Sir Alfred East (1844-1913)
Above: “Misty Moonrise” by Alfred East
Sketching from Nature, Equipment, Colour, Composition, Trees, Skies, Grass, Reflections, Distance — chapters rich with timeless oil painting advice by a master landscape artist, Sir Alfred East. East had an exceptional ability to capture the individuality of trees, the quiver of their leaves against the sky. “If we look at a photograph, the edges of the trees do not give you the feeling that the tree is a living thing, they are marked with hard precision against the light, like a solid building, and yet at the same time if we see them in Nature we hear the whisper of their leaves and know that they live and breathe. To express that is a greater truth than the camera can reveal, and a higher form of realism.” East served as president of the Royal Society of British Artists from 1906 to 1913.
If you enjoyed The Art of Landscape Painting, you might enjoy
Painting as a Pastime, by Winston Churchill
To look at two of Alfred’s East’s pencil sketches from The Art of Landscape Painting, see this blog post, Pencil and Palette.
Above: Myself reflected in a bubble, April 27, 2018
“Have you watched the agitated surface of a rapid stream? It displays an immense variety of lights and darks, more baffling than anything else in natural phenomena. It’s movement is so quick, the colors of the reflection objects are so diverse, as to render it almost impossible to portray its interlacing and intermingling forms… My present aim is to encourage the student to observe, and he will reap ample reward in the many surprises of this fascinating research.”
Ch. 10, “Reflections,” from Landscape Painting in Oil Colour”
by Sir Alfred East
I read an essay on how to paint reflections by noted landscape painter Alfred East for the 57th volume of the Nonfiction Collection. Like many of the short pieces I have chosen to read for LibriVox, this pick started not with subject in mind but rather with a walk in our nearby forest preserve that suggested a topic to explore.
On this particular day, I noticed that the current flowing around one of the rocks was creating giant bubbles as it hit an adjacent boulder. The process was mesmerizing, and I took some photos.
When I uploaded the bubble photos from my phone to my computer, I realized for the first time that every bubble, large or small, contained a miniature reflection of me, taking the photograph. I decided to use one of these quirky photos for the CD cover of Volume 57.
But then I had a dilemma. The cover needed a tie-in. What could I read that related to reflections in bubbles!?? For inspiration, I watched a BBC documentary on the physics of bubbles. This led to the writings of a woman scientist, Agnes Pockels (1862-1935), who, in 1891, published a pioneering paper on how to measure the surface tension of water; a possible read but a bit technical for me.
Then I remembered the chapter on Reflections in a book I had previously recorded for LibriVox, Landscape Painting. It is my most viewed book ( 240,668 times as of June, 2018). Alfred East’s artistic sensibility fitted in perfectly with my feelings about reflective bubbles, and I enjoyed revisiting his chapter for this volume of the Nonfiction Collection.
You might enjoy:
When I was a small girl, 7 or 8 years old, I made a list of what I didn’t like about grownups, with the intention of reviewing it in later life, so as not to be like that. Sadly, I lost the list somewhere along the way of growing up. However, I still have another similarly intentioned list, begun in 1997, outlining what I should guard against when I got “really old.” (I was 56 at the time.) “Don’t wear pink!” I admonished myself. To which I added in 1998 “Don’t still be working!” and in 1999 “I don’t want to be dissatisfied with my life because I don’t think I’ve done it all.”
Lists of negatives . . . not the best approach to planning one’s “later years,” but, then, envisioning how life is going to play out in retirement is difficult, probably impossible. Too many hours, days, years, too many unknowns. But without doubt, having some idea of what you’d like to “do” when you don’t have to work and thus “have time” would be helpful.
I did have one fixed idea of what I wanted to accomplish in retirement. I wanted to learn to draw. By this I suppose I meant learn to draw realistically and with linear perspective. What I couched in terms of learning a specific skill set was probably just a wistful yearning for some creative outlet, but in my mind, it was the one definitive project I was going to tackle when I retired. I began retirement in 2003 by buying a drawing kit that came with a pad of paper and a fancy box of pencils. And now here I am, 14 years later with a website celebrating the public domain audio books that I’ve recorded!
