Tuesday, 25 March 2008

"Bloomin' Marvellous!"

The latest Monday Art Course saw the students bravely tackling paintings of flowers in acrylics. To avoid a cliched vase of flowers floating in a neutral background , they chose big juicy photos of the hearts of flowers a la Georgia O’ Keefe.
The negative shapes of ‘background’ in these pictures are just as important as the positive flower shapes, and make for a strong and refreshing design.( Negative shapes are the shapes which occur between objects – the space inside the handle of a cup, par example.)
A painting presents many different challenges; there are the basic physical skills of using a brush to put paint onto canvas, and eye-to-hand coordination, even “Do I stand or sit- and where do I put my materials??”
Add to this some accurate drawing ability, good composition, awareness of light and shade, and the science of colour mixing with its unpredictable magic….. not to mention the ‘higher sensibilities’ like self-expression and putting some feeling into the work….. HELP!!
The Art Courses can be likened to Circus Skills- I wouldn’t teach someone to juggle by first throwing them nine balls, but would start with one or two and slowly build up! In this way, the various skills required in Art are gradually introduced in a controlled, (usually studio) setting.
Monday’s paintings saw students trying to ‘juggle all nine balls’ - some were dropped , some picked up again ; some were put aside in panic! A lot of concentration, courage and perseverance was involved and for most of the day the silence was deafening!

Sunday, 16 March 2008

A Brush With Hoghair

Our friendly local permaculturists, Stuart and Gabrielle ask me if I'll do a special portrait in oils to remember their two pigs by and I’m pleased to say Yes.

On a sunny December day I go up to meet the pair at the farm and (NB we’re still talking pigs, here!!) scratch their proffered bellies, feed them apples, take a few snaps.

First I’ve got to complete- alongside other projects- four colour designs for a large outdoor mural with my accomplice Alastair . It’s March when I start what I’ve now come to call the Piggypic. It’s good, because I’ve had time to think and I feel inspired.

Stuart’s emailed lots of photos, which are better than mine and I’m able to use different bits from different views to make a sort of Frankenstein pair of pigs.

I really have to be aware that each pig has his own characteristics. For example, their noses are quite different, and they aren't your run-of-the-mill-pink-all-over variety.. they're New Zealand Kune Kunes and each has his own pretty patterning .

I do a first detailed study, redrawing and even adding bits of paper ‘til I get something I’m pleased with. Now for the canvas..

I decide to put down a ground in a mixture of red and green, and this will be my basic palette of colours for the painting. I redraw in paint on the canvas from the sketch and then it’s a case of working as a whole as far as possible, without getting bogged down for too long in one section. The grassy areas are built up in two or three layers and I try not keep any detail to the minimum. The pigs are a joy to paint, and I especially delight in rendering the slavering chops of the one on the left!

I leave the apples ‘til last- as a treat for having nearly finished….

I’ve put the apples in the grass, which will lead the eye through to a curved horizon- lots of rounded things to echo the shape of the pigs.

I’m pleased with the result. I feel I’ve achieved what I wanted from the outset – a good portrait likeness, to be sure, but also to capture the feeling of the happy, simple World of The Pig- a whirly bright winter’s day, sky, trees, apples, grass.
What more could a pig wish for?

Friday, 7 March 2008

Budding Bonnards

No school for French kids on Wednesdays, including here in Brittany. A good time was had in the afternoon when we held the first of our regular art classes for children.
We've already run workshops in 'arts plastiques' for French schools, with children between two and twelve years of age. In my
experience- and as some friends with children here tell me- the artwork in 'ecole' generally shows a joyless lack of individuality or creative expression. Work is small, neat and tidy- often a case of colouring in a ready-printed image. At one Ecole Primaire, where we produced big colourful artworks on North American Indians, they hadn't had the paints out of the cupboard for two years!
We're trying, then, to choose projects that mightn't be covered in schools, or that aren't possible at home.

Our first was Printmaking, which involved a little bit of "waiting to take my turn " for the inked-up plates and the rollers, but the results were well worth it!
Well done everybody- and special thanks to our admirable assistant, Evelin.
Prints by Lawrence, Matthieu, Beth, Henry, Thibault, and Christopher.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Happy Sketching- Part One.

A good sketchbook's an important tool to the fledgling or experienced artist. It's a way to improve drawing abilities and to 'keep your hand in'. It can also act as a visual diary.
Don't be tempted to buy a cheap one-there's no sense of occasion in a glued or spiral-bound book, neither do they open to use the whole spread if needed. Glued books fall apart, holes distract visually, ink bleeds on cheap paper. Treat yourself- you deserve it!
Size matters, as it's best to carry your book round with you. A6 to A5 .
To go with this I take a waterproof pen, white gouache, tiny box of watercolour pans or children's gouache.
Buying a sketchbook's a pleasurable experience.....filling one is another matter!
I find the first page quite daunting- so I usually start on the second! And if even that strikes a note of dread (why are we so afraid of 'spoiling' something?) you can always work on a couple of loose sheets and then stick 'em in. If you really despise one of your pictures, remember you can paste something over it, and collaged bits of scrap paper can really add something to a page.
I find that a good idea is to impose a time limit - say, a month or two to complete the book- you can work out how many sketches on average a day. Being a lazy person myself this method has been tested to the full and shown to work. Er..usually!

My own sketchbooks span a long time, and I have a couple of diaries where the entries correspond to drawings eg. March 1966... 'Fantastic time at Folk Club- greeted by the climber I drew last time, he called me the Second Modigliani... he asked how I got my Levis that colour... the one with glasses kissed my hand." !!!

Images are.. birds in Manchester Museum, Preston folk club folk, sketchbooks from four decades.