Monday, 29 October 2012

Acrylic Painting Workshop at the Affordable Art Fair, Battersea, October 2012

Yesterday I ran an hour-long acrylic painting workshop at the Affordable Art Fair.  Having never been to the fair at its Battersea site, I had no idea of what the set up would be, who would be attending, and what materials they would be able to use!!  I arrived half an hour before the workshop began and was relieved to have a team of very helpful people on hand to help with setting up field easels and laying out palettes and acrylic colour, kindly provided by Jackson's Art Supplies.  I brought with me a few objects to paint - plastic fruit, patterned fabrics and a broken bowl.  I wanted to keep the subject matter very simple so that the attendees stood a chance of completing a painting in the hour.

I had not expected the majority of the attendees to be children, and having only really had experience of teaching adults in the past, this was a whole new experience to me.  However I found the children to be incredibly respondent to advice, intelligent, and totally engaged in their work.  Just as much if not more so than the adults!  It was really lovely to have a couple of mothers and daughters attending and working alongside one another.

As anyone who has ever attended an art fair will tell you, they are pretty chaotic affairs, and so I really felt that the workshop was a wonderful diversion from the mayhem. Those who took part seemed to use painting as a way of switching off for an hour, and engaging with the process of picture making.  The workshop was surprisingly serious, and very quiet! It was a wonderful experience and one I hope to repeat in the future.  I hope that some of my students will be back to the fair exhibiting their work with a gallery next was certainly better than a lot of the work I saw for sale!

Monday, 17 September 2012

Lessons learned from a weekend painting in the Lee Valley

Lesson one: The Lee Valley is a VERY good location to visit for the inexperienced plein air painter, who happens to live in North London, and not so bad for the inexperienced painter from South London either.  Me and my painting partner in crime Becky caught the train to Cheshunt on Saturday, less than an hour away from home. The station is 0.2 miles from the very affordable, very comfortable YHA Lee Valley, looked after by the nicest human beings that walk this earth.  And the hostel is located within the Lee Valley park, a thousand and one acres of fun, apparently - but not only that, but a series of pretty and interesting scenes, from the canal, to the marshes, to the cornfields.  This is great if you are laden with heavy painting equipment, such as a field easel, paints, supports, folding chair etc - literally everything is a few steps away from everything else.

Lesson Two: Painting should be treated as a hobby and never a profession.  What I mean is, always adopt an open minded, almost playful approach to your work. Experimentation is key to development in your practice, and remind yourself of this fact even when you are seemingly producing something laughable.  Once we parked ourselves in front of the scene in the photo above, I produced a number of very quick drawings, and then set about producing a collage.  The theory was that the number of vibrant and scribbly marks in my drawing were unreadable in terms of what they were of, and I thought that through collage I could re-establish a stronger sense of design, an arrangement of flat shapes across a surface.  Sadly my collage turned out to be just as unreadable, and actually made me laugh out loud at one point.  But still through the crap drawing and the crap collage, remained in my mind was an idea for a more accomplished painting, and one I  intend to do once I can return to my studio.

Lesson Three: Staying the night helps. Removing yourself from the everyday, the chores, the grief, the heartache, all of that crap, allows you to just enjoy yourself. A painting weekend is an intense yet enjoyable experience, and one that needs no other distractions.  It IS exhausting so make it as easy for yourself as possible.

Lesson Four: The problems faced with painting out of doors seem to be a little easier to deal with than the problems you might face in the studio.  Becky made a really good observation yesterday - that dealing with how to transport wet paintings, finding a scene that would make a good painting, avoiding strong winds and keeping a relatively clean palette are infinity more pleasant problems than not knowing what to paint, questioning whether there's any point to you painting anyway, and not knowing how to justify large chunks of  time during your 'working' week being spent in the studio, even though it earns you very little or no money.  Somehow throwing oneself into an environment abundant with subject matter just means you get on with it, and even better if you're kept company, it somehow stops one from becoming too self indulgent or serious!

Lesson Five: Never attempt finished works of art. As soon as I gave up on that idea, I produced the paintings that my friend said on my return were the most frame- able.  These were the least self conscious works, the most assured and immediate.  Working in series in quick succession once in the right frame of mind seems to work well for me personally. I suggest you give it a try if you haven't already, and if the fancy takes you!

