Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Feeling blue? not exactly!!!!

Sometimes, we artists are drawn to a particular colour..  Although I do  paint or create using a variety of different colours, something inside me begins to celebrate whenever I use blue, in all its varieties.  I love the richness of royal blue, the tranquility of turquoise, the lightheartedness of pale, limpid blue - all blues in fact.    I also enjoy  red...but there are certain feelings that red stirs in me, which are not always tranquil!  Ia am sure that many of you respond favourably to certain colours, and less favourably to others.  There has been much exploration of the psychology of particular colours and the human reaction to them.  This is just one small paragraph I have found about blue:

Blue is the colour of the mind and is essentially soothing; it affects us mentally, rather than the physical reaction we have to red. Strong blues will stimulate clear thought and lighter, soft blues will calm the mind and aid concentration. Consequently it is serene and mentally calming. It is the colour of clear communication. Blue objects do not appear to be as close to us as red ones. Time and again in research, blue is the world's favourite colour. 

It is good to have a favourite colour...but do be a little careful not to use it relentlessly or unthinkingly- I have seen many a painting, for example, where the shadows are all painted with the same shade of purple, regardless of the objects those shadows fall upon. Yet, shadows are transparent and therefore have to contain something of the colour of whatever they fall upon.  Using a favourite colour "for shadows" is simply using a formula.

Today I plan to show you a few recently-created pieces. All of them blue.  Or bluish.  Or blue-green.  Even the landscape - I simply do not like khaki green or yellow green or sludge green, so I lean towards the blue-green spectrum for my landscapes.

 These pieces are available for sale if any of them resonate for you - just drop me a line and I will give you a pre-Christmas sale price!

Here is a pastel painting just completed, one of my "foxglove" series.  It can be sent out unframed, rolled, covered in Glassine paper, so that you can frame it yourself or have it framed to your taste. It means I am able to provide an original for far less than you would pay in a gallery, so it is a rather special opportunity.

This chunky "Whirlpool" bowl of gorgeous turquoise blue glass, with its swirling bubbles trapped inside the glass, has a textured underside and a smooth surface inside.  It is 9" wide and about 2" high at the rim.  It is a one-of-a-kind piece, very unusual and very different.

I love this little enamel on copper trinket bowl.  The colours really sing.  On the outside, a fascinating mix of blue, white and turquoise, the colours flowing into each other like sea foam and ocean depths;  inside a soft, cloudy mix of gold and minty green.  It is 4" wide at the top, and 2.5" high.

Finally, here is a Lace Glass bowl...A bowl with holes - not so good for soup but great for just-washed grapes!!!  Wash the grapes, pop them onto this bowl, put it onto a plain plate and any remaining drips will fall thro the holes rather than sit in the bottom the bowl.   If grapes are not your thing, then you can use it for wrapped candies, or just leave it on a table for guests to admire - everyone wonders how the holes are achieved in GLASS!  It is really pretty, with flashes of rich blue and turquoise, along with soft white swirls in the glass. 9" wide, and just under 2" high at the rim.

Blue may not be the primary colour of Christmas, but a blue Christmas gift will always be welcome.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

"I love the light. How did you get that?"

to be more specific, the question asked was this:

"I love the light. This is unmistakably your elegant style and I'm interested to know how you achieve that with acrylics, which are very different to use than soft pastels."

I briefly answered this in the comments in my last post, but did promise to enlarge upon it, which I will try to do now while it is fresh in my mind.

Actually, there are two main things in that question which need addressing.  One is HOW TO ACHIEVE A SENSE OF LIGHT and the other is about STYLE.  The third issue is techniques in different media.

I will deal with this one first.  "Style" is a somewhat abstract concept, and has nothing to do with achieving a sense of light in an image.  Style is the artist's own "handwriting".  for example, Vincent Van Gogh had a very distinctive style - it was to do with the way he applied the paint, in linear strokes all over the surface.  Here are two totally different types of image - a portrait and a landscape - yet he used similar mark making in both:

