Vatnajokull: A New Series of Paintings

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I’ve wanted to begin a series of new paintings for a while, not ones that share the same theme in a very broad sense, like landscapes of Derbyshire or scenes of Scotland for instance, but related images of the same subject that are closely connected, works that try to answer the same question and perhaps share some of the same motifs. I was provided with a theme a few days ago when I watched a TV documentary about the geology and topography of Iceland.

There were a series of images, presumably shot with a drone camera, of the surface of the Vatnajokull glacier. The textures, colour and patterns of this ice sheet were incredible. Fortunately, I was watching via Sky – a system that has the capability to pause, rewind and fast forward the action – so I paused the programme and took some photos of the screen on my phone. Some artists might eschew using images captured in this way, even of using photos at all, but I have no qualms about doing so. Of course I would like to travel to Iceland, take a helicopter trip its remote areas and sketch them, but the Covid-19 restrictions, not to mention my own impecunious state, prevent me, so I’m reduced to using the TV for my stimulus.

The images I saw were aerial shots, some looking straight down, others were slightly oblique views. I was fascinated by the sunlight on the ice, the brightness of it and its clarity. The crevasses were deep and in heavy shadow which were of the deepest blue, almost a pure cobalt. The whole surface was shot through with black and grey cracks like a web of inky lines that contrasted with the brilliance of the ice. It was a scene of total abstraction, and yet completely natural. I could see these images forming the basis of a project of my own.

Vatnajokull I. The first drawing I made from the TV images .

The first pieces I made were relatively realistic drawings from the photos. I used a B pencil and added pastel pencils for colour. I’m comfortable with them and drawing media seemed more suitable anyway. Already I was thinking about finished works and what I would use to tackle them; soft pastels seemed the logical choice for me; paint seemed inappropriate for these first forays. Later, after I had explored the subject a little, paint might be a possibility.

I made a few drawings and analysed the subject a little more, making notes on my observations and how they affected me. After further representational pieces I began working on some more purely abstract sketches, simplifying lines, shapes and colours to try and resolve some of the issues of structure and composition that I felt were inherent in the originals.

A page from my sketchbook showing a few of the smaller drawings I made from the original photos.
Vatnajokull V. Once of the first representational drawings I made of the glacier surface.
Abstract thumbnail sketches from Vatnajokull V

I don’t know if I will continue with this series of paintings. I need to think about the work for a while and decide whether it merits being turned into larger finished pieces. Most artists agree there can be no snap decisions made about creative pieces. Plans for works of art, paintings in progress, three-dimensional pieces or whatever, are better viewed with a fresh eye after being hidden or put away for a short time. I’ll look at this material again, perhaps in a week or two and make some decisions then. Watch this space!

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