Viewpoint where I made my first oil sketch for the weekend

1st Oil Sketch

Sunday Subject Matter

1st Sunday sketch

Tiny sketch (6 x 5) on unprimed linen panel, very absorbent surface

Final work of the weekend, which has been growing on me since I painted it.

Lesson six: If you go for a curry at the Indian in Cheshunt and you like your curry hot, make sure you ask for extra chillies as they make then pretty mild otherwise.

Final lesson: Probably best to think carefully about how you intend to carry your wet work at the end of the trip.  Spent Sunday evening with my man promptly developing a new way of carrying wet canvases, which we will never patent and earn our millions from. Talk about wasted opportunity...

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

hello i'm back

A slight interlude - almost a month away from doing any work! And it's been getting to good then to have 2 hours this afternoon to start on a new drawing.  I really want this one to dance, was really inspired by Conrad Shawcross' industrial machine replicating human movement in the Titian inspired exhibition 'Metamorphosis' at The National Gallery that I have had the idea to try and make my drawings dance, so that they too also replicate human movement.... I also want to try and depict differences in speed, slow passages of drawing and fast passages of drawing..... and I can also see this potentially in paint, too. All very exciting. Off to cycle surgery to fix my bike. x

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

My inked up woodblock

Woodcut print and drawing finished today!

Just finished a couple of works on paper - at last the woodcut print has got printed.  I have used Old Holland paints mixed in with block printing medium, using a palette I might use for a painting, paired down.  Because it was the first attempt I didn't want to be too careful or precious about it, so kind of slapped the paint on fairly randomly, with the exception of the Rose Dore on the roses.  What do you think of the first attempt?  I am going to be asking everyone what they think so please let me know!  It's the only way I might be able to make these prints better!

Having another look at it though, I am pleased with the results as a first attempt. Decorative, simple, strong design, a nice palette, and the subtle results you achieve with a woodcut are lovely, the grain shows through in areas.  All round satisfied and can't wait to give it another go.

Secondly, finally finished another drawing, which looks like this, according to my ipod.  A proper photo will be snapped for the website proper this evening, or tomorrow.  Again, any thoughts are warmly received! This one may be looked at again tomorrow just to make sure I am happy with the overall tonality of the piece, but I do like the shadows and interplay of light and dark in this drawing.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Opportunity for Painters and/or Sculptors - Artist's Residency/Colony in Serbia

I have been asked to find an English artist to attend this year's 'Artist's Colony' at Poganovo Monastery in Serbia.  I went to this in 2006 and know all about it so if you wish to have more information please email me!

The monastery is on the Bulgarian/Serbian border, situated among wonderful nature - stunning mountains and very pretty streams etc.  It is a haven for artists who like to work in peaceful surroundings.  The deal is that your accommodation and food is paid for and you get to stay in a village house within walking distance to the monastery.  You are expected to go to the monastery each day and paint - most art materials are available there but you may wish to bring some of your own paints and brushes.  It is asked that in return for food and accommodation that you leave 2 pieces of work that you have completed during your time at Poganovo, which they will keep for the village gallery's collection.  I had an amazing time at Poganovo and really really recommend this to anyone who is free and has a spare £200 for the flight to either Sofia or Belgrade!

Please get in touch before 13th July to express interest - sorry for the short notice!!

More information on Poganovo is here:

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Just finished this drawing - at last!  Took a while longer than I had anticipated but I am pleased with the results.  All done with a trusty Staedtler Mars Lumograph 3B pencil (for all you artist supply geeks!)  Am definitely pleased that I completed this with the photographic reference, because I believe it really helped me to describe a strong light source much better than if I had laboured over this in front of the subject, and I was much more able to really focus on the forms of the plants, rather than roughly sketch them.

I think that these drawings are artworks in their own right, but I am still really looking forward to receiving my wood carving book in the post and contemplating portraying this drawing in a wood relief.  I'd really like to spend some time thinking of a good title for this but for now it shall remain 'Flower Study'.  It's on my website here:

I am relieved to have found a frame in my studio which will accommodate the drawing so it won't get crushed within a week....providing no one drives their bulldozer over the frame!

