Saturday, 19 July 2014


Learning how to draw is as much about learning how to SEE, as how to manipulate your chosen material.  After all, you can "draw" with anything........charcoal, pencil, brush, crayon......the choice is endless........but if you are to draw well, you need to sharpen not just your pencil, but also your observational muscles.

Before I go any further, I do want to say that I am afraid there are no short cuts to excellence.  You can be given endless numbers of short cuts and hints about how to draw  but at the end of the day, it is only by copious amounts of practice of many of the basic principles of drawing, that you will achieve good quality in your drawing skills.

So - let's just take another look at the business of using PLUMB LINES plus a couple of other pointers - I have highlighted them in bold for you.   I have touched on plumb lines before - the idea of working with a mental grid - but it was a while ago, so I am going to mention it again because I keep seeing students' work which does not take them into account, yet they are so very, very useful.

Here is a quick, student line drawing of a dancer:

On the face of it, not too bad...the weight of the dancer seems to be on her left, standing leg, which seems logical and right;  her head is tilted forwards;  there is a suggestion of three dimensional form.  The arm on the barre looks a bit thin and there is an odd bulge on the other arm, but in general...not too terrible.

But let's look at the original source photo.

Aha...we can see quite a few errors now.  The head is not just tilted forwards, it is turned too.  And is bigger than in the drawing..which helps to show that it is a child. In the drawing, it looks like an adult - children's heads are proportionally larger than adults heads are, in relation to the body.   So...the head, and the arm, have problems with proportions.
And let's use PLUMB LINES to re-see the two images, to find out where the other problems are.  The natural inclination for most students is to draw the outline of the figure from the photo, and then "fill in" the shadows. But the problems seen in the drawing will become clear when I use plumb lines which have nothing to do with outline, and everything to do with seeing with more accuracy.
1. Take Line A.  See how, from the side of her head, the line drops down well outside her knee.  But doesn't.  That leg is further over to our right.  This affects the distribution of weight, and balance of the figure.
2.  Now look at line B.  The side of her head is in line with the centre point between her legs.  But in the drawing, it isn't.

3.  Line runs from the strap of her leotard, to the back of her heel.  In the drawing, we can see that there is an inaccuracy.
4.  Now let's use a line going across........from the back of her raised heel, the line cuts her other leg just below the knee.  It doesn't in the drawing.
5.  Finally - another shift in vision for you...I want you to look at the negative shape between her arm on the barre, and her body.  I have outlined it in brown.  In the drawing, the shape is elongated.  In the photo, it is a tiny triangle.
I think I have shown you that there is a need for honing the skills of observation, and sometimes, it is helpful to use some extra "seeing tools" to help us find greater accuracy.  Eventually, accuracy will combine with artistic feeling to enable you to produce drawings with sensitivity as well as accuracy. 
Having looked at a student drawing, now have a look at this beautiful drawing below.  Notice the use of plumb lines, but also straight lines which help to define angles and changes of direction. You can hold up a straight edge, and compare it against a curve to see the irregularities of the shape in relation to the straight line.
  See how the artist (Harold Speed -  from his book published about 70 years ago!) has so very carefully observed all the subtle changes in the curves of the form, where muscles bunch, and tendons pull straight -  and the subtle changes of form within the body as well as throughout the outline... it is a very fine piece of work, amazingly well observed and not the least bit slapdash or hoping-for-the-best.  This chap knows his anatomy, as well as how to draw it.
 I really recommend that you use these extra visual tools to improve your work, particularly if you have the luxury of time, for example, when working from a photo, as so many do these days.  It may take a little while to achieve the kind of sharpness of observation you can see clearly in Mr Speed's work - but you will get there if you train your eye to see more than just an outline and a bit of shading.  
  • Check proportions carefully
  •   use plumb lines in both directions to check positioning,
  • observe curves, and changes of direction, by using a straight edge for comparison
  • observe the play of light which gives us the form. 
  • observe negative shapes around the body and between forms - these often give us extra clues to us.
  • spend a little time studying the anatomy of the human figure.  This can only add strength to your drawings, both of the nude, and of clothed people (you often have to envision the form beneath the fabric of clothing),  and will help enormously when the photo is inadequate and needs some reinterpretation. 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Colouring (or coloring) - that what you do?

Do you find that the "drawing" stage of a painting means that you feel you must paint, carefully, the shapes you have drawn?   You feel satisfied with the drawing;  you are careful with tones, and colours........yet somehow the painting looks stiff and rigid when you have finished.

This may be because you are "colouring-in".  It is not surprising.........if you have been careful about your drawing, you don't really want to spoil the lines of the drawing become the guide for the subsequent applications of colour.

