There are some brushes I always reach for no matter how many hundreds of brushes sit on my worktop. There are some colours I always reach for the matter how many hundreds of tubes of paint there are and there are some canvases that I always seem to be ordering. So here are my top 10 materials that I use every single day.
How the French impressionists are leaving their mark on this artist.
There's no doubt about it, but a trip to Paris, Giverny and the Charvin paint shop is having an impact on my painting. But those French impressionists have been having an impact for years!
All artists have their favourites.
Anyone that knows me wouldn’t be surprised to hear that I have a constant struggle to not paint absolutely everything in purple…my favourite colour. But my artistic discipline means I’ve developed other favourites that play nicely with others!
Every single business book I have read has talked about risk-taking. Encouraging future entrepreneurs to take the leap, to take a risk, to commit yourself to the glory that lies ahead!
Anthony Robbins suggests "If you want to take the island; you've got to burn the boats"
The thing is, contrary to popular belief about artists, I'm square. I'm really square. I pay my taxes on time, I've never been able to cope with a red bill or a sizeable overdraft! I don't take risks, I'm completely risk averse, always have been. Even as a child I never managed to climb to the tallest part of the tree - too much of a risk!
I would not burn the boats, I would carefully moor up the boats and maintain them just in case the island thing didn't work out.
This is not considered an entrepreneurial spirit at all! It's not really an artistic one either. Because most artistic books along with business books also encourage risk-taking. I think I'm a little bit better as an artistic risk taker. I paint on linen with my own secret recipe of clear gesso which many folks have attempted to copy (unsuccessfully)! I use colour in surprising ways, painting beautiful magentas and blues where only browns and greys exist. But this week I've had an opportunity to do even greater risk taking with colour then ever before.
My brother has just returned from a racing drivers' meeting in Venice! No boat burning there!
And he investigated the various art shops around San Marco and Dorsodoro in search of a suitable gift for his sister. He returned with 10 beautiful bright and breezy raw pigments. These raw pigments can be mixed with linseed oil to create fresh oil paints.
I happened to have just completed the underpainting on a couple of cows that I'm currently working on and so yesterday in the bright sunshine I managed to take my work outside and played around with these new colours.
I have already mixed some of the pigments with pure linseed oil to create an oil painting paste and have used them in the usual way. In addition I have applied a layer of glaze medium mixed with linseed oil to the underpainting and sprinkled some of the raw pigment directly on to the glaze. The pigment is now dispersing into the glaze and creating a wonderful effects.
What will happen?
I'm unsure but there you go I'm finally taking a risk.
This is not only an artistic risk but it's a business risk too, as it's very important for any entrepreneur to keep reinventing themselves, to keep creating something entirely unique that will appeal to customers.
How do I feel?
This risk taking thing could really catch on ....
I have always adored going to galleries and having a nice mooch about. All through my student days I haunted the National and the Tate, sketchbook in hand, for hours on end. Galleries, whilst attracting huge numbers of visitors, are so vast that you can still find a moment of peace and calm right in the centre of the hustle and bustle of London
During my many years as a teacher, I took students to a variety of galleries including the Uffizzi in Florence and the Dali museum in Figueras. During these trips I always wanted to encourage a life long love of art. I wanted to develop the confidence required to draw in public without worrying, and a feeling that the galleries of the world belong to us all. They aren't just for the elites and the show-offs. But beautiful artwork can be enjoyed by everyone.
So on Wednesday, I decided to give myself a birthday treat and I went to the Michelangelo & Sebastiano exhibition at the National gallery.
With some trepidation and heart full of excitement I went in.
To be frank I got a bit emotional about it all. Michelangelo has that effect on me. Always has.
The initial impact was "Wow".
I'm lucky enough to have seen the vast majority is of Michaelangelo's work in Italy and beyond but there are still some serious gems in this exhibition.
The exhibition itself explores the relationship between heavyweight Michaelangelo and the lesser known Venetian Sebastiano.
There are a whole series of letters between Sebastiano and Michaelangelo - it is very interesting to see the references to the papacy and indeed to Michaelangelo's arch rival Raphael. At first it might seem that Michaelangelo's collaboration with Sebastiano is almost entirely about rivalling Rapheal. One of Sebastiano's letters even references Rapheal's death - "My dearest compare, I believe you have heard poor Rapheal of Urbino has died, something that you must soon be very sorry about, may God forgive him".