The impulse to express oneself through drawing or painting, must run deep in the human psyche, because the most popular book I have recorded for LibriVox is Sir Alfred East’s The Art of Landscape Painting in Oil Colour. As of January, 2018, it has been viewed on the internet over 233,000 times. I picked East’s book to read because of his perceptive chapters on how to draw and paint.
One of the delights of East’s book are his pencil sketches–which, of course, cannot be seen in an audio recording.
East devotes a chapter to “Pencil Drawing from Nature.” He recommends a pencil with a thick lead and then goes on to say “do not attempt to sharpen it to a point. If you wish to get a thin line, use the edge of the lead. Touch lightly, and in the faintest possible manner, the salient features of the subject, the main contours and position of the masses. This should be the merest suggestion of an outline, and when you are satisfied, draw it in with courage, in big lines, with a firm, bold touch. Do not hesitate. Include only those things which are important, characteristic, and essential.”
East’s almost scriptural description of the drawing pencil and it use brought back to me, in sharp relief, childhood memories of my father. By training an engineer, my father was scrupulous about the care of his pencils, which he sharpened with a pocket knife. He too, favored a flat sided tip, good for drawing lines. I was rebuked if I so much as touched his drafting tools, and to keep me out of his pencil supply, he finally resorted to giving me, once a year, a box of a dozen Turquoise brand HB pencils in my Christmas stocking. There was no asking for more!
Alfred East is a proselytizer for the theory of practice makes perfect. “Never let anything prevent your drawing a little every day. It is necessary discipline . . . One’s hand grows sensitively obedient to the brain, and answers directly to one’s power of observation, like the touch of a musician’s hand upon the keyboard. . . Draw anything, everything. You may do it badly at first. Never mind. In a week or two you will be surprised at the progress you have made.” I like East’s enthusiasm.
Have I learned to draw? Well, no. But I’m not so much bothered anymore by my “failure” in that regard, because I’ve taken up oil painting . . . How this came about is one of those serendipitous changes of direction that can happen when you let them, I guess. In my case, it happened in 2014. I was 10 years into retirement and still hadn’t accomplished my “one” retirement goal. “Better get moving on it, Sue,” I said to myself, ” before it’s too late.” So I thumbed through our local park district’s newsletter with its cheery listing of self-improvement courses: “Lunch Break Yoga,” “Windows PC Troubleshooting,” and, yes, there was what I needed: “Fundamentals of Drawing.” I signed up.
Anyone can imagine what happened next–a call from the instructor. “They got the description all wrong; it’s not a drawing class; it’s an oil painting class.” I still took the class. This early oil, dated March 7, 2015, is one of my very few attempts at realism. At best, it illustrates my fondness for watermelon!
Sir Winston Churchill was another person who slipped, serendipitously, into oil painting as a pastime. I’ve recorded his enthusiastic story, Painting as a Pastime, for LibriVox. Churchill writes “If you need something to occupy your leisure, to divert your mind from the daily round, to illuminate your holidays, do not be too ready to believe that you cannot find what you want here. . . Buy a paint box and have a try.”
Winston Churchill (1874–1965)
Winston Churchill took up painting “at the advanced age of forty,” as he puts it. He explains why in an article written for The Strand Magazine in 1921: “When I left the Admiralty at the end of May, 1915, I still remained a member of the War Council. In this position I knew everything and could do nothing. The change from the intense executive activities of each day’s work at the Admiralty to the narrowly measured duties of a counsellor left me gasping. Like a sea-beast fished up from the depths, or a diver too suddenly hoisted, my veins threatened to burst from the fall in pressure. I had great anxiety and no means of relieving it; I had vehement convictions and small power to give effect to them. I had long hours of utterly unwonted leisure in which to contemplate the unfolding of the war. And then it was that the Muse of Painting came to my rescue.”
Churchill has high praise for painting as a hobby: “Inexpensive independence, a mobile and perennial pleasure apparatus, new mental food and exercise, the old harmonies and symmetries in an entirely different language, an added interest to every common scene, an occupation for every idle hour, an unceasing voyage of entrancing discovery–these are high prizes.”