Why, then, would this lead to an unsatisfactory result for some of us ?    I say "some of us" because those who like to paint photographically might be delighted with a perfect, photographic result - and there is nothing actually wrong with painting in that way - I am simply addressing those who do NOT like the end result of their efforts!.

Colouring-in can lead to  similarly-painted edges everywhere.  The lines of the drawing become OUTLINES.  Outlines are fine if we are drawing cartoons...........but that is not the way we see the world.

When we look at our subject -be it landscape, still life, figure - we do not see any "outlines". I am aware I may have said this before, but it is worth repeating, I believe.    A figure has no outline around it.  An apple doesn't have an outline.  Sure, both figure and apple have a point at which the form "turns a corner" and is invisible to our eye...but sometimes, at that precise point, the so-called "edge" may be almost indiscernible....or sharp as a knife.  It depends on what is next to the shape at that point, and what is happening with the light.   

Let's look for a moment at this painting, Book Fair Group:  I apologise for the brilliance of the blue - lousy photo - but nevertheless it is helpful in the context of this article.

Look at the figures.  Notice how the light offers us one side of their bodies, nicely "outlined".  But the outlines "melt" where the figure turns away from the light.  The tall guy's front almost melts into the striped sweater of the figure next to him;  her head and face melt into the figure next to her.  The chap on the far right is only really visible at all because of the light hitting one side of his figure - otherwise, he is just suggested.  .His right side "melts" into the background beyond.

Given that I was working with an opaque medium, pastels, I  used a range of blues, greys and other dark colours for the figures AS A WHOLE LARGE SHAPE, not worrying about "going over the lines", and then I went back into that mass of dark tones, to pick out some of the medium tones, and then the lighter tones until finally painting the lightest, sharpest marks.  There was no need to "colour-in" each one separately....and had I done so, I might have lost some of the visual "flow".
For this garden "still life", I HAD to draw carefully - without a good drawing, those chairs might have been a disaster........but then, chair legs and shadows were painted together, so that the shapes were not too separate. the colours used were repeated in the foliage to the right.   The chair in the background also half-disappears;  the dark tone of the foliage behind it was painted right across the drawing of the chair (leaving it faintly visible in parts, but only just), and then the slightly lighter tones used for the backrest were put in.
When I was a student, my tutor warned me against always painting within the lines. Always allow yourself to paint OVER the lines or edges, if those lines or edges are not sharp and visible clearly in real life, he said, (as did other tutors after him).   Where a shape melts into another shape, allow the colour to bleed from one into the other. 
 PAINT FROM THE GENERAL, TO THE SPECIFIC, he said.  What that means is squinting like crazy, to discern the general pattern of light and dark shapes in a scene.  Get those down first.   Then, and not before, work towards the details.  In this way, you will avoid that whole business of your image looking too stiff and coloured-in.
Here I am working from the general to the specific:(admittedly, not much drawing involved, but hopefully, you get the point!)


This was not quite the finished piece;  I altered some of the larger sky holes, but as you can see, I did not begin at the top and work my way down the painting, finishing off each section piecemeal.  I know some people like to work this way, but I just couldn't imagine myself ever doing that.  For all the reasons given above!


Sunday, 22 June 2014

Painting reflections in water

Ok a little "teaching" blog today.


During the summer months, it is lovely to get out and about, and few locations are nicer than the bank of a lake, or pond, or a canal.   Not only are you surrounded by lovely landscape, you also have that landscape reflected in the water - a delicious subject to tackle.

However, dealing with reflections in water does require a bit of careful handling, so here are a few tips to help you on your way.


Reflections are generally darker nearer to you, and lighter further away.  This is because the water which is further away from you is being seen at a flatter angle to the sky, and therefore the sky will "lighten" the surface of the water.  When you look down into water, colours and tones are stronger.

Also, a good rule of thumb to remember is that generally, all tone is less intense seen in water...lights are darker, darks are lighter.  Colours are more muted than the landscape around you.  The Venice canal pic above shows this, I feel.  (although I apologise for what looks like a bent parallax problem...just look at the reflections!)


Half close your eyes to cut out detail, and look for changes in large shapes from front to back, as this will help with the impression of recession.    Running water will distort shapes - study the water for a while to see if you can see any kind of pattern.  Choppy water, as in the top Venice pic above, will break up reflections - notice how the poles are reflected but their reflections are broken up by lighter "surface" ripples and eddies.  