Monday, 2 July 2012

Today's flower drawing (in progress)

I started this drawing last week, in the blistering heat, in my parents' back garden.  I'm lucky to have a mum who is a keen gardener, and so at the moment the garden is full of all sorts of really interesting flowers and plants.  I have no ideas about plants really, but I am fascinated by their forms...I really should learn their names.  Anyway I was particularly taken by the swooshing thing that looks like it has beans growing off it at the bottom of the drawing (I told you I'm clueless!), and I liked the circularity of this arrangement of plants. My session in the garden lasted a couple of hours but then the clouds came and it started to rain so I stopped and didn't return to the drawing until today.

Today the weather was also pretty nasty but luckily I had taken a photo of this arrangement the other day and decided to draw from the photo today.  I actually really enjoyed drawing from the photo, and actually for this kind of drawing, it might be better to draw from a photographic reference because you can actually use the dramatic light of the morning without having to worry that the sun will move gradually across the sky (yes, it does!)

This is how my drawing was looking a little while ago:
Looking at it as a little jpeg actually helps to see it, and I am really excited by how it is coming along.  At first I thought it might be interesting to just draw the bits that really interested me and leave the rest as the white of the paper, but now I can see in the bottom half that the depths and layers of all the foliage has a lovely rhythm about it.  Unfortunately the top page has just fallen out of my book! Which is really annoying but it means I have a good excuse to frame the drawing once it is done, if I can somehow fix the 2 leafs of paper together.

I had the idea that this might potentially become the basis of a wood carving - A relief carving made out of a better quality wood such as teak, that could be hung on the wall...or perhaps something a little more primitive wood-wise that I would gesso and paint once I had carved it.  This is totally new territory for me so I am having to read up on this new and unfamiliar subject every time I need a break from drawing or blogging!

Any ideas would be gratefully received, if someone happens to read this who knows about carving wood....cheers!

The Roses Part 2 - From Drawing to Woodcut

I left my drawing for a few days while I thought about the idea of creating a woodcut and reading up on the subject.  I found that the hints at tips in  The Printmaking Handbook by Louise Woods were useful, and I was surprised to read that I might be able to use some cheap plywood to begin with, as I had suspected I would need to head down to  Intaglio to invest in some more expensive wood that would be suitable for woodcut.  It said in the book that plywood from a wood merchant or DIY store would be relatively easy to cut and ideal for a beginner, as there is no worry about wasting high quality materials and money if you make a mistake. I figured as this was my first woodcut this would be the way to go, and so I headed to Lawsons and managed to find myself a lovely offcut that looked ideal for cutting into smaller rectangles for my first series of woodcut prints.
The plywood I had found at Lawsons was made up of 3 plies and was 5mm thick. It was just over a metre long and 40cm wide, for only £3.60! I was very happy, until some friends of mine said the next day it would not work for woodcut - that it would splinter and split as I attempted to cut through it. I sighed to myself but figured I would have very little to lose if I were to give it a go anyway.  I sawed a piece off the offcut that measured around 20cm x 40cm.

I invested in a couple of Pfeil tools from Jackson's Art Supplies ( ) and was SO relieved to find that they cut through the wood like a dream.  Having done quite a bit of linoprinting in my time I knew not to expect anything as effortless as cutting through some softcut lino, but I was delighted to see that carving through this wood was not much different, and I loved working with wood as a is something I have always wanted to do.  I began by cutting out random lines and then making them look like branches, and then when I realised that it would be possible to, I began to use my drawing of the roses as a reference for my first ever woodcut.

I figured I should not invest too much time into making it precise, as this was my first time, I just wanted to have a play around, so I worked by having the sketchbook open on the roses drawing and used a HB pencil to replicate the forms of the composition, cutting as I went the areas I wanted to have white.  It take some time to work out how much pressure to apply, what angle to cut at, and how to avoid slipping and cutting more than you would like to, and I imagine you have to re-figure this out each time you set to work with a new piece of wood. I found it surprisingly easy to cut against the grain of the wood (as the book said this would be difficult) and also to make wavy lines with my cutter.  The pressure required was relatively high for a long working time, so I did find my hand ached a little at the end of the session.

This is what my woodcut looked like at the end of the first session - it was taking a little longer than I had envisaged, but I was quite excited by how it was looking.  I decided to use some hatching to describe areas of mid tone.  

Tone is something that was making me think - how was I going to tackle it? Having areas of hatching, then large areas completely cut out (the bits that appear white in the wood) and then areas left uncut meant I basically had 3 tonal values throughout the woodcut - a little less than I might have in a drawing or a painting.  However I think I may try varying tone further in my print by brushing the ink on, and mixing different colours with different tonal values, so that the print itself undulates in tone and colour, and my print will end up being half way between a conventional woodcut print and a painting.

