Pretty pricey paintings - Pigments

“How much?!”, “I doubt there is even 30 quids worth of paint on that canvas”, “You must be making a FORTUNE”.

These are all things artists the world over will have heard at some point during their career. If you are an artist and you have not heard one of the above yet, just wait. It will come. On the surface these comments from people are rude. They disregard so much about the artist’s process, equipment and experience; all things that have taken time, money, patience and dedication to build the same as ANY career. But then why should they know? Unless you are involved in the process, you wouldn’t know. I don’t know what it takes to be a professional sprinter or cardiac surgeon or pilot.

Most people do not understand the cost of materials, the length of the artistic process, the mistakes made along the way and the supporting administration it takes to run a successful business as an artist and so I thought a few blog posts about it might shed some light for those interested. I will post about each of these over the next couple of weeks, this post will focus on paint.

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You can be creative with literally anything you can get your hands or mind on but for me, I have always drawn or painted. The materials I have used have evolved as I have honed my practise and reflect the level of professionalism I attach to my work. I have come to realise that not all painting stuff is created equal…..

Take oil paints as an example. You choose your brand of paints - different brands have different colour availability, a thicker or looser consistency of paint, pigment levels, binders, fillers etc. Then within the brand they may have different ranges - A professional range and a student range. The student ranges are always always cheaper as they contain less pigment, a lower quality of ingredients and fewer colour options. They are built for experimentation rather than longevity.

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The professional range will be the best quality of ingriedients the brand has to offer and within that there will be several ‘series’. The series of the paint will tell you how much that paint costs based on the pigment used. A series 1 paint will be the cheapest and a series 7 paint will be the most expensive. Currently I use Michael Harding Oil paints which are the best paints I have ever used but this is reflected in the cost of each tube of paint. I shall give you an example: A series 1 40ml (that’s a standard small tube of oil paint) will cost me around £8. A Series 7 of the exact same size costs around £75. That’s £75 people! For a tube of paint that might not even cover a whole canvas!!

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So why the heck is it so expensive for some pigments then? Well, some of the pigments are synthetic or abundant and we can make as much of them as we like in a factory, so they are cheap. Others are actual expensive or scarce things ground down into powder and bound with oil. Take Lapiz lazuli as an example. A beautiful blue colour used for millennia to colour the most royal, regal and hallowed figures in paintings and that even now still scores a 7 in the paint series pricing. More valuable than gold, it was used in Tutankhamun’s death mask. Why do you think in ancient paintings of The Virgin Mary, she was always in blue robes? This was ground Lapiz, the most valuable pigment used for the finest garments. Today, the pigment is still actual Lapiz, ground down and bound with oil. Most of the world’s Lapiz is in mines in Afghanistan; valuable, it means it is worth fighting for and so currently is even more difficult to get hold of.

Chinese Vermillion is another example, made from ground cinnabar the red/orange colour is unparalleled and other synthetic paints cannot match it, especially when you start to fiddle with it and mix it with other colours etc. Genuine Chinese Vermillion still commands a high price as does Lead white (not available to buy in the UK) because of the long process involved in its production.

So the pigment is one part of the paint recipie. What else is inside that affects how much it costs or the quality if the paint? Well, there are loads of things you can shove into a tube of paint to fluff it out so you don’t have to put as much pigment into it. Binders, stabilisers, fillers, extenders etc. The more of these that go in, the less pigment the manufacturers put in and the quality goes down. Its like buying a £1 ready-meal lasagne from a supermarket and comparing it to your mum’s homemade steak mince lasagne. They are both still lasagne, but your mum has put loads of steak, pasta and sauce and nice cheese in hers and the supermarket has put rubbish in theirs to fluff it out. The less rubbish there is in paint, the better paint quality you will have, its simple. The pigments are less likely to fade or for whites to yellow; less likely to crack or crumble. The pigments have been ground to a tiny, even particle size so when they are dispersed in the oil, they flow beautifully and don’t clump together meaning your paint film is even in colour and texture.

