Current drawings

I'm taking a break from landscape, given that the local countryside looks like a midden right now, to concentrate on figure drawing.

I started by drawing myself, after catching sight of me one morning in the mirror in the process of getting up. I thought, 'You know, you look good.' Good being a relative term, and strictly dependent on who I'm standing next to.

I began to draw myself,
which set me several difficult tasks. Such as, have you ever tried to draw your own hands from life? It requires astonishing feats of juggling.

I finished that drawing and began another. I took reference photographs, and painted a small colour study. I'm currently working on a drawing of my head from the photographs, which you can see here. 




Yes, I got the nose wrong and I have to do it over.

A Modest Proposal

During my morning constitutional I found this scene at a favourite painting spot.



Now, I'm an old softy at heart. I believe in rehabilitation rather than punishment. I think mercy is the better part of justice.
I do not favour the death penalty.

But people who fly-tip should be beaten to death with wire coat hangers.

Some of the gentler souls among you might find that opinion a little challenging, but hear me out.

The local authority provides a state of the art recycling centre that anyone can use for free, and they'll actually send someone in a truck to your house to pick up bulky items for a small fee. Someone who thinks it's a good idea to go to the trouble of hauling their household junk into the middle of a local beauty spot, in order to spread it around like a hippo marking its territory with faeces, therefore, is probably taking the micky, and should be taken out with extreme prejudice. No judicial process, just two behind the ear and a last journey to the nearest pig farm.

Ever have one of those veins throbbing in your forehead? I think mine's calmed down now, but my hands are still shaking.

On a similar note, I've seen pictures of graffiti tags on rocks in American national parks, miles from anywhere. Which means the perpetrators went to the trouble of carrying their spray cans through miles of beautiful wilderness in order to deface it. And of course, the savages in the east have taken to blowing up priceless art treasures and historical monuments. 


Hmmm...perhaps there's some ideological component to these people's decisions to deface the natural world.

So there you have it: proof that fly-tippers are in league with Islamist extremists. Well, maybe not proof, but good enough, by the standards of today, to start waging war on them.

If that doesn't get the drone strikes lighting them up, I don't know what will.

RIP Flip Mino

I bought a little Flip Mino video camera in 2009, and used it to make the painting videos I put up on my YouTube channel. I carried it everywhere, to take reference footage for paintings while I was out and about.

The camera was light and small enough to slip into a coat pocket. The video quality was surprisingly good given its size, and the stills I took from it had a pleasantly painterly character, with extraneous detail smoothed out into blobs of tone and colour, like this:




Alas, it is no more.

Did it wear out? No, it was still going strong, and I used it daily.

Did I drop it? Several times, but that never seemed to trouble it at all. Six years of banging about in my coat pocket with a clasp knife and a pencil had barely scratched the finish.

Did I leave it in a coat pocket, then forget to check the pockets before I put the coat through the washing machine?

Yes. Yes I did. While most delicate electronics stand at least a chance of full recovery after a brief dunking, an hour and a quarter in a 40 degree suds bath followed by a 1200 rpm spin dry proved to be one ordeal too many. I glumly dried it out for a few days in an old yogurt tub filled with uncooked rice, then hooked it up to the computer. It recharged nicely, but apart from that, it's stone dead. Software and memory wiped. It was a useful tool, but now it's a paperweight at best, and a disagreeable reminder of my capacity for stupidity.

What moral can we draw from my tale of woe and the consequences of absent mindedness?

- Always check your pockets on wash day.
- Download your images frequently, lest ye put your camera in a washing machine.
- And better still, buy a waterproof camera. That's too big to fit into your pocket.

The good news - well, the least bad news - is that a comparable replacement camera costs a lot less nowadays. 

 
2009-2015 R.I.P.






Why are you painting that?

Back in February of last year I stood on a path at the edge of a field and painted a small wood.

Some kid walking his dog stopped to take a look and asked me what I found to paint 'in this place'. The way he said it set me thinking. He sounded local, looked like he might have had a rural job. And he was evidently baffled as to why I chose to paint what, to him, looked drab and ordinary.

Except it plainly wasn't. The winter sun glared like a flashbulb going off. That hard light lit up the edge of the wood, but left the depths a rich, dark, velvet brown. Ragged clouds, cream and smoke grey, writhed across a sky of intense blue. The next field's bare turned earth glowed an unlikely salmon pink. It all looked beautiful. The only problem I had with it was how to paint it and do it justice.*

If I divide the world into painters and 'civilians', it's because of encounters like this. I had friends from school who were inept at drawing and painting, mostly because they didn't look at things.

They've all done well for themselves - in some instances, considerably better than me -  so looking plainly isn't a requirement for success. But it leaves me feeling sorry for people who don't, won't, or can't, see the world the way a painter does.

I've never had a dull journey. Give me a three hour train ride with a window seat, and I'll happily stare out for the whole way.

Shadows on a landscape, like that Inness painting? There's a real life example, take notes. Sheep on a hillside like ticks on a blanket, as in several Turners? What do you know, they look exactly like that. Dark out? Even better. Artificial lighting, perspective, and window reflections.

I don't get bored. Waiting rooms? Window light on walls and radiators, the stately change in shadow tonal depth. Every view presents a challenge. How would I paint that? What colours would I mix to do it?  

In the end, that's what painters do. They look at things so the rest of you can see them better. They show you the world as it really is: intensely beautiful.




* Which I signally failed to do, which is why you see a different picture here.