He adds this encouragement: “If . . .you are inclined — late in life though it be — to reconnoitre a foreign sphere of limitless extent, then be persuaded that the first quality that is needed is Audacity.”
I recorded Churchill’s “Painting as a Pastime” for volume 46 of the Nonfiction Collection. I have to admit that I was a bit bemused by Churchill’s characterization of age 40 as an “advanced age . . . late in life,” considering I did not try painting until I was 74. Oh well . . .
If you enjoyed Painting as a Pastime, you will probably like
The Art of Landscape Painting in Oil Colour, by Alfred East
Above: “Falling Through Space,” painted March 16, 2018
“The sun, the moon and the stars, the grass, and the water that flows round the earth, and the light air of heavens:
To You, greeting, I too stand behind these and send you word across them.”
Edward Carpenter, from his long poem Towards Democracy.
After 10 years of recording books for LibriVox, I have found that, in terms of what people download and presumably listen to, there have been distinct “winners and losers.” By far, the most popular book I have recorded has been Alfred East’s Landscape Painting in Oil Colour (recorded 2015; 237,000 views). At the opposite extreme, virtually my least popular recording has been the English intellectual Edward Carpenter’s autobiography, My Days and Dreams (recorded 2014: 1039 views).
In terms of impact on my life in retirement, Carpenter and East have been equals; they’ve both inspired me towards creativity–recording, writing, painting, keeping a website alive on the internet– to act on impulses that I might have hesitated to realize in earlier days.
Amid all the turmoil and the care–the worry, the fever, the anxiety,
The gloomy outlook, fears, forebodings,
The effort to keep up with the rush of supposed necessities, supposed duties
The effort to catch the flying point of light, to reach the haven
of Peace–always in the future–
Amid all, glides in the little word Now…
Alfred East, in his Landscape Painting in Oil Colour, writes: “Be not ashamed to do the drudgery of constant practice… You are responsible for your work done, and you only… Have your eyes and your heart open, always working… A landscape painter must have enthusiasm, and no shame in speaking of the pleasure he feels in his work.”
It’s for certain I’ll never become a great landscape artist, but one of my goals for 2018 has been to paint a picture (almost) every day, and hopefully, thereby, to improve my technique as a result of constant practice! In March, 2018, I set about implementing this resolve in earnest.
Listen to what Winston Churchill had to say about “Painting as a Pastime.”
Above: Fallen oak leaf on bridge railing, October 28, 2018
But not all the way
You landed on the ledge.
Above, a few of my daily paintings and a meditation from the bridge in the forest preserve. For more about the bridge, you might enjoy these posts:
Above: Paintings, blue-green May 16, 2018; red-orange April 21, 2017
“The rapidly increasing methods of immaterial communication [such as wireless telegraphy] reasonably support a supposition that we stand at the inception of a telepathic era in the history of the race. By the noonday of this telepathic era, color will be a recognized force, just as much as electricity and sound are now; it will be used for healing of body and development of mind; it will be found to possess the same philosophical and ethical value as music, and may possibly become our medium of personal communication.” Beatrice Irwin
The New Science of Color is a quirky book, which had quite an impact in its day, on art and interior design. Irwin’s ideas influenced abstract and modernist artists, in particular Georgia O’Keeffe. Irwin devised a “color triangle” which divided colors into “physical, mental, and spiritual” categories. She claimed that color has always one of three effects upon us–sedative, recuperative, or stimulant; and to reap those benefits, a person should select whichever colors whose “potency” they desired and surround them self with the color actually, or if this was impossible, mentally.
Irwin, a trained stage actress, was also an entrepreneur. She patented a line of electric lamps with colored shades (The “Irwin Color Filter System”). Her beliefs in the spiritual potentials of color were derived from her Baha’i faith.
I recorded a chapter from The New Science of Color for the LibriVox 13th Anniversary Collection entitled “The Color Development of Thirteen Countries,” in which Irwin talks about the “native palette” of countries she had visited. Her comments about Japan are of particular interest. You can access a print copy of The New Science of Color here.
