*** is in the details

by maggie

Over the last couple of months I’ve posted about lots of different projects, not all of them finished on publication. They aren’t abandoned; they’re maturing. Often I’ve run into problems and hitches that I need to sort out before I can proceed. Today I want to talk to about addressing some of my pebble problems.
In the run up to the festive season I rationalised the piles of paper that make up Paper, Scissors: Stone which brought to light all the unaddressed issues of turning little pieces of coloured paper into representations of small rounded stones.
I’ve already cut out a great many pebbles (some verging on the size of cobbles >64mm). Their size and shape being dictated by the paper from which they were cut. I collected a sample in a sketch book as a record of all the different techniques that I’ve used this year.

samples of different techniques

samples of different techniques

I should make a comprehensive list of what I’ve done, but here are some verbs instead:
bleaching, dyeing, crushing, folding, painting, spraying, printing, drawing, shading, masking, gluing, cutting, washing, overpainting, dipping …

Up in the park, you find sand and gravel under a thin soil which is often worn away by countless passing feet. In dry summers the pebbles stand out like little jewels from the dust. I’m trying to recreate that on one of my long canvases. At the moment the cut outs look more like exotic leaves than pebbles. This is because they sit determinedly above the surface instead of being revealed by a disturbed surface. Of course the overlapping pieces don’t help the effect.


I don’t want to fix them down until I have done some more experiments to soften the edges some how.
In fact the puzzle of how to make the pebbles look 3D rather than 2D is what stumped me back in September.
I made the coloured pages so that when you cut out the pebbles they look as if they were once part of a greater whole rather than composed solely within their own circumference. Real pebbles are made like this – of course much of the original rock is lost.
You can give the pebbles an individual shadow. But what kind? Representational or abstract? Hard or soft? Where is the light source? Is there a shadow on the surface below or a hollow were water has scoured it?
I’m not just planning to sit there and plonk circles on a back ground. To move forward I have to start some where and I’ve collected lots of little frames. So start there with proportions 5×7 and see what kind of compositions might work.

Of course the pictures are a little more complex than the line drawings – in fact the b/w background seem to rather overwhelm the pebbles themselves.


the variation in the brightness of the background is due to the different quality of the glass in the clip frames!

I used this background because I had so many similar pages, but I think I will have to tone down the contrast (with an ochre wash?) to make the pebbles more visible – or chose different pebbles?

So then, to be thorough, I did some experiments in shading and softening edges. I’m not sure how successful they are. Back to the drawing board again to think up another process.

on left - hand drawn shadows on textured background on right collaged pebbles over painted with ochre

on left – hand drawn shadows on textured background
on right collaged pebbles over painted with ochre

I can remember my Dad spending ages adding shading dot by dot and having to throw out pictures if the dots went wrong. A proposition that scares me if I feel I have to take it up here, even though it works well on the left. The experiment on the right is more of a mixed result. The pebbles are made of lots of different papers from crepe to light card. here they are stuck rather franticly to light card, but the canvas I am planning on using has a rough uneven surface. I used a sponge to stipple the surface colour on, and a stencil brush, with mixed results.

Although I used an opaque paint the dark under painting shows through. The uneven fixing of the pebbles throw shadows. The softening of the edges is not universally successful. Working through this project successfully is going to take much more hard, careful work than I already have already invested in it.

It better be worth it.

So there is an update on one of my big projects. I’m glad I didn’t rush along with things when I got stuck, but solutions aren’t going to precipitate out of the air, i’m going to have to work for them, and make compromises.