Reflections are cast onto the surface of the water, so it is tempting to simply paint an upside-down version of what is on dry land - using horizontal marks or strokes , because the surface is, after all, horizontal....but .....
In fact, your reflections will work far better if you use vertical strokes -this will still convey the flat surface of the water - or try to avoid any sense of directional stroke for the reflection, keep it as a flat shape - and then you can hint at the water's actual top surface by picking up ripples, or lights, as small horizontal marks over the top of the vertical strokes, or flat reflected area.

In general, most reflected edges are softer than the edges of whatever they reflect.

I am not really a landscape painter so do not have a big variety of images to show you, so I have selected one of Richard McKinley's lovely pictures, which absolutely does the job!  And another below it,  by Albert Handell.   Do study them with my comments in mind.


Wednesday, 18 June 2014


My Open Studio has finished now, and my house is back to normal.  Doing an Open Studio is fun, but be prepared for a lot of upheaval - and exhaustion!   Joining forces with an "Open Studio Trail" is a great way to show your work, and sell from home.  If you decide to try this one day, here are a few pointers:

  • Start well in advance, there is nothing worse than a show which looks thrown together at the last minute.

  • Use decent framing - don't put shabby frames on your work, it cheapens the look of everything. TIP:   If you have a local Ikea, you can pick up very inexpensive, modern frames from them, which make the work look great!  I believe presentation is important.  I provide beautiful little boxes, with tissue and ribbons, for my bowls, in case people want to give them as gifts.  Not everyone wants to have these, but it is nice to provide them just in case. 

  • Even if the organisers claim that they do lots of advertising and publicity, be prepared to do your own.  I put out posters galore all over my neighbourhood - they brought in lots of people.  Spread out leaflets in shops, garden centres, libraries, restaurants - printing these days can be done quite reasonably.

  • Price your work visibly, people don't like to have to ask the prices.  Type little labels, these look more professional than hand-written labels. 

  • make sure your lighting is good, so that the work can be seen at its best.

  • provide some snacks and drinks, visitors appreciate this

  • Try to find a way to accept credit cards.  A friend of mine processes credit cards for me.  I give people forms to fill in, check everything, and then type out a list for my friend the next day.

  • KEEP A VISITORS BOOK and ensure everyone fills it in.  This is vital, to help you build a mailing list for future events.

It is the little things like these which make a difference.  A number of people who came in to see my Open Studio, commented on some of these things, and said what a pleasure it was to visit me, as a result. 

I sold lots of work..........but do have three of my best paintings still. They can go into a gallery, but before I start driving around ,  I thought I might offer them up here, as I can send them out, unframed, for a fraction of what a gallery would charge for them.  They were much admired but of course were the most expensive items on offer, and people found cheaper alternatives!  I gave them too much choice, obviously!!!

So you have a chance to pick one up at a bargain price --- mounted, ready for framing at your end. 

The Craft Market - £200  ($300)  NOW SOLD

The ones below are $250
"sorting out the flower stall"
"Where shall I put this one?"

If interested, please send me an email, I can send you sizes, and shipping costs.


Tuesday, 27 May 2014


Not a teaching post today - instead,  an invitation.
If you live in the UK, you are more than welcome to pop along to my


Although the official Open Garden day is JUNE 8, I am also open for HARROW OPEN STUDIOS trail, on June 8, 9 and 15, and any day in between by appointment.  Please send me an email if you would like further information, directions, anything.  Send to jackiesdesk at

It is chance to see a really lovely garden, with 6 ornamental ponds with colourful fish (photo opportunity?)  and lush, mature planting...........and to see examples of my current creative works which include painting, ceramics, enamelling on copper - bowls and framed panels, and glass in various forms - dishes and jewellery.

All are welcome;  we are "wheelchair" friendly here too.  Please come, bring friends, it is an opportunity not just to see work but also to buy direct from the artist at artist's prices.  The sun might even shine on the day you come!!!!!!  If not, there will be shelter from the rain.

Here are a few examples, to whet your appetite.  People travel from all over the country to see gardens chosen by the National Gardens Scheme, so although I am 15 miles outside London, don't let that stop you if you live further afield.

trinket bowl, enamel on copper, cut to an organic shape
"Where shall I put this one?"
ceramic trinket bowl, glass interior
"The Craft Market" 
Fused glass pendants


a small corner of the garden

Sunday, 11 May 2014 do I get my pictures to sparkle?

It's a slightly strange word to use when talking about paintings, isn't it.  Why SHOULD a picture "sparkle"?  It is not a shiny piece of metal.........yet this elusive quality is something many people want to achieve, yet they find themselves producing images which seem somewhat dull and lifeless.

Actually -  there is nothing whatsoever wrong with a quiet, subtle image which relies on soft, muted tones - those tones which provide a very different kind of atmosphere, more contemplative perhaps.

