Thursday, 3 August 2017

Getting rid of your own rubbish so something can take over...

'Its not difficult to make a work of art, the difficulty lies in the right state to do it.'
(Maggi Hambling quoting Brancusi)

Yearly Post

Well technically a little over a year...

Monday, 27 June 2016

Atelier - Copying The Masters

I have spent the last few months trying to copy some of my favourite painters. I have enjoyed trying to guess their paint techniques and have had my understanding reaffirmed that they are masters for a reason. I feel my confidence growing as I understand the behavior of paint and I am also reading Ralph Mayers  - The Artist Handbook of Materials and Techniques. This is a colossal book with loads of interesting information about the chemistry of painting and how mediums work. It has probably been the most influential thing I've read so far about painting. (I'm still reading it and will be for many years as its so thick!)

Below are MY copies of artwork from the work of Jenny Saville, Bacon, Monet etc . It has been a very worth while but very frustrating method of learning. I totally acknowledge that my colour's are very different from the original paintings. I'm not going to post the original next to my copy as my intention wasn't to try and reproduce it like for like, but to get a better understanding of how they painted. If you did compare them to the original artwork you would clearly see my inferiority as a painter.

Jenny Saville - Host

I gave myself a day to paint this, it was taken from a Jenny Saville Book I purchased. I enjoyed mixing the paint for this pallet. I did get a really sense of 'flesh' while I was working, which I think the point of her work.

Bacon's - Three Figures at the base of the Crucifixion

I tried painting on the back of the canvas, I had watched a documentary where Bacon said he prefers to paint on the back, so I tried it. The paint absorbed quickly which made the marks rough and textured. This is my favourite one from this triptych. I like the rawness of his work and I think his painting method supports it.

Monet - View of River Seine

This still isn't finished. It is actually very hard to paint like him. I don't think I chose the easiest of his paintings but I don't usually work in purple so I thought I would try it. The thick impasto layering of paint makes maintaining colour difficult. I have enjoyed the movement of this painting style.

Frank Auerbach - Nude lying on her back

I used a palette knife for this one. I struggled to control the paint but I did enjoy the randomness of the marks. It's as if you keep molding the paint until you get the mark you want. I would scrape if off and reapply and once I was happy I would leave it. 

Portrait in the style of Caravaggio

I painted this portrait in the style of Caravaggio - according the the old masters methods, but I realised much later on that he used a very different method. He painted the highlight's first on a dark ground. That's not how I did it. I totally understood why thin glazes have been used across history in portrait painting, they give a very beautiful effect of light. They also dry darker so you need to keep layering. Opaque paint blocks the light traveling through the paint whereas transparent glazes let light pass through each layer. It is a very delicate and natural effect.

Turner - Snow Storm

This has taken me too long and its not even half way done. I think I will actually do another post about this one as its was a good lesson in 'changing direction'. All I will say is that I still don't understand how this man paints.

Friday, 19 February 2016


a self-taught person

I’m six months into my self taught journey. I have no finished work to show for it, however I have learnt more in this last six months than I have ever done before in my life as an artist.

I have had however, some formal tuition through out my life. I studied A Level Art and I did a foundation diploma at Leeds College of art and design when I was eighteen. I have since completed various informal courses and a distance-learning course where I earned a certificate of Higher Education in Visual Communications. All of this has given me something and nothing at the same time. What I mean by this is I have gained a basic understanding of what is required of me to jump through academic hoops but I have no work I am proud of to call my own.

The lesson I learnt when I did my A Level was that I loved making images and I had a small growth of confidence in this area when my hard work brought me an A grade. I learnt at Art College was that art was not what I thought it was. I wasn’t very good at accepting critiques as I always challenged my tutors view. (On reflection I can clearly see I have a problem with authority – but I’m acknowledging this and I am able to admit that they were just doing their job and maybe my resistance did come over a little strong.)

I learnt a lot from doing a black and white photography evening course. I also did wood carving. These were good practical skills where I was allowed to do my own thing and I did really well to listen to the teachers considering my embarrassing inclination to challenge.