We recognise who painted these images because of the style he chose to use....and because this style became his "signature" and his preferred method of working. The surface is kinda disturbing, very active, perhaps a deliberate choice on his part, perhaps instinctive and somehow reflective of his state of mind.   Sometimes, artists use different styles...depending on the mood of the image they want to achieve..or perhaps the subject matter.....they may alter their choice of mark-making - but somehow, when they have been working for a long time, their mark-making becomes recognisable...as does their choice of subject matter, and their overall approach to painting.  Their "style" become recognisable. 
Achieving a sense of light in a painting is about a combination of choice of subject matter and close observation of TONES.  Failure to achieve this sense of light when this is what you wanted, is so often to do with flat light on the subject, and/or incorrect translation of the tone of the colour.
Here are two woodland paths.  One sunlit, one in flat light. The bottom one has no sunshine in it, just some hint of light in the far distance.  The path is therefore going to look flat and uninteresting in a painting.  The top scene, tho less interesting to me in terms of the shapes it offers - boring straight road - has the better light, and if I could find an image which would be a combination of the lovely light in the top one, and the interesting forms and echoing shapes of the bottom one..THEN I would happily tackle a painting.
I have noticed that often, students choose the subject matter because of the "things" in the scene, the place, the person, the objects........and they don't even think about the quality of the light in the scene. 
The quality of the light in the scene is what I look for FIRST.  It isn't always about sunshine and shadows, tho I do love those;  I also love soft light and have even painted rainy landscape scenes! My foxglove scene has a soft, gentle light...but I emphasised it with the light behind the flowers...they are backlit, with sharp light at the edges,  and this helped enormously to add just enough drama to ensure that the scene was not flat and monotonous.  You might think that the plants themselves would have done enough..but I promise you, this scene came to life when the tiny strokes of bright light were added.

The important thing for me always is that the LIGHT is as important as anything else about the scene....and often, it is the motivating factor for me.  I never tackle any painting without looking at the light in the scene as a subject in its own right.
And then, to get that light right, you need to get the tones right.  The right lightness, or darkness, of the colour. You have to continuously ask yourself "is this bit darker, or lighter than that bit?  How much darker or lighter?".  You need to do this all the time, guys.   That takes patience and practice, and if you struggle with this, it can be worth working just in black, white and greys for a while until your eyes become used to translating colour into tone.
The final part of the question.  Yes of course, paint and pastels are very different..but they are all made from the same pigments - pastels are just paint without the various binders that make pigment into liquid paint!    And you use a brush with paint, no brushes with pastels.  However, the same basic rules apply.  With oils, acrylics and pastels, you can work from dark to light.  You can "overpaint".  You can scrape off areas you are unhappy with.  You can start with thin areas, build up to thicker ones.  Watercolour is the medium which makes you think, and work,  differently because generally speaking, you have to "reserve" the lights, and work towards the darks! It is well-nigh impossible to "add in" lights at the end, or over darks, with watercolours.
So working with any opaque medium, whether you use a brush, or a stick of colour, all the basic painting principles are the same. 
You have to find your way with using a brush of course.....stiff hog hair brushes give you one kind of mark;  soft brushes will give a different kind of mark.  It can take a little time to find out how to make the kinds of marks that please you, or that give you the effect you want.  There are no hard and fast rules...mark-making with pastels also needs investigation and practice.   When painting grass - you are PAINTING grass, not growing it!  You have to practice to find a visual equivalent for grass - for water - for clouds - for skin.   Marks which explain the subject to the viewer.  Marks which feel "right" to you.  All of this takes time and practice.  Did I say practice often enough folks?
I do hope this answers the question that was posed.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Where ON EARTH did a year go? Update/newsletter

My goodness........where did the year go?  If my readers have lost patience and abandoned me for other blogs, I truly do not blame them!

It has taken me an entire year to settle in to a new studio and a new way of life.  I moved into a new house, had a major operation in the Spring which put everything "back", as it were, I rebuilt our garden, (not personally but with a lot of input!)  and I have only just begun to feel as tho I am coming up for air!

I have even completed a painting.........an acrylic on canvas, a large one, and I really enjoyed it.  I have also been practicing with my glass work, trying out new techniques whenever I have had a few minutes....and have had my enamels and some glass accepted for six months in the new Heath Robinson Museum shop - a small showcase entitled "the Makers Art" showing the work of 2/3 local artists twice a year.

Just fyi, here is the painting....I had done a large pastel of foxgloves in the woods some time ago, it is sold, and someone asked me to paint something similar:

I wanted it to have an early morning, or evening, feeling...gentle, soft light rather than the full sunlight I usually like to paint;   cool, a hint of rising or setting sun in the distance, illuminating the foxgloves from behind.  I love how the verticals of foxgloves echo the verticals of tree trunks...they are very accommodating in helping to make for a harmonious structure for an image! For those who struggle with composition, perhaps this is worth noting!   I also rather enjoy working with acrylics....it is great to be able to work over dried areas quickly, and working from dark to light is so similar to working with pastels.  The pinky-violet colours in the picture were the first, transparent layer;  gradually opaques are built over the top, but those violets add a lovely feeling of cool warmth, oxymoron I know, but hopefully you can see what I mean.  Getting the more subtle, medium tones right  is really important...it would be all too easy to destroy the feeling and atmosphere by shifting too quickly from darks to lights.

