Wasps eat apple, apple eats wasps.

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I paint more or less full time now. So if giving the majority of your time to earn an income through an endeavour makes you a professional, then you could say I’m a professional artist… go on then, I will, I’m a professional artist… still getting used to that.

However, it’s been such a short time since I made the transition to full time (except Friday mornings) that I’m still very much feeling my way. Most of the big issues are slowly but resolutely being settled. Like, what surface do I prefer to paint on? It seems I prefer panel. What paint do I use? Well, oil colour. As to what brand? The answer to that one is: whatever is cheapest for the quality I need. So I might have a very expensive red that I can’t get elsewhere for the chroma and quality, but I might also use student quality Burnt Umber because it’s no different to more expensive brands I’ve tried.

The biggest question at the moment is, what do you paint? That one’s a toughie. You see. most artists are known for painting a particular subject or for a broader style, like abstract, photo-real, (etc.) and any combination of subjects and styles. So you might get a photo-real portrait artist, or a photo-real still life painter, or an abstract version of both of these. For the record, I’m not a huge fan of paintings that are so like their photographic reference that you can’t tell the difference. Some people love it, but it’s not for me. Anyway, there are many styles and many subjects and endless combinations of the two and to me, that is wonderful! Long may it continue thus.

But what do I do? I think I just “do”. I paint every day, any subject I find fascinating or beautiful and hope that others might find it beautiful or interesting too. Isn’t that what an artist does? Doesn’t he or she effectively say, through their work, “Hey, check this out. Don’t you think it’s cool?” Obviously not everyone says it that way – I might – but whatever words one use, the sentiment is the same.

As I work I learn. I learn what colours I love to use, what colours I don’t. What lighting I prefer and what lighting I try to avoid, what subject matter appeals and what really doesn’t. Slowly but, hopefully, surely I’m developing a style. There is a saying that dates back to at least the Renaissance, that has been used by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso, Lucian Freud and many others; it is “every painter paints himself (or herself of course)” and that is what I’m learning to do.

With that in mind, here’s a study I’ve just finished, from a photo’ I snapped on my phone a year or two ago, at great risk to my well being (wasps get nasty when they’re tipsy). It’s oil on panel (my preferred medium and surface), in red (my favourite colour) and browns (also a favourite) and has a subject I found interesting and a little unusual (my favourite subject matter… interesting and unusual).

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Surprised by Tamara and eating hats.

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A friend of mine, Jay, is an expert in painting, staining and finishing. If you want your new, hand made (I wish) custom kitchen professionally painted, or stained and finished, he’s the man to see. He could even gild it, if you wanted a gold kitchen!

What’s the point in telling you this? Well, last time me and my wife popped round for dinner at theirs, he had a couple of paint colour samples on some board that he and his wife were using to help pick a colour for the living room woodwork. The colours were nice, but what really interested me was the surface that they were painted on. Apparently it was painted on moisture resistant mdf. A new substance to me. It was tough, dense, lightweight and not prone to fluctuations in humidity due to the moisture resistant formula.

What’s any of this got to do with art? Well, I often find that any materials that you buy for fine art purposes are expensive. Quality thinners, expensive; quality paint, expensive; quality panel, expensive; quality oil mediums, again, expensive. Put a well known label on it and the price gets even higher!

My point is, that many of the materials that an artist uses are available elsewhere, but are often being used for very different purposes and some of the top names don’t always make a product as good as a cheaper brand competitor.

Brushes for instance; I’ve tried a load of these, always in search of the Holy Grail of brushes, the “perfect” brush! I’ve tried expensive French hog bristle, that fell apart and have used some well known brands that were more than just a little “meh”, but I have also found some real gems amongst the “own” brands and used cheaper brushes of less famous labels that are frankly amazing!

This leads me on to my mate, Jay. I thought that because I’m an “artist” I probably had read enough and knew enough to believe that there was little he could teach me about painting. At this point, if I had a hat, it would now be being prepared as ‘hat pie’ for dinner so I could eat it! The fine art of oil painting is mostly about getting paint to stick to a surface in an artistic manner. Jay is an expert at getting paint to stick to just about anything and the moisture resistant board that he was using might just prove to be the Holy Grail of panels for me! Not only that, but Jay recommended priming the panel with shellac. Shellac! Who does that, I thought. As it turns out, the ideal primer, before applying a gesso ground, may in fact be a shellac based primer readily available at diy stores. It seals the board and blocks leaching, either from the board out through the painting, or from the paint sinking into the board.