I like strong contrasts of tone in my images, lots of drama and interest - I think I am a tonal painter at heart really, more than a colourist.  I find it quite difficult to make colour "speak" in the way that some artists are able to do, without using strong tonal contrasts.

For me, light (and shadow) is the key.  If I work with a wide range of tone, from very dark to very light with plenty of intermediate tones in between, I find that the picture automatically has the light and shade in it that gives me the element of sparkle - drama - call it what you will - that I might desire.

It amazes me how many people work from uninspiring subject matter, giving no thought to the light in the scene - only concerning themselves with the objects which make up the scene.

I also find that working on a dark ground is really helpful in this respect too.  When working with pastels, with marks which are not blended, but instead allowed to show underneath layers, a dark ground instantly provides deep, dark areas for my darkest shapes in the image, I do not have to build up layers of dark colours right from the beginning.  Try it for on a light ground, pale grey for instance, and then create the same image on black paper.  The result will be stunningly different.

Here is a new image, painted for my forthcoming Open Garden/Studio event next month.  It was worked onto black paper:  The sun plays an important role, illuminating the figures and the front part of the scene.  The dark interior of the flower stall was easy to achieve, allowing the dark of the paper to do its work, with very subtle, dark colour blocked in to suggest interior shapes.  It is a typical "Jackie Simmonds" with strong colours,  colour harmony and a hint of colour complements in there too, and above all,,  plenty of sparkle.  I am showing it in large form, so that you can really see the marks, and can see how the colour of the paper influences those marks.  Laid on thickly, one can disguise the colour of the paper.........but allowing it to show through even slightly, makes an impact. 

If you are someone who yearns for more punch in your images, why not try a dark ground.......and choose your subject matter for its contrast and drama..............and see if you can produce something which will sparkle and glow!

Send me a jpg of your finished piece.......I will do a follow up blog post to show the best ones.  If you can send it together with one you did earlier which did NOT have sparkle, it would be interesting to see, and show both.   Send them to me at jackiesdesk at

Monday, 28 April 2014


I have been sent a few questions lately about backgrounds, and I usually send people to my blog post here:

But I came across this post on WetCanvas, which offers excellent advice on backgrounds for portraits in particular.  It is well thought-out, and illustrated carefully to explain each point.

Given that I am under pressure for all sorts of reasons right now, rather than offer no blog at all, I thought I would at least offer you the opportunity to read some things about backgrounds that you might well find useful.  It is better than silence, methinks!

And to  stimulate your thoughts,  here are a few portraits with unusual "backgrounds" (and poses too).  Makes one think - why settle for a conventional head shot and a "neutral" background? can you "involve" the background with the character of the sitter?..and what do these choices make you think and feel?
Harold Pinter, by Justin Mortimer
J K Rowling by Stuart Pearson Wright

Johnathan Miller by Stephen Conroy

Alan Bennett by Tom Wood


Friday, 18 April 2014

COMMISSIONS............AND "how to feel miserable as an artist"

"Michaelangelo.........I am quite sure I told you that I wanted the ceiling to be magnolia........."

I recently spent an afternoon with an artist friend, who had been given a commission to undertake.  She was shaking like a leaf about the whole thing, really worried that whatever she did would be unacceptable.  
It is flattering to be given a commission based on someone's faith in you, but always, there is this hidden agenda with a commission ..... that whatever you produce will not be what the commission-er has in THEIR mind. 
 It may be best to explain to someone who gives you a commission, that you are an artist, not a machine, and therefore the results may slightly differ from what is expected, and that needs to be taken into account when the work is delivered. 

Which brings me to the thought that perhaps, with a commission for a client, rather than a chum or family member, it is a good idea to ask for some kind of non-refundable deposit. 


I failed to do this once.  I did the painting...showed it to my client when finished, she loved it, and asked me to have it framed.  When I eventually took the framed piece to her, she told me that her husband had refused to give her the money, so regretfully, she could not buy it.  I was a bit stunned.  But clearly, there was nothing to be done - she simply did not have the money.  I told her not to worry, I did not want to cause a row between husband and wife, so I would put it into my next exhibition.  "Oh no" she said  " you cannot do is MY garden in the picture and I do not want someone else to have it".  I am afraid I became irritated at that point, and explained, with some grittiness,  that the copyright was mine, and I would do with it as I saw fit.  If she did not want me to sell it, then she had to get her husband to buy it.  He refused, and that was that.  It was sold at the next exhibition.

