Under the influence ….

not of the drink, I have to add. I like a drink in moderation (mainly because of my age and headaches) but more often than not we have to have the conversation. Are you driving or am I.  But my influence is coming more from other artists, friends and family.

It’s been a relatively busy week with one friend moving into her new home and new life, the end of a photography course for beginners (please don’t ask me what IOS stands for), two days helping out at my friend’s knitting and art shop, several trips to different events or places, a day of babysitting two lovely dogs, one full day’s workshop delivered and an art demo and talk to come tomorrow by an artist in residence who I am thinking of as, not just a fellow artist, but a new friend. Yes, she’ll soon head back to her own life and family with all the influences and memories she’s gathered in a very busy, enjoyable and, I hope, successful residency in Shetland, and we’ll no doubt keep in touch through social media but our lives have collided unexpectedly and delightfully and I’ll always remember her surprise and joy in what we were able to share with her of our much-loved adopted home. She, in turn, has given me ideas for my next steps based on her experiences of co-operating with other artists which I will take to heart and use as best I can.

So we may have had an influence on her time here but she has certainly sharpened our enjoyment of all that is good about Shetland and no doubt her demonstration and talk will slightly deflect my current thinking and practise in painting, as have previous artists-in-residence met through this space in Scalloway that attracts creative people from all over the world. We have met some great characters and lovely artists such as Michael Morgan and Katherine Cooper from Down Under, Karen Willis from Northumberland, Jeff Wilson and the lovely Jan Yates from Canada and Clive Brandon from London.

I still have a child’s appetite for new things when it comes to art, which combined with a (possibly) healthy scepticism for the Emperor’s New Clothes style of ‘let’s see what we can get away with’ means I’m always open to new things and willing to try new media but am usually happy to incorporate what I’ve learned into my own style if it fits. I have tried going all out for a different way of working and the only two things I’ve had to admit complete defeat with were oil pastels and totally abstract work, either or both!  I could not detach myself in order to be able to paint without discovering and developing something recognisable in the marks. I actually got stressed trying to do just that. As for oil pastels, how different could they be from soft pastels, I asked myself. The answer was world’s apart and totally out of my reach.  Is there some connection … maybe abstract artists are really at home with oil pastels? Does oil pastel by nature have to be at least partially abstract? Who knows, not me, that’s for sure.

So what’s new for me just now? Well I did mention that I had bought a stylus that comes with software for creating on the iPad.  Here’s my first iPad sketch – a bit rough and ready and I still don’t quite understand how some colours seem to be transparent and some seem to be opaque as that doesn’t seem to be in the list of options. Still, it was enjoyable to do and it gives me no excuse not to sketch even when I’ve not got my sketch pad and pencil with me, so it could be the start of something big … Maybe not big …. small but interesting?

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Synchronicity

This is the coming together of events, conversations, ideas or people, where a recurring theme seems to be pointing you in a certain direction.  For me this has been happening for the  last few weeks with conversations, snatches of thoughts and ideas and finally a sort of casual invitation.  The likelihood of a new co-operation with some other like-minded artists is on the cards.  Something, I’ve thought about in passing for some time.  We all are aware that we’re not the edgy, conceptual or ground-breaking artists that the arts admin folk are really very interested in.  We’re working or hobby artists, producing work that is recognisable and reasonably technically skilled but, and here is the rub, popular.

Personally, in the nearly 20 years I’ve been taking commissions for portraits of people, animals, houses and the occasional boat, I’ve never been without at least one or more commissions in hand at any time.  I think that’s an amazing feat, of which I’m very proud.  OK,in the early days I did work for peanuts and even now, years on, although my prices did go up to a reasonable amount, I did take a step back with prices when I moved to a new place in order to give myself a chance to get my first few local clients and get myself established.  My prices won’t rocket back up, but gradually I hope to get to a point where people will appreciate my work enough to pay that bit more – that’s what comes from getting better at what you do, surely?  However, I’ve never said I could make a living just at doing this.  There have to be other sources of income from sales of prints and cards, from teaching and from, in the future with any luck, some writing about art techniques and tips.

All of this for me is not desperate as I’m now on a pension (yes, I think someone made a mistake on my birth certificate but what can you do?) and with the mortgage paid off and only one very independent and switched-on grown-up daughter, the need for money is not as urgent as it once was.  Of course, living month to month on a pension is not ideal and we’ll never be rich, but we have enough to get by as long as we don’t want expensive foreign holidays, new furniture and designer clothes.  That’s fine.  We don’t, but we would like to occasionally afford a trip to see our daughter in Canada, and to be able to visit my family and our friends in Yorkshire, and to be able to maintain the house and garden and run a small car without getting into trouble. We have modest aims but when you compare our lives with some current lives across the world we are rich beyond the wildest of dreams, and we appreciate that.  We live in a wonderful place, have reasonable health and enjoy a social life with good friends.  So for me the painting is something that fulfills a need so I just can’t stop doing and, when I’m not too pressurised, it’s something I really, really love to do.

