ISOLartION – Helen Otter on patterns, rhythms and sequences
I’ve found third lockdown harder partly because I’m missing our sons. The youngest spent the first lockdown with us and we got fit with jogging and badminton, made and drank elderflower champagne and laughed a lot. I’ve also found the lack of light hard, felt trapped by the dark and the overcast rainy skies. To help keep mentally and physically fit my husband, Martin, and I have kept up daily walks, usually at the beginning of the day, before he begins his conference calls with Russia, China, USA, Italy. These are places that he would normally travel to and which I gave up teaching to explore with him.
I always take my phone on morning walks to capture the sun as it rises and transforms the landscape, the strip of connection between land and sky, a liminal space, the character of which changes in a second.
Because I like rhythm, pattern and repetition, I am painting these skyline strips in watercolour, as lines on a page. Painting them is a quick record of the moment, endlessly different, yet reassuringly familiar. Here are two of my first pages, I’m now at a point of deciding how, and if, I orchestrate the order and sequence.
This idea to record as a collection grew from a successful study I completed whilst taking part in Norwich Paint Out 2020, a regular plein-air painting event. Whilst I sat in the dunes at Winterton-on-Sea, planning a painting, not using photographs and in the spirit of plein-air, I decided to record sky and seascapes whilst I waited for washes to dry or clouds to roll in or roll out.
I wasn’t worried about a finished piece and enjoyed working quickly. I used masking tape to grid off my stretched paper and give each study a “postcard edge”. I often use masking tape as boundary and to create borders within my work, it helps create hard lines and develop contrast of light and dark. I find it helps immensely with composition. In the bottom corner of the sea and sky collection will see the Winterton Café, sadly the café had to be demolished this winter as the cliffs became unsafe with the ingress of the sea.
Another of my muses and inspirations is the allotment which appears often in my work. When the light comes out, everything really does come to life and it’s hard not to be inspired by the plants growing, the birds and the insects. I love the angles of the raised beds and sheds, the rafts and swathes of colour, the ranges of plant shapes and textures. Here again, I’ve used masking tape and also masking fluid.
Applying masking fluid over washes acts as a barrier for subsequent layers of paint. I apply the masking fluid with a liner pen making sure that the surface is dry before I start. I enjoy the process of drawing with the fluid, describing the lines and shapes loosely. The reveal when the masking fluid is removed is always exciting as its effects can be unpredictable and the paint doesn’t always pool in the right places. I’ve also found that the fluid does lift some colour and it can tear the paper if the surface was damp when applied.
I’m encouraged that this week my solar powered chicken has started to dance, even on overcast days, he’s telling me that the light levels are up!
Time to boogie!