So - when someone give you a commission , think fairly carefully about the fact that they just may refuse the finished work, for any number of reasons.    If you do not mind - no problem.   If you think you have an alternative audience - also perhaps no problem.  But if you have lots of inventory, and do not need the work for yourself, then having a safeguard in place could be very sensible.  If someone asks for a painting to be created specially for them, why not give them a small thumbnail sketch to show the idea for the image, and if they think that is acceptable, then ask for a sizeable non-refundable deposit before embarking on hours of work on their behalf.   This should be perfectly acceptable to your buyer, if they are honest and straightforward.  Be professional - and remember to value yourself properly.

Sable the greyhound.  Commission done for family birthday gift.  I rarely paint either portraits or animals - not my thing really - but I was caught on a good day and said yes.  Sable is rather gorgeous, so slim and lithe.

After the stress of trying to achieve what would be an acceptable "portrait" of Sable  (it was, luckily, accepted and loved), I created this little enamelled copper plate for myself:

Below - I recently spotted this.     You might find some of these things quite revealing!  And possibly a good fit in some cases.......
With thanks to Melissa Manley for these useful thoughts. (
The bowing to outside pressure, No. 7,  fits me right now...this year has been a bit of a nightmare and I apologise for blog absences.  I have done my best to find some thoughts now and then but it has not been as regular as I might have wanted.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Composition pitfalls

Away again only with access to iPad so please forgive lack of images!

I recently did a critique of painting of a village scene.  There was a cottage on the left of the scene which dropped down behind a big verge, so the doorway was partly hidden and the roof very low. The result of drawing this accurately was that the cottage looked far too small with a strange low door.  This is a common result of being too I explained to the artist, sometimes what looks normal in three dimensions, simply does not translate onto the flat two dimensional paper or canvas surface.  We need to be careful of this kind of pitfall. I believe there is a name for this kind of visual anomaly but it escape know what I mean tho...the telegraph pole sticking out of the walkers head and other similar visual fun things we often get in photos! Degas said "even in front of nature one must compose".

Design conviction.  It does take time for every artist to begin to see "design possibilities" rather than just  " lovely sunset" or "colourful buildings". But it really is a vital part of your development and I encourage everyone to take their learning about this very, very seriously.  You need to ask yourself questions about how you have placed the shapes within the rectangle. Not just the story, not just the content. To help yourself, turn your picture upside down, this helps enormously.  Does it split instantly into two halves? Does the subject matter "float" in a sea of emptiness?   Is it a picture with too many disparate shapes which have no relationship with each other?  What could you adjust to give a more cohesive look?  Try your hardest to see the image as a set of shapes.  Squint a LOT.

Also ...Mechanical Patterns.  It is easy to line up things like trees ...and other elements... like soldiers, spaces between all equal and boring.  Remember, you are not a camera and can move things so that they look interesting and not mechanical.

Bad Flow.  They artist needs to ensure that the viewer is not just directed around the painting carefully but is also pointed, in some way, to a focal area or centre of interest.  Sounds obvious but when caught up In The flow of painting, often the "visual flow" is unconsidered.

Too Busy.  Less shapes means more clarity.    Look critically at your picture when it is upside down.  Is it a mass of loads of random small shapes?  Can you visually join any of those shapes to make one larger shape?  You may be able to bring tones closer together and soften edges in order to do this.

Weak foreground.   All too often, the foreground is neither considered as an important shape, or as an important part of the design at all, be cause it is not the main subject of the picture.  But it IS an important element, even if it is a patch of nothingness, a tabletop. a road or an area of water or a field.  It is still a shape.  A shape at the base of the picture.  Don't leave it as a weak, unconsidered shape because you cannot think quite how to handle it.

Same applies to the dreaded "background", often the subject of much heartache for the still life or portrait painter.  Instead of thinking "background", think"shape" ...the background areas are just as much shapes as any other shape within the rectangle.

Friday, 21 March 2014


Girls playing on rocks, of course.........but do you feel the sunlight, the warmth, their intense concentration?
That elusive thing..............inspiration...............what inspires you?  And when you paint, do you focus on what inspires you or do you focus on techniques and materials and the business of "how" to?  

So many artists -and not all of them beginners - have a fascination with equipment and materials.  I have been approached so many times when demonstrating and asked what I was if having those items will ensure the production of a similar image.    Of course, what you use and how you use your equipment is part of the process..........but it is nowhere near as important as what inspires you.  It is NOT the materials which make a good painting, or good is what is going on in your mind and in your heart.  That particular brush, or pastel stick, will make no difference.

I recently "critiqued" an artist's work - she had painted a landscape, half of which was a large area of grey tarmac.  The road began at the bottom of the work, and curved into the picture, disappearing behind a central clump of of three clumps - one at the left border, one in the middle of the pic, and one at the right border.

