Monday, 28 April 2008

French Painting Holidays... For Some!

In just over a month's time I'll be packing my bags, plus a trunk of art materials and a folderful of big paper- all in readiness for my fortnight's stint as painting tutor at Chateau l'Age Baston, ( and again in August . )It's my third year there and I hope the weather's better than the hailstones lashing on my studio window en ce moment.
It always is, and I manage to have a swim every day in the pool.
Workshops are in the morning (for those who wish) , and in the afternoon there's (in theory) time to do some of my own work. I have a break now and then to go and hassle/help the students who've concealed themselves to do their own projects in the woods, fields, or round the buildings somewhere . You can run, but you can't hide!
Some, however, choose to stay in the lovely studio and continue with the morning's theme, and the extra-keen among them have been known to work 'til dinner. That's around eight hours... I'm not used to that! Have pity on the poor tutor! We're all exhausted by then and ready to relax and be fed by our kindly hosts, John and Alex. As in the olden days, we have to 'make our own entertainment' - that means talk to other people. Remember that, before telly? The meals /feasts are jovial affairs....inside, candlelight flickers on old tapestries ... outside, when the evening's fine, birds sing their last in the orchard and the bats flit around the courtyard.
Another morning, another workshop. I tend to play these by ear, depending on both what people feel they'd like and how I feel they need to develop and improve artistically.
Beginners are taken through the basic how-to-draw-and-paint.... measured drawings, light and shade, colour mixing, collage, design awareness, abstraction, different materials, ways of looking.
There's also a 'No Fail Easy-Peasy Portrait Class' on offer- "Surprise yourself and impress family and friends !"
The more adept have also much to gain. Even the most accomplished artist needs to take 'side trips', or temporary periods of exploration. Not necessarily to change direction in their work, but to open themselves up to new possibilities within that framework, and to refresh their thinking.

There's a trip to the morning market at Piegut-Pluviers, purportedly meant for sketching purposes. Some determined souls manage this, but in reality it's usually an opportunity to browse the stalls, buy souvenirs and to people- watch on the busy cafe terasse. Being the tutor, I have to set an example and bravely sketch other customers- after I've helped Alex choose a hat for a wedding, taste different strawberries for lunch, and choose a cd by an old French chansonette to play in the studio.
Some mornings we'll sit and paint by the river at La Rochefoucauld. Behind us stands the castle- one of those French-with-knobs-on affairs. The inside's far less encrusted and surprisingly homely and intimate- and you can try on costumes! By the river is the café/chocolaterie- very tempting and some students have been known to spend the morning drawing the bridge from there- no names mentioned, you know who you are!
See you soon, folks, I'm away to gird my loins ready for the tutoring- and to slacken my belt for the food. Ambrosia!

All work by the students.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

"What can I draw?".....Sketchbook Solutions

Draw everything! Don't get bogged down looking for subject matter, the right view, weather conditions, can't find my pen which I always use, these are all excuses and there's no excuse. I'm speaking to you, but also to my own lazy self!


You only have to turn your head from this screen to find something worth putting down on paper.
And what is the worst thing that happens if your attempt fails? the sky doesn't fall in, your paltry picture isn't paraded round the streets to be mocked by townsfolk....... you just lost a scrap of paper and a bit of graphite! Glue a new bit of paper over your shameful shortcomings and carry on regardless.

A good artist finds something worth drawing or painting in everything they see.

Here's a list of sketchbook subjects...

Pets- good for intense quick studies- you don't need to complete each one.
Car journeys- again quickly done, but make sure you're the passenger.
Shoes- Van Gogh painted his boots.
Washing Line- or in a basket, on a clothes horse.
Anyone around- Durer and Hockney drew their Mums, Rembrandt his wife asleep. Couch potatoes keep quite still.
From the TV- you could even 'frame' each small study with a rectangle, a few to a page.
An unmade bed- Durer drew his pillows.
A corner of a room-remember Van Gogh's painting with the yellow bed?
View from the window -I've even used a mirror to see outside when I've been confined to bed.
Fruit and veg... or a single flower
Shells, stones, seaweed, pine cones etc. Make a collection of interesting subject matter. Keep in a box, dip in when needed.
Draw from photos in magazines.
All things household or mechanical- phone, wheel, cog, cutlery, camera, lightbulb, plug, the list goes on.
Self portrait- a reliable subject who always wants a break at the same time as you.
Your hand, your foot.
Outside stuff- trees, passers-by, street furniture, buildings, cars, boats, and in Brittany all things rural and coastal.
Cafe scenes (be brave!), and draw at rock gigs, concerts, markets.

Phew! Must go and lie down after all that, but I promise I'll do a page in my sketchbook when I wake.....

Drawings are: Steve's red back, coffee cups on the boat, shoes from a mag, hospital drawing with conversation, Pebble in Devon, M5 Moto Frankley , Sun Inn at Chipping.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Once Upon a Mural

Once upon a time, and yet not so many years ago…..imagine the delight we felt when we landed a bijou mural job for the exterior wall of a newly- refurbished library or mediatheque in a small town nearby.

I based my design round the history of communication- starting with cave paintings, the first written gospels, Egyptian scrolls, an early printing press, the Bayeux tapestry. From there to famous French writers and artists, dance, song, cinema- from a French viewpoint, naturally, and finishing up in the computer age.

