I’ll be sharing my secrets, tips, and techniques on how I paint at this week's Fresh Art fair.
Why sometimes my oil paintings can look like watercolour even though water never goes anywhere near the canvas!
Last week I was writing about what I've been working on, and I've been working on some more art works this week too; it's been great.
But this week I'm going to tell you what I've been reading - The brilliant novel "The Muse" by Jessie Burton. When I go on holiday I nearly always try to find a novel set in the region that I have travelled to. It somehow helps create mood and atmosphere I enjoy reading books set in Italy when I'm in Italy! So what does an artist read when she's at home in Salisbury? It may come as no surprise to read a book about an artist, and about their Muse. This novel though is set in London and Spain. It nice reading about the sun while it's so cold here!
I don't think I've ever fully understood the concept of a muse; an artist only being able to create because one special person inspires them to paint; to create. Even with Valentine's Day coming, I still can't quite believe that creativity is dependent on one person!
But The Muse explores the concept of the muse much more fully, there is more of an element of thriller than romance about this novel.
There is a delightful passage in The Muse where one of the characters describes opening a package of art supplies that she has brought with her to Spain.
"She knelt before the travelling trunks like a pilgrim at an altar not one of her colours had burst in transit, all had powders intact, the sticks of pastel not cracked in half, that always been loyal to her when everything else was falling out of place"
Like many artists I get genuinely excited about new art supplies.
She goes on to describe how the paints were in more control that she was. Is if here hands were guided by the colours.
"I purchased this green, vivid grasshopper green and the shade of Scarlett, and oil called night indigo, a plum and silvery grey; all colours I've never used before. I just picked them up and put them on the counter and it was as if I'd known that only here would those paints come into their own and help me. That they would flesh out my fears and my dreams. But now it's done and out of me I can't help wondering that the paints didn't do it all on their own as if my involvement was nothing at all".
I remember buying some beautiful Charvin oil paints in a wonderful little art shop in Paris by the Pont Neuf. I adored that shop, an oil painters idea of heaven. I wanted to stay in there for an entire day. When I came home and started using my paints and new colours I couldn't believe the positive impact it had on my oil paintings. I still use some of those incredible Monet blues and pinks, even in my animal art. I've enjoyed using colour in surprising ways for many years
The novel the Muse is also in set into different time periods in 1937 and 1967 this was a particularly enjoyable aspect of the novel. Especially when it came to perceptions of women. Women in business and women as artists. Now that I am a female entrepreneur, and full-time artist I am able to understand just how fortunate I am to live in a time that accepts me in both of those roles, for it was not always so. It is very difficult to describe the power of the twists and turns in Jessie Burton's novel without ruining it for you so I will confine myself to a quote from a review and merely say it is well worth a read if you enjoy art and you enjoy history.
,,,"Burtons multi layered story is never less than engaging she has an undoubted gift for seizing the readers attention and holding it moving back and forth between the two periods, the story reaches a powerful conclusion. It has much to say about the search for authenticity in love and in art"
So now I've finished this luscious novel exploring art, artists and inspiration, I've got to chase something else and hopefully find something that will inspire me just as much.
But in the meantime, for the rest of the day I will be painting!
After reading that title; if you've tuned in to read a blog about the EU referendum, you're in the wrong place, this is all about art!
Whenever I’m asked "So what kind of art is it that you do" I always say “Beautiful oil paintings inspired by nature”. That has been my
The countryside and coast have been my inspiration from the start.
Most recently my animals have been a real hit; newly exhibited this year.
I have just returned from Reading Art fair and the first three original paintings to fly off the walls were all animals, the first three prints were animals too. Just as I began to think that a pattern was emerging, the next three where landscapes and seascapes so who knows?