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So, if you I are familiar with my work you know how I like to use thick paint applied with a knife and maybe you can start to see how I go through tubes of paint FAST. Using one of the best paints on the planet means my customers will have a painting they will be able to enjoy for years and years to come, but it also goes some way to point to the pricing of artwork. As I have moved my practise from hobbyist to professional artist, I have made sure my equipment and supplies are the best quality I can get my hands on, be it graphite, inks, papers, paints - it doesn’t matter. Its hugely obvious that you get what you pay for and cutting corners on quality and colour just is not an option for me.

Next week I’ll be doing another blog about the artistic process; the time needed, frustrations, catastrophies, joys, mess and total mental blocks that happen when setting out to make a painting.

I feel like I’ve waffled on but if you have a question, let me know and ill be happy to try to answer it.

Rejection - is it personal?

Everyone has experienced rejection at some point in their lives. It might be in their personal life, in a relationship, with work, at home, regardless, it is a negative experience. It normally causes upset or sadness, frustration and confusion. People dealt a dose of rejection can expect to hear their nearest and dearest tell them to 'look for silver linings' or not to 'let it get you down' etc, all of which are pretty unhelpful and go no way towards actually improving or changing the situation. What you really need in the wake of some rejection is FEEDBACK.

As an artist, you get rejected A LOT. It’s something you have to get used to pretty quickly and sort out some thicker skin for as it happens all the time. I've had no college art school training, no lecturers to pull my work to shreds and critique it to bits so when the first rejections came, they hit me. Hard. Did I take it personally? Hell yeah! Phrase it any way you like, its basically someone saying, "That thing you made? I do not like it”. Artists already hate most of their work and every now and again they hate a piece slightly less than their other pieces and have a semi-pride in it, so for someone to say they don't like it, can be devastating. Creating is a personal thing. You actually do put a bit of yourself and your emotion into the work so, how can it not be personal? 

However

Soon, you start to hear other people say, "That thing you made? I like it!" and you remember that there are actually lots of people in the world and everyone likes different things. If you take a moment to think of all the things you see on a daily basis, you don't love ALL of them, you will dislike some things and those things have been at one point, someone's work.  Its only natural that we don't all like the same things. I guess if you are an artist who produces work that you want to produce regardless of sales, critiques won't matter as much. If you are an artist who is creating work to sell, critiques are very important to you as they guide the majority and help you target your work a bit more. And lets be honest, there are not many artists in the world that are making art not to sell. Artists are trying to make a living as much as anyone.

Getting feedback after a rejection can really help change the way you respond to rejection. You can't change it into a positive experience but you can learn and improve from it and that is always a good thing. Sometimes it wont be anything you can change and then you just need to accept that some people like beef and other people like chicken. But if someone is able to guide you towards an improvement, a refinement or even a preference using their own knowledge of the customer, this cannot be a bad thing. Ask for feedback when you can, it doesn't have to be in a  "Can I have some feedback" robot voice, work on phrasing it to get what you need. "I see you went with the 'giant blue' work, is there any reason you chose that over the 'large red' work? It could just be because the person wanted blue rather than red, but it could also come to other things surrounding the piece - essentially you won't know unless you ask.

And so I will still inwardly huff when I don't quite make the cut for an exhibition or gallery or someone choses another artist's work over mine but I know that there are people out there who do like what I do and support me and that it’s not just my mum buying my work.........I hope.....

Work mum life reality

My art life sits squashed around my regular life as a mum. The kids come first and then the dog, gym, house, shopping, errands etc all fall about and take up the bulk of my time. Husband may get a look in from time to time, what can I say, I’m a busy lady. Essentially my entire day is mum/house stuff and then if I have enough energy after the kids go down or at some point on the weekend, I will work. My art sits like beanbag balls poured into the gaps around my already ridiculously busy life. It’s a crazy frustrating time of my life because I want to work and I want to raise my kids. Apparently life will not let you do this very easily and so I join the masses of women (I am sure there are men out there who fall into this category, but for sure, its mainly women) who juggle the insane work-mum-life.