Forgive him for what? The story goes that Raphael died, aged 37 from sexual exhaustion! Though this has yet to be fully proven. However his death did provide Michaelangelo with an opportunity to pursue further commissions from the papacy and to recommend his friend Sebastiano.
Unlike Michelangelo, Sebastiano was an oil painter. I believe that his luminescence and beautiful use of colour had been hugely influenced by Michaelangelo's frescoes.
One room largely focused on the Pieta (literally meaning 'pity' and referring to Mary holding Christ's dead body) there is a cast of Michaelangelo's Pieta. Whilst it's not quite the same as seeing the original, you simply can't get close to the original in St Peter's (Rome) so being up close and personal to this cast is great. It was a super opportunity to really see how it's been constructed.
At the opposite end of the Pieta room is Sebastiano's Pieta - a huge oil painting, as Mary looks up to the heavens lamenting the death of her son. What is really interesting is that the back of Sebastiano's Pieta is also visible. And you can see the sketches that both artists drew on the back of the wooden panel. This suggests that perhaps Michaelangelo had allowed Sebastiano to share his studio for a time. The sketches also show the start of some figures later appear on Michaelangelo's Sistine ceiling.
Throughout the exhibition there are many drawings from both artists. Some you may have already seen in the British Museum but there are others from Frankfurt, from Washington, and several from the Queen's own collection.
They are exquisite, delicate, beautiful and I spent much of my time studying them.
My "weak at the knees moment" was the room with the Risen Christ. One statue is an original by Michelangelo which he abandoned due to finding a black vein on Christ's face. I rather liked the black marble vein. It added to the drama. I sat and drew this for some time. The other Statue in this room is a cast of a second risen Christ created by Michelangelo, the juxtaposition of the two statues is extraordinary; one pose is contrapposto like Michelangelo's David the other dynamic. It's interesting to look at both of them; make your own mind up as to which is the better.
As if all this isn't enough, there is a huge 3D recreation of the Borgherini chapel, executed by Sebastiano with some preliminary drawings by Michelangelo. It is, quite simply, breath taking.
By the end of the exhibition I felt it had raised a few questions for me.
It appears at first sight that Sebastiano had learnt great deal from Michaelangelo. He learned about light, colour, successful rendering of twisted figures. Yet Michaelangelo seems to have learnt a lot less from Sebastiano, most notably he didn't learn to oil paint. Was this that Michaelangelo stubbornly did not want to learn how to oil paint? I won't spoil the end of their story, nor the end of the exhibition, but you'll leave with some interesting ideas about the answer!
The exhibition continues until 25th June and I can heartily recommend the visit.
Let the light do the talking.
The story of my most recent oil painting coming to life.
I have been working on a new piece from my Town and Country collection, and I have returned to London. This painting is a well trodden route down Bow Street across Watling street heading towards St Paul's cathedral. On sunny Summer evenings, London's bright young things, still in their work suits, line the street enjoying a refreshing ice cold beverage after a hard day at the office. This particular painting is however a morning view before the crowds gather and the street is quiet.
So how do I create this scene? Firstly a couple of quick sketches in the street if at all possible really helps- the sketches for this particular piece were carried out nearly a year a ago. Often an idea needs to ferment a little in the brain before it is ready. Even with my animals, who never stay still, I have to do a couple of quick sketches as that is where the character comes from. With a scene like this, entirely made from buildings, I have to create the atmosphere of the scene. Otherwise it would be an exercise in linear perspective and painting buildings. The vast majority of the time when I paint I stick to the time honoured tradition of "light over dark" and "thick over thin". Even on my signature linen canvases, with the background showing through, I still use this type of method. My very first layer; french ultramarine mixed with raw umber, or burnt siena, very diluted, and will mark out the scene.
In this particular painting the light coming from the back of the picture is absolutely key to creating the atmosphere. So I had to put in a light wash of a very pale yellow in order to see how the light would bounce off the buildings. This felt very scary to me as I never add an opaque pale colour at the start of the painting but I think it has served me well in this instance.
The next stages are a case of making sure the perspective works, a task I don't particularly enjoy but it is essential. In addition I added the taxi as a little interest to help the eye walk down that road towards St Paul's. I also need to start resolving the problem of the dome, the Dome was very difficult to get right. It didn't feel at all symmetrical! A trick of the eye surely due to the buildings either side not being equidistant.