The simple idea that nature is beautiful and artists want to capture it is as old as art itself. The cave paintings at Lascaux in France demonstrate art's purpose was not only showing the importance of the hunt and recording an event, but also the animals that were stalked or chased during the hunt. I remember very clearly the first time I opened Gombrich’s “The story of art” to see Albrecht Durer’s portrait of a hare and thinking how can it be possible that someone can create something so lifelike simply with a pencil? My hare is a different take on that beautiful and very popular animal. This hare was the second painting to sell at Reading at the weekend and I love him, I will be painting another hare but it will be different to this one: a different size, different canvas, a different background, a different expression but it will still be a much loved beautiful hare.
Various people looking closely at my work commented on how I had captured the essence of the animal with out being too realistic. I was delighted to hear this as that was the plan!
One of the big challenges for a painter (landscape, animal, anything really), is to work out what to keep in and what to leave out. What we leave out is just as important as what we put in. Most people tend to notice my vibrant use of colour in my animal paintings. A Stag does not have blue and turquoise in it, a hair doesn't have a blue nose or purple ears. I think I'm a natural colourist, I like adding colour. I'm a painter! I have to bring something to the party that is different to a photographer.
Interestingly I think my use of colour in animals has stemmed from so many years of landscape and seascape painting. Trying to capture that particular pink cloud in the sky can be a real challenge and it's led me to be able to use colour in really exciting ways even when I'm painting something that is essentially a series of browns and greys. I can add bright colours that really bring the animal to life.
I believe that artists can give the viewer a clearer sense of what they might be looking at in nature. The very selection of colour life and personality in each of my works is communicating something different to the viewer other than what I saw in the first place. It is the fine line between recording the event or the place or the person or the animal and bringing a story to any of those elements so that the painter provides the viewer with something more.
With each of my landscapes and seascapes I have always considered them to be your personal window on the world, the view that we wish we had from our kitchen, we have a painting to reminder us of that beautiful place we once visited. However with my animal paintings I think I'm bringing a different kind of joy to your living room.
Something I noticed this weekend at Reading, when people visited my stand was how many people put on a funny voice when looking at one of my animal paintings. Anyone my age will remember Johnny Morris and Animal magic and perhaps it’s inherent in us to put on silly voices when we think of animals; that level of anthropomorphism is very strong in the British psyche. I have heard so many young people making moo noises at my cow and squealing with delight when I saw a happy muddy piggy.
So what does all this tell us?
It tells me very clearly that I'm part of a long tradition of artists who have always been inspired by nature and inspired by what they see around them.
All of my landscapes (with perhaps the exception of the old picture of Venice or Paris) are of places I live near. All of my animals are also animals that I can see in Wiltshire, Dorset or the New Forest.
I like being part of the tradition. I like celebrating the British countryside and coast and the variety of creatures that live on our shores.
Why Art is so good for you.
Looking at it, owning it and creating it.
It is good for you.
Grayson Perry has most recently described art as therapy. He commented that whatever is bubbling under the in the artist’s subconscious will come through in their artwork, and in turn will speak to the viewer’s subconscious. Art has an immediacy in its language all of its own, that kind of therapy simply can't be bought! And I’ve begun to wonder whether or not I, and other artists take it for granted.
I think there is something wonderful about wandering round a gallery and simply becoming absorbed in the art work that I'm looking at. Sometimes I might know the artwork well, it might be incredibly famous, or something that I have studied before. As often than not, as I get older, I become more and more drawn to things that I have never seriously looked at before! I am drawn to artists that I hadn't previously studied. Grayson Perry is right, art can communicate from creator to viewer in an immediate way. It's good for us to see and “feel” art.
Alain de Botton has even written and entire book entitled “Art as therapy”. It's brilliant and I heartily recommend it.
He refers to the idea that art helps us recall, remember and make safe our memories. The wonderful piece by Jean Baptist Regnault pondering the start of painting; depicting a young couple in love. The woman, so afraid she will forget her lover's face, traced his shadow with a pieces of charcoal. It's beautiful and touching, (regardless of its accuracy) it makes me think of how we often wish to make mental pictures and artists used to be the only people that could truly help with that!
