Circles within Circles


Circles within Circles.

Nature abhors straight lines; straight lines are manmade, artificial. I hate straight lines except for pictures hanging on my wall which have to be hanging absolutely straight. It makes me edgy if they are crooked even by a single millimetre. Otherwise I prefer curved lines and asymmetry.

I remember having immense difficulty at school drawing straight lines – whether in geometry or in art for perspective etc. I cannot hang wall paper to save my life, and in my first job (as a lab assistant at BP) frequently got into trouble for not being able to draw straight lines underneath peaks on charts so we could measure the volume of infinitesimal amounts of gases within substances.

Yet give me a plant to draw, or a planet, or a cup or egg (elliptical circles) and I am in my element. I remember one task in art (oh so many years ago) was to draw a kettle without drawing the actual shape, just reproduce the reflections within it – these were full of liquid curves, organic flashes, and spirals of light, and I loved every minute of that project, as with any project involving curvy things. This would include water which again involves actually drawing/painting reflected light to represent movement rather than trying to reproduce a solid object (water clearly not being solid though it is a piece of solid form in terms of drawing it, I suppose).

frog cycle

a Froggy Life Cycle – full of curves – frog spawn beads, curvy plant life and tails, pebbles, and egg shaped bodies

Yes, I was always happier drawing curves – somehow they represented for me – harmony, flow and balance, and as such became acts of meditation rather than work. I suppose that is what attracts me to the Art Nouveau movement, though I have a sneaky and secret passion involving Art Deco and Rennie Mackintosh’s work too, which involve a lot of straight lines though Mackintosh’s work combines these with organic movement, and Art Deco also frequently involves circles and flowing lines, but more stylised.

Since taking up art work again, I notice that I am more comfortable drawing circles and organic shapes than, say, pure landscape. I know landscapes have organic structures in them like trees or water but really, painting a landscape is an exercise in criss-crossing straight lines – hence Mondrian’s slow change from pure landscape to abstract landscape to, in the end, cleverly criss-crossing lines. The reason he is so good at what he does compared to anyone just trying to reproduce his pictures, is that his composition has its roots in his original landscape technique.

No, I’m just not that into landscapes, and it shows in the soulless pictures (barring one spiritual work of a misty Glastonbury Tor) that I have tried to create. After almost despairing that I wasn’t very good at art following nearly half a lifetime of thinking that I was (well since A levels – forty odd years ago) I had a brainwave. I love circles, I love wreaths, and the sacred seasonal circles of plants and flowers, changing the ones that hang on my door regularly throughout the seasons, and not just at Christmas. Many of the most successful drawings since A levels, when I illustrated an environmental magazine for instance, involved using circles or ellipses as a basic shape (see froggy pic), and I once illustrated two books on whales and dolphins – very fluid, curvaceous shapes. Why not, I thought, paint sacred circle garlands, and tie in my spirituality with my painting. Good idea.

sacred garland - daises & roses

original watercolour is for sale, mounted; painting size 260 x 248 cm without mount


So, on Saturday, I pencilled a circle on some water colour paper, drawing around a ceramic bowl that was etched with a frog – the epitome of life cycles, and hence symbolic – and proceeded to draw in some daisies, wild roses and lots of ivy around the circle – creating a semi-stylised picture of a floral wreath. It was very detailed, with lots of small shapes to paint. So no huge expanses of space to paint in, and I love playing with negative and positive techniques of painting (where you paint darker shapes to give the impression of lighter shapes behind or in front, rather than painting outlines). The whole thing was a delight to paint, and very meditative. It took all weekend to paint and time both flew and slowed, as I disappeared into the artistic ‘zone’. It was a very zen experience. The result is that I am delighted with it, and enthused to paint more – using the language of flowers, and seasonal change as inspiration. This painting is now being mounted at my local frame shop (Images). I have asked them to make me more mounts for a series of floral wreathes, and suddenly I’m enjoying painting again, and the planning of same, which is part of the organic process, too.

So what is it about the concept of circles, and spirals, and curving lines that reaches into my very soul? They are primal shapes, I suppose: circles– suns, planets, atoms, electrons, solar systems and orbits; spirals: galaxies, DNA, shells, sunflower seed heads are all examples of such. Nature is very economical with her patterns, and as such they must be stamped into our own blueprints. Fractals are another example of fluidity and economy of shape – clouds roil, and tiny clouds drift off the main cloud but remain cloud shaped. The edges of leaves at a microscopic levels are mini versions of leaves, trees sprout branches that sprout tinier branches that sprout … you get the idea;  all of these ‘sproutings’ are organic and fluid and have some sort of formula involving a curve (I’m not a mathematician but even I can see that there is a spiralling link here. Back to space and everything in space is spinning around itself, around other bodies; moons around planets, planets around suns, suns around the spin of a galaxy, and galaxies around each other; all of our current universe, and presumably the multi-verses too, spins around the original big bang site in one huge cosmic dance, which I have alluded to before. At a microscopic level (and smaller, at quantum levels – I think, as I said I’m an artist not a mathematician or physicist) even atoms spin and electrons spin within them; apparently even light curves at that level, and so on. So no wonder circles and curves figure naturally within our perceptions, our ideas, and spirituality.

rose galaxy

Humankind has obsessed with circles down the ages – stone circles like Avebury and Stonehenge are magic infused places, spirals and cup shapes have been carved into stone for purposes unknown to us now, meditated on via mandalas, or tattooed onto bodies (Australian aboriginal art); golden torqs, wedding rings, circular headdresses are used to celebrate marriage or success (Formula One winners, or Roman Emperors). All are symbols of eternity and infinity – the never-ending circle/cycle of life. Wheels give us mobility beyond what our legs can offer, electricity flows in circuits, sound and pictures are reproduced on circular discs that spin, and most coins are round. Even the material world is joining in with the natural world’s endless spinning dance.

Stonehenge study sketch

Well now it’s my turn, to make circles with my art. I’ve already written pieces of prose and poetry about the cosmic dance, and now I will paint them, using them to interpret the language of flowers and illustrate the seasonal changes as the year turns relentlessly on, another circle within circles.

Funny thing – about curves – if, as a species, we resonate so much with curves, why are we trying so hard to eliminate them from the human body? What’s wrong with being curvaceous? Curves are sacred.


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