She had picked up a photo and copied it.  yes, I know, I bang on about this...........but when I asked her what had "inspired" her about this particular scene, it stopped her in her tracks.  the answer is, of course, that she had not really been "inspired" at all.  the photo just looked easy enough to tackle.   The result was a picture of a road.  It was somewhat peaceful, because the road was empty, after all............but all I could think of was that it was the kind of road that big lorries and trucks would use, and any minute now the peace would be shattered by a large, smelly, noisy truck roaring along.  The composition was poor - the placement of those three clumps of trees was yawn-making, the sky was dull.  IF THE SUBJECT IS DULL YOUR PAINTING WILL BE DULL. 

nice shapes, pretty colours on the flowers...........flat, uninspiring light

So - inspiration.  What is it for you?  It varies from person to person of course.  I can only talk about what inspires me.  One of the elements of a scene which I inevitably find inspiring is THE LIGHT.  The particular details of the scene are often subordinate, for me,  to what the light is doing. 

The difference between the taking of a photo - ie capturing a particular picture-postcard "view", and being inspired by the subject as having potential for a painting, is how the scene makes you feel.  For me, I need that little frisson of excitement I feel when I suddenly get a sense of the scene's potential - and it is often the quality of light in the scene that does it for me.  I want to create a painting that shows not just the way the scene looked, but if possible, even the way it felt to be there too.

Aha - gorgeous light on the petals, interesting shadows and depths.....I can feel my inspiration bubbling to the surface!

This one is more about the light and atmosphere in the scene than it is about the dancers.  Of course, I worked from a photo...but I had been there, lurking in the wings alongside the dancers in the shadows, occasionally hit by brilliant light when the curtains parted and the dancers went on stage. I felt their nerves, their excitement.    I hope I managed to capture some of those sensations as well as an interesting scene.

Incidentally............"light" does not always mean SUNlight. 

Here,  daylight is filtering through the windows, giving a backlit scene;   colour is subdued, and shadows deep and dark, which adds to the intimacy of the atmosphere


Even a grey, rainy day can have some the light is just beginning to brighten on the right, and the wet ground reveals interesting reflections, courtesy of the light in the sky.  It was the softness of the light, together with the fun element of the umbrellas which echo the curving forms in the building, that inspired this scene.  the colours were not as seen, they have been changed for the sake of pictorial unity.

So - before sitting down to copy a photo, for no reason other than it happens to be handy - do have a think about what it is that INSPIRED you to paint.  See if you can communicate that inspiration to your audience.


Thursday, 13 March 2014

Fighting through creative blocks

At the present moment, I am struggling with what feels like a huge creative painting block.  I decided to admit this to you, dear readers, because I believe we all sometimes go through times in our lives when it is difficult to concentrate, feel relaxed, and be creative - for all sorts of different reasons.

At the moment, as I said in my last blog post, I am struggling with some family issues, which involve hospitals and treatments which are not going smoothly.  My mind is very preoccupied with worry and upset, so it becomes more and more difficult to concentrate on my work...........and yet, I do recognise the need to work because without it, I would have no other focus other than my current problems and difficulties, problems over which I have little or no control.

So - when it happens to you......and it might ....what to do?

Of course, coping strategies vary from person to person and I can only tell you about mine.  I find it helpful to do "practical" things, which do not require a lot of creative energy and input. Yesterday, I tidied my workspace.   Today, I spent time with a plasma cutter and some copper bowls, terrifying myself with a new bit of kit, bought before Christmas but I have been too nervous to use it;  Today I bit the bullet and spent time cutting interesting shapes in the metal while at the same time, trying not to cut interesting shapes out of my fingers!  THAT took my mind off my worries, I can tell you!     Then, I had to spend time filing off all the rough edges - pretty mindless work, but time-consuming.  Here is one I made earlier!

At other times, I have worked on creating some enamel panels, allowing myself to "freewheel", responding purely to the pieces as they developed and came out of the kiln with unexpected results. I have wrecked a few - but that's ok, we all create duds sometimes.  I like some of them but I suspect that they may not sell well at my forthcoming "Open Studio"- abstract works are not popular with my particular audience  -however selling stuff is something I cannot focus on too much or the stress levels will shoot right up - it has to be "Que sera, sera".  What will be, will be.
"Stormscape"  Enamel on copper, 6"x6"

"Summer Heat"  Enamel on copper  6"x6"
"Silent Path"  Enamel on copper 6"x6"
"Skydrift"  Enamel on copper 6"x6"

I recognise that agonising over NOT painting, NOT feeling inspired, NOT being creative "enough" will simply deplete what little energy I have right now.  I have to trust that gradually, as things in my life change, so too will my creative life-force.  In the meantime...........I will work on my craft items, they occupy me gently, in a quite different way to painting, somehow. I will do things which do not "matter" too much.    It is important, I feel, to take  lots of deep breaths, when the going is tough.  And to spend time doing other things..... tidying up in the studio - very rewarding - fiddling, doodling, experimenting,  having few expectations and allowing that to be OK.   

