Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Wednesday Motivation

Start by doing what's necessary; 
then do what's possible;
and suddenly you are doing the impossible.

Francis of Assisi

Following on from the post  I wrote the other week, Are You Ready?  where I discussed the idea of being ready for anything and taking life's chances, this got me thinking a bit more about the reasons why we wait or let artistic opportunities pass us by. In the post I put it down to these main points.

  • My work's not good enough
  • I'll go in for that one next year
  • I've got too much going on
  • I'll make a fool of myself
  • I can't do it    
  • No-one will buy it
  • No-one will come
  • I don't have time

After some thought, I can also add lack of motivation or inspiration to that list. Some of the nicest comments I had recently came as feedback from one of the Squirrel Archive pieces I wrote. I focused on inspiration, and motivation, where we get it from, and how we can keep it going. Well, as it was so popular with the readers, and Wednesday is always said to be 'Peak Efficiency Day' when we are meant to be at our most inspired, motivated, and work orientated, I thought I would post it here.

One of the hardest things to maintain over time is motivation, and where to find our inspiration to keep our work fresh. Without inspiration, we find it hard to get going, our motivation flags, and painting becomes a chore rather than a pleasure. There are however things we can do to keep us cheerily painting away. 

Here's my Top 5

  • Draw everyday Sounds obvious this one, but keep up the skills by spending at least 10 minutes of everyday on a small drawing. Nothing too big or complicated, but maybe something new or challenging.
Sometimes just a chart of colours and a few thumbnail sketches are enough to keep things fresh  

Off the beaten track 

A really new challenge

Worked up a bit

Got there in the end

  • Find inspiration everywhere. Flowers on a cafe table, a wallpaper design, the park where you eat your lunch, the veg aisle at the supermarket and even good packaging. If you think about looking for the next big thing everywhere you go, you will find something exciting.

Hello there

Spotted on a street in Greenwhich, near the old Naval College

  • Keep a mood board. Inspiration can take the form of a 'mood board'. Mostly used to demonstrate an interior design idea, mood boards can also really boost confidence and motivation. Favourite things, pictures from magazines, fabrics, wallpapers, cards and our own paintings placed in sight are all positive messages to keep us going.

If you don't have room for a mood board, create your own online,
 and look at them from time to time.

  • Take pictures. With superb cameras on our smartphones, we can take great pictures wherever we go. If you see something beautiful, take a picture of it, (mind out if you need permission though). The way we see things can influence many aspects of our lives, so take time out in your day to look around you. Even in the middle of a city, nature finds a way of being around.

And who says builders don't care about nature.
Spotted at a very busy junction on a massive building project.

The amount of bees buzzing around this little oasis of green was quite astonishing

These guys get the award for best use of a hard hat

  • Be brave and get out there. Being an artist working away in a studio can be a very isolating business, and not everyone is blessed with a whole army of friends cheering them on. It's still important to get out and about. Joining a local art group is a great way to meet like minded people, and if there isn't one in your area, why not start one yourself, or join a group to do something totally different but enjoyable. Pottery, Zumba, Yoga, walking or even an evening course in wine appreciation, (as if we need help there), anything that keeps the positive messages flowing.  

Didn't have to go far for this one.

It's not every day a Dalek rolls on by

Vintage fabrics are a passion

True inspiration

This guy cycled his way from China to London in 2012 to promote the Olympic message

He was so lovely

Someone to share the moment

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Peek of the Week

All this week on social media, I have been releasing little snippets from the new website using the hashtag #peekoftheweek. As someone who creates visual art, it's a funny thing to be living in a time when everything is measured by it's visual impact. Selfies, 'here I am on holiday' and, this is my cat / dog / children / hamster doing something funny pictures or videos posted on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook can all go viral in a matter of seconds  if it hits the right note. The mind boggles.

My new logo


Some of the media 'in crowd' are even saying that we are near a time where websites themselves will become a thing of the past and unless there is something else on offer other than 'here I am and this is what I do' type pages, there will be no point in having a website at all. For myself, I have found much more of my traffic and conversations taking place on other online platforms. The immediacy of being able to chat to people on a more personal basis is much more appealing.

What's on offer? A subscription membership website with lots of step-by-step videos.

The new website will be more community orientated, offering a platform for learning in an informal and relaxed way. Many artists are offering all styles of online learning, and I guess it's because we all have this need to pass on our knowledge and reach a wider audience. Well, it is for me anyway, and unless I can actually interact with the people who choose to learn with me, it loses something and becomes more of a business.

What else will I get if I join? Plenty of extras including my Technique Tool Box videos of tips, Masterclass projects and more. There's been lots of hard work to make sure there is plenty of content, to keep everyone who joins happily busy and painting.