Some do it very well, everyone thinks they do it badly, even if they don’t. Everyone has the guilt and everyone has the struggle. Some have help, others do not. Some heroes out there are doing it single handedly (serious props to you folk), some have a raft of help they can hire in to help take pressure off all the other tasks. There are lots of ways of doing it and most of the time it runs smoothly but now and again, things go wrong. The wheels come off and you find yourself scrabbling about like an actual crazy person, while your professional facade lies in a heap under a pile of dirty nappies and toys.

Our circumstances are that we have no family in Northern Ireland and so grandparent / sibling emergency call outs are not an option. It’s me and the husband. This makes the potential for things to go wrong, very likely indeed. 

Recently I found myself with a superb opportunity to show people my work and gain some local exposure. It would involve me shlepping a bunch of framed prints and originals, plus easels and other equipment as well as organising some sort of childcare once pre-school was out. In the end I asked the husband to collect Megster and bring her to the event after school, where for an hour, I figured I could entertain her with the magic of movies on an iPad. The Wee Man would be more difficult. Exchusted and actually sick with something that was making my face and neck swell on one side (I KNOW!) I got the event underway. After a couple of hours, husband turns up with meg, dropping her and her stuff right at my stall, announcing he had a migraine and would be going home to sleep for a while.

There were a few moments over the following hour I wondered why I had even agreed to do this as how did I think it would be? As I watched my one year old crawl about shouting at my customers, eating the quality street sweets (with the foil still on I might add) and soiling himself  I did think to myself “If Amal Clooney has an event and no childcare, does George just drop the kids at her event and announce he has a migraine and cant help”? Maybe he does. Maybe Amal wants to chuck stuff and stuff her face with the Quality Street sweets she put out for her clients.

So my real life came crashing through into my work life and I was only able to keep my head above water and rhys’ face out of the quality streets. After an hour, I was able to pack up (with the help of my friend who I dread to think, if she hadn’t been there, what or who I might have forgotten to pack into the car that day). Walking out to the car with two easels balanced across Rhys’ pushchair, another easel over my shoulder, a bag of stuff over my other shoulder, handbag full of nappies and snacks over the back of the pushchair and Megster asking if she could have a drink, I almost burst into tears. Laughter or frustration, I still don’t know. probably a bit of both it was so ridiculous. It was quite a picture (a picture I couldn’t take because I had no hands free).

People say ‘Oh but I wouldn’t change it for the world!’ Sorry folks, but I actually would change it if I could. I wouldn’t change my kids, I wouldn’t change my life so much, I’d get help and farm a few things out etc but what I would change would be the attitude towards working mums. 

Shit happens

So during the recent Inktober challenge I screwed up. Some times I messed up a drawing so bad while I was making it, that I had to just start again. That’s fine, its part of the process and happens most of the time as an artist. It’s harder with inks on paper as they are indelible and so once its on, its on. With paint, if you don’t like something or you splodge it - you can paint over it. If you put a mark on a page with ink, its very hard and sometimes impossible to cover up. 

I messed several pieces up and had to start again. It made the evenings very long and sometimes I wouldn’t get to bed until 1 (only to be woken a couple of hours later to feed the baby or change him and at one point during the chicken pox, even bath him) so most of October I was really shattered and this obviously made it more likely I was going to screw up a drawing and so it went on like that. There were also a couple of pieces that I finished and then decided I didn’t like much and so I did a whole other drawing and interpretation. So two drawings in a night sometimes. Ridiculous. 

Screwing up when the work isn’t finished is pretty crap and frustrating but its ok because no one has seen it yet. You are free to change it or start again with no comparisons or pressure. However screwing up when you’ve not only finished a piece, but have sold that piece really takes the biscuit. The piece in question was ‘Swift’, day 1 of Inktober but done as the last piece retrospectively. It had been snapped up as it dropped at 12.30 by a very happy collector. 

