Series three beetles.

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It’s not often that posing for a photo’ saves your life, but it was the case for this little guy. I know he looks adorable and is indeed beautiful, but the Lily Beetle is a destroyer of Lily worlds. Whole crops of graceful flowers can be laid waste by the mandibles of death that its grub yields. He may look elegant here in his vermilion red beetle form, but before he reaches adulthood, the grub looks a lot like something that might emanate from the nostrils of a person with a heavy cold. Very icky indeed.

Anyway, the idea behind this project was to produce a little consistency in my art, to make more than just one image on one subject. Generally I loath repetition, but sadly repetition is a way of life for an artist if you want to be acknowledged commercially. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to paint what really appeals to you when inspiration strikes, but galleries want to see that you’re able to pursue a theme, to create a series of images on a theme. Hence the three beetles. Literally three pieces on the same subject.

Consistency doesn’t have to mean painting the same thing multiple times. Some artists have done this and have made quite a name for themselves by doing so, but to me consistency means showing a flow of ideas. It means developing a theme, finding what methods and marks make you happy and incorporating them regularly in your work. They become your style.

Trying to manufacture a style is usually a bad idea. It’s unnatural and you’re not usually being true to yourself. If you’re forcing a style upon yourself, it almost certainly won’t stick and if it does, it probably won’t make you happy. No, if we truly “paint who we are”, then we need to paint in a way that brings us pleasure. Originality perhaps is a combination of the myriad of little things that we do that make us unique. It might be the way we prefer to light a subject, or our choice of colours and tones; it might be our line work, or the depth of our brush strokes. It might be depth of hues, signature colour choices, in fact any number of things and probably all of them together that make your work unique, that show your style.

“Imitation might be a good way to start to gain your confidence, but the chances are you’ll imitate someone’s work that you love because it resonates with you. Eventually you’ll want to adapt it, personalise it, add to it. The many and varied changes and adaptions you make, the methods that you settle in to will become – or rather show -part of you. Eventually you’ll paint more and more “who you are” and as you change, so your style will mature and change with you.

“Anyway, I digress, back to the beetles. Three of them. Oil on panel and painted in a series because doing what I felt uncomfortable doing was a learning and stretching experience and if you don’t stretch who you are you end up shrinking to become who you don’t want to be.

NO BEETLES WERE HARMED IN THE MAKING OF THIS ART

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Glass completely empty

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No the blog title isn’t a metaphor for how I’m feeling. Personally I’ve always felt I’m more of a glass half full type of chap, I just thought it sounded a little more creative than “Glass Jar”. Anyway here it is, a little – more or less life sized – study of a jar. Oil on panel.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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promenade

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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.

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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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