• Sue Bulmer

Five tools I use to translate the landscape


I called one of my recent Instagram reels ‘Translating The Landscape’. I was attempting to capture the beautiful view from our peaceful caravan site in Devon where we spent a glorious week on holiday. It was the phrase that made me stop and think. As an Artist, this is what I’m trying to do every time I make a mark, translate what I see and feel into something visual, something tangible and something lasting. And something that can reach out and connect to something deep inside someone else. Art is a language, a means of communication and it far transcends the verbal, cognitive realms of words. For me, in my life as an Artist and as an Art Psychotherapist, I see art as a bridge from the internal to the external world.

I used to just make art because I liked it, I enjoyed the process and it gave me something to do in my spare time. Undergoing my training to be an Art Psychotherapist changed all of that. It made me think more deeply about my why. I remember back to one of my Art Psychotherapy training modules when I really began to explore landscapes in a different way. I was able to relate the landscape to myself and the internal tussles I was having at the time as I navigated my journey to becoming an Art Therapist. I now think of the work I do as a translation of sorts - converting something from one form into another (the view into an image captured by my hand).

So that’s me and landscapes. There is something about them I am drawn to, always have been even back when I made my black and white illustrations my heart was in the colour and form of the land. Back then I didn’t even know how to paint. This makes me think about the long creative journey I have travelled and how much I have learned and the skills I have gained, the confidence and sense of self I have developed.

When I go to capture a new landscape now, I sometimes find the enormity, the vastness and the detail of a landscape view can be overwhelming. I sometimes don't know where to start, which part to choose or how to break it down into more manageable chunks. This means I can feel a bit stuck before I’ve even begun. Does this ring true with anyone else?

So what do I do to overcome this? Well, it’s funny you should ask. I have a couple of techniques up my sleeve which can help me to get started and I’m going to share them with you. Feel free to add what works for you in the comments.

  1. Taking my pencil for a walk, starting at one point on the page and letting my eye wander along the lines of the landscape and my hand following - without looking at the page. I think this may be called ‘blind drawing’. This helps me to loosen up by not being too precious about results and it can lead to some really interesting abstract marks.

  2. Collecting shapes - rather than trying to get everything down I might just look for simple shapes and jot them down in my portable sketchbook. I think of this like taking shorthand notes. Something quick and spontaneous that I don’t have much time to think about Shapes may overlap or run into each other in unexpected ways which gives me ideas to abstract further.

  3. The ‘Brain Dump’ - a technique I developed when I was in my art retreat in April. After a walk or a day out which I had spent looking, observing, collecting shapes, taking photos and observing colours I would come back to my studio and express all of these ideas on to a large sheet of paper which I had taped into sections. I would use a variety of materials, only for short bursts of time, quickly changing to something else so I didn’t become to attached or precious about what I was doing. I would then remove the tap when it had dried and cut this into sections which I would then look at, appraise and choose my faves to take further. Have also used this technique in my practice as an Art Psychotherapist to help me to process client sessions. It can really help to get the unconscious stuff out into the world.

  4. Using a view finder - I decided to do that while I was in Devon last week. I didn’t have any specialist tools or materials with me so I went all ‘Blue Peter’ and used a cereal box. I made a reel showing how I did it. Using a view finder helps you to find the part (or parts) of the view you find the most intriguing. It helps you so distil down into smaller parts and makes the larger view a LOT less overwhelming. They can help us to simplify what we are seeing and remove the clutter. Using a view finder also helps to train your eye so eventually you might be able to pick out the interesting little nuggets for yourself.

  5. Taking photos - You can use them in a similar way to a view finer by cropping them down to the shape and size you like and cropping out the bits which you don’t. You can also alter and amend them, changing the colours, making them into tonal images, blurring them, abstracting them. There are many tools you can user to do this either within a digital camera or on your phone. I love taking photos. This gives me a lasting impression of the place and also allows me to carry those memories home so I can go back to them when I get back to my studio.


I'd love to hear what works for you? Leave me a comment and tell me how you approach something that you feel overwhelmed by...

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