Packaging several pieces ready to send out, I accidentally used what I thought was a spare blank sheet of paper, to dispense some ink for signing the reverse of a piece. As it turned out, it was not spare or blank and was in fact, the reverse of ‘swift’. The ink was so wet and abundant that it had bled through the paper to the front of the piece. There was for sure, absolutely no way of removing or concealing or cropping this out. The piece was ruined.

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I actually had a little cry about it when I realised my utter stupidity. I would have to do the drawing again and It needed to be as close to the ruined version as possible as this is what the collector had purchased.  I sucked it up and got on with making a new version and was really pleased with it, even more so than the original one I think! I always find in art as well as life, honesty is the best policy, so I came clean with the collector who was wonderfully understanding and did not mind at all, especially when she saw that there was very little difference between the two drawings. 

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I have, in the past, accidentally ripped a hole in a canvas that was complete. I felt sick. All that time and effort and paint wasted. I couldn’t sell it now and couldn’t repair it either. There have been ink splodges and paint splodges in various works, some I have managed to conceal or remove, others not and I’ve started again. But always always it makes you feel sick and so cross with yourself. But it happens in every job in every part of the world. You do something stupid or ruin something you’ve spent ages on. Shit happens. Feel sick, get cross, make a promise you will NEVER again be that stupid and move on. Because we always stick to those promises, right? 

Inktober, that’s a wrap!

Hey guys & dolls! If you have been following the adventure that has been ‘Inktober’ on my social media, you’ll know a bit about it already but if you haven’t, here’s a summary:

To take part in Inktober is to produce a daily sketch or painting or piece in ink, every day for the month of October. I have decided to sell each of these drawings to raise money for Tommy’s - a charity researching the causes of infant loss through miscarriage, premature birth and still birth. October is Infant loss awareness month which is why I chose to attach myself to this charity in particular. I have many friends and family that have experienced infant loss in one form or another  , in fact, it was only when people started getting in touch to say thank you did I realise quite how many people are affected by this.  So each drawing was sold for £25 and £15 of that goes to the charity (for more information or to make a donation to Tommy’s charity, go to www.tommys.org) 

So here we are, at the end of it. I feel elated and shattered and relieved and sad and bold. So many feelings about it. It has been intense, I have never done anything like it before. I suppose its sort of difficult with creatives as you cant just paint/draw/sketch and turn it on when you need to, you really do have to be in the right mindset. This has been an exersise in focus and discipline for me. I have been planning my sketch through the day and how I will execute it and then I have to sit down and ‘make it happen’. Most of the time I screw up and if doing it over again, I’d change something. But I guess that is the beauty of a sketch, its normally a starting point or a reference, rarely a finished piece. 

I’m relieved because its basically eaten up every ounce (and more) of my free time this month. I’m pretty shattered, not getting to bed until at least midnight and then waking around 4am to feed a baby and get repeatedly poked in the eye. Sometimes we sleep for another 2 hours, sometimes my day starts at 4am....I feel like Inktober should come with some sort of warning;

“Do not participate if you a) Have a partner that works late, or b) have a young family or c) have a full time job or d) value lying on the sofa watching box sets or e) may experience any sort of emergency or family drama “

If this warning had been attached, I might have re-considered.... but its like anything I guess, it requires sacrifice otherwise its not worth doing etc. As if it weren’t already difficult, right in the middle of it all the kids both went down with chicken pox, but not at the same time. So as far as timing goes, that sucked. So I am glad its just the one month. Having said that, the stuff I’ve gotten to do has been superb. I used a Chinese brush for the first time (and love it!) I have drawn stuff I wouldn’t have considered in styles I never would have tried. Every single time, giving me chance to grow as an artist and open my mind a bit to new ways and new subject matter. It’s also been great to see what my followers respond to best, that way I can encorperate those things into my work.

Ive had a few disappointed peeps, because they missed out on a piece - I’m happy to say that some of them literally went so fast! - but worry not, there are some pieces left, they are all under the ‘Inktober’ page on the website and if they are available, will say so underneath. Postage & Packaging to the UK is around £5 and whilst I am happy to post internationally, the postage cost will be a bit higher.  Also if there is something you missed out on but would like your own version of, I do accept commissions, so drop me a message and we can talk. 

