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).
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.
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.