As for the Heath Robinson Museum....if you are ever in Pinner, do pop in to the museum, at the back of the park overlooking the lake.  It is an amazing little building, very architecturally fascinating.  His work deserves a look too, the man had a wonderful sense of humour and I really enjoyed seeing many of his prints.  It is just three rooms.

look at this amazing ceiling!  so interesting.  

This is a shot of the top of the showcase, with my "Makers Art" literature, and the first plate to be sold - mine!  It is "lacy" glass.

this is one of my favourite prints, it is called "Deceiving the Invader as to the state of the Tide".  Many of his prints offer tongue-in-cheek advice for the British on dealing with invaders, I think relating to WW1:  Do check out the detail, it is very clever and amusing - well, I think so anyway:

I do hope to be able to blog again soon with things of interest to some.  No guarantees.....there are more operations in the pipeline, so who knows what and when.  I will do my best folks!  

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

SO SORRY TO BE SO ABSENT/Landscape Artist of the Year

I am afraid I have been a bit pants as a blogger for some time really.....but I do have an excuse, sort of!

This week we are moving house.  The lead up to this moment has been very unrelaxing, including a bout of shingles - so I am afraid I just haven't had the head for blogging.

However, watching last night's Landscape Artist of the Year, won by Nerine Tassie (her maiden name) inspired me somewhat, so I thought I would just write a few words despite being surrounded by boxes and removal men!

I know that this year's programme was thought, by many, to have had some odd results - the chosen trio for the final not necessarily artists who were generally understood and liked.  In fact, I had a very hard time getting to grips with some of the imagery liked by the judges - but I finally understood, in the end, that the judges were not the slightest bit interested in anything resembling a well-painted accurate rendering of a view....they were looking for very much more.  They wanted their artists to demonstrate an ability to use the landscape PURELY AS A STARTING POINT, and then to have the courage to allow their imaginations to take over in order to produce a painting showing unique vision - vision which was as much about internalising the landscape and reinventing it, as anything else.

Given this concept, I enjoyed the final, enjoyed a glimpse into the working practices of three very different artists, and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the secondary images they produced outside of the final, where they had time to realise their visions without the time constraint of 4 hours.

Nerine Tassie's work won the day.  Whether you like her work, or not, it is undeniable that she fulfilled the brief of producing a work which demonstrates unique personal vision.  Here are two more pieces from her website, one of her mystical woodland scenes, and a seascape:


In neither work do we find pedestrian copying of reality going on.  This is the work of a painter who has found her own unique style as an artist. 

Like them, or hate them, it is undeniable that these works are atmospheric, intriguing, and probably will leave a much more powerful impression on the viewer than "prettier" pieces.

from her website:

Nerine McIntyre still paints under her maiden name Tassie. She graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 2002 with a degree in Fine Art. Natural spaces and forms provide the basis and inspiration for her work, in particular the coastal waters and woodlands around her home. These landscapes are ever changing and at times daunting and they provide infinite subject matter for her work. Her paintings are primarily an exploration of the mystery of nature within this subject matter and she says she has always sought to create a strong sense of atmosphere and connection to place within her work.
More recently she has been exploring the relationship between composition and frame within each painting, experimenting with this balance in order to create more depth of focus for the viewer.
"I enjoy the act of painting and the physicality of the paintwork on the canvas and so my process of working involves experimenting with base layers of varied materials in order to constantly develop new experiences within each painting". Exploration of materials and using a variety of painterly techniques creates a rich texture to the work and means that each painting takes on its own developing surface and object quality.
I feel quite privileged to have been able to watch Nerine work and I am personally glad she won.
Back to the packing....................

Saturday, 12 September 2015


I have just returned from a glass "Masterclass", and throughout the week, we were shown slides of our tutor's work and the progression of her career.

She was at pains to point out to us that she worked, always, to a theme, first deciding on her point of interest, and then producing sketches and thoughts on paper to explore that particular "idea".

As a result, her work has evolved gradually, moving from series to series, each series with a nod to a previous series.

Many artists work in this way, whether they are producing two dimensional, or three dimensional work.  Others jump from one idea to another, each day or week a different subject.

I would suggest that if you want your work to "grow" in maturity, you consider the idea of working to a series - particularly if your inclination is  to simply wake up each day and pick a different subject as your mood takes you.    I am not suggesting this is a "wrong" way to work, but recommending you try a series approach.  Because, with a series, you will discover that your thoughts will solidify as you work, ideas will develop automatically and seamlessly, and each piece you produce will lend strength and power to the previous one, particularly if you eventually plan to show your work.