Journey is not how I would describe the creation of my new baby, after all, I haven't actually been anywhere. But it has certainly been a learning curve with ups and downs along the creative way. There is so much more to it than you can ever expect. But here, at last are some of the elements that will welcome visitors to my new site. Launch date coming soon  

And not forgetting the old favourites. The blog has it's own update sections, and you can still sign up for The Squirrel Archives.

Please note that all web pages are currently under construction and some images / content may be different to what is shown here.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Paper on Parade

There has been a considerable amount of debate among the online forums recently concerning the recent  problems with certain paper. Yes, it really can be that interesting, and so important there is now an online feedback group to take up the cause on our behalf. So what's all the fuss about. Well, in case you haven't been privy to the number of artists chatting about it, here's the nub of it.  

Fabriano, an Italian paper manufacturer who create the universally popular Fabriano Artistico Hot Press paper have recently put the cat among the pigeons. Just about every artist I know uses this one and having started using it myself a few years ago I can really see why. It's super smooth and has a lovely, soft white that really complements deep mixes and the fine detail that is evident in botanical painting. Or at least, it did. So what happened?

It would appear that something has occurred at the Fabriano mill to upset our arty apple-cart. It may come as news to us, but paper mills make more than just fine art papers, they make money too. Well, the paper that is used to make it anyway. The move to manufacture more currency paper has led to a bit of a shift at Fabriano, that means the press and roller gear that make our beloved Artistico has undergone a bit of jiggery-pokery, and altered the feel of the paper. Now, I don't get the whole situation, but it means a lot of unhappy artists scrabbling around to try to find an alternative.

A favourite on Fabriano Artistico

Crisp edges, softly blended washes and excellent surface make Artistico a popular choice 

Our apparent knight in shining armour is St. Cuthberts Mill with their Saunders Waterford, a paper mill located in the South West of England, and makers of some very fine art papers. They have created a new improved surface for their Hot Press, and gave out some free samples st this year's SBA exhibition for everyone to try. What nice people.

The three papers

Botanical Ultra Smooth from RK Burt is a very white paper with 50% cotton
The two Saunders Waterford papers are both 100% and available in White and High White

The Botanical Ultra Smooth with only 50% cotton is not something I would consider using now for my botanical paintings, but is a useful paper for watercolour sketches, and more illustrative pieces. It's not an archival quality paper, but as with the Fabriano Classico 5, is one I might suggest to students when they are just starting out. Whilst on the SBA Diploma course I used Classico 5 and found it okay. The very harsh, bright white is also something of a switch off for me. Not that I am a great authority on paper, I leave that to those who have had greater experience of using a range of surfaces, (see Dianne Sutherland's blog link below) 

Starting on the Saunders Waterford High White, (I'm not one for the creamier traditional white of some papers just yet) I tried out a few painting exercises, just to get a feel for it. Rather than go for it straight away with a study, I prefer to try out a few techniques to see how a paper holds up to a range of brush work.

The surfaces compared

Fabriano Artistico on the right with the new Saunders Waterford on the left

The colours are almost a match, but I'm sure the surface texture is rougher on the SW

Now, I don't know about how other artists feel about it, but I thought the surface felt a little rough in comparison to Artistico. I know you shouldn't really judge a new thing with your old one. Take it on it's own merits should be the mantra, but it's a human thing, and we tend to like the familiar and the comfortable. Still, give it a go I said to myself.

Starting out

Petals, leaves and stems are what a botanical artist paints, so that's what I did,

with some single wet-in-wet washes

The little boxes are one and two washes and a test to see the lifting quality.

So far, so good, but those edges could be crisper  

Really going for it.

More leaves, more petals and more stems.

Spheres are great as they represent berries and I could be better at those.

I also like testing the full movement of a brush too,

so in one movement I go from the finest tip of the brush,  to the fullest part of the brush, and back again.

Of course there are loads of paper manufacturers out there all making perfectly desirable Hot Press paper, and everyone has a favourite they will absolutely swear by. For me, the jury's out on this one, so the search will go on, and I will try just about everything, hopefully with an open mind. Luckily many manufactures are more than happy to provide you with samples of their papers, so I will make a list and get onto it. 

Further reading

Dianne Sutherland - Paper Matters More in depth analysis of the paper debate


Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Race Favourites

It's been a busy few weeks, with the whirwind that was the SBA exhibition and a couple of things taking up precious time, it's time to take the brush back up again and get on with some painting. Next year's SBA exhibition title is 'Blooming Marvelous', which at first reading sounds like a bit of an easy one to capture. Hmm, I think not.

