Artist Tara Leaver explains how, through experimentation, she discovered her method of using Japanese wood carving tools to “draw” into the surface of wooden panels. This is how she creates dreamy, landscape paintings full of depth and texture, that are inspired by the Cornish sea.
By Tara Leaver
Whenever I place an order with Jackson’s, I look for something I’ve never tried before, as a way not just to expand the possibilities for my work, but also to give myself the reminder and opportunity to play – such an important part of an art practice. I often make discoveries this way, and because I work with mixed media it gives me the option to evolve the paintings with new materials.
A couple of years ago I discovered the Jackson’s wood panels that come in packs of five. I found them satisfyingly sturdier than the thin canvas boards I’d tried in the past and an interesting counterpoint to the deep-sided stretched canvas I also use.
I love the raw wood; people often ask what I use to prime the boards, and the answer is, I don’t! The “immediacy” of the unprimed surface works beautifully not just with the other materials I use, but also because my current work is about the immersive sensory experience of being in water and the way it brings you immediately into the present—(especially when you get in the sea on a chilly day in England!)
At first, I just painted and drew on the boards and enjoyed the subtly patterned surface, but then, as the “new thing to try” when placing a Jackson’s order one time, I discovered the Japanese woodcarving tools. While they’re intended for use in printing, I’ve found them to be an exciting addition to my paintings.
Being able to carve into the wood panels gave me a greater range within which to expand my visual language. I love the tactility; the way they slice through the wood, requiring a lighter touch than you might expect, to create carved “drawings” in the surface.
The different shapes of the blades allow for different marks to be made, and I like to cut through the layers of paint to reveal the wood beneath.
When my current body of work first started evolving, I fell in love with Chinese brush painting, and would spend hours absorbed in researching the exquisite paintings made throughout China’s history, and Japan’s too. Brush painting is a skill that takes many years to learn, and I won’t pretend I’ve even begun to scratch the surface of developing that skill, but of course, I had to try it for myself. So I ordered a set of Chinese painting brushes, a bottle of Sumi ink, and also the double ended bamboo brush pen, so I could draw as well as paint with the ink. More recently, I’ve invested in the black ink stick and an accompanying ink stone, so I could grind the ink and mix it with water in the traditional way.
I work with a fairly limited palette, partly because it allows the materials to contribute their unique voices to the “conversation” of the paintings. I don’t always use every item on every painting, but currently the wood panels, woodcarving tools, inks and brushes are combining beautifully with the other elements of each piece.
The colour in my paintings comes mostly from acrylics; I like the fast drying times and have become familiar with their ways over many years of using them. My favourite are Golden Fluid Acrylics, which I will usually dilute further either with water or Airbrush Medium, depending on the effect I want. Golden or Liquitex both work well. I’ve found Golden’s pigments to be reliably rich, and love the smooth application of the fluid version. The airbrush medium dilutes to the varying consistencies I need without compromising the integrity of the paint in the way that water can.
Alongside all these materials, I also use walnut ink that I mix from granules (although I notice Jackson’s offers one ready mixed); I love the rich nutty colour and the way it works with the wood panels to add depth and bring out the grain.
While I love and happily recommend all these tools and materials, it’s worth noting that the wood panels do fade in sunlight. I don’t mind this once a painting is complete, but if you leave the panels stacked unevenly, the exposed areas will lighten, leaving patches with straight lines across the surface. This could easily be used to your advantage, but because my work is based around water, which doesn’t have straight lines, I have to be careful with how I store the panels waiting to be used. Like with any materials, it’s a case of trial and error, and that often leads to happy accidents and unexpected discoveries.
About Tara Leaver
Originally from London, Tara Leaver now lives by the sea in Cornwall. After completing a foundation degree in her twenties, she returned to painting in 2008 after a gap, to help with her recovery from clinical depression. This lead to her embarking on a period of study and development, both formally and privately. Her online courses evolved from her exploring art as a means of truthful self expression and self discovery.
She has exhibited in galleries in Sussex and Cornwall, and her work is owned by private collectors around the world.