One thing that really strikes us when we look at art is the view. The creation of a window on the world. In Britain especially we are drawn to enormous skies and seascapes; is this because we are an island race? a nation of sailors? who knows, but seascapes appear to be the paintings speaking to us when we visit galleries.
Most recently I have been working on a series of animals and these seem to speak to people even more than my landscapes and views. Again we are nation of animal lovers, we can't get enough of them. People seem to become very attached to paintings of animals very quickly they start saying “I love him” or “look at her she's so sweet” when looking at one of my cows, sheep or ducks. I think it is interesting how quickly we can engage in work of art, albeit a beautiful one, simply because it is speaking to us on a different level.
I also think the art helps us in our daily lives because it can raise our own sense of self and self esteem. This isn't simply about status and showing off at a dinner party, though a large oil painting in our lounge can well do that! But it raises our esteem by making us smile. Every time we walk past our painting we feel a little bit of warmth inside us, we might remember the place the work depicts or the lovely day we bought the work of art. Or maybe it's our own self conscious filling in the gaps and sending us somewhere else.
There is new trend in adult colouring books now, supposedly as a kind of art therapy or a kind of arty mindfulness. I don't mind adult colouring in at all in fact I think it's a lovely little hobby and can be calming. But creating art, or learning to draw is even better for you than colouring in. Last night there was a program on TV called “How to stay young” , they made reference to going to life drawing in order to help your brain stay young. Life drawing is an extraordinary activity and unlike constantly doing sudoko puzzles for instance, life drawing presents a completely different challenge every time you sit down to draw.
I regularly go to life drawing even though very little of my professional works are are figures, but life drawing keeps me fresh, there's always something to learn and is an artist it contributes to your skill. As a non-artist, if you attend life drawing classes incredible things will happen to your brain as both sides of the brain engage in the activity and create electrical impulses all across your brain. Even if there isn’t a life drawing class or art workshop near you, you can reap the benefits by drawing anything from direct observation. It’s best that you're not copying a photograph because the problem has already been solved - a 2D photo into a 2-D drawing. However sitting down and drawing one of the dining room chairs, or drawing the view through the door from one room can create an incredible exercise for your brain. You'll also find it wonderfully relaxing as well it's something you can do every day if you want to.
So I urge you this week, try to get some art in your life
Go and have a look at some art work in a gallery, even a small local gallery or pay attention to the art work you might see in a local coffee shop or restaurant and let some art in your life.
Draw. Just do a little drawing, don't worry about showing it to anyone. But do draw.
Because art is good for you.
It really is.
Picasso said "The muse may strike at any time, but she must find you working"
Since turning pro and being a full time artist this has been my mantra. The art world is littered with other beautiful art quotes which still amount to the same thing. Stop faffing about and get on with it!
The thing is that work, consistent work, constant effort, making mistakes, and making discoveries can lead to great inspiration, and great work. Picasso is right.
People still have grand romantic schemes that artists sit around in cafes, drinking wine, and discussing philosophy, politics and art all day. Then suddenly the Muse will strike them and they will head back to the leaky garret and create the next masterpiece ready for the salon to judge next season! Perhaps the modern English reality isn't that artists are sitting about in cafes all day instead life consists of getting up late, taking the dog for a walk, seeing a beautiful tree leaning over a river and heading back to the studio and magically painting it.
The reality is different.
I'm not complaining one bit.
My artistic life is wonderful and I thoroughly enjoy it, but it's definitely hard work. There is a big difference between sauntering along a country lane considering the beauty of the sky while the dog sniffs around in the hedge, compared to lugging your easel and painting equipment, setting up for a day of en plein air painting. Serious concentration is required to really analyse the landscape around you. Sketch after sketch, considering light, colour, composition. The sketches produced on those en plein air days will help you in the studio the next day, the next week or even next year you can work from those sketches.
Here comes the muse, and there you were, working. That's why she came!
