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Lines The joy and trouble!

Doing geological-inspired line drawings and putting some lines in my paintings, it may surprise you when I speak of how I'm very uncertain of lines. How putting them in the paintings is tentative and scary.

A geology drawing – "Boggle Hole", graphites on gessoed plywood, 20cm x 30cm

Many artists, myself included, have hang ups that come from how we were taught to paint. Though well intentioned at the time, sometimes good advice can later be limiting.

When I learned oil painting my teacher's mantra was "break up your lines". This was great advice, truly. It meant as a beginner I wasn't trying to draw in the things in the painting. It meant looking at where colours or tones met to create a boundary. It also creates an understanding of soft edges and how not everything we see has a hard outline. A hard edge meant painting in a good solid colour or tone, or a nicely shaded area to contrast where it met the next bit of light - giving an illusion of hard line.

This served me well. Once I moved on from still lives, and bridges and piers, and even a short dabble with portraits, it became the essence of my horizons in my coast paintings. Rarely did I paint a line. It was a meeting of sea and sky, just as in life. When there is a visual line on the horizon this is actually from a shadow, sunlight or change of sea colour far out from where we stand. So this again was not painted as a line but as a strip of tone.

A coast painting – "Stair Hole", acrylic on canvas, 100cm x 120cm

In time I started to play with this horizon. For some years I created horizons by collaging pieces of canvas onto a stretched canvas. The top edge would catch paint and create a textured 'line' for the end of the sea. But this became a crutch and a technique for the sake of technique so I purposefully stopped doing it.

Once again I realise the little voice in my head saying "break up your lines" is not appropriate to the current work. With the geological bedding and structures defining some of my subject matter, line is a necessity. While I still don't want it to become the entire focus of a painting, at the same time avoiding it for the old reasons is a false limitation.

Norway study, acrylic on canvas, 60cm x 70cm

So you can also see how I've come to be judgemental of line, to the point of fearing it. That fear must be set aside now if the Norway fjords are to be captured in paint. The light and sea are still the defining elements. Yet the islands and strandflats, not to mention the U-shaped valleys, are held within their floating colour by the lines of their structure. Today I embrace the lines and get a little bit braver.

Norway study, acrylic on canvas, 60cm x 70cm

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