Get on with it

Painting to a title can be quite a daunting prospect, and if it's for an exhibition as big as the one the SBA holds, you really want your work to stand out. This year, as in the past few years there have been some enormous paintings on display. Now, these will of course take up a whole wall on their own, and you can't really miss a painting of that size. And they seem to be getting bigger. There were fewer too. Well, it seemed to me that there were fewer this year, but the class of work was higher. Even my mum, who is no art critic herself, thought the quality of work was much higher, and she picked out some real gems as her favourites, (after all of mine of course). Go mum!

This year I was nervous about making the grade for full membership, after my fatal slip up last year. For this submission I concentrated on content and diversity of skill, rather than satisfying the brief. But, the selection panel evidently thought my work did fit the bill quite nicely, and the pieces were eventually hung in a rather nice position in the exhibition. That's always a boost.

My favourite of the group was the faded tulip, but when I was showing my family my little display, I did overhear a number of other visitors say how much they liked the brambles. Yes, those darn brambles again. It always surprises me that the one I really like, is not always the one that is the favourite with everyone else.  

Visitor favourtie

My favourite
The tulip was a real change for me. First, it was painted a twice actual size, and was of a fading bloom rather than a perfect flower. The previous year I had played with the idea of flower heads, and for the tulip stayed with that simple treatment. It was much more complex, than the dahlias from last year, and I payed particular attention to really getting the shadows really punchy, and above all,  right. It's always that 3 dimensional appearance that is the hardest part of getting a painting to jump out of the page at you. 

The dahlia from the 2015 SBA Exhibition

For next year's exhibition the pressure is off a bit. Being a full member means that I don't need to go through the rigours of selection for membership, just the rigours of selection for exhibition. Well, it's a different kind of pressure, and it means now that I can explore new directions for my work. I've got some things in mind subject-wise, and I know I want to go bigger and bolder. Maybe not as big as some of the works by Billy Showell or Ann Swan that were on show this year, but just a little bit larger than life would be nice I think.

A favourite colour palette might make an appreance

Beautiful peonies by Billy Showell adorned the cover of this year's catalogue

Inspiration for next year from Ann Swan

Friday, 8 April 2016

Are You Ready?

Just today I read this rather profound statement by Hugh Laurie, and it got me thinking. Are we ever ready for anything. We often hear people say, "I'm ready for anything". But are they? Really. Or are they just more prepared to take a chance.

When I had to make a massive choice over whether or not to go back into teaching to earn the family crust, or to follow my dreams of becoming a professional artist, it was tough. In truth, (and after nearly 8 years at the chalkface I can say this) teaching in schools can be a seriously thankless job, where just about every child at some point either hates or disrespects you, parents blame you for their child's failings, and colleagues, (lovely as they are) are too stressed looking out for themselves to give much of a thought to anyone else. Did I really want to go back to all that, and not forgetting the soul destroying paperwork and targets. Not on your life, but it really was a serious choice, not a hang it all, let's just go for it, throw caution to the wind and see where it takes us chance. As it turned out a serious health crisis took the decision out of my hands. It wasn't something I was ready for and it wasn't something planned, it landed in my lap and I had to deal with it. Would I have waited?

"Life presents many choices,
the choices we make determine our future."

Catherine Pulsifer

When I was younger, I was one of life's waiters. Waiting almost became a profession, and if you had ever challenged me to a game of chicken or last man standing, I would have won. I'm not being big-headed, I just would have been the one prepared to wait it out. Getting back to Hugh, it's true to say that if you wait, you miss out, and there is always someone else who will quite happily take the opportunity you pass on. It's a painful lesson and one that as an artist, we tend to face quite frequently. We are always full of doubt. How many of these can you tick off: 

  • My work's not good enough
  • I'll go in for that one next year
  • I've got too much going on
  • I'll make a fool of myself
  • I can't do it    
  • No-one will buy it
  • No-one will come
  • I don't have time

Who cares? Do it anyway. If you don't, later on you will become resentful and pained by the what could have been question. The only person who is missing out, is you, and great opportunities don't come your way every day. Things will go wrong along the way, they always do, but if you really want to do it, you will find a way. Take courage that nearly everyone else in this business is going through exactly the same doubts as you, they just hide it better.

It goes back to what I now choose to live by, Enjoy what you do, and do it. Why waste any more time, you never know what is around the corner, as 'Husband' always says to me, "put on the game face and go for it". What are you waiting for? Here's to now, and never being ready.

So, you want to be a botanical artist?

Yes please!

My very first attempt at botanical watercolours. I was quite proud of this

Starting from a low base, and after not painting for many years,
 I didn't have high expectations,
and there were so many students much, much better than me.

I just wanted to enjoy the process and see where it took me.

It's not about them, it's all about you   

'Changes' is a great track used in a classic car add of the '80s, (you know, 'if everything in life was as reliable as a...). Hugh Laurie does a great jazz version here, so in case you needed any more convincing about making a big change and grabbing chances, have a listen.