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

YOU are in charge!

Once again apologies for absence, I am dealing with a few family stresses.

However, I will just make a brief comment here while I have five minutes spare between appointments. Am working on an iPad so no ability to add pics sorry!

I was recently told off because I commented, on an art forum, about the ghastly frock painted by someone at a life class.  The artist in question admitted that the model had been given an old costume dress to wear which was really ugly. While the portrait was good...and I said as much...the dress took all the attention, being bright red and truly awful with huge bones down the front, bearing no relationship to a woman's shape.

My comments about the dress were taken by some to be too "harsh" yet the critics ignored my praise for the portrait face!  Luckily I was not the recipient of these complaints which were made secretly...but they were passed on to me.

One comment made was that perhaps the artist was disabled, could therefore not move position and was forced to paint a full frontal view even if the dress was ghastly.  While I take the point about some artists being disabled....this is not the issue at all. And brings me to the point of this story.

 Even if you cannot change your position, you always have a choice about what to paint.

Is there a filthy old dustbin in your scene?  Leave it out.  Too many similar spaces between a row of trees making them look like a line of soldiers?  Adjust the distances.  Model wearing an ugly dress? Zom in and paint a portrait, stopping at the neck!  I could go on and on with examples.....the point is you are an artist, not a camera, and you have a choice about what you paint the tones, the colours, the subject ...they are all yours to command.

Monday, 10 February 2014

thoughts about colour

Carnevale, Venice.  Colours chosen deliberately to emphasise the quality of drama and a certain air of sinister mystery
It is all too easy to get caught up in the subject, as a painter, without thinking too much about how adjusting the colours we see, could lead to a totally different response from our viewer.  It is difficult enough, isn't it, to reproduce what we see in the real world, using pigments on a canvas or sheet of paper, without having to think about the influence of the colour.

In my early days as a painter, I went on a painting holiday.  Then, I would try to paint the world around me, just doing my best to get the drawing right, and the tones and colours as right as possible.  The tutor commented that I was a "tonal painter" rather than a "colourist".  At that time, I really did not know what he meant.  I was painting what I thought I saw, surely that was enough?

It is only much later on in life that I have realised that I was making no artistic decisions about the colour - I was simply copying what I saw.  I did not recognise, then,  what a massive impact colour has on the viewer, but I do now, so I often adjust my images to take advantage of the psychological impact of colour.

Well, you may argue...all colours have a certain "duality" -  blue is a good case in point may speak of peace and the calmness of a clear blue sky to one, but it may also signify  depression to another!    So why not just paint what you see?

Here is a rather amusing little colour story for you :

Viagra, a diamond-shaped blue pill, was introduced in 1997. It immediately became an overnight sensation- one of the most successful prescription medications in the pharmaceutical history – with sales of the drug totalling $1.74 billion in one year alone. In 2002, the marketing groups of a rival product, Levitra, brainstormed the issue of colour for their brand. The purpose was to figure out "how to beat the blues," referring to Viagra's sky-blue tablets.

Extensive market research concluded that consumers didn't "resonate with the imagery" of Viagra. They found that the blue colour was too cool and was equated with being sick. The goal was to come up with an enticing color and logo for Levitra. After extensive testing, the team presented Levitra's colour: orange, an extremely vibrant and energetic colour. And the logo? An orange and purple flame.    !!

In conclusion, colour does indeed matter - 80% of visual information is related to colour. Colour is functional. Colour subliminally and overtly communicates information.
So do bear in mind, when you create a painting, that the colours you CHOOSE (which may not necessarily be the colours you SEE in real life) will almost certainly have an impact on the feelings of your audience.  There is plenty of information to be found in libraries and on line about the psychological impact of certain colours...and many colours may have more than one resonance.....but trust your instincts rather than follow set rules or ideas.  Turn your work - and reproductions of paintings in books - upside down...try to view the COLOUR as something quite separate from the subject matter, and see how the colour makes you feel.  There are all sorts of feelings the colour might engender....warmth, chill, peace, discomfort, power, sexuality, vigour, excitement, fear, confidence, unhappiness, optimism..........I could go on and on.  It can be interesting - and revealing - to examine one's own feelings in relation to the colour seen.
Take a look at this painting - I have reproduced it here in two different colour ways.  Do they make you feel quite different...or not?