Tuition

In a recent post I said I wanted to step up my painting game, and needed tuition to help me do that.

But where to find it?

There are options out there: painters who run their own workshops or schools of art, painters who make DVDs of their instructional videos, painters who write illustrated how-to-paint books, and even painters who do all three.

I'm too skint and lazy to pay for, or attend, a workshop. That leaves me with two choices, videos and books.


When you want to paint better than you already do, learn from a painter who can paint better than you do now. Let that be your guiding principle and you can't go far wrong when searching through all that's on offer. 

With that in mind, I have an Amazon wish list with over a hundred books on it. Every so often I check to see which prices have dropped, and snap up bargains from the list. Sometimes they're books by contemporary landscape painters, other times books about painters from the past whose work I admire. The former will tell you how they paint, the latter will contain works that need to be reverse engineered before you can get what you're after.


And what, precisely, are you after? Insight, mostly. A new way of looking at the same things you deal with when painting, that will add an extra tool to your internal toolbox. No matter how much you know, there's a wealth of undiscovered knowledge out there waiting to be applied.

I have to admit, it can be a lottery. Sometimes a book will overdeliver, in which case it becomes a well thumbed staple of my bookshelf. Sometimes a book will disappoint, in which case I quietly relist it for sale on my Amazon seller account. 







Sargent on Cezanne.

'When in 1912 Mr. D. S. MacColl wrote an article in the Nineteenth Century, "A Year of Post-Impressionism," he received from Sargent the following letter:

My dear MacColl,
I have enjoyed reading your article on Post-Impressionism very much—I should think it would bring a good many people to their senses—I admire the certainty with which you have refrained from hinting at the possibility of bad faith on the part of people like Matisse or at the theory that I am inclined to believe that the sharp picture dealers invented and boomed this new article of commerce.
     I think you have exactly weighed the merits of Cezanne and rather over-estimated the "realism" of Van Gogh whose things look to me like imitations made in coral or glass of objects in a vacuum. As to Gauguin, of course you had to deal with him for the sake of your argument, as if there were something in him besides rich and rare colour. Some day if we ever meet I should like to discuss with you the meaning of the word "values" and the word Impressionism.

Yours sincerely,

John S. Sargent.

 
In order to appreciate the value of Sargent's concurrence with Mr. MacColl's estimate of Cezanne, the following extract from the article may be quoted:

Cezanne was not a great classic; he was an artist often clumsy, always in difficulties, very limited in his range, absurdly so in most numerous productions, but "with quite a little mood" and the haunting idea of an art built upon the early Monet, at which he could only hint. He oscillated between Monet's earlier and finer manner, that of dark contours and broadly divided colour, and a painting based on the early Monet, all colour in a high key. In this manner he produced certain landscapes tender and beautiful in colour, but the figure was too difficult for him, and from difficulties he escaped into the still lifes I have spoken of, flattened jugs, apples, and napkins like blue tin that would clank if they fell. What is fatal to the claim set up for him as a deliberate designer,  creating eternal images out of the momentary lights of the Impressionists, is the fact that his technique, remains that of the Impressionists, a sketcher's technique, adapted for snatching hurriedly at effects that will not wait.

It is clear that Sargent was from the first definitely hostile to the more advanced Post-Impressionists; he receded very little, if at all, from that position. He regarded the Cubists, their followers and offshoots with uncompromising disapproval. He did not consider that either they or even the great majority of Post-Impressionists, by slighting representation, were contributing in any way whatsoever, as was claimed for them by a leading critic, "to establishing more and more firmly the fundamental laws of expressive form in its barest and most abstract elements." He held that it could be more effectually and much more emotionally attained by representing also the visual and spiritual values of the thing seen.'

From page 193 of John Sargent, by the Hon. Evan Charteris, K.C., with reproductions from his paintings and drawings. Charles Scribner's sons, New York, 1927. '




Website (Vanity II)

Either...


A website is an absolutely necessary piece of online real estate for every artist, where you can display, promote, and sell your work.

Or...


A website is an expensive way to waste time you could have spent painting. You have to learn to code, or pay someone to do it for you, and either way it costs you time or money. 

Your expensive premium WordPress theme looks great, but it slows down your site so much that Google hates you. So you waste half a day checking out fast loading free themes, every one of which is exactly wrong for your site.

Also, one third of your surprisingly low traffic is bored east european kids trying to hack your database for the fun of it, as you will discover when you're obsessively perusing your visitor logs in your host company's back end and wondering why nobody drops by. And your email sign ups will dump you the moment they get that free gift you gave them in exchange for their email address, never to be heard from again.


Which of these points of view is true? Well, they both are. Kind of. If you've reached a place in your art career where people are looking you up online, getting a website is a logical step to take, or at least it can be if you have a realistic expectations of online sales or some other kind of profitable contact from it - perhaps commissions, or exhibition invitations.

If you decide to go with the 'Heck, yes I want a website!' option, remember it's not all upside. Creating a customer base and selling your work without paying gallery commission? Well, that makes sense. Having to deal with the heavy lifting a good gallery would do for you in return for their commission? That's when it starts to look a little less inviting.

I've been looking at art marketing advice online, given that I'm ready to start selling my paintings, and one thing every art consultant agreed on was the absolute necessity of having your own artist's website. Given that all of them just happened to be selling artist's websites, I decided to take that advice with a grain of salt.

If you haven't reached the place where your name is getting Googled on a regular basis, maybe you should concentrate on your painting until it does. And, for once, I'll be taking my own advice and not getting my own website yet.