I am still in the learning stage of becoming a "glasser" - someone who works with kiln-formed glass.  However, I decided to keep to a particular colour theme for the masterclass, and was glad that I did because they do show rather well together and I feel each one "adds strength" to the other.  These are the pieces I produced during the week, when I learned about producing "drop vessels" - a rather remarkable way to work which begins with flat sheets of glass.  No glass blowing involved here!

As a painter I have usually worked in this way, and have enjoyed the whole "series" idea.  I have done a Venice series, a woods series, a garden birds series,  a children-at-play series, a sea-scene series, a group of market scenes, a group of still life images, a garden series.........it is only occasionally, now, that I will tackle a single image, since working in a series has become something of a habit.   

My 2D work with enamels done for this year's Open Studio (in progress now, ending 27th September, call or email me for details if  you might like to pop along)   shows the series idea...I worked exclusively with landscape.... and for the future ....I plan to try to apply this to my work with glass.  It is, I firmly believe, a healthy way to work, and habit worth developing.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015


For those of you who like to draw with accuracy - particularly perhaps those who draw from photos, there is a tool on the market which can help you double-check your drawing for accurate proportions. 

I have noticed that even when drawing landscape images from photographic reference, people still get proportions wrong - mountains too high, fields too large..... I suspect this is because they are drawing what they THINK should be there, rather than measuring accurately - - and it can also be because it sometimes tricky with a small photo.

Drawing a portrait, or figure, from photo reference, is also fraught with difficulties if you simply draw freehand.  It can actually be easier to use the old "hold a pencil out" method when you have a figure in front of you...because a real face is bigger and therefore easier to work with, than the tiny shapes on a small photo.

You can use the grid method to "scale up" a photo...but this can lead to fairly stiff drawings in my experience.

For a looser drawing instead, you can draw freehand as much as possible...and then use this little tool to double-check your drawing.  With it, you will very quickly discover where you have gone wrong, and can then make adjustments.

For those living outside of the UK, there is the ACCURASEE PROPORTIONAL DIVIDER.  For those within the UK, there is the DERWENT SCALE DIVIDER.   Actually - there are lots of sources for both, and for plenty of others. you just need to check Google.  You will even find instructions on how to make your own!

 They all work in the same way, and this picture speaks more than a thousand words:

Line up the short end, fix the measurement, and the other end will give you a perfect scaled-up measurement!  SO USEFUL!!!  You can slide the divider, using the little nut in the centre, to create different sizes.
When drawing a portrait, you draw one vertical and one horizontal line across the image, draw a horizontal and vertical on your paper, and then proceed from there.  This Youtube video demonstrates it very well indeed:
I think the photo above speaks for itself, and the video explains everything clearly. I do hope you find this information useful.

Saturday, 8 August 2015


This post is aimed at those who have chosen to follow this blog.  I am sure the vast majority of you are painters, and as such, would prefer to see posts specific to the world of the painter.

Sadly, I have not written many such posts recently, and feel I owe you an explanation.

I have been a painter, and painting tutor, for many a long year...but in recent times, I have developed a condition called "Essential Tremor" which means that when I try to concentrate on sketching, my hand shakes uncontrollably and the sketch is often badly affected.  I have done battle with the condition for a couple of years now, and finally decided, after binning the last lot of images I produced recently, to accept the situation more gracefully, and instead of drifting into inactivity, try to celebrate the fact that I can still type without problems, so am able to share my knowledge ....and can manage, strangely, to work with my enamels and with glass, which does not involve the use of a paintbrush or pencil and does not require concentration on detail in the same way.

Learning new skills is time consuming, and I now spend long hours studying,  experimenting and honing my abilities.  Which has meant that blog-writing has rather been pushed to the background.  But I will try to be a little more consistent after I finish my next OPEN STUDIO - which is Herts Open Studio and begins mid-September, continuing until the 27th -( visitors welcome, do check the dates and times with me if you would like to come along.)

I will be showing my work with glass, and with enamel on copper.  Some of that work will be framed pieces, so I have not totally abandoned 2D work!  Here is a new enamel on copper piece:

This will be on sale for approximately £95.  (I deliberately try to keep most of my framed pieces available during Open Studio events for less than £100, to make them properly affordable.  They would cost far more in a gallery).

Although I may not have used a stick of pastel, or paint and a brush to create this image, nevertheless all the important painting principles apply - tone, colour, shape, mark-making, atmosphere - without a painting background, working two-dimensionally would be much more of a challenge.  I have also had to find new methods and ways to work which are less physically problematical - another challenge.

