Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Forgot his brushes

Have you ever forgotten your brushes on a painting excursion? Sir Alfred Munnings did. Here's what happened.

"Once on Exmoor, not long ago," he writes in his memoir, "I arrived by car at Cloud Farm to paint Bagsworthy Water, some twelve miles away, and found I had forgotten my brushes. I have developed the habit of carrying my brushes separately in a brown-paper roll. A box holds a miserable handful, and I like at least one big brush among the twenty or thirty I choose to take...." 

"....With no brushes, I viciously chewed the ends of pieces of wood, tied paint-rags on sticks, sought out minute fir-cones washed down in spate to the stream's bank, some of these matted with fine strands of grass. A teazle was a grand thing on such an occasion. Cursing and raging not to be beaten, I found that with these tools I could do a lot, and the final result was much the same as if I had used brushes."

"I returned next day. Conditions were the same. I sat in the same place near the roaring foam. I made the same design and painted another picture ; this time with brushes. Afterwards, placing the two canvases side by side, and standing back to look, they appeared exactly the same, four yards away."

Sir Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) on Wikipedia
From "An Artist's Life" by Alfred Munnings (free ebook)
Some of the images courtesy Sir Alfred Munnings Museum at his home, Castle House in Dedham, Essex. (thanks, Beth Munnings-Winter)


Gavin said...

Some people obsess that the reason they're not improving is because there must be some magic formula or tool they're missing out on. This just highlights that if you have the experience and knowledge, the tools are secondary.
Heck, I bet he could paint better than most of us using just his pinkie!

SE said...

I once had a painting teacher, whom gave his class the project to make a self-portrait without using brushes. We used hands, elbows!, fibers from wood, bark 'stamps', feathers, and some other concoctions that don't come to mind at the moment. (feathers are really helpful) He said the purpose is to not get comfortable with the conformity of our painting routines, and need to learn new ways to paint. Sometime near the end of the assignment, I asked him if there's ever an end to learning. My teacher then said if we ever stop learning how to do art, then our art becomes predictable.

Keith Parker said...

Is that first picture the one he painted with twigs and grass?

Annie said...

I wondered too, and found the painting on a BBC "Your Paintings" web site:
It's gorgeous!
They have a space for information about the piece under "Art Detective" and I bet they'd love your post!
Thank you, Mr. Gurney, for your terrific blog. Guess I'll have to go chew a stick!

Joe P said...

Very cool. Next time someone asks "WHAT PAPER ARE YOU USING?? I NEED TO KNOW!!!" ... just send them this :)

James Gurney said...

Gavin and Joe, you said it.

Sam, great story!

Keith, no, the pictures in the post are picked from his work at random I presume aren't from that painting day.

Annie, just don't chew a hemlock stick.

Carole Pivarnik said...

Fascinating! I love this blog!

Janet Oliver said...

As a young girl I used to have a print of the painting with the girl leading the white pony. Now I know who painted it! Thanks, James!

Just an FYI, there was an ad for Photo Sphere instead of the captcha, but I refreshed it.

Unknown said...

Goes to show that limitations can sometimes bring out an artists' best work.

Reading your blog has become a daily routine for me. Thank you Mr. Gurney.

jytte said...

I think Gavin is absolutely right. Any suggestion for what women could use ? LOLPh

Tom Hart said...

Jytte: to slightly misquote The Princess Bride: " I don't think Gavin means what you think he means." At least for many of us in the US, "pinkie" means little finger...:^)

I'm as much a gear freak as the next artist. I thing that all artists are, on some level, fascinated and deeply interested in the material used to make art, from pigments to pixels - and for good reason: it behooves us to know our instruments well. Yet, as this post points out, we profit from stepping back and remembering that the material is - or should be - secondary to the process of making the image.

Gavin said...

I did have to stop and reread your comment jytte, and then it made me chuckle, and I still can't throw the image out of my mind now!

Sorry for any confusion. It may be British slang that hasn't crept into the American language much, but Tom Hart is correct: it is merely a reference to the little finger! :D