The Problem with Making a Start

It’s been an amazingly dry summer and I have been out painting more than any other year I can remember. I’ve met a whole lot of people too and a good number of those have bought my work before from galleries around South Devon where I lived for twenty odd years before moving to Cornwall.

‘Hey, are you the same Mark Gibbons as the Mark Gibbons on my wall in the hall’... ‘Yep, the very same one.’ Then we would get into the hows and whys of me moving to Cornwall and what they had been doing in the intervening years and the sun would shine and I’d make tea and all would be well.

I’ve had my spare chair and sketchbook with me every day but I have been surprised at how few people took up my offer of ‘Making a Start’. It would seem the move from ‘I would love to be able to paint’ to actually making any sort of mark is far more problematic than I had assumed. I think what people really mean is… ‘If by some stroke of luck I was visited by the painting fairy in the night and in the morning I was able to paint, then I’d be chuffed as a cat with two tails’. Trouble is, at some point you have to make a start with a mark of some sort.  

The culprit is of course ‘fear’ and its twin ‘shame’. Most people just would not take the risk of making a picture that was a lot less than perfect and have it be seen by others. The easy and obvious solution to this is to promise yourself absolute privacy but then you have the problem that you yourself will see the painting and you yourself will know it is not as good as you would like it to be. There is no way round this impasse except to accept that a lot of your first attempts will be disappointing and to just carry on making marks.

I would like to show you one of my early attempts at painting. I made this watercolour of the old paddle steamer that used to steam back and forwards across the Humber to Lincolnshire. I loved the old docks round Hull and spent many weekends as a student there exploring and trying to make some sort of a record.

The painting was made in 1971 the year before I graduated and I copied the picture from a black and white photo I developed myself in my dingy student kitchen. I have to say I’m fond of the picture for sentimental reasons but there is a lot that could be improved. The sky is completely lifeless and without any atmospheric perspective and there is no movement or colour in the river, you would be hard pushed to say where the sun is supposed to be, the smoke is a more or less solid flower of brown that blooms from the too red funnel. But it was a start and that is what matters.

I also would like to show you one of my Wet Sunday paintings. I had the beginnings of a draughtsman’s skills as I did a lot of technical drawing at school but I was, to put it mildly, crap with colour. So on wet Sundays, when I wasn’t walking round the docks, I would take out my paints and try and see what colours I could make and then I’d write down the ones I liked. The left side of picture is a collection of green greys made by adding different yellow and earth colours to Cerulean (still one of my favourites) and the right is Viridian toned down with different yellows. By just dealing with colour and not trying to make a proper painting it took all the complexities of drawing away and left me the totally enjoyable adventure of exploring what was in my paint tubes.

So, at the risk of overstating the paint (point!)… There are no tooth fairies or painting fairies…all you have to do is make a start and the rest will follow.