I completed a five-year stint at distance learning - I say stint because it felt like prison. It brought me as realization that I could produce work to meet someone else’s criterion and get a mark for it. I even got a shiny silver certificate to prove how good I’ve been at jumping through these hoops.

I have been keeping a journal of my learning, I have about five journals now and if I’m totally honest, they are the most negative things I have. All I have done in my journals is moan the hell out of everything I’ve been doing. I can do a lot naturally and that has brought me what I have now, that is, a wide general understanding of many genres of art and design. But why was I still starving?

I have never been taught how to draw or paint during all this time. I have learnt however, how to fulfill a brief. So I did a few weeks life drawing classes last year and one day I had an epiphany. I am proud to say that on Wednesday 18th November 2015 I was painting this woman’s head and I just had the most exhilarating feeling rush over me. I felt excited and energized and confident and painting just spoke to me and said ‘Yes’. I came home and I said ‘I’m having wine’ and I celebrated. I finally know what language I can speak. Even though I acknowledge that I don’t know how to speak the language yet, I know it’s my language.

Six months on and I am growing in confidence, however I have a lot of ground to cover… I mean years of ground to cover… and I’m swearing a lot…but when I get it right I feel alive.

2 hour head study

Monday, 2 November 2015

Fight the Good Fight

I have been studying Visual Communications for five years through a distance learning college. I started studying photography in 2010 and I realized I wasn’t a photographer after a year of study. I realized very quickly there was this large demographic of technically minded males who dominated the industry. I was far more interested in Man Ray and dark room techniques. I also had the rumblings of some internal discomfort with photography and the digital age. Everyone has the ability to take a fairly rubbish photo and make it look better. For example; I could take a very dull picture of a fried egg and use the Photoshop to alter the exposure, contrast and highlights and then I add a filter, I suddenly turn my fried egg, into a misty hazy retro fried egg that every body loves and I get a million ‘likes’ and then I decide to call myself a professional photographer. Don’t get me wrong, I love photography but there was a part of me that didn’t want to follow the path so I stopped.

I moved onto illustration and I thought I’d found myself. I love narrative and I love drawing so Illustration was the one for me. I did enjoy the course but there was a fight going on inside myself, I could hear the distant shouts of me, myself and I having a good old scrap.  I did get a good mark in my assessment but it wasn’t enough. I then tried graphic design. I got a bit confused and focused more on illustration than layout and by the end of it I was tired. I handed my work in for assessment and while I was waiting I stated my own work.

I have a lovely friend who has been doing the same course as me and we meet up and talk about our work. We generally come away feeling motivated. One particular time we were looking through our private sketchbooks and we said ‘Why are we spending all our time crunching through this college stuff when what we love to do is our own stuff in our sketchbooks’.  We left each other with much to think about.

I now acknowledge that within myself, I have the need for validation. I’m not the only human to feel this way and a University degree would have indeed armed me with the tools to call myself an artist. I have been looking after my large family for years and I really had a deep urge to claim something for myself. The fruits of my education would have been mine and mine alone and I really wanted to prove myself. However, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it and it hurt.

Inside myself was the recognition that I had missed my boat and no matter how hard I tried I would never get it back. I would hate going back to University full time. I would hate being with hundreds of eighteen year old students experimenting with their creative freedom, while I would be sitting in the corner stressing about missing a call from school saying one of my kids was ill or how the dog was feeling or thinking about my enormous ironing pile. I would also really struggle with some student who thought they were the next ‘big thing’, as they displayed their diamanté-encrusted sausage on a white mdf plinth. I would also resist any form of tuition from someone whose work was unsubstantial. You see, if you tell me your name I will Google you and look at your work and if its shite I wont listen to you!

I couldn’t do distance learning and it took me five years of total slog to realize the format was just not right for my head. I have reading difficulties and the whole damn course is based around bloody reading. It was a total fight and I thought the fight was my artistic journey and that ‘every artist has this battle’. But it wasn’t that, it was that I wasn’t reading the coursework properly and I was basically doing what I wanted to do, but when it came down to it, I was missing the point of the assignments.

