything is defined: there are rigid lines to determine where a piece begins and the next starts. If I use texture lines at all is simply to indicate the grain direction and pattern rather than any depth.

But on Nick’s painting there were NO LINES! What I saw, for the first time in my life, was that the whole thing was defined not by solid objects, parts, components (this is the nose, this is the ear, this are the lips…) but by light. There was no line to say “here endeth the nose and here the cheek begins”… there were just changes in light! Changes in tone, in colour, in hue but just changes in light.

I was trying to explain my realisation to Nick and he knew exactly what I was talking about. In the same way as I look at objects as defined by the shapes of their components, he looks at objects as defined by the shapes of the light. He sees shapes too but he sees the shapes that the light creates.

I think that’s why I’ve never mastered the skill of rendering – because I am fixated on the “object” rather than the light. I don’t pay attention to the light because (in my mind) that’s ephemeral: it changes with the position of the object in the room, with the time of the day, with the weather; whereas for me the shape of the component (the leg, the handle etc.) it’s permanent and constant…

And so I am left wondering: what would happen to my designs if I started looking at light rather than at objects?  You’ll just have to wait and see: I intend to keep this insight in my awareness as I go about my business of looking at the world for inspiration.