Monday, 31 October 2011

Exhibition - Degas and the Ballet ; Picturing Movement

Last Wednesday evening, I went to see the Degas exhibition at the Royal Academy. The exhibition explores Degas' fascination with the figure in movement, and gives some insight into the influences of photography and moving pictures, which were in their infancy at that time.

The Law Society's Art Group, of which I am a member, had arranged for us to have a tour of the exhibition after it had been closed to the general public, which meant we could get up close and personal to the artwork. Even more thrilling, our guide was exhibition co-curator, Ann Dumas, who was a veritable mine of fascinating information about Degas and his paintings. (She also managed to resolve an issue I have about the prenunciation of the name, Degas, which apparently should sound like Dergar).

As a pastelist as well as an oil painter, I was excited at the prospect of seeing Degas' works in real life for the first time. Full credit must go to the curators for their hard work in securing some excellent paintings, sketches and sculptures as well as photographs and moving images. For me, of particular note were the following:-

Two Dancers on the Stage, oil on canvas, for the magnificent portrayal of light. Measuring about 62 x 46cm (24 x 18 ins), this painting was much smaller than I had expected it to be.

The Red Ballet Skirts, for the vibrant colours and superb pastel strokes.

And of course, The Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. The original was exhibited only once during Degas' lifetime - in Paris in 1881. At the time, it was severely criticised by some, who considered it ugly. As the original was fashioned out of coloured wax topped with a wig of real hair perhaps one can sympathise with that view. Following Degas' death in 1917, 28 bronzes were cast, the majority of which are in museums. The one in this exhibition has been borrowed from the Tate, which acquired it in 1952.

Very few of the bronzes are in private collections but one is due to come under the hammer at Christies in New York in November. However, you will need very deep pockets if you would like to own it; it is expected to fetch between $25 and $35 million!!

The exhibition runs until 11th December and is well worth a visit.

John Holtam WIP / Robin-Lee Hall

I have been working a little more on this portrait. I popped it into a frame so that I could show it at the Ashford Art Club exhibition and, last Thursday, I took it along to the critique evening which follows each exhibition.

The guest artist conducting the critique was Robin-Lee Hall, member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, winner of the Ondaatje Prize for Portraiture in 2010, and teacher at the National Portrait Gallery, The National Gallery and the Art Academy. Robin's critiques are always insightful and conducted with enthusiasm, kindness and humour.

Robin suggested that I lighten the background to the bottom left of the painting, which I have now done. I had intended to have some lost and found edges, but lightening the background here has pushed the arm forward, and I am pleased with the result. Both the arm and the background need a little more work.

By the way, I have been trying to persuade Robin to hold a portrait workshop. She has ageed to do so, in spite of her busy schedule, provided I organise it. Please drop me a line if you are interested.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Reworking old paintings

Last week, the recent edition of International Artist magazine dropped through my letterbox and, as usual, the first thing I did was flick to the back to read Harley Brown's invaluable insights. Those of you who are familiar with my work will know that I have been greatly influenced by Harley's portraits, and that he has been extremely kind and generous in advising, encouraging and supporting me in my endeavors.

In this edition of IA, he talks about the importance of lighting in art - direct light, reflected light, and how to nail those highlights in portraiture. He also talks about mistakes he made in his early years as an artist and he lists the excuses he made for not taking good advice gleaned from articles, mentors, books and art colleges.

This reminded me about an exchange of e-mails we had a few months ago regarding my pastel painting of an African lady, which had been painted partly from life and partly from my photograph of the model. Harley mentioned that the highlights were too similar in strength and colour and that a little more sensitivity in my handling of these areas would make all the difference. It pains me to confess that although I admire and respect Harley immensely, I felt that I had pushed the painting as far as I could and I called it finished. Looking at it now, I know it is not.

That painting is already framed and I may well pick it apart and have another go at it at a later stage, but I have revisited another pastel painting of the same model, again started from life and developed from a photograph. Here is the painting before I started the reworking:-

And here is the reworked painting.