So this artist it seems, knows a lot less about paint stratification than most professional painters and decorators. The “super” mdf that he gave me, as a sample to try out, is proving amazing. Super smooth, but with good “tooth”, warp free, lightweight and very tough. I’ve not shellacked (is that even a word?) any yet, as I thought my way was better (I emphasise thought), but I’m now under the impression that the shellac trick might just help prevent “sinking in”. We’re yet to see on that one.

All the above could probably be summed up by saying;

if you get over yourself, it’s amazing what you can learn!

The picture below is a copy of a Tamara de Lempicka painting that I know Jay and his wife Karen are fond of as an artist. Mrs. de L, was a pleasant surprise. I thought, because the structure and shapes of her work are quite simplified in appearance that Tamara’s work would be quite easy to copy, but again I was taught a lot from this simple study/copy. It seems, if I actually had to eat my hat every time I was proved wrong, I would need a comprehensive cook book of hat recipes.

Tamara de Lempicka’s work looks simple, but there are many subtleties in use of colour and unexpected colours in all sorts of odd places. She uses a limited pallet, but to great effect. Not only that, but what’s looks like a simple drawing takes an awful lot of experience and skill to produce. Real skill really does lie in using very little to convey a lot. What looks simple has often taken the artist years of study and experience to produce, that is what you pay for, not the amount of time it takes to make.

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“Not enough people are wearing hats”

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After a rough ride on my last landscape project, I thought I’d seek a little art “comfort food” in returning to portraiture for a bit. So here’s Joe in a hat he’s taken to wearing lately.

Joe on easel

Joe in hat

Oil on panel, aprox 27cm square

The Bandstand

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Eastbourne is one of our favourite places in the world. I know it has a bit of reputation for being boring and a magnet for old people, but it’s not, it’s a very cool seaside town that rivals any in the UK… not that there is that much stiff competition in the UK, but still it, can hold its head high among its rivals and I like it!

Lately I’ve found myself working on a series of paintings focusing (not literally as you can see) on the seafront at night. I love the contrast of bright lights against the darkness. Seaside towns do evening lights better than almost anywhere and at night in the summer you could almost believe that you weren’t in Eastbourne at all, but somewhere in the south of France, or somewhere else more exotic than the south coast of England. If Tracey Emin can promote Margate, than I’m more than proud to promote Eastbourne. In a battle of seaside towns Eastbourne is the Optimus Prime of resorts!

Anyway here is the latest in the series: The Bandstand – oil on canvas 70cm x 60cm.

Bandstand copy

Chalkboard saw

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I’ve been wanting to try one of these for a while now, ever since I saw (sorry, couldn’t escape that pun if I’d tried) something similar on Pinterest. So as I had an old saw and some spare time I did just that!

All you need to do, to do the same is, find an old saw (don’t use a good one as the paint won’t stick very well to shiny steel), rub down the rust and prime it with a shellac based primer, or metal primer. Then coat it with blackboard paint (matt black), let it dry and sign write it! You will probably want to stick to all the same type of paint, i.e. all oil based or all acrylic. Acrylic on oil doesn’t seem to work very well. I used acrylic household paints because… well, I had them in the shed.

This is the result. The verse is part of a Gungor song, “You make beautiful things, make beautiful things out of dust, You make beautiful things, make beautiful things out of us”. Perhaps even retired tools can be useful in the right hands.

saw outdoors

chalkboard saw

Reference shots

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I tried one of those “draw something everyday” things recently, as some of you may remember, but sadly so far it’s been a bit of a failure. On the bright side though, I have been painting, which I guess sort of counts. The conclusion I often come to about these things, is that it’s often better just to get on and do what you plan to do and not talk about it or announce it first. Sometimes it seems that the telling of a thing can in fact impede its creation. You could call it the “new year’s resolution” syndrome. Where you make a resolution and in the mere stating of your intentions you are doomed to failure, as if dark forces were nefariously (never miss an opportunity to use the word “nefarious”) working against your resolve.

Obviously some intentions do need stating first. “I’m going to bake myself into a giant flan and see if I can become the first person to survive a flan drop off of Niagara falls” etc. is the sort of thing you announce first. “I’m going to draw something everyday” may just being setting yourself up for feeling a failure. Good intentions are no substitute for good actions, except perhaps in the “flan” instance.

Anyway I’m not sketching as much as I wanted, but I am dedicating more time to art. So, if your profession is based on how much time you give to it and not currently how much you earn from it, then I am now a professional artist. Hopefully sometime soon, both aspects of time and money will come into line.

No artwork to show as yet, but I did take some inspiration shots of Eastbourne seafront and pier, so thought I’d share them.