The design was accepted and we got ready to apply the first coat of white primer. We were slightly worried about the surface to be painted- it was very smooth and almost plastic in appearance, so we asked the services technique people at the Town Hall… “No problems!” they replied “The wall was always intended for a mural, and the surface was prepared specially with this in mind.”

When we’d finished, the mural looked great, we were proud, everyone was pleased, the press came and took notes and pictures. In a month or so there was to be an important ceremony for the twinning of the town with another in Poland. This was to include a grand tour of the library and its bright new artwork, with the Mayor and foreign dignitaries.

We handed in our bill at the Mairie, and, safe in the knowledge that there’d be a nice fat cheque waiting to fill our empty coffers when we returned, we took off to the UK for a couple of weeks.

When we got back home, there was no cheque, just desperate messages on our phone- “concerning the storms we’ve had…. and your fresque”- from the librarian and the Mairie.

With the heavy rain lashing on the surface of our precious creation, the paint was peeling off !

On site, a kindly old man came up and spoke to us. He’d been a painter for the council, he said, and he too had been worried about the surface before we started painting. Exactly as we’d done, he’d been to see the technicians and they likewise reassured him, yet even then he wasn’t entirely convinced.

When the mural had started to peel off, then- and only then- did the Services Techniques look into their file on the library renovations. The surface had been changed from the original specifications. It turns out that the builder who did the brickwork did it in the wrong conditions, which meant that there would be some movement and porosity in the ‘mural wall’. So, what did they do? They covered the whole surface in a plasticated and elastic layer which would accommodate any movement and reject all damp. Including our paint! This was in the architect’s report.

Now here comes the Totally Unfair bit….. as we hadn’t yet been paid, Mr le Maire informed us that we would only get our cheque when we’d done a replacement mural for free- oh, they’d pay for the paint, of course- how generous!

This would represent around two week’s unpaid work for the pair of us . “Don’t cry, Madame” said the Maire, encouragingly…

I went to see our friendly local solicitor who said yes, it was a despicable thing to do, but without our having had a contract, signed by the Town Hall to the effect that the finished mural would be their sole responsibility, we were powerless.

The remains of the mural were blasted off the wall before the big twinning ceremony and all press coverage about the affair was silenced.

A meeting was held to find a base coat for a new mural which would stick to the wall, and a representative from a paint company was listened to, and his super product was chosen- although he was vague about how long it would last .

Then for us the long hard thankless task of re-producing a work of art that we’d already done. And the financial difficulties- the non- payment for the first work actually mean that we had to borrow from a friend to feed ourselves! (Thank you, M.R.)

Despite our misery, our work was helped along by the support of the more reasonable members of the community-

particularly the library staff- a young and energetic group. Their computer expert, Arnaud, is still un cher ami.

And a concerned local newspaper reporter, who’d been appalled by our treatment by the Powers That Be, said she’d like to do an in-depth exposé of our story and took down the details.

I don’t think this ever went to press because, strangely enough, she died shortly after in a mysterious freak ‘Old Time Cider Making’ accident at the local fete.

Only joking- I made that last bit up!

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

'There Ain't No Trees, No Scented Breeze..'

A trip to Liverpool for us usually means a visit to the Tate, but this time is different- ‘someone’s’ discovered that their passport runs out while we’re over, so our itinerary’s based around the nearest parking to the Passport Office.

We have fish and chips for lunch in a run-down pub and I sketch a dodgy bloke who’s telling his mate “..put two blokes in the ground all ready, took all their money” and “..they used to come in with sawn-offs up their sleeves” .

Round the corner from this fine hostelry here’s a great artwork by Richard Wilson (no, ‘I don’t believe it!’ either!) called Turning the Place Over- he’s cut a circular section out of a building façade, and it’s in perpetual motion.

Across the road from the Liver Building and its famous birds is a church which was destroyed in the Blitz, then reconstructed. There’s a touching and unusual sculpture here, to commemorate all those who perished in the bombings… a small boy plays with a toy plane at the top of some stairs; his mother calls him back down to safety.

I’m chucked out of the Passport office for being in possession of a lethal weapon- the penknife in my pencil case- “Either yer leave er we confiscate it an give it the police”. It’s freezing outside and I wait with a scantily dressed young Mum who’s having a fag before she goes in. Her toddler son isn’t dressed for the weather either and keeps telling her “I’m told!”

Thence to the Anglican cathedral, via a charming drunkard who keeps us talking for twenty minutes. We’re in luck in the cathedral, however, as there’s a rehearsal going on for the world premier of Karl Jenkins’ ‘Stabat Mater’, providing a moving soundtrack , while we do some quick sketches of the musicians- tiny figures before the vast arched backdrop. We spot the conductor a little while later, in the magnificent Philharmonic pub on Hope Street. It’s a late Victorian gin-palace, Grade 1-listed, and most famous for its ornate, marble urinals and toilets, into which women are allowed as part of a guided tour.

The Philharmonic has dark wood-panelled walls, copper reliefs that depict a musical scene and Art Deco lights that shine onto the mosaic covered floor and bar. The central, horseshoe-shaped bar is awash with ornate stained glass and is notable for its bunches of glass grapes and huge, golden eagle watching over the drinkers. John Lennon famously complained that the price of fame meant 'not being able to go to the Phil for a drink'!

We drive out of the city, finding the motorway via Everton and Knotty Ash. Here are grim streets of run-down shops with metal blinds, and blackened and boarded-up pubs stand lonely on corners, awaiting their fate.

City of culture, but also city of contrast.