Glyn Macey can often be found roaming the harbours, moorland and coast of his native West Cornwall, sketchbook in hand recording the details of daily Cornish life and history. One of the ways that he finds inspiration and focus is by creating a project that uses painting and drawing to research a particular location.
Painting The Tinners Way
by Glyn Macey
Artists often talk about the issues of finding inspiration and of the fear of getting stuck in a rut. This is of course a problem for all creatives, myself included. The getting ‘stuck in a rut’ scenario can be debilitating and sucks out all creative enthusiasm over time. So let me share one of the ways that I ‘reset’ my enthusiasm and my focus.
For me, planning a project, series or theme helps to give me the focus that I need to get the creative juices flowing. A project forces me to think differently each time, to observe more closely and to create my artwork more fluidly. In essence, focusing on a project becomes the opposite of factory-floor painting as I get to research a location and capture its essence, and this has got to be better than painting the same old, same old, right?
A project for me might be as large as a 3000-mile road trip, painting for one hour followed by driving for one hour for the whole journey. Or maybe following a local, ancient footpath and sketching the scene every fifty steps.
Over the last few years I have been lucky enough to work on many such projects, from road trips across the USA to documenting the climate change issues facing the Arctic. But I have also discovered that smaller, closer to home projects can have just as much interest and adventure as running from rattlesnakes and polar bears. For instance, I recently painted my way across an eighteen mile long, five thousand year old footpath near to my studio in West Cornwall called the Tinners Way for an exhibition and book. Almost all of the 190 original artworks were made ‘en plein air’ over three months and exploring and working by myself allowed me to really focus in on the atmosphere of the location. Plus I could create work on the way, safe in the knowledge that I really didn’t need to show anyone if it failed, and when working on location it often does ‘fail’!
My current obsession of tracing the ancient history of tin mining in my local area has helped me to re-engage with my home landscape as well as develop new ways of working such as working with very limited materials or drawing with sticks and mud or using pond water and rusted tin. I have spent more time exploring my local landscape, feeling the sun and drinking the rainwater from granite Carn pools. Observing the wildlife and taking written notes of wind and temperature all helps me to engage with the environment. We are, after all, a part of it, a small link in the chain. And sleeping outdoors on the moors and cliff tops and watching the incredible Turneresque sunsets and gauzy sunrises gives me insights and ideas that lead to artworks that delve below the surface of a picture postcard image.
My current project features many of the iconic landscapes and seascapes of the hit BBC series Poldark, using as they do, many of the stunning, historic mines, secret coves, dramatic cliffs and wild moorland that surround my home. To be fair, it’s pretty difficult to paint ‘en plein air’ in West Cornwall without painting a ‘Poldark’ location, or absent-mindedly tripping over Aiden Turner wherever you go.
With this immersive idea in mind and when I’m working on my travel projects, I love to use found materials in my work. And a touch of found collage always performs best in combination with acrylic paint. The glazing abilities and general sticky loveliness of acrylic paints are tailor-made for working outdoors, acting as both colour and glue. Acrylics will also stand up to working in the rain so that our paintings don’t end up looking like a scene from a Cadburys Flake advert [look it up].
And by ‘found materials’ I mean just that. These materials might be litter from the streets, sand from a beach, or maybe fallen leaves found on a walk through the park. I find that these elements help to root the painting to its location.
I’m often asked what brands of paint I use and when it comes to materials I always advise students to buy the best acrylic paint that they can afford, and for me that is Winsor & Newton Professional Acrylic. The rich pigment content is unrivalled – giving me deep, translucent passages in my artwork that can only happen due to the unique clear binder that the brand uses. Together with a longer working time and no colour shift it means that I can work with complete confidence, in all conditions. And believe me, here in West Cornwall, the weather can and does change in an instant.
So the next time you’re in need of inspiration, just look out of the window; go for a walk, come rain or shine and create a project for yourself. Maybe chose your favourite local view and paint twenty-four artworks of the same scene over twenty-four hours. Or go for a walk to the shops and stop to draw the changing streetscape every fifty steps. You get the idea, and be sure to apply the same fundamental criteria each time; observe slowly, carefully and craft your experience into a series, a project, a theme. And head out with your acrylic paints, a couple of brushes and some board or paper.
Oh, and take notes… Here are some of mine…
“Eighteen miles long and five thousand years in making, the Tinners Way is layered with history, myth and legend. Graced with the living stones of the ancients and littered with the remnants of an industrial past, to tread the path is to walk through history, a living history, a history that is still being discovered and made. For the archaeologist the Tinners Way represents the birth of the Bronze Age, the Iron Age and the Industrial Age. For the romantic and creative, the same path presents us with stories of magic, love and tragedy; of myth, religion and the occult. Whatever the Tinners Way represents to you, when walking the path there is an overriding sense of being part of something bigger.”
If you can’t get to Cornwall for one of Glyn Macey’s painting workshops you can learn online from one of the tutorials available on his website.
Glyn Macey’s books and the acrylic paints that he prefers are available on the Jackson’s Art Supplies website
- Winsor & Newton Professional Acrylic
- Glyn Macey’s World of Acrylics book
- Acrylics Unleashed book by Glyn Macey
Postage on orders shipped standard to mainland UK addresses is free for orders of £39.