For Christmas I received the beautiful book “Mary Fedden, Enigma’s and Variation’s”.  I read this book from cover to cover and learnt so much that I thought I’d share a little with you – I know there are some fans out there!

When I shyly converse with some people about being a painter, they naturally always ask ‘a painter of what’ and I’ve always felt a little lame as I’ve answered “Still Life mostly…flowers…and objects…” I’ve tended to trail off then as the majority of conversations with the uninitiated stop there. Apparently, in the past, still life painting was demoted to the lowest level of painting genres as it was thought to be too close to the kitchen, too much like woman’s work and often too female. I think I’ve definitely picked up that vibe from a couple of men before!

For Fedden “Still Life under pins her visual world, it is domestic, accessible, solid, close-up and real.” (Can you hear me cheering?!)

Another criticism often levelled at her work is that it is too decorative or overly concerned with pattern. Well we definitely share something there! But that’s why I like her work. The author describes her painting beautifully when he says that she “finds balance with colour and pattern (like line and verse) a visual rhyming.” And like a piece of music, Fedden prefers a dominant colour (like a dominant key in music) around which everything will harmonise. “Then some small part of the painting might punctuate the this main colour with a vividly contrasting hue.”

Amazingly, the author says that Fedden is not critically acclaimed in the art world even now after a lifetime of painting. Nor is she particularly bothered by that. I should take note!

“Fedden is modest about her work. She does not make stupendous claims for it. It does not make great claims for itself.”

I find that humility really inspiring. We all need some measure of success to validate ourselves and our work, but it must be really liberating to be painting just for the love of painting.

I was always under the misapprehension that Mary Fedden lived somewhere coastal in Britain. In fact she has always lived in Twickenham! I wonder sometimes how I came to have stayed living in Birmingham of all places, for 20 years without a ‘view’. I’ve even told my other half that it hampers my artistic development! Well Mary Fedden has blown that argument clean out of the water (just in time for house hunting to commence.)

Her advice is sketch incessantly. Draw everywhere you go and  in effect, compile a book of backgrounds. Then once you are back in the studio  use it as a backdrop to a still life. Genius!! Why is it that something so simply obvious has eluded me thus far?

“The objects and the view have never been anywhere near each other except in Fedden’s imagination and pictorial invention.”

She also uses her imagination more creatively that I can. I find it really hard to add objects to the still life that aren’t actually there in reality. But the idea of including a cat, or person is an interesting idea for the future.

I have seen many painters locate still life in a landscape before but wondered how. Fedden utilises the “vertical tabletop” method. Sounds technical eh? Basically everything on the table top plane gets tipped up forward (artistically not literally) in order to flatten the visual planes. the background then slots in behind and provides the perspective. Clever eh?!! I’m definitely going to give that a go but fear a steep learning curve ahead!

I also found a like-minded soul in Fedden because of her love of gouache paint. Why is it that art shops rarely sell a good range of this nowadays? Is it out of fashion? The range seems to be reducing. For example there is only one grey now (and a horrible brown grey at that – where is the lovely light grey?) Fedden and I ( I like saying that – we’re best friends you know!!) enjoy the way gouache can be both thick and opaque for over painting, but also act like water colour if thinned down.

Well I hope you have enjoyed my mini art lecture! I studied Art History and doing this has reminded me how much I enjoy studying other artists and getting under the skin of their work. There’s so much to learn still!!   Have a good week.

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