A more subtle approach to the highlights does indeed make all the difference. I found a few images of traditional African tribal dress to finish it off. I'm reasonably happy with it now, although no doubt there is still much scope for improvement.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Ashford Art Club Exhibition

Ashford Art Club are holding their Autumn Exhibition and Charity Auction today and tomorrow, Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd October, from 10am to 5pm, at St James's School, Church Road, Ashford, Middlesex TW15 3DZ. Parking and Admission are free.

I was helping with the hanging last night, and I truly believe the standard of work gets higher with every exhibition. There is a huge variety of work - something for all tastes and at very reasonable prices. Why would anyone want to buy a print which is exactly the same as hundreds of others when they can have some original art of their walls?

The house move and working on commissions means I don't have a great deal to show, but I shall be exhibiting my portrait of John Holtam, even though it isn't quite finished.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Nat Tate at Sotherby's

This is a fabulous story, isn't it? Wedged between the woeful news items about ministerial misdoings, utility over-charging, and economic meltdown, Radio 4 proved that it can bring a smile to my face at breakfast time.

On 14th November, Sotherby's are to sell by auction this small drawing, one of the few remaining works of the American artist, Nat Tate (1928 - 1960). Nothing was known about Tate, who destroyed the majority of his works, until a biography by William Boyde, published in the late 1990s, was launched at high profile events in Manhattan and London.

However, Tate never existed - the whole thing was an elaborate hoax by Boyde and the pop icon, David Bowie. Boyde himself produced the art work.

You can read what Boyde says about how the idea of Nat Tate was born in today's Guardian.

A Sotherby's spokeswoman suggested that the drawing might achieve a higher price than it would have achieved had Tate been a living breathing artist. What's more, Boyde will be donating the proceeds to the Artists' Benevolent Fund. Good for him!!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

John Holtam WIP

I have progressed a little further with this, thanks to some sound advice from the kind folk from Although I have brought the values down on the suit and in the background, my camera is making the image significantly lighter than the original painting, so I have tweaked it in order to give a fairer representation.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Developing an artistic "style"

This is a topic which vexes me a fair bit. I know that I do have a style, as people tell me they recognise my portraits. The problem is, whether this is a style I'm happy with or not. Clearly, I'm not entirely happy with it, or I wouldn't waste any of my valuable time thinking about it.

So, in what direction should I be moving? Should I be working towards a more painterly approach, or towards a more photo-realistic approach? The former appeals to me most, as I'm not sure I can see the point in the latter, although I admire the skills of the artists who paint in this way. Having said that, I know that my natural approach is towards realism.

Some time ago, as an educational exercise, I copied a portrait by one of my favourite artists, Daniel Greene. This is his painting "Caroline" - most definitely something to aspire to.

In a recent burst of energy, I threw paint at my version in an attempt to see what I could do with a different approach. It is much darker than my usual palette (which perhaps isn't obvious from this photo), and there is a touch of Harley Brown's influence perhaps. I quite like it, although it isn't very different from what I normally do in all other respects. I need to go further, for experimental purposes, if nothing else. (Just to add that, of course, I can't do anything with my painting, as "Caroline" is still very much in evidence in it.)

At the VivArtist exhibition yesterday, I watched a portrait demo by Surrey artist Roger Dellar. I was captivated by his ability to render an excellent likeness of the model in about 90 minutes or so, without obsessing over small details. If I was anything like a decent blogger, I would be posting an image of Roger and the portrait but, alas, when I pulled out my camera, I found that the battery had died! Here is a link to his website instead.

Roger runs courses at his studio in Surrey and elsewhere, but unfortunately the one I am interested in is fully booked. What a shame. I'm sure Roger would have helped me loosen up a bit.