For six weeks I really pondered why I had the need to formalize my learning. I had to look long and hard at my life and see what was right for me instead of this formalized pathway to my education.

I just started making images of the things that interested me. I started to teach myself how to oil paint. I also started drawing again like I hadn’t done since my A levels. I am watching so many YouTube videos to help me understand and I am watching documentaries about art history and techniques. I am processing lots of information and it’s going into my head too. The more I do, the more confident I am that I don’t need a degree to learn, I don’t need letters after my name to be an artist.

It is still hard work, its still a struggle but the fight is a good fight. It’s one that I get joy from. Its one I don’t mind loosing every now and again because I know I’m learning and improving.

I was watching an interview with Grayson Perry and he was talking about how art schools are really important places because of all the support around you, to help you with your work and direct your learning. It’s a huge support network or specialists and fellow students that will help you improve. (Maybe that is a little bit idealized but I get his point.)

I realized when I watched this that I won’t have this support network on my self-taught journey. I do worry about my work not going in the right direction because of my isolation. I may spend years on one project only to discover that it made no sense to anyone but me. That’s not what I want. I realize I may have to create some kind of core system that will help me evaluate my direction objectively. I have also created a time sheet to document my hours spent working. Not to quantify my time in monetary terms, but to measure progress and learning and how many hours it takes me to nail painting in glacises or how long it takes me to complete a drawing. It helps me measure my progression. I am also doing short classes in life drawing; this is because not many people I know want to get their kit off for me to draw.

My friend and I were once pretending we went to a ‘Fantasy Art College’ (Like Fantasy football but with art) We were laughing about how she was a punk in her room bunking lessons and I was having relations with Picasso who was our teacher. It was funny as we sent emails to each other about what was happening to us in this Fantasy art college. To be honest… I’m kind of their now. I’m being taught by Picasso, Monet and Di Vinci and the mighty Caravaggio. I watch documentaries and learn about their work and history, I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. In closing I would like to share something Leonardo Di Vinci said: ‘I know I’m not a man of letters. Experience is my one-true mistress and I will sight her in all cases. Only through experimentation can we truly know anything’.

I notice that he doesn’t lay honor at the feet of those who taught him from being a small boy, he pays tribute to experience and say’s he will ‘site her in all cases’. He understood that our knowledge only really comes from doing the work.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Art and Fear

I have been listening to an audio book by David Bayles and Ted Orland called Art and Fear. I really enjoyed it and I found it very enlightening about my own work and how I should pursue it further. A couple of quotes that helped me are:

'Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment within the work itself'

'To require perfection is to invite paralysis'

Both these comments help me realise that my work should nourish me and I know I need to change my direction so I feel that nourishment. Also perfection... I think that requires a lot more thought on my part as I feel I have to decode myself regarding this matter.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

My Empty Head

A few years ago I completed a black and white photography course learning how to use the dark room. Towards the end of that year I was experimenting with photograms (inspired by the Bauhaus as always) and I was using plasticine and card and other objects. Believe it or not some colours of plasticine are more translucent than others! I was feeling particularly frustrated by my role as a mother and my work was clearly showing this. I took a photo of my own head from above and I made a thick card silhouette of the outside of my head shape. I then left enough of my face to see some features. I made words out of plasticine and made a photogram with the words ‘My empty head’ inside my brain. This image has been kept in my box for years until now. 

I have been looking at Vintage feminist propaganda and I came across some really visually interesting but very sexist posters. Looking back at history really does show us how far we have come and how this would not be tolerated now, however, the feminist in me says we have further to go. I came across a poster of a woman’s head and inside it was all the things she thinks about like, babies and men and hats and busty dresses. Because that’s what we really think about…all the time. However I can’t see any chocolate in her head… a woman would have never left out chocolate - that’s all I have to say.

I could not believe the similarities of these two images. It seams a bit too unreal knowing that they are totally unrelated but very similar in design. The Vintage poster intends to make fun of the woman’s mind, whilst my image was produced out of my frustrations of being a mother. It has fascinated me more how our minds work when we produce similar design despite our differences in space and time.