Perhaps sensitivity to colour is rather like sensitivity to musical notes where some individuals can tune instruments easier than others, some folk dream in colour and some remember colour easily while others desire to train their colour discernment to high levels of sensitivity. Sensitivity to all elements of life is the key that opens a door to deeper appreciation.


Thursday, 30 January 2014


Well, I am back in the saddle, if a bit distracted!  So today I will just offer a few simple suggestions, learned along the way, which some may find useful. 


I recently completed a painting which showed three fellows dressed in black.  To give the impression of light falling on black fabric, I used a fairly dark purple for the "lit" areas.  Anything lighter would have taken away the integrity of the tone value of the black fabric. 

The same thing applies in reverse....let's say you had a person in a white shirt in your picture.  There are shadows where the person faces away from the sun.  You need to use a tone to depict the shadow on white...go too dark, and somehow you "lose" the whiteness of the shirt.  You may only need to use a couple of tones "down" from white, to suggest shadow.


Take a look at the light patches on the men's clothing in both pics, and compare to the shadows on the whites.

A photo may show these tonal changes to be far more dramatic.  DO NOT TRUST THE PHOTO!!!  As I say so very often, a camera cannot properly expose for both the lit areas, AND the dark areas of a scene.  It will give priority to one or the other.  Your eye is much more clever.


You may have been told to squint.  Perhaps you wondered why.  It is not an should be part of your arsenal of tools.  Squinting simplifies things, and gives a general feeling of the values and shapes you see before you.   A good way to use squinting, is to use it to compare areas.  Squint like crazy and see what still pops out at you.  This is really important information.  You may think that the lightest part of your scene is one might be something else entirely and will come as a surprise when you squint.   Also, squinting takes away certain unimportant complications - like how many bricks in the wall, how many leaves on the bush.  These elements may be unimportant in the grand design.  Try to make squinting second nature to you.


Trying to achieve a particular style is pointless.  It will happen anyway.  There is no right or wrong way to go about achieving a particular look to your work.  It is all about growth as an artist, and will happen automatically.  Relax about it.


You use them all the time.  Does this surprise you?  You might think of yourself as a totally figurative painter.  You may actively DISLIKE abstraction, and abstract paintings.  You may feel that abstraction is boring because it represents nothing in particular.  Well, actually, you are working with abstract shapes all the time.  The shadow on the side of the tree is an abstract shape - draw it without drawing the rest of the tree and what do you have?  An abstract shape.  Thing is, you need to observe that shape PROPERLY to get it right, and for it to "knit" with the rest of the shapes within the image, to create a recognisable form.  If you draw your shapes with accuracy, and sensitivity, you will find your work strengthened as a result.

In fact, a figurative and an abstract artist may have more in common than might be obvious.   As the figurative painter stares at his subject, he may, as his experience develops,  begin to notice subtle connections and rhythms , echoing shapes and forms, things which are invisible at first glance, but which reveal themselves to the sensitive eye of the painter.  It is these abstract shapes, balances and rhythms which will bring the painting to life.  For example, the way the shape of a group of trees echoes the shapes of the clouds;  the way the angle of a leg leads us into the picture, and the opposing angle of an arm prevents us from moving too quickly out of the picture;  the way our eye is drawn to a colour or tone contrast in an important focal area- subtle stuff, but there to be found and used.     The subject matter could be thought of as the "top layer", but at the same time, the abstract or formal pictorial elements can provide a fascinating further layer of interest.  The feed-back between subject matter, and these underlying pictorial elements, will give the image its unique inventiveness. 


I am often asked, by non-artists, if I could "always draw", as if any ability I have is therefore a "gift".  When I explain to them that actually, no, I couldn't always draw, that I have had to work hard to refine any skills I may now appear to have, they look quite sceptical.  "But surely it isn't possible to teach someone how to draw....I could never be taught, I cannot even draw a straight line" is the next comment............and so I patiently explain that if I told them a story in a foreign language, they would not understand the story.........but if they had learned the language, they would be able to understand the story..........and some comprehension, if not full belief, dawns.  Reluctantly. "Well perhaps you are right.  But....      (always comes the "but").   Then they say " It must be a wonderfully relaxing thing to do" .  No, I say, it is about as relaxing as bathing a cat. And  I leave them to chew on that for a while........
I wonder how you deal with these questions.  They seem unavoidable to me.

I will leave you to mull over these few little thoughts, and hope to come up with something a bit more meaty for the next post!!!