So, will I do it next year? I plan to. It might not be exactly the same but I would love to do something for Inktober again. I have enjoyed it in a sort of tortured way and even though its ending I will try to do at least one sketch a week in the evening, just to keep up the practise and the discipline of it. 

Out of 31 drawings and paintings, I am so pleased to say that at this point 27 pieces sold and I will be donating the remainder of the drawings to Tommys to auction of at their next fundraiser. A total of £450 was raised for Tommys charity which is SUPERB considering it came out of some ink on paper. I hope the cash can help contribute to the astounding research Tommy’s provide and allow better insight into infant loss and find much needed preventative measures. Folks, your support has been nothing short of amazing. You have made this happen as much as I have so congratulations to anyone who bought an original or engaged with the process, its been a blast. Thanks for the ride! 

 

  

Inktober, halfway through

So if you have been following my social media channels, you will know that I have been taking part in the Inktober challenge. This is a commitment to produce one drawing or painting using ink  for each day of October. That's 31 ink drawings. The guy who started inktober supplies a 'prompt list' of words to use for each day. You do not have to stick to this, it is just a list of suggestions but I have found that by sticking with the prompt list, you are already forced out of your comfort zone and made to think outside of your usual 'box'

I enjoy my work but I did not want 31 ink drawings hanging around at the end of this process, so I decided to sell them and raise money for charity. The charity I chose was Tommy's charity (www.tommys.org) as Inktober would be happening alongside Infant loss awareness month. Tommy's fund research into miscarriage, premature birth and stillbirth to try to prevent these awful things from happening. For a flat fee of £25 (plus P&P) £15 would go directly to Tommy's. I have to say that so far, the support has been incredible. So many people have gotten behind the project and bought the art or engaged with the process. It's been wonderful to raise awareness for such a great cause and I have been privileged to do so.

So what about the art itself? Well, I have never done anything like this before. Finding the time during the day has been difficult. By the time the kids are down, I've picked up all their shit and cooked a meal etc, it can be 9pm and the very last thing I want to do is start a drawing. But it is a commitment and by making myself accountable to the charity and to all the great people who follow my work and have supported it from the start, I will start that drawing. Now, I am starting to look forward to the time I can crack on with a new mini-artwork. Some of the drawings take longer than the others but its more about making the piece work than how long it takes - part of the reason I decided on a flat £25 price for the work. 

I am working one day ahead currently, to give me some room if something happens with the kids or whatever. I spend the day thinking about the prompt word that I need to work with and I band about ideas and alternative meanings etc. Sometimes I will have a great idea but be unable to exectute it for some reason (time scale / limits of the medium etc) so I have to either think of another way to execute it or think on another idea.

Even just 17 days in, I am already astounded at the new techniques I have encountered and tried out and how sitting and drawing has forced me to practice my drawing skills. I had never used a Chinese brush before, now I have one and I am enjoying incorporating it into work. I struggle to get perspective on buildings and now I am seeing where I am going wrong and how I need to correct it. Each drawing is a mini lesson and anyone who buys one will have a part of a learning process. It is not meant to be 'perfect' It is a sketch with mistakes and faults. I have been able to 'play' with the media and see what I can and cannot do with it. Of course, If I really screw it up, I will start again, but for the main part, the sketches or paintings are snapshots. Quick and undetailed. Grabbing at the idea and getting it on paper. 

I have so far found it tough, but thoroughly enjoyable. I am glad there are still another couple of weeks left for more skills practice and idea turning. A few people have asked if I am taking commissions or would draw a certain thing for a certain word, which is fine and I am loving having suggestions as they often trigger a thought process in a direction I would not have gone. Please don't be offended If you have suggested something and I haven't gone with it, its not personal! It's probably more to do with the limitations I was talking about earlier. If you are interested in a commission of something in particular, I would of course love to discuss that and so please do get in touch. The £25 is specific to this process though so be aware my usual commission prices will apply.  