Some of Irwin’s ideas are a bit far out, but I understood her assertion that a person could desire the “potency” of a color (Irwin’s word), in a “recuperative” sense (again, Irwin’s term). I will often choose particular tubes of paint without any clear idea of what I want to paint, only that I intuitively feel the need to express those colors. What results are mood paintings, without doubt. The CD cover which I designed for the 13th Anniversary Collection is also a vivid display of my color sense.
You might like:
Watercolors from the Ayer Collection, Newberry Library
Pintura del beneficio dela grana cochinilla en Mexico, circa 1775
“The cochineal insect, Dactylopius coccus, may justly be called the most celebrated of all the scale insects. Cochineal is essentially parasitic upon the prickly pear… A native of Mexico, it was known and utilized by the Aztecs before America was discovered by Europeans… When the Spaniards conquered Mexico they recognized that the cochineal industry would be a source of wealth, and they at once tried to establish a monopoly, punishing with death anyone detected attempting to take the female insects out of the country.” Charles Aubrey Ealand.
I read a short selection about the cochineal industry from C.A. Ealand’s book, Insects and Man, for the 58th volume of the LibriVox Short Nonfiction Collection. You can access a print copy of Insects and Man here.
Aniline dyes put an end to the widespread use of cochineal in the textile industry. That is a shame, as cochineal dyes produced a full range of beautiful reds. A wonderfully illustrated monograph, Cochineal Red: The Art History of a Color, written by Elena Phipps and published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, explores the many uses of this insect based dye.
For more about insects:
Above: The entrance road, before and after
Most people probably feel, at one time or another, a jolt of connection with a painting by one of the masters, as perhaps to Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” or, as was recently my case, to a scene painted by British landscape artist, John Constable entitled “Hampstead Heath, with figures round a bonfire” (ca. 1822) This painting resonated with me because this past March (2018) I had photographed, and subsequently painted a picture of, a bonfire in our local forest preserve, and the open air fire in my photograph bore an eerie resemblance to the bonfire in Constable’s painting.
I have no idea what emotions prompted Constable to paint his picture, but I do know the regrets that prompted my photograph. Such is life, But after seeing Constable’s painting, I decided to tell the story of my photograph and my painting. It begins with an entrance road with a 10 mph speed limit.
The 10 mph Entrance Road
Besides, they’re old
For chopping down the trees
That lined the pasture road
When it ceased to lead
To the retreat house
Which had morphed into a Nature Center
With a blacktop entrance drive.
The trees were burned
Over their severed roots
On that desolate pasture road
On a cold March day 2018
With snow for shroud.
I was out walking when I came upon the fire.
I stopped and photographed the trees
As witness to their cremation
I felt anger, helplessness, betrayal
Standing at the edge of the field
But there was nothing I could do.
And, in my acceptance, I saw beauty
In the flames
And in the smoke
Rising into the sky.
November 23, 2018
The road came into the jurisdiction of our local forest preserve district a few years ago, when they acquired a parcel of land that had once been an estate and later a chapter house for a group of nuns. There was a substantial house on the property, which the forest preserve decided to remodel and make into a Nature Center, a laudable and creative use for the dwelling. The house sat back from the county road about four-tenths of a mile, and the only way to reach it was by a dirt track shaded by various old and neglected trees – crab apples, junipers, firs, pines, and others planted in matching pairs on either side of the track.
The Nature Center, obviously, needed improved access and the county put in an attractive curved blacktop. This left the old entrance road as a quiet walk, frequented by dog walkers and strollers like myself who enjoyed the apple blossoms, the bird life, the shade, and the history that came with the trees.
When I heard from one of the ground crew, that they were scheduled to cut down the old trees, I was incensed. I wrote a protest letter to the powers that be, but it didn’t change the county’s resolve. The trees were not native species and besides they were old. They were scheduled to go. Knowing they were doomed, I took some pictures for myself and put them in a photo album.
Even thus forewarned, I was not prepared for the devastation I felt when the trees were cut down, the raw logs piled and burned–on a cold winter day, with snow on the ground. I did not approve of the destruction then; I still do not. I felt a very strong need to memorialize, to give testimony to the trees somehow. I went home and painted a picture of the fire and the smoke trailing into the blue.