I got this reading tip from James Gurney, whose blog is surely a must for anyone who is into drawing or painting. I have been an admirer of Winston Churchill for years, the man is endlessly fascinating (just look at the length of his Wikipedia article), but I have yet to read a proper biography (length, again – need time…). This is an easy read, though, a short essay concerning his hobby, which was painting in oil. Being Churchill (cousin of the Duke of Marlborough) and not some working/middle class Sunday painter, he was even exhibited at the Royal Academy (he was the first to point out that he was not judged on merit). He writes beautifully (he got the Nobel prize of literature, after all!) and enthusiastically about painting, and I´d like to share some quotes:
“It is no use saying to the tired “mental muscles” – if one may coin such an expression -“I will give you a good rest”, “I will go for a long walk”, or “I will lie down and think of nothing.” The mind keeps busy just the same. If it has been weighing and measuring, it goes on weighing and measuring. If it has been worrying, it goes on worrying. It is only when new cells are called into activity, when new stars become the lords of the ascendant, that relief, repose, refreshment are afforded.”
Churchill was in his 40´s when he first picked up a brush. He fiddled a bit with his children´s paint box one Sunday afternoon, and then bought himself a kit of oil colours. It was 1915, he had just left the Admiralty (he got sacked over Gallipoli, actually) and was a bit frustrated and low, as one can imagine (“my veins threatened to burst“; Churchill suffered from depression his whole life, which he called “the black dog”). So, he set up his painting gear, but:
“My hand seemed arrested by a silent veto. But after all, the sky on this occasion was unquestionably blue, and a pale blue at that. There could be no doubt that blue paint mixed with white should be put on the top part of the canvas. One really does not need to have had an artist´s training to see that. It is a starting-point open to all. So very gingerly I mixed a little blue paint on the palette with a very small brush, and then with infinite precaution made a mark about as big as a bean upon the affronted snow-white shield.”
Luckily for Churchill, at that moment appeared a Lady Lavery, come to visit, with some experience in painting. She grabbed his brush, and:
“Splash into the turpentine, wallop into the blue and the white, frantic flourish on the palette – clean no longer – and then several large, fierce strokes and slashes of blue on the absolutely cowering canvas. Anyone could see that it could not hit back. No evil fate avenged the jaunty violence. The canvas grinned in helplesness before me. The spell was broken. The sickly inhibitions rolled away. I seized the largest brush and fell upon my victim with Berserk fury. I have never felt any awe of a canvas since.”
Can you see it? It´s almost poetic, and so vivid a scene! He goes on to liken painting to fighting a battle, or trying to, arguing that this is a battle that can not be won, and which is more interesting because of it. When he gets to heaven, he means to “spend a considerable portion of my first million years in painting, and so get to the bottom of the subject.” Painting, thus, affords endless amounts of earthly pleasure. He also praises the hightened awareness that observation in order to reproduce gives: “Once you begin to study it, all Nature is equally interesting and equally charged with beauty.”
Hear, hear. You can see a series of his paintings here. My ink sketches are in line with the InkTober Challenge.