The glass work is coming along nicely - there is lots to discover, but working with "hot glass" can be really gratifying.  Here is a new piece I like a lot, such rich, yummy colours:

The chocolate and ivory parts are opaque, and the blue strip is transparent.  Again, an understanding of what contributes to strong design plays a big part in the creation of such a piece.  It is a fairly large platter, one of several I've made in similar colours.  Here is another, a shallow, large bowl, but displayed as a piece of art:

So folks you now know why I have been somewhat absent recently - but rest assured that when time allows, I will drop back in with some thoughts for you.  In the meantime, let me just say this. 

Creativity can take many forms.  What stifles creativity is depression, wishing for what cannot be,  lack of energy and enthusiasm.  If you are to achieve anything worthwhile, as an artist of any kind, you need to rise above setbacks and disappointments, and simply SOLDIER ON, trying new things, allowing yourself the opportunity to discover new outlets for your creativity.  If you allow yourself to drift into inactivity because of an obstacle in your way,  and if you find that inactivity miserable, then recognise that YOU are the only one able to make things change.  Just DO something positive about it.  You may just surprise yourself by reinventing yourself.

Thursday, 9 July 2015


Today I received a Facebook message from someone who said this:

"Where did you gain your understanding of colour?  This something I struggle with all the time, and it shows in your work that you really know what you are doing with it".

This was from someone who works with glass, as I do sometimes, rather than from someone who is learning to paint.

It fascinated me to get the question, because it made me realise how much I take my understanding of colour for granted, and how much my training as a painter is helping me in my alternative pursuits.

Here is my latest piece of glass.  At the moment, it is just a fused flat piece.....I am considering whether it will be a bowl in due course, or if it will stay a flat circle and will be displayed on a stand as a work of art, which I feel it is.  It reminds me of Klimt, or anyway I like to feel it does. ( Please ignore the horizontal strips in the blue...that is a reflection of the kiln elements in the lid, while the piece is sitting in the kiln!)

and here are small experimental squares, which may be framed, or may get cut up for jewellery pieces:
Finally, here is piece that was framed and is now sold - ignore, please, the blue screen behind it and the reflections in the glass - a rather poor photo I am afraid, but it is sufficient to make a point about colour which is explained below.
The one thing that all three pieces have in common is that I used a simple technique from the world of colour theory called COLOUR HARMONY - using colours which are alongside each other on the colour wheel.  
This means that each piece has the power of a specific COLOUR TECHNIQUE behind it, to give added design strength.
I regularly go onto "glass forums", and see the work that is produced by people who have no idea at all about colour theory, they just follow their noses and instincts.  Sometimes this is fine, but often the results are rather overpowering at best, psychedelic and rather eye-watering at worst!   I personally feel that an hour or two spent with a good book on colour theory for painters would help them enormously, and I suspect their work would improve dramatically as a result.
However the world is full of all sorts of people, with all sorts of tastes, and hopefully they are all enjoying their work regardless....but if you know little about colour theory, think it is dry and boring and can only be of limited help to you unless you are a painter...I suggest you think again.

Sunday, 24 May 2015


We have looked at the use of cropping, as a tool for the artist to employ.  It is particularly helpful when the image just isn't working as well as one might like -in particular, when the composition is weak.... suddenly, a crop can effect an interesting and dynamic change for the better.

Cropping can be useful in other ways too.

 I wanted to produce an image for a new business card...appropriate for the fascinating glass pieces I have begun to make lately.  I make all sorts...from coasters to large platters, from bowls to framed wall art.  In some instances, the piece may well contain a section of glass which I have "created" myself, almost a painterly effect, with textural interest, and sometimes with beautiful floating colour and depth, much like layers of paint, and marks of paint.

Here is an example:  This bowl has plain, opaque black glass either side, and the central section was a "part sheet" I made, which began as a simple piece of ivory glass.  Onto the ivory glass I placed glass powders, and glass pieces, then it was fused in the kiln to melt the glass so that it looks almost painted...but not quite.  Seen full size, you can almost "look into" the textures on the glass.

Photographing one individual item for my business card just did not feel right because I have produced so many different kinds of items.  In the end, I cropped...well, I allowed the camera to do the cropping.   I photographed sections of glass areas I had created and used for bowls, plates, and wall art.  I ended up with a series of images which would actually be terrific starting points for some interesting abstract paintings!