The other thought I had was to apply gouache or watercolour washes to the sheet of paper I am going to print on, so that the print is laid on to blocks of colour, which might also work quite nicely with this composition.

I found that by the time I had completed cutting across the whole bit of wood I had run out of space to fit the whole composition of the drawing on to the piece but that did not bother me too much.  I really liked the woodcut as an object - it reminded me of old book illustrations or of the carvings you might see in the back of a pew in a church. I'm a little bit worried that the ink I use to print with will stain the wood, but at least I have some photos of it looking all pretty and clean!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Roses - The beginning of a project

Back on the 19th June, it was a right sunny day so I decided to go and draw in the local park.  At first I was finding selecting subject matter really difficult, I did really have much of an idea of what I wanted to draw and why I was drawing - was it just for the enjoyment of it, was it so I could make inkjet prints to sell, was it to make a painting from, or a print?  I decided that it didn't really matter, I am in the enviable position of being able to stroll along to a beautiful local park in the rare English summer sunshine and draw, so I should enjoy it.

I came across a really gorgeous circular walled rose garden in the park, so I decided to park my posterior and set to work.  I started on some roses and found that they danced a little too vigorously in the wind, so I gave up on those and decided this little arrangement as photographed above, would be my chosen subject.

Generally I love to paint landscape, but today I wanted to do something a little different; in my mind I thought I would treat the subject of the roses as a kind of landscape in itself - I didn't want to make a botanical study, but something more akin to what I usually do in my work - which is to pull out shapes identified within a subject, and navigate around what I see before me with my pencil, in my sketchbook.  In order to not end up with a botanical study I realised very quickly that I would not want to draw the roses as isolated elements on a white sheet of paper, and actually, I was really interested in how I could depict the very complex relationships between all the different twigs and branches surrounding the flowers, and the way the light fell on them, etc etc.  Very quickly I found myself getting all very dizzy and mixed up, literally describing every single line and shape I could see. branches upon branches, tangles of twigs, interspersed with swooping leaves. What the hell was I embarking on? The quick morning study that I could take to the studio in the afternoon became an all-day drawing, and to be honest not a very enjoyable one.
Because I was unsure as to whether this drawing would be something I could develop into something, and because I was tired and stressed from the tribulations of life, I found I was in an agitated frame of mind, but that was soon remedied by a good exercise of the vocal chords down the phone to a stupid man (another story) and a spot of lunch. After these 2 activities I felt a whole lot calmer and could resume the drawing exercise, remembering I was blessed to have the time to be able to spend the day drawing, and actually, even if the drawing didn't succeed or come to any use for any other creative ideas, it didn't matter.  Such failures in making art should be embraced as another memento for the scrapbook that is one's own creative experience and learning curve. So I carried on drawing, despite the fact my roses now looked like this, thanks to the slightly harrowing wind:

You might also notice from these 2 snaps that the light falling on the leaves had changed over the course of the time I was there for.  At this point it had become less and less about capturing the moment that I found inspiration in the flowers, and more about the interaction of all these delightful shapes, both negative and positive, and their interaction with one another. By the end of the day my drawing was done and looked like this:

Not a drawing that can be framed as it spreads over 2 pages in my sketchbook...but it is what I would call 'a slow burner' of a drawing. I had no idea of whether it had succeeded in anything once I had finished it, but what I did know was that eventually I had managed to immerse myself in its creation (though it took a while to get into that mental state!).  That's the greatest thing about drawing for me - that total engagement with your subject, that collaboration between the head heart and your hand...there's nothing quite like it, without wanting to sound too pretentious.  Looking at the drawing a couple of weeks later, I can see the potential to make quite an interesting painting from this, but still, I am loathe to make a botanical painting, or a second rate Georgia O'Keeffe, and what I really want to try and do is use the shapes as a framework on which to hang painterliness, experimentation, and a creative excursion.  But before all that, I felt that I should make a woodcut, to reinforce the strength of the shapes that I am so captivated by.  I felt by working with the composition in the medium that is woodcut it would help me to gain authority over the subject, remove the awe, and make the image mine so that I can do whatever I wish with it in the future.  The journey with my roses was underway.