Look out for the next instalment dropping at 12.30pm (GMT) on my Facebook page and my instagram (@stef.the.artist). I try to upload the pieces to the website also, so you can browse pieces still available. If there are any pieces you would like to buy, please drop me an email or a direct message.

Walking on the dusty side

Recently I have been trying different mediums, I have been under less pressure to produce work as I have not long had baby boy so I have had more time to 'play' and learn. Its not an infinite experiment as starting up with a whole new medium and technique costs a bunch of money as you need to buy all the stuff. But for a while now I have had my eye on soft pastel and my little box of starter pastel sticks soon grew to be a shoebox of individually selected colours. It has kept growing and now I have an array of pastel sticks from numerous brands in many colours, plus pastel pencils and all sorts of pastel mat drawing paper. 

Working with this new medium has meant another steep learning curve and making lots of stupid mistakes and finding new ways of doing things. Apart from being dusty, it has been enjoyable and to supplement my own discoveries (and prevent any more 'surprises'....), I have gone online and tried to learn more about this thing called soft pastel. There is lots out there so I will try to summarise as best I can some of the main points about working with soft pastel and its properties.

What is it?? Soft pastel is NOT coloured chalk. It has similar crumbly, dusty properties to chalk but it is for sure, not chalk. Soft pastel is pure pigment mixed with a binder (most manufacturers are secretive about what and how much binder they add) - the more binder they use, the harder the stick becomes. Different colours have different hardnesses because of the properties of the pigment, more or less binder may be required to keep it in a stick. Sometimes some of the colours I use literally crumble into dust as I am using them - truly frustrating but another learning curve (e.g. the really dark browns are very brittle and crumble quickly, the soft pinks are really soft and can be pressed harder before they break up). So which manufacturer you use, will depend on your style of painting and how hard / soft you like your sticks to be. 

Pastel requires 'tooth' to stick to a page. A smooth piece of photo paper has no tooth, sandpaper has lots of tooth. If you were to use pastel on a normal piece of white paper, it would slide right off. The more tooth the paper has, the more layers of pastel you can add. Eventually the tooth on the paper becomes full and you cannot add any more layers of pastel. Unlike oil or acrylic painting where you can just keep painting over and over, you cannot do this with soft pastel. When you make a mark, you have to be fairly certain of it as there is very little overpainting available. You can mix by layering colour but it is difficult. It is why manufactures have between 300-500 colours available.

I use a paper called 'pastel mat' it is a paper made for soft pastel and has a lot of tooth to hold the pigment. You can use other papers, or boards primed with pumice or marble dust mixed into gesso, or even velvet! World is literally your sandpaper oyster, just be aware that you want a balance of good amount of tooth to a  relatively smooth surface, or your drawing will just be lumpy. 

So you've got your paper (or your velvet or whatever), your selected brand and colours of soft pastel, what happens once your masterpiece is created? Well, some artists choose to 'fix' their work by using a spray adhesive. I do not fix my work. I made the mistake once of fixing my work and all the colours changed and it even made some of the pigment particles clump together - it was a disaster (all part of the learning curve folks!). After that I found out that most artists do not fix their work either, because, well, see above.  If you touch the work at this point (or have a curious 4 year old who will do this for you) you will find that the work will smudge, you will have pigment on your hands and probably one of you will be crying.... 

Pastel can be stored flat under a sheet of glassine paper before getting it framed behind glass. This will need to be done by an actual framer who has experience with this sort of work. It will require a 'trough' between two mounts to 'catch' any pastel dust that will, inevitably, fall from the work over time and stop it from sticking to the glass or the mount making it look dirty. 