Harrow Open Studio is fast approaching.  All are welcome..........for further information, drop me a line.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Having a goal in mind

If you have a local "OPEN STUDIO" organisation in your area, do find out when the artists will be showing their works, and have a good look around with a view to doing it too in the future.  It matters not if you have never shown your work before.  It is all about enthusiasm and commitment.   It provides enormous incentive to have a goal...you produce whatever you wish, you can share with another if your home is unsuitable, you make it work for you.

I will be doing two Open Studios this year, Harrow Open and Herts Open.  Harrow takes place over two weekends in June, Herts over several weeks in September.  I will publish dates and details nearer the time but you can email me if you want to make a note in your diary.

It is great to have something to work towards. I really enjoy the whole process of working with a goal in mind.

I used to have regular gallery shows of my paintings, but I do not want to do this again, for a variety of reasons.     ( I will not work with a gallery owner who does not appreciate his or her artists properly - galleries are lucky to receive work from artists on a sale or return basis, and I like to feel that this is acknowledged properly - unfortunately this is often not the case.  ) I do provide several nice gallery owners with my bowls.  But I only allow small quantities out of the studio.

So this is why I have yearly Open Studios - it gives me a goal and makes me feel I am in charge of my own destiny.  I can put in as much, or as little, effort as I wish. 

At the moment - there is quite a bit of effort going on.  After seeing the movie of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, I was reminded strongly of the glorious colours I had seen in Rhajastan some years ago.  My work at the moment reflects this, and Open Studio here in June will be colourful and vivid.  There will be a small selection of paintings, and a lot of more affordable items, in glass and enamel on copper.

Here is some work in progress:

Painting of street sellers in Rhajastan:
Glass in gorgeous bright colours:
Abstract images in glass to be framed in white box frames...I have made them in blues, reds, turquoises, all sorts of beautiful bright jewel colours.

Even my enamelled bowls have begun to take on rich colours:

Open Studio is an opportunity to meet your audience, show your work to family, friends, and visitors.   If you are worried about the amount of work you may need, then do try to join forces with another artist, or group of artists, in your area, then you do not have to produce a massive amount of work, just enough to dip your toes in the water to discover if it is something you might like to do again.
Off I go, back to the studio to get on with some work! Luckily, I enjoy it all enormously and I hope this will show in the pieces I produce.

Sunday, 22 March 2015


One of my India pastel PAINTINGS

Someone I know, who paints beautiful pastels, sold one of her images to a customer, who informed her that he was looking for an opulent frame for it, because it would make it look more like a "real" painting.

In other words, more like an oil painting.  In his mind, only an oil is a "real" painting.

I am afraid that although pastels have become more accepted in recent years, there are still many people who know little about art, their understanding of what makes a "proper painting" is coloured by preconceptions about what makes good art.  Those preconceptions must somehow have been established in childhood and had been carried with them all their lives.   In their minds, the only "proper" paintings are oils.  Watercolours perhaps are considered almost as good...but still, they need to be cheaper because they are "easier" to paint.  

  I find this attitude quite amazing, given that most people today must have had SOME art education...even if it was only rudimentary.  I do know that when I was at school, we were expected to learn to draw, and we did a bit of painting.  That was the extent of my art education up to the age of 16.  But my young Aussie cousins learned far more than I did, having had art history on their curriculum even at age 12. 

Many people also place a value on the length of time it takes to produce a painting.  They admire difficulty of execution.  The more highly detailed a painting, often the more admired...how many of you have heard those dreaded words "so how long did it take you to paint that?"  Proof positive that the viewer places a value on the time and difficulty involved.  This is something the artist finds hard to avoid, unfortunately.
There should be art education in schools, not just how to paint, but how to appreciate paintings, art history, all sorts.  World history could be told through art!   People need to place value on elements other than time taken, difficulty of execution, medium used.  They need to learn to appreciate uniqueness of vision, originality, emotional content, pure beauty.....so many aspects could be taught and learned.    Art is such a valuable part of society...imagine a society without any art in it!!! 

People today have access to so much information via the internet, there are hundreds of galleries to visit in person, and there are books galore in libraries.  Yet, these extraordinary preconceptions do still exist.   I have lost count of the number of people I have come across who sniff at pastels as a medium.  

One of my favourite landscape painters today - a pastel by Richard McKinley

So, whenever I show my work,  I always put up a card which explains what pastels are, how they have been used by Masters of the past, how they are pure pigments, unadulterated by oils which help them to darken -  or by the gum tragacanth added to pigments to make watercolours, plus water...which means they fade.  Pastels are pure pigments mixed with small quantities of natural binders.  They are not made with chemicals or plastics. So in fact, they often have greater longevity and integrity than most other materials in use today.