We come back to that word “popular”.  It was Jack Vettriano’s stumbling block that has kept him out of the top national galleries he might have wished to be invited into despite being one of the biggest sellers and most recognised of contemporary artists.  The establishment thought him popular and that means “of the people” – low-brow and commonplace.  It is a shame that such snobbery pervades the art world still (and always has I suppose).  My fellow artists and I will enjoy painting together, learning from and inspiring each other.  We’ll be happy to sell our work, teach and inspire others when we can and make affordable art that local people and tourists alike will enjoy.  However we won’t get into the higher end galleries because we are not making unintelligible collections that need a statement to go with them in order to justify their laughably high prices. Some of it may stand the test of time but much of this new art where ideas are more important than skill may turn out to be the Emperor’s New Clothes.  I do remember a favourite story about a group of final year art students who were given a grant and offered complete freedom in how they spent it to put on an end of year show.  All the local dignitaries were invited by the college to come along and give gravitas to the event and when the door of the exhibition hall was flung wide, only a chair stood in the empty room.  On the chair was a note saying – “Thanks for the funding, we’ve gone to the seaside for the weekend”.  I liked that attitude as it’s a kind of double bluff about “what is art”.  They had an idea and that’s what they were asked for.

You might say that this attitude to contemporary practice proves we are not serious about our art, but I would disagree.  We are serious about learning and improving our techniques, communicating something through our art and leaving something as a sort of legacy of who we were and what was important to us. So we could carry on working in a solitary way, but how much more fun is it to enjoy meeting and socialising with people you like and admire, who inspire you to do more and aim higher.  Isn’t that why humans have always formed groups?

Deadlines, dead head!

As per, I’m panicking to meet a deadline. I carry an infallible schedule and list of dates in my head as well as on my Filofax and now in my iPad. When I say infallible, I mean it never fails to trip me up.  The problem is I don’t have a  “sync” button that keeps the information in my head aligned with what’s written down. So I get dates wrong, miss appointments, and end up working frantically to meet a deadline which I’d thought was at least a month away…

Mind you I work best to a tight deadline, usually. This time has been different.  I am throwing away more drawings than I’m keeping. It’s the stress of being away from home, dealing with Mum who is hyper-stressed because of Dad being in a Carehome. This is not what either of them (or the rest of us wanted) but it had to be done and he’s in a lovely home with great staff – clean, modern and well-run. Mum has turned them upside down, nit-picked at every detail, driven the staff mad and overstayed her welcome every day. The staff have been really tolerant and understanding, with the chef even coming to see Mum every day to find out what Dad could manage for his tea. Talk about going the extrile. F Not my doing, just inally Mum seems to be accepting the inevitable but in the meantime has driven my sister and brother-in-law, her usual support team, to unbelievable levels of stress and frustration. This is where I come in – the cavalry arriving at the crucial moment, not because I can do anything different but because I can give them a break and absorb some of their stress for a few weeks.

Only problem is I’d also mistakenly thought my exhibition was going to start in May, only to find it’s going to be up for 2 months, not 1 month, so it’s got to go up in April, hence me drawing and painting at every moment  and for the first time ever (that I can remember), it’s only working about 25% of the time.

Fortunately Mum seems to be coming to a point where she’s more accepting of the status quo and understanding that Dad is in good hands and will be well cared for as his illness inevitably takes it’s sad toll.  Nothing I’ve done, just time and seeing Dad settling into a routine with chirpy, caring staff who try to keep him happy and comfortable. I have overwhelming respect for the good ones, some are a bit more “jobsworth” than others, but the majority are fabulous and somehow manage to deal cheerfully with the most difficult and vulnerable people.

So if my exhibition doesn’t have as many paintings as I’d like, does it really matter.  It’s not life and death, is it, and I’m hoping my new iPad will keep me on track with the reminders I need, so I can plan ahead more effectively in the future (I can hear you all muttering under your breath but it might help …)

There’s more than one way to stroke a cat …

Well, being a cat lover, I would change that saying, wouldn’t I.

In fact, this week’s clog, it’s like a blog but I’m quite likely to put my foot in it, is all about the face … drawing and painting it, that is.

I ran my first full day’s workshop for a few years yesterday, and was dreading and looking forward to it in equal measure. The dreading part was to do with the preparation, you can never do enough and never have enough time. If people wonder why they pay so much for a workshop like this it has less to do with what goes on on the actual day, and more to do with the days of preparation and years of accumulated knowledge. I may not have a formal degree in art but I do have the years under my belt of trial and error, going to other artists’ workshops and demos, absorbing from books, DVDs, tv and mostly practice, practice and more practice. There’s no substitute for the latter.

Take my morning’s photography workshop (learning, not teaching on this occasion). We talked ISO, shutter speed and aperture. I thought I understood the message. Then we were invited to try taking photos around the room, using our new found knowledge to get the right setting for the shot by manually choosing our settings. I turned into Manuel from Fawlty Towers. Que?

