visual language - marks, colour, tone. speed and a bit of collage

Liquid, collage, hand made sketchbook experiment. Vivien Blackburn

I've been talking to friends and students about visual language a lot just lately.
Playing a Suzanne Vega CD in the car coming home, some of her lyrics echoed the conversations - so visual and expressive:

If language were liquid
It would be rushing in
Instead here we are
In a silence more eloquent
Than any word could ever be
These words are too solid
They don't move fast enough
To catch the blur in the brain
That flies by and is gone
Find the line,
find the shape
Through the grain
Find the outline,
things will
Tell you their name
Suzanne Vega, from Language and Night Vision

'too solid'
- 'don't move fast enough to catch the blur in the brain' before it's gone - yes that's sketching in the landscape with our changing English light. Fleeting flashes of sunlight or passing clouds on the sea or a hillside, pure drama . This is why so often I like to sketch in oils, it's possible to add the light back over darks, make major changes on the run. Trying to catch the blur in the brain.

Regular sketching plein air helps you build a visual vocabulary - a shorthand that helps you catch these things quickly - but never quickly enough!

Using a wide variety of marks makes the difference between the equivalent of cheapo Romantic Fiction and Literature. A varied language of marks in your head to draw on at need means it's easier to catch what interests you.

I encourage students to 'play' in sketchbooks trying out all sorts of ways of using their paints, combining them, mixing unusual combinations of media to see what happens, using tools other than paintbrushes like twigs, credit cards, the edges of card, spray bottles, combs, splattering, flicking paint, scratching through, pouring, adding collage, varying the speed at which marks are made - a mark made faster is freer than a slow and careful mark, experiment with this etc etc etc ...... once learned they can use these as appropriate (but never simply as gimmicks please! ).

And the silence so important - the quiet parts of a painting that allow the busier parts to shine. It's so easy to lose the quiet areas with overworking.

Painting and Drawing is a language like French or English - a vocabulary of marks, colour, tone, line, shape, balance, intervals , edges, mass, composition, surface ..... anything else? I'm sure there are things I haven't listed :>) The bigger your vocabulary to use at need the easier to express what you want :>)


Lindsay said…
love this post Vivien!
Gesa said…
Me too!

Hm, yes... I've been thinking and playing around so much in terms of language, fluidity/solidity, silence and nothingness - I think the hunches I get at what painting can do/add/explore where (academic) language/knowledge struggles has been one of the fascinating discoveries over the past 18 months. I very much like your take on this.
vivien said…
thank you both :>)

I'll be interested to see how your current work develops - both of you have been doing some really interesting stuff lately
Chris Bellinger said…
Very interesting and I agree with everything that has been said, you may be interested in the latest Kurt Jackson video that I have just posted on my blog.the great man is on great form!
vivien said…
I'll take a look Chris :>)
Robyn said…
Thank you for this very timely post, Vivien. I've been working on a study for a watercolour all day. I pushed myself to go mad with colour and couldn't work out why I felt I'd been on a sugar binge - now you've told me. I need to find some 'quiet spots' in this painting. Somewhere for the eyes to rest. :)
vivien said…
:>D and some quiet colours as well for the same reason

and thanks Robyn :>)

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