Speaking of dust...There is a lot of dust these days. The pastels are dusty things and when you are working close up, you will be inhaling a lot of the dust. Some manufactures advertise their products as non-toxic which is great but still, if you do not want pigmented dusty lungs in years to come, maybe look at buying a mask to wear while working or even nose filters (OK, this is something I didn't know existed but I think they may be the answer to my problem so I will soon be trying them out - watch my Insta space for reality review on nose filters. LOL) 

Because pastel is made almost of pure pigment and has no oil or agents in it that will crack, fade or yellow over time, (if cared for properly) pastel has the most longevity out of all the painterly art materials. Drawings made a few hundred years ago are still as fresh and bright as if they had been painted last week. Awesome I know! For some reason, Pastels have a reputation as being an 'amateurish medium' something that has obviously been an historic thing, but really, no more. Some of the artists working exclusively in this medium are incredible. My favourite is Zaria Forman. She is my complete art girl crush - look at her work, its outstanding! Not amateurish at all. It takes as much time, effort and control to paint with these as it does for watercolour, oil, acrylic or any other medium you can think of.  I am still at the start of my dusty pastel journey but with every piece I learn a bit and refine my technique a little more. 

You can view my soft pastel work here or if you are local to Northern Ireland, you can see them in person at the Black Canvas Gallery, Holywood.

Since it is a medium I am using quite a lot these days, look out for more blog posts on soft pastel work, tribulations, framing and nose filters. 

The Art of impermanence

I used to daydream a lot. Have time to meditate on certain subjects and turn them over in my head, sometimes even bringing this to my work. Nowadays, my daydreaming window is the few minutes in bed before I fall asleep and ....no..... actually, its just then. Before my days of daydreaming and meditation were cut short by the arrival of my kids, I once pondered how destruction can also be a creative process and have its own beauty. Astounded with my revelation (I had come to all by myself...) I went off to read more and discovered that the Japanese had beaten me to it, by about 900 years. Humph. They even had a name for it - Wabi Sabi, the Art of Impermanence. 

 

To try to summarise Wabi Sabi is pretty difficult and all the books say, impossible. It doesn't really have a definition, just a sort of feeling to it and can apply to almost anything. but, in a tiny, basic nutshell, Its finding beauty in stuff that gets old and/or broken (and yes, I think this should probably be applied to my face / body as its going down the old/broken route...!). 

 

I got to thinking about destruction and creation on a huge scale - like, earth's crust scale. The formation of mountains and valleys and volcanoes etc... Ok, I admit, it got away from me a bit and I had to reign it in a wee bit... I wanted to bring some of this to my work and not be encumbered by an object or scene so I felt like some abstract expressionism using some of the wabi sabi thinking was the way to go.

 

So a lot of the work involved painting colours in various levels of transparency, letting it dry, sanding it away and destroying it, before re-applying paint, colours, translucent layers etc. There was a lot of sanding. At first, by hand (ouch on SO many levels) and then I bought an electric sander which changed my life. I also bought some dust masks because, Hello?! Occupational exposure to dust. I do not want lungs of solid paint thank you. 

Im so glad I explored this as it allowed me to play and push the paint media to its limits and see what it was capable of. I also learned a lot about where my head went when I wasn't painting or drawing an object or a scene, which was interesting for me. I of course used places I had been  and experiences as a source for colours and ideas for the paintings and a lot are inspired by water and pools in India as well as snow and my more familiar sources of inspiration - the mountains. 

You can view my abstract paintings here.  Some are still available for sale and there is currently a 20% off everything sale over on my artfinder page!   

Moved

I am not a particularly religious person. I was born and raised in a predominantly Christian country and so grew up celebrating those ideals and holidays.  I respect any person's beliefs or traditions and have to say, haven't really nailed down exactly what I do or don't believe just yet, however, I do believe in People. Real people who have real feelings and real lives and real problems. Indisputable people. We are all here; bobbing along on this sphere in space, trying to live alongside one another. A short glance at the headlines will illustrate that we are pretty far away from that goal right now. But people are trying, we are all trying. And during this struggle there is birth and death and marriage and illness and celebration and fun and hurt - sometimes all delivered in a mish-mash together, sometimes delivered in an 'it doesn't rain, but it pours' sort of scenario.

So right now, it is Easter time in the Christian calendar. A time when Christians celebrate Jesus' self-sacrifice on the cross to 'open the gates to heaven'. Now. Whatever you believe, its widely accepted that Jesus was a man who lived and died. He had a mum