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Generally speaking I am not intimidated by too many things, however I must admit that I have always been very cautious while swimming in the sea. I guess this is simply the result of growing up in South Africa and from time to time seeing the huge sharks which fishermen have landed from the shore and the rocky coastline. Somehow the thought of not being able to see ” what lies beneath” is a little unnerving. The added idea that there are predators such as the great white shark possibly swimming somewhere in the murky depths looking for its lunch never helped the matter.

Yesterday as I stood in my studio ready to start the next canvas, a 24″ x 34″ x 1.5″, I suddenly felt intimidated by this huge expense of white canvas which was ready to swallow up my creative ideas. It was not that I didn’t know what the commission would entail but it was simply the thought that I may get it wrong and that my client would be disappointed. Suddenly the canvas in front of me became a metaphor for “what lies beneath”.

I have talked to many artists about this fear of “great whites” and why it is that after executing many successful canvases, some artists still struggle with the first strokes of a new commission. Perhaps this feeling is the equivalent of the adrenaline rush which athletes experience before the sound of the starting pistol. It may well be that these feelings are essential and it is what pushes artists onto the creative edges of their style and into the evolution of their journey as artists..

After some procrastination and another cup of tea, I  finally I reached for the Vandyke brown, quickly mixed it into a nice watery consistency and then, cloth in hand, I applied the base coat which serve to render this “great white” harmless. Suddenly there it was, that rush of satisfaction as the white disappeared and from the surface of the canvas there began to appear the rudimentary shapes, ideas and serendipitous coincidences of line and movement.

As I turned off the lights and close the blinds on my studio last night,  I felt the satisfaction of what the anglers of my childhood memories must have felt when landing a big shark on the sun-drenched beaches of the Eastern Cape.

This morning when I lifted the blinds and turned on the lights, there it was, a great white on my easel, now a brown expense of shapes and lines ready to do my bidding. As I stood looking at the tame canvas before me, the words of Jonathan Truss, the artist who painted the amazing picture of the great White at the beginning of this blog, came flooding back to me. I had mentioned to him how I sometimes felt intimidated when starting at new canvas. He looked at me and with a lot of understanding but very little sympathy simply said this;

“just get painting Ed, just get painting”

With that sound advice, that is exactly what I am going to do. I am off to prepare and eat my shark and get this next commission done…..”creativity demands expression”.


A Studio Community

Posted by: thornwoodstudio


It seems that the creative potential in each one of us is ignited when the combination of ideas and restless energy reaches critical mass and we spontaneously ignite into expression. At flash point we head for our studio’s, overflowing with the desire to commit it all to canvas before the image fades and the colours disperse in our minds eye.


Today is such a day and a simple walk into a local shopping precinct to enjoy a casual cup of coffee while watching the colours and the movements in the public open spaces was all I needed to combust. It also helps that the temperature today is comfortable enough to leave the studio door open, inviting the garden light and the summer colours and energy to join me.


I have been preparing for a number of pieces which I have wanted to paint for a while. Perhaps it is this amazing English light and the crisp clear colour I am experiencing which has sparked the tinder today.


Painting is a solitary experience for me. Not that I would choose it any other way and nor do I find the solitude a lonely experience. It is in such a place that I begin to find companionship in inanimate objects. I have never discussed this with other artists but wonder how many other creative souls experience the same state of mind when engaging with their brushes, paints and canvas. Like many studios, mine is filled with all the materials, tools and substances you would expect in an artists intellectual pantry; it has its own unique character, smell and sprit.


My studio, while being is a very personal place is not a private one and enjoys company and hosting friends. The space is like me, turned inside out with my ideas, passions, memories and thought on view for all to see. The items and objects which make up the sum total of everything that occupy the space represents and showcases much of who and what I have become. There’s my favourite set of brushes, standing in a Talisker Single Malt whiskey box, a memento from a memorable visit with an old friend. There’s photo’s of friends, family and images which have always been special to me. Stuck in the corner of a frame are the long white teeth of two thorns from a Mimosa Tree from where Thornwood Studio derives its name. I grew up with these trees on our farm in South Africa; their aromatic wood is one of the primary sources of heat for cooking the finest mutton chops in the Eastern Cape as well as heating our large old homesteads in the winter. Fixed to the studio’s low ceiling hangs a large shofar made from a Kudu horn; I sound this horn from time to time and love its deep resonating moan. Books, materials and music CD’s punctuate tops of shelves and ends of tables, each item having its own familiar place, like some local resident who is always to be found at their favourite table at a street café. 


As I unlock the door each day it’s like walking into a room full of friends and acquaintances. I have bright happy friends like the old music centre which is a constant entertainer and source gossip; there’s the family of coloured antique bottles on the window ledge and the small glass crystals which dance their rainbow light around the walls when the sun shifts and animates the space. I have a few really  grumpy friends too, such as the bad tempered electric pencil sharpener who, from time to time, will suddenly grab a delicate pencil and in a hot temper will trash the wood and the graphite. I keep the old boy simply because on better days, when his mood is not so sour, he sharpens like a real pro. I also have an old hairdresser’s swivel stool which has a stubborn temperament and refuses to ever adjust to the height I need. One of my hardest working studio comrades is my faithful dehumidifier, a trusty mate who keeps our studio home free of dampness during the long cold, wet winter months. He never ceases to produce the clearest distilled water which I bottle and store to use with my watercolours.   


The rag-tag bits and piece of furniture which house the whole studio community are a motley bunch of tramps and vagabonds. Characters who I have personally saved from the death rows of countless scrap yards or the terminal sentences handed down by people making room for new furniture. Each character in my studio remains loyal and grateful for the reprieve they have received from certain destruction, happy in their redemption and committed to pledge allegiance to the cause.


So as I close this post, it is, to this inanimate community that I must now head as they await instruction on how to aid or inspire me with my next creation or project. What I do know for sure, is that as soon as they hear the key turn in the studio door they will quickly assume their places and be ready for duty and to welcome me back with the greeting, “Long live our noble artist, God save the artist”   





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