This week I am having a rare quiet time sitting in on my Pop-up exhibition 'Painting the Peats'. The gallery is at the foot of Dundas Street, in the Newtown and between The Botanics and a few select cafes, so I've had quite a number of passers by drop in and the response has been very positive. But regardless of feedback, I know that it has been essential for me pull all this work out of a messy, chaotic studio, dust it down, wrap it in a fresh mount and frame and give it some space on a clean wall, where others can see and appreciate it. The point being, that I can finally appreciate this work myself. Some of it is as good as I had hoped it might be - and some isn't. The best pieces are the ones that I hadn't expected much from at all, the ones that in this environment (frame, mount, wall, spotlight) suddenly shine out in the way that I had hoped as I did battle with the materials to try and make something happen. Making art is basically a performance - an attempt to communicate with others and, I believe with ourselves. Every now and then it is necessary for an artist to pause, like a piece of punctuation, and take stock. What was it I was trying to say...what did people hear me say...?and now that I hear it, or see it for myself, is it what I meant to say?
As far as I'm aware, Degas never visited The Outer Hebrides; but, like his friends The Impressionists, he was fascinated by light and finding ways of representing light in paint and pastel. Having written about Degas' pastel techniques for drawing his ballerinas and bathing women, I found chalk pastels incredibly useful for capturing the ever-changing light and water on the Hebridean islands of Berneray and Harris. The general approach involves laying down some black areas of charcoal, then sealing it with fixative, before applying layers of colour. However in the breezy climate of The Western Isles, hairspray was out of the question, so I rubbed the charcoal into the paper and layered the colour straight on top. The great thing about pastel and changeable weather is that you can smudge and soften and then suddenly, just when the moment strikes you and the light is clear, you can put down a few bright, crisp marks and make your final emphasis.
A number of small plein air pastel studies will be on display (and for sale at 'stocking-filler' prices) as part of the 'Painting the Peats' exhibition next week. www.damiancallan.com/events
Since returning from The Outer Hebrides at the end of August I have been developing a series of drawings and paintings based on a crofter friend and his peat bank. It has given me the opportunity to revisit some drawing techniques, such as ink and wash, as well as the the pastel techniques had to explore when writing 'Paint Like Degas'. These studies have been developed into a number of oil paintings and charcoal drawings which will be exhibited 14th - 20th December at The Art Club (next door to Coffeeangel, Canonmills).
Damian Callan is a practising figurative artist and tutor based in Edinburgh.