I gather pigments from the mine sites in West Penwith, these specific places between St Just and St Ives are a wealth of natural colour. In addition to this I use other specialist ground pigments and inks. My course 'Landscape Painting in Natural Pigments' at St Ives School of Painting, teaches students how to make traditional paints from tempera and oils as well as other water based paints and I share information on how to gather pigment, so that they may continue the specialist practice themselves.

 

There is a straightforward environmental ethos to my work, which is to gather and collect earth, this connects me with geology, history and the natural environment. It is clear to me that as humans if we are not connected we can spiral downwards and so this practice is as much to do with a sense of wellbeing as much as it is a painting practice. That the pigment deposits I use to paint with can be up to 350 million years old is truly astonishing.

 

Further to this is the responsible collection of pigments, the disposal of wastewater such as washing away brushes with glue and white spirit, which travels into our waterways and out into the sea, is a concern to me.

 

Place is integral to my work. I want to communicate a sense of, 'a greater connectedness' and by using pigments from the place that the painting is about, I can gather it, I can touch it, feel its moistness and coarse or smooth textures and smell the earth. By painting with it, I put the place directly into the painting.

 

I have a selection of pigments which I pre-make and I also make the paint outside in location. To pre-make the paint is a lengthy process which involves after gathering it, grinding up the raw earth with a pestle and mortar, sieving it into a fine powder and then adding a binder. There are many binders to use and which one depends on the paint-type and finish, for example an oil binder is different to a water based binder and would be more lustrous because of the nature of the linseed oil or varnish. 

 

I go out into the landscape, carrying large, loose rolls of canvas, slung over the top of a rucksack full of brushes and pallets so that my hands are free to hold on when the coast path narrows, exploring in search of a place to paint.

 

Paint is elemental, expressive of feeling and emotion, it is applied in washes to start with and then thickly and although beginning with brushes these are soon thrown down and my hands and feet go towards gestural mark-making.

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What concerns me in my work is, 'how to convey the essential quality of the landscape?' A landscape which is made up of form and rich tonal colour and directly putting the 'place' into the painting as I believe, deeply connects the artist and viewer to place, leaving a deep memory of raw emotion and feeling.

© Francesca Owen 2019

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