My first "corporate" portrait - WIP

My first attempt at a corporate style portrait is of my friend and former colleague, Associate Professor John Holtam. I'm fairly happy with the likeness, but I am struggling with the suit somewhat, particularly in the flat areas of material. Still, it's a good learning experience and I am going to take my time in order to get it right.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Blogging - One small fairy step forward

Okay, so I accept that you all know how to do this already and I'm sorry if this is no news at all - but I did say I would chart my progress, and progress this is! I now know how to make a link to a website and just to prove it and to help those who don't know, here is the link to the relevant page on Blogger help.

I have been stewarding at the VivArtist Exhibition today. I noticed things I didn't really take note of when I was there before, and I came away feeling even more impressed. Chatting to a few artists and to the organiser, Evelyn Phillips, gave me a useful insight into how these things work, as did seeing someone buy a £1,800 painting on impulse. She simply fell in love with it. And that's the key, isn't it?

Monday, 3 October 2011

Why, Oh Why.......... I not a landscape artist?? Surely the path of a landscape artist is smoother than that of a portrait artist? For starters, a landscape artist doesn't have to stand there staring at a scene that is begging to be painted trying to pluck up courage to go and ask it if it doesn't mind you taking a couple of photos! So to the young woman in Linate Airport last night who was probably thinking the middle aged woman who kept looking at her was simply weird...... no, just too scared to ask! And surely it really doesn't matter if a twig is placed a millimeter too far to the left.

Anyway, my lovely husband took me to Lake Como for the weekend, which was truly wonderful. If I was a landscape artist, I would be busy working on scenes like these


Running an art business - dealing with "blockages"

As part of my voluntary redundancy package, I am entitled to two "one to one tailored support" sessions, and I had the first of these a couple of weeks ago. Usually, these are designed to help people find a new job, but occasionally, as in my case, it is to help them set up their own business. Whilst the facilitator, Mike, was able to come up with a couple of new ideas, in the main, he was able to confirm that I am thinking along the right lines, that I am identifying positive strategies whilst being mindful of the potential pitfalls, and that my modest short term aims are realistic. It sounds such a simple thing, but at least I can now see that I am not flapping about aimlessly, even if sometimes it feels like I am.

Mike and I discussed how to tackle "blockages" - those issues which have a tendency to hinder progress, or even bring everything to a grinding halt.

One recurring problem for me is lack of time, or my perception of a lack of time, for my art. In my own defence, I would argue that three children, a dog, a fair sized house and garden and a job cannot be rolled up and dealt with in a couple of hours a day. One artist friend of mine once gave me a very hard time about this, stressing that I needed to stop making excuses and get on with it. I felt exasperated at the time, but he was right - no-one is interested in excuses and bleating about it doesn't put paint on canvas.

Well, now I have given up my job and I have found myself a cleaner, which has liberated me and has enabled me to put in some serious painting hours. One problem solved. The other blockages need more work.

Pricing my work appropriately is a real conundrum for me, as I imagine it is for most artists when they start to sell. I can see that part of the problem is the connection of pricing to my attitude towards painting. It doesn't much feel like a job, to be honest, and I float so much between wanting people to like what I do and being embarrassed about the whole thing, that it is easier to give the paintings away. I'm going to have to come back to the issue of pricing when I have given it more thought, but for the time being I am trying to focus on the simple truth that if I can make some money from selling paintings, I shall be able to spend more time painting.

The embarrassment factor is a blockage in other areas. I want to promote my business but, as I have mentioned before, giving my business card to people seems too forward. My Vistaprint postcards have arrived now, so I really have no excuse to not carry them at all times and hand them out when opportunities arise.

In the same vein. some time ago, I devised a footer for my emails which comprises a thumbnail of a painting and my website address. As I had to choose whether or not to attach it to each individual e-mail, more often than not, I chose not to. After my talk with Mike, I changed the setting on my e-mails, so that the footer appears automatically. Nevertheless, I am so embarrassed about using it, I usually delete it!

A further blockage is my chronic inability to understand Facebook - which really deserves a seperate posting!!