As the painting progresses there is a chance to start thinking about colour in addition to tone. I have used a very limited pallet here using gold ochre and burnt siena for the warm tones combined with an Old holland favourite of mine -blue violet and kings blue for the cooler tones.
The final stages start holding things all together I am able to add in the highlights and some added detail around the statue and balustrades of St Paul's. I was able to tidy up the taxi and add some glorious reflections on its glossy black paint and glass windows, and I whitened the sky still further to really create that cold morning light as London comes to life from it all too brief slumber.
The last decision is at what point do you walk away from the camvas. I'm still not completely sure that I have walked away from this one! It may put me back in for just an extra couple of highlights once this layer is dry and I'm sure I won't ruin what I've already created. Once the decision really is made and I'm confident with my work, I signed it. Once the signature is there I'm not allowed to touch it again.
After all, I have to let the light do the talking.
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!
Oil paint - the breakfast of champions!
Or why I’m still an oil painter!
There’s no getting around it; oil paint is expensive.
It’s also a "dark art" with all those potions and bottles marked with “toxic”, all just for getting the paint onto the canvas and off of the brush!
And it’s smelly.
My most recent art supplies order contained a (small tube) of paint for £17.50. It’s acrylic equivalent would have been less than four quid! And the acrylic would be diluted with plain old water, and and brushes would cleaned with water too. Whereas my favoured solvent costs more than a tenner for just 250ml, and I buy it by the gallon!
No wonder many professional artists have left the favourite medium of the old masters behind them.
But not me.
I love love love oil paint.
I’m an oil painter and I’m proud. Here's why:
3. Control. Power is nothing without control. Oil paint is diluted with turpentine. Which dries pretty quickly. As you build up layers you mix the turps with linseed oil (which dries really slowly). You learn to have balance between turps and oil through the process. Like many oil painters these days, I have eschewed turps in favour of a citrusy version called Zest-it. It’s less toxic and smells lovely. Zest it makes its own oils too. Over the years I have learnt to understand the chemistry of zest-it solvent, oil and my paints, different pigments have different drying times too! It’s very hard to learn (which is one reason why it’s not favoured by hobby painters) but once learned, it gives me incredible control over how I paint.
4. Oil paint has so many techniques to its name. You can paint all in one go, known as alla prima, you can build up layers thick over thin and light over dark, you can add huge globs of it - impasto, you can blend layers that are semi-dry…
5.And that’s another reason why I’m an oil painter over acrylic - I’m all about the blend. Acrylic drys fast and is therefore great for crisp clean lines. But my skies need to be blended.
The variety of solvents and oil mediums means as your style develops you can manipulate paint accordingly. Fast drying mediums don't make oil behave like acrylic; it still takes a good while to dry, but you have control. There is an art itself to start understanding drying times. I can blend in a cloud when the underpainting of the sky is drying, but not completely dry. If I do it wet and I’ll end up pushing mud around the painting as all the layers merge together. If I do it complexly dry I’ll end up with a hard edge. Sometimes that’s just what you want, but for sky - I’m all about the blend!
6. Any colour under the sun. Oil paints have been going for so long, there isn’t a pigment you can’t buy…if you’ve got the cash!
7. Light fastness - actually not really a good reason anymore as top quality acrylic paint has good lightfastness too!
8. Go with the flow, I often use watercolour for sketching and in my workshops. I find myself saying thing like “let the water do the work”. In oil painting I can’t exactly say “let the oil do the work”, but I do try to go with the medium rather than fighting it.
And that’s really the key for any artist, finding the medium that works the same way you do, and you’ll start to produce better art. Fight and you’ll never truly be in flow with your work.
Will I ever change? Possibly, I use waterbased media for a lot of my sketching and planning, but when the final work begins- oil paint is the only thing between the brush and the canvas.
For sometime now I've been adding a touch of gold leaf to the foreground of my paintings. Not all of them. Not very much. But every now and again I like this little extra bit of business for the eye. The images below are little details of foreground using gold leaf.
The thing is with gold leaf, is that I have the devil's own work to get the damn stuff where you want it. Also, gold is one of the few metals that can "cold solder" - i.e. it will stick to itself given half a chance, and you can't unravel it like cling film. It's also rather expensive to make those kind of mistakes all the time.
Guilders cushions, that keep your equipment and gold leaf all in the same place and keep all the annoying little wafts and drafts out, are all the thing for guilders.
