The British museum is encouraging visitors to draw! Hoorah. They're right to get us all at it!
All the colours of nature come to life in spring.
I absolutely love this time of year, how could I not? For an artist it's wonderful!
The view from my studio is spectacular at this time of year, any time of year in fact, but as I move further down the garden I love seeing the bluebells in my orchard and the primroses on the slopes and new blossom in the trees. Nature at its best; playing with the complementary colours of purple and yellow, springing and singing against each other- it's truly inspirational.
I’ve enjoyed seeing on the Internet and indeed on the news, the huge number of the fantastic photographs of bluebell woods in and around the area I live in. Three of the most spectacular bluebell woods in the whole of England are in the New Forest just a few miles from my home in Salisbury. Every year it welcomes thousands of visitors see a carpet of purple bluebells in dappled light. Everyone thoroughly enjoying watching the colours of nature come back to life after the cold dark winter months. The joys of the new forest aren't simply bluebells. Deer, ponies and cattle all seem happy enough to pose for the camera, even if they don't stay still quite long enough for my sketches to be accurate. Even this pheasant seem happy this time of year, sitting on the wall outside my studio, admiring his own reflection.
Springtime in southern England reminds me a lot of when you return from a holiday and see the first glimpses of old Blighty from the air. We suddenly realise why it's called a green and pleasant land! The whole landscape really does become lush and verdant and as an artist I very much enjoy watching it the changing colour and light from the view from my studio. In fact, the intro to my artist’s statement is ‘inspired by the changing colour and light in nature’. And it is at this time of year that that becomes very apparent. The evenings get longer and lighter and a fantastic pink clouds start appearing in the evening. In addition to the strong greens in the landscape as the trees start growing leaves again, and the ground becomes lush there are incredibly strong patches of yellow popping up on all around Wiltshire as the oil seed flowers bloom into life. It's also a very inspiring time of year for me and my animal collection as I get to visit farms or simply go walking in nearby fields and can see newborn lambs springing around in the field ready for me to draw them!
A recent article claimed that all we need to do for a long and happy life was to eat purple foods, go for a walk every day, and draw. Learning to draw is great fun and going for a walk is just marvellous at this time of year, you cannot fail but to find something that will catch your eye.
Simply seeing colour spring into life as an artist all I want to do is dive in and paint it. The winter months belong to my charcoal sketches, or working from photographs or archives of sketchbooks. But once the spring is here I get to go out and about! I get to draw in the open air and paint.
So this weekend, go and enjoy the sunshine, the bluebells and have the eye of an artist - notice the changing colour and light in nature.
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.
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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