Part of the problem with artists' block is thinking that we must find something completely new and original. Modest subject matter won't be enough to sate our artist need. Not true.
While I'm writing this I am listening to Ella Fitzgerald singing "It ain't what you do it's the way that you do it" and she's right too.
There isn't a monopoly on painting landscape, or a beautiful flower, or a still life of fruit. We can choose to paint anything, we can find inspiration anywhere, it's what we bring to the party ourselves that makes our treatment of the subject matter interesting.
That constant work while waiting for the muse is how we find our voice.
It's about our style, it's about how we create that landscape or how we capture that moment.
The artists I know don't magic a masterpiece out of the air.
It comes from graft, and craft.
We have to think about it, study it, experiment with it; we have to let it brew inside our minds and then find the techniques and skills put onto the page what our mind has already seen.
Love it and let go! How all artists learn to let go when they create the work and when it's finished.
Love it and let go. How all artists learn to let go when they create their work and when it's finished.
I love teaching and always have done. Now as a full-time artist I still teach workshops to adults, to pupils on school visits to galleries or exhibitions and and to art students in a variety of different media and subject matter.
Most recently I have found myself saying it to my latest workshop recruits "Stop worrying".
Whether you are 8 or 80 you will find yourself worrying about the artwork you create.
I usually begin my workshops with quick warm up drawings. Being an artist can be similar to being an athlete; you have to warm-up before the real business begins!
The great thing about drawing quickly is that you don't worry about the quality of the work you are producing. The process is far more important than the product. Sometimes you might even throw your warm-up sketches away. You can do a warm-up sketch with a pencil and any old piece of paper, you could even do it with a marker pen on a piece of newspaper, it really doesn't matter. Once you have fully warmed up the great business of creating begins.
I have to admit that I love it when my students produce work that they are proud of, work that they want to keep, better yet work that they would proudly put on display.
It's strange thing about art, sometimes you have to let go of your inhibitions, your worry, your "tightness" to create a work. But once you've done that you have another problem. That kind of work, the work of which you are justly proud, is the kind of work that you don't want to see go!
But as a professional artist let go you must.
I have just got back from the framers collecting three new oil paintings that will shortly appear in an exhibition. (I use a local, family business- Frith's, they are based in Netherhampton, just outside Salisbury).
One of the pieces has been rather grandly framed, it is of a highland cow chewing grass and he looks content. It's titled "Chewing it over"
The framer said to me "If I could paint like that I'd never be able to sell the work, its too good to let go".
Ooh, artists love to hear compliments like that. Lovely.
That's where the "love it and let go" comes in. Now that my Highland cow, "Chewing it Over" is beautifully framed he might sit in my lounge for a while rather than being wrapped up and stored carefully in the studio waiting for the next Art fair.
I will live with him.
I'll see him every day.
But when his new owner comes along, as he surely will, I will let him go.
The thing about being a full-time artist isn't simply learning to let go of your beloved artwork. The process in your mind is so different. I have so many ideas, so many more plans with future paintings running through my mind, that the loss is not so great.
We artists don't want to keep our work to ourselves, we are so full of ideas that we want to create more. Selling work isn't a wrench anymore because it means more space and more money to buy more canvas and more paint! It not only gives me the studio space to create more but also the headspace to start creating new works. (with the added bonus of paying a few bills too!). Besides, it lovely to think of my paintings making their way into someone else's home. I like to think that they will smile every time they walk past one of my paintings. All of my work celebrates nature; the seas, the skies, the fields, the animals... my paintings, like my highland cow, have a an air of contentment.
So if you are in the process of creating artwork that you love and want to keep, that is absolutely fine. In fact it's great! It's a wonderful feeling to have created something that you want to hang up in your own home for all to see.
But if you are about to make the jump from being a part time artist to a full-time artist don't worry about the work that you love, because once you have that time and space to create more, it becomes so much easier to love it and let go!
Louise's new collection "Countryside companions' celebrating animals of the Britsh countryside will be revealed later this month.
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