But I'm not a guilder, I'm a painter that wants just a touch of guilding.
So I've been experimenting with other forms of gold.
It's jolly hard to find the right shade. I want it as close to gold leaf as I can get, nothing too brassy.
After much searching I've found some gold style powder and you can mix it with oil mediums, gold size, and glaze mediums so that you can paint oil colour along side or even on top of it.
The medium I mix with the powder has an impact on it luminescence and it's colour.
After a lot of playing about...I mean serious experimentation and chemistry, I've discovered that my gold mixture makes a rather splendid background for some flowers for my daily painting project.
I posted one of Magnolia on Facebook and twitter the morning and it's already sold. Its the perfect gift for Mother's day. (I happen to have a lovely Mum who has her birthday the same week as Mother's day, so I always need an alternative to flowers planned!)
Despair not, there are four more gold pictures on my website, that went live today. Just as beautiful as the Magnolia, on gold and gorgeous. And I have a sneaking suspicion that there might be more. I absolutely love the effect.
Several of my artist friends, paint every day, no matter what. I've always found the idea great if a little daunting. If you missed my first blog on the subject I refer back to Carol Marine's book you don't necessarily have to paint every singe day, but the point definitely is little and often, rather than trying to splash some paint on seven canvases every Sunday and pretend you're doing every day!
So I've been painting everyday (mostly)
I've been posting my work on my Facebook page, but here's a catch up if you haven't seen what's been going on.
On Saturday and Sunday, both canvases have been a little bigger than I planned for most of the project. These are both on 25cm x 30 cm, which are pretty manageable as a professional artist, but if you're just starting out you'd be wise to go a bit smaller. Remember the whole point is to be able to experiment, find your artist's voice and paint fearlessly.
For me, both of these paintings are a departure from my landscapes and seascapes.
What am I getting from this so far?
Observation is key.
Discipline is important.
Colour mixing essential.
I'm obsessed with how light changes in nature, but having control over how you light your subjects in still life is a revelation.
I'm delighted that the perfume bootle with the blue bottle is sold already. Nice start!
For two of my my days this week I didn't do an oil painting, one was a watercolour and one a relief print, whilst working in Salisbury museum. I haven't included them as they're not for sale. Also I really want to focus on oil painting, as that's my bread and butter, and it makes sense to really use the project to experiment with such a vast and diverse medium.
So for the next three paintings I've gone smaller, and I've now ordered some more of these cute little canvases from Jacksons art supplies.
They are 15cm x 15cm with a deep edge, they look so cute and chunky. They are professional standard and you can really feel the quality. I really like the impact these chunky little canvases can have. They look particularly lovely when hung in rows of three or groups of four.
I have just returned from an arty break in Paris. Despite several visits to Paris over the years, there was one particular museum that had escaped me, this time I had to make a visit; it was the Musee d’Orsay. Musee d'Orsay is open late on Thursday evenings and we decided this would be the best possible time to visit.
As we strolled along the banks of the Seine that Thursday evening watching the sunset in the distance, I couldn't help but feel myself become a French impressionist just by looking at the light in the sky. The thing that struck me most about that evening sunset was how pink it was! We sometimes have pink sunsets in England, maybe a hint of pink highlighting a cloud. But that evening the sky looked so pink and the light that was reflected off of the buildings looked golden. It felt truly magical to be walking by the river that evening.
I resisted the temptation to buy the entire shop then and there, and make my way to the gallery.
In the Musee D’ Orsay we headed straight for the impressionists. No postcard, no photograph, no book, no second hand image can do them justice. Monet’s sunset simply glowed, Renoir’s dappled light shimmered. Looking outside through the enormous clock window we could see Sacre Coeur in the distance bathed in the exact golden pinky glow that sat before us in so many paintings. These artists hadn’t exaggerated the light and colour, they had looked at it properly and made it sing.
I scrutinised the paintings focused entirely on colour.
Again and again I saw muted pinks, greys made from violets and yellow dancing gently over blue.
I would return to Aladin’s cave, and this time I knew exactly what I would buy.
Paris fashion week coincided with part of our visit. I have not returned home with any shoes, handbags or haute couture.
Pour moi - Haute couleur!
The wonderful paints are "Charvin - Maison de Haute Couleur".
I have paint, and inspiration and can’t wait to embark on making my next painting glow.
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