A Master of the past....Mary Cassatt

Some years ago, I produced a series of ballet images.  The parents of a girl I painted standing at the barre, really loved my finished piece.  They wanted to buy it.  When they learned it was a pastel, however, they insisted it was not worth its money, because it was not a "proper painting" and they refused to buy it.   They were not prepared to listen to my explanation of pastel as a medium.  It was their loss - someone else snapped it up, and they were really upset.  So how foolish was that?  Their determination that pastels were not "proper" as a medium was unshakeable.

Sadly the world we live in is full of people with unshakeable beliefs, beliefs which are about as solid and permanent as "pie crusts".  Wouldn't the world be a better place if we were all more open to the idea of learning and expanding our horizons, using our intelligence, and the amazing resources we have today,  to educate ourselves, and shift away from entrenched ideas which may be inaccurate, and are based on nothing more than built-in prejudice and lack of information.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015


I read somewhere "Life is too short to learn painting only by trial and error".

When I visit art forums on line, I am often confronted with people picking up a photo, doing their utmost to copy it, but sadly,  never doing anything more to learn about painting.  They clearly expect, by trial and error, to learn as they paint.....well, they may learn SOMETHING as they paint, but all too often, they will repeat "learned mistakes".

We all have to make mistakes, yes.  But to keep on repeating those mistakes because no attempt has been made to discover what they are, and how to correct them, seems a bit daft to me.

So what is the answer?  You live miles from anywhere;  there are no decent classes to go to;  you are too old to start going to classes anyway;  you have no alternative.

I would argue that yes, you do, actually.

There are libraries everywhere.  There are books galore out there.  There is the internet.  You have to make the time. While it is fun to sit down with paper/canvas and paint, or to spend hours browsing the internet, working out what next to buy in terms of art materials - all that is the easy stuff.   But the harder stuff....the learning....can only be done, if you have no nearby class to attend, (or even if you do, depending on the skill of your tutor) by reading.  Lots of reading.

Let the writers of those books be your teachers.  Let them inspire you, and motivate you.  Learn about :

TONES - and value patterns

COLOUR - learn the colour wheel, colour temperature, and how to make colours "work" for you in a painting.

DESIGN - try to find out what makes good design, and why.  If you have a good underlying design for your painting, it will stand out from the crowd.

EMOTION - Think of it as a treasure hunt.  It will take you quite a bit of time to find out what it is that makes a painting special, makes it memorable, makes the viewer feel the artist's passion.  Painting what you feel - delight, despair, love, anger, awe - all of these are emotional responses to your subject, and you need to BEGIN, at the very least,  to find out how best you can express something of your feelings in your work.  Why bother otherwise?  Copying photos?  Most of the time, you just end up with a second-rate version of that photo! 

Learning about tone, colour, and design - these are things which truly can be "learned".  There are rules to follow which will help you - how great is that!

Learning about how to express your feelings is something else again. And not easy.  But the good news is that as we gradually learn, we begin to find out what satisfies us as artists...what challenges us....what excites us.   Take time to think about what it is that is most important to you....is it particular subject-matter?    Others are driven by colour, and/or design, or the prevailing light....while their subject matter is varied.  What matters is your sense of commitment.  Learn to recognise your passion, and that will give each day more meaning, and your paintings will reflect that.  Try finishing this sentence:
"If I only had one day left to paint, I would paint..............."   

Finally let me introduce you to an artist who is passionate about painting, and about landscapes in particular. He is a bit of a hermit, tucked away painting every day with absolute passion and commitment. He has no interest in painting "for the market ", or in copying photos.  He is not worried about whether his work is "in fashion".  His work has deep emotion, with a dreamlike quality  - simple, but powerfully emotive.
Steven Outram :  I recommend a visit to his website:  http://www.stevenoutram.com/index.html
He made it his business to learn, thoroughly, from the Old Masters.....yet despite their influence, or perhaps because of it... he is absolutely his own man, he emulates nobody.  He understand the craft of painting really well - and he produces beautiful, sensitive work revealing his emotions and feelings....and has this ability because he left nothing to trial and error.

‘I want to create a reality that the viewer feels they can step into, even to lose themselves in. My works are imagined,   but have their origins in how I’ve felt about something actually seen. Themes that run through my art are transience, the sustaining power of the forces of nature, and an elusive beauty which can be seen if we care to look

Sunday, 18 January 2015


They say "you never know until you try".  And in my current creative mode, there is a lot of trying going on.

Henri Matisse said "An artist should never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of style, prisoner of reputation or prisoner of success".

I find it hard to change, and after many years of painting, had begun to feel a little like a prisoner of my own well-established painting habits......so I have taken a few leaps sideways. 

