Create Order out of Chaos

“Our lives are surrounded by chaotic forces which buffet us from one situation to another, somewhat out of our control, and we try to make sense of every new problem or position we find ourselves in,” says Angus McEwan. “I don’t know about you, but I like a little bit of control over my life. I like to feel that I have some sort of influence over some of the decisions that affect me directly. These trying times have seen that control be surrendered to others which can make us feel helpless at times.

Step 1: Application of heavy paint

“Oddly enough it’s in painting that under normal circumstances and processes we would control the way our painting evolves — usually from an ordered drawing (at least in realist watercolors) into an evolved and creeping resolution, which had been predetermined from the outset. It’s probably a bit odd then that I would seek to overturn that successful process by throwing an element of chaos into the mix. There in lies the rub, that chaos and unpredictability create excitement and interest for me, and when I’m working I don’t know if it’s going to work or not or whether I’ve produced too much chaos to deal with.

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Step 2: Drawing on the surface

“I start by slathering on very thick watercolor, spray it, let it run, reassess it, and apply even thicker paint. Spray, run, and repeat. Then I start to draw and remove and explore then add and evolve. The whole process relies on me making decisions that will lead me out of chaos and back into control, and you know what — I love it! I love the fact that I’ve entered the unknown. Will the decisions I make be fruitful or not? It is, however, the journey that keeps me going, not the prize of finishing at the end. Nothing turns me away from finishing a painting quicker than when I know exactly how it’s going to turn out. If I can see it in my mind’s eye how it’s gong to turn out, I will often turn to another painting as I have lost interest.

“Ring of Portugal” (watercolor on handmade paper, 32 x 23 2/3 in.)

“So, it seems I need chaos in my work to keep things interesting, to keep me motivated and focussed. It has been said the being creative is the ability to hold two conflicting ideas at once. In fact, in 1971 psychiatrist Albert Rothenberg of Harvard Medical school echoed F.Scott Fitzgerald in describing Janusian thinking (named after the Roman God of entryways who was depicted as looking forward & backwards — the union of opposites) as the ability to consider “contradicting ideas, concepts or images simultaneously,” which can provide new combinations and therefore new outcomes. Perhaps embracing chaos and order in our work and our lives should be welcomed as it throws up opportunity. It’s how we deal with it that counts.”

Angus McEwan is on the faculty of Watercolor Live. Join him and other top watercolor artists for 3 Days of Premium Art Instruction!

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