Pier at evening

pier section

promenade

blurry pic

All the shots were taken on the move, but I liked the blurry shots best and have been working on a painting of similar style. Hope to post it soon.

Alphonse Mucha

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A quick sketch of Alphonse Mucha. Mine has that slightly “happily surprised” look in comparison with the original photo’, but I’d like to think he might say “Hey, that’s me!” If he saw the drawing. Sadly I will never know as he’s been dead now for many years.

Anyway, graphite pencil 2B and H on sketchbook paper. Had a little difficulty getting the darks dark enough with only a 2B to hand, but I think it works.

alph

Big Sis’

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I’ve been reminded lately of just how important the drawing stage is to the success or failure of a painting. A good drawing can make or break a work. In fact good draughtsmanship underpins just about every successful realist rendering of a subject.

With that in mind I’m going to try to keep these skills in good shape this year (and hopefully improve) by attempting to draw something every day!

So far this week I’m three pics for three days, so doing well so far.

This is today’s exercise, my glamorous big sister, from a rare camera snap taken on the balcony of the Towner Art Gallery (where she volunteers) last year. Graphite pencil H and 2B.

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Lauren

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Unfilled time is dangerous stuff and the old adage that “the devil makes work for idle hands” is probably largely true. There can be few things more unproductive than a day in which you have no plans. Don’t get me wrong, a day off spent doing nothing can sometimes be absolute bliss, but a day that should be spent working when you have no plans can be quite the opposite!

To quote Chuck Close again, “inspiration is for amateurs”. As an artist you’re better off painting anything than sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike. If you can’t bear to paint just anything then get out of the studio and go for a walk, have a coffee, see a friend, visit an exhibition, do anything that distracts you from the problem in hand. For it is often in doing something unconnected that inspiration strikes. Ever tried to remember a name and suffered memory constipation? It’s normally when we stop trying to remember that the memory pops into place. Inspiration is a similar mental process. Trying to think of something inspirational is a dead alley, you need fresh input and distraction.

A few of my latest paintings have been the result of a need to paint… something, anything! I’m not likely to paint a 21st century Mona Lisa, a) because it’s not a painting I like particularly and b) because I need to put in a few thousand more hours before I get that good… if ever! But the act of painting is a great teacher, to the artist that is prepared to be honest about their work. We learn new techniques, we hopefully see what we’re doing wrong and work on ways to fix it, we strive more and more with each new picture to express what’s inside of us straining to make it to canvas! Hopefully eventually we find our own artistic voice.

I think in this way, art mimics life. In life we copy people, we see characteristics that they may have and we try to emulate them, we try to incorporate something of people we admire within ourselves. Art is much the same, the art we admire we often try to emulate. We incorporate things in our own work that we have learnt from studying others and that is perfectly fine. We are all as people a mixture of the friends and family that have helped shaped who we are, to a greater extent, we get to choose who we are. In art we are shaped by the myriad of styles and art that we have seen, admired and tried to copy.

Anyway it seems to still be warm and sunny here on the South Coast of the UK. Summer seems reluctant to leave and Autumn a late guest that’s yet to arrive. Normally I’d be sitting here typing and looking out at leaden skies and feeling the dullness of the Autumn rains, but it’s warm and sunny and I’m between a new commission and a just finished portrait which finally means I have time to blog. So here’s the portrait.

“Lauren” is oil of canvas. Lauren is talented local animator and a family friend and she was a real sport in posing for the reference shots for this picture. Thanks Lauren.

Lauren

Finished portrait. Sadly my camera won’t show the shadow detail in the hair etc. without over exposing the skin tones, so this is the best I could manage.

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Early stages with some detail, but mostly underpainting. The left shoulder as you look at the picture was to high and bulky at this point.

 

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Resolved most of it by now. The squid is one of Lauren’s characters and he does make it to the final piece, he was repainted and hardly visible in the final piece photo’ though. Also I improved the skins tones and deepened the shadows, picked up the highlights etc.

Lauren detail_edited-1Detail.

Painted using mostly Winsor and Newton oils (Artist’s range and Winton), some Michael Harding tubes and some Jackson’s Artist’s oils. The Winsor and Newton Winton colours are generally excellent, but a few like Raw Sienna are poor at tinting, so for those I’m currently using Michael Harding… currently. The Jackson’s own brand oil colours are also excellent and great value in the UK. Michael Harding’s Raw Sienna was a bit gritty, but at least it stains well. If you can recommend a good Raw Sienna I’d be happy to try it.

 

 

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