 I am currently using alternative mediums instead of paints or pastels. I use powdered glass to create drawings and images .....enamel powders, which are glass, were used to create this landscape on a sheet of copper.  I have to sprinkle the powder onto the surface of the copper, and move it around to create shapes.   I have had to learn how the material will react to both metal, and kiln.  Some enamels are opaque, others transparent.  Seconds make all the difference inside the kiln.  Lots of unusual things can happen!  But that makes it all really fascinating.    I call this image "Melting off".   As you can see, there is a great deal of simplification going on here...a lot is left to the viewer's imagination........and after many trips to the kiln, I have ended up with a form of semi-figurative image - or semi-abstract if you like, looking much like a painting:

And here is another work in progress.  I am quite new to the medium of glass.  This "drawing" was created with black glass powder - very fine indeed.  I sprinkle this onto the surface of a piece of glass, and working in a similar way to the piece above, I move the powder around with brushes, sticks, rubber shapers, fingers - all sorts.   This has yet to be fired, it is just the "raw powder" onto clear glass.
In both instances, I really had to work hard at allowing myself to respond to a new medium, while at the same time, remembering and using many of the traditional principles I have used for donkey's years!
In so doing, I have almost come full circle.  Through working with enamels, and now glass, I have found myself returning to figurative imagery...but in a rather different way.  It is really exciting.  I have always liked the idea of semi-figurative art pieces, where reality is gently manipulated and abstract elements combine with illustrative ones to create a piece where suggestive illusion and viewer interpretation both play a part.
I once read this, and wrote it in a sketchbook:  "there are countless ways of creating a good painting, but there is one certain way of creating a bad one;  depicting precisely what you see".  This is because we "see" too much.   A painting - or creative image such as those above - needs to be more than just an imitation of objects.
So - if you are feeling a bit stuck, and have a nagging sense of dissatisfaction with what you are doing - why not try a change of medium -not necessarily the ones I have chosen - there are plenty of alternatives -  you never know what might happen as a result.
"Art only begins where imitation ends".  Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, 14 January 2015


I recently tried to help someone with a painting.  The artist had complained  that the painting had brought forth no nice comments from people who had seen it, and he thought that perhaps he should have handled it differently.

I pointed out to him some of the reasons why I felt that the painting had perhaps not been as successful as others he had done.  I explained why I felt that the composition of the painting was rather weakened by certain elements,  - most of my reasons were based on the "geometry" underlying the image.

This clearly did not go down very well.  The response I received was "well, that is far too complicated ,  I cannot see myself ever thinking about echoes, horizontals, diagonals and stuff like that".

A classic bit of inflexible thinking.  While I can understand that some concepts are tricky to comprehend, and perhaps "see" at first glance, nevertheless surely it is worth trying rather than dismissing the whole idea instantly?

I do get it that people like to paint something that excites them.  It is the subject-matter that hits their conscious mind, first and foremost.  But there are times when what appears to be super subject-matter, turns into a rather boring painting.   And then, it is necessary to search for reasons why. 
I personally believe that often, the reason why that painting disappoints is because many of the underlying important elements of "what makes a painting work" have been ignored, misunderstood, or simply overlooked.   

Painting isn't just about accurately portraying a glorious sunset....or a cute-looking dog ....or an interesting building.

Painting is about all of those things, PLUS loads of other things......amongst them things like this:

  • Pattern - the arrangement of light and dark shapes within your rectangle
  • Directing the eye - the path of the viewer's eye, which depends upon visual connections
  • The Focal Area - a centre of interest
  • Colour - creating colour relationships, using colour theory concepts
  • Design - the basics of an attractive "layout" for your image
  • Shapes and Edges - thinking about how to create rhythm, balance, emphasis where needed
  • Key - thinking about the mood you want to create, and how this can be achieved
Not one of these things will show you how to paint a tree, a background, a portrait.  But without at least taking on board the fact that all of these things, and more,  are part of learning to paint, and having an open mind about TRYING, gradually, to learn something about these powerful tools which help to build a good, strong image,  your paintings will simply be an attempt to reproduce reality, without any of the underlying, secret messages which make a painting good enough to stop a viewer in his or her tracks.

OK I will get off my soapbox now.

Here are some images which were painted by a favourite artist of mine - Tony Allain.    His work always stops ME in my tracks.  And the reason it does, is nothing to do with the subject matter.  I love the energy of these images, the confidence of the big shapes, the dynamism, the surprising, exciting colour. I wish I could be half so bold and brave.     If you like these, do take a look at more of his works.