After some time of blank expressions, a few questions to the tutor and a lot of mindlessly pressing all the buttons on my camera, I actually took a half-decent photo. Half-decent for me that is, not for someone who knows what they’re doing. Of course, I said, I don’t need the best quality pictures as I want them for reference for paintings. However this is not strictly true as there will be more wildlife, pet and bird paintings in the future and for those I do want to learn how to take photos so crisp and clear that the feathers tickle your nose and make you sneeze…

Which brings me back to fur, and my comment of more than one way to stroke a cat … A recent visitor was stroking a friendly semi-feral cat that we have adopted and who lives the “Life of Riley” in our very large garage / shed. He has a heated bed, food delivered twice a day whatever the weather by his very own butler (my other half) and all the company he can stand from our other cats who are fair-weather ferals (and come indoors for most of the time). He was happy to be stroked, explained my beloved to the visitor, apart from there and there …

So, the workshop went extremely well, no glaring omissions in my preparation, all the food went down well at lunch, a relaxed, talkative bunch of people and some really good work produced. This was the part of it I was looking forward to as it’s lovely to see people growing in confidence and enjoying their art. The best part was that two out of the six people could not get to grips with my method of measuring with a pencil to create an accurate drawing. When I say my method, I mean my preferred method amongst several classical ways of accurately transcribing a subject.  you’d think this was a failure. However I had an ace up my sleeve with my second string, go to method for beginners – the upside down way, as prescribed in one of my favourite books, available from Amazon (click on the link below to see the book).

http://astore.amazon.co.uk/wwwwildabouta-21

This is a method to train your artistic side of the brain to override your logical side, ie how to draw what you see and not what you think you can see. Sounds like high-falutin, arty-farty nonsense, but it’s a simple, effective way to learn. It worked spectacularly well for one of the artists at yesterday’s workshop  who had not drawn or painted since her schooldays and we won’t mention how long ago that was.

If you only buy one book in your life about drawing, make it this one.

A renewed vigour

I had lost my get up and go … yes it was that sort of post-Christmas dull lethargy, fuelled by too much chocolate, too much telly and not enough sunlight or fine weather to encourage me away from our log-burning stove.  What a great purchase that was.  It really is the most comfortable place to be in the world in our front room on an evening with the fire roaring and the wind blowing a hoolie outside.  The first occupants of our cottage many, many years ago had a similar stove which they would have burned mainly peat on, but would have afforded them their cooking and water-heating as well as their warmth and comfort on a dark winter night.  We know this because we’ve seen a photograph of them sitting in front of it.  The house has changed some since those days and is now a combination of two small cottages joined together with small extra extensions at the front to allow for a utility room and a modern bathroom (both small but perfectly formed).  We also have a small conservatory, lovingly called the “Sitooterie” becase one sits oot in it, which was built by our immediate predecessor in the house.  Instead of a two room but and ben cottage in which all the family life took place, we now have a very comfortable little cottage with most mod cons (no ensuite, but the bathroom is so close to the two little bedrooms that iit’s almost ensuite).  We live by the sea – our long-held fantasy – and we are detached as opposed to being semi-detached for most of our lives, and in some cases even terraced or town-housed! – so what more could we ask for.  Good neighbours you say, and good neighbours we have. Our sitooterie doubles as my studio and gallery and I share it, when painting, with a small army of curious, inquisitive and sometimes downright vandalous cats (more of them in another post).  So finally, I’ve dragged myself away from the wood-burner to the Sitooterie and have managed to finish a piece of work, one of a series with 3 more to go, all for the lovely young women who work in the hair salon I go to.  Each is to have their own portrait by their workstation and I’m working on portraits with a difference, each one inspired by the woman herself, and also by my love for certain styles of painting, including Pre-Raphaelites and Gustav Klimt.  More of this series later.  For now all you need to know is the Sitooterie is back in use, the new movable kitchen trolley houses my paint palette in such a way that I don’t think my cats can walk through it any more and the views of the sea are making my chances of starting on my resolution of walking more often a little more realistic.  Also, I went to a really inspirational talk by an author Joanna Penn talking about ways of achieving scaleable income by writing and this included lots of really good advice about self-publishing, tying up all the loose ends I’ve been dabbling with recently including having an Amazon Affiliate shop and regularly blogging. So here I am re-starting  my blog which sprang to life some time ago and then died an ignominious death. This time I’ll be faithful.  Also writing 1000 words a day was mentioned – or at least spending an hour a day trying to write 1000 words.  Seems a lot and then I notice this blog has rambled on vaguely without me even trying and has almost achieved an amazing (and probably over-lengthy for a blog) count of nearly 600 words.  Who’d have thought.  So tomorrow is another day and tomorrow I’ll achieve 1000 on one of my stories which may never be published but will get me heading in the right direction of writing, chopping, editing and polishing.  Wow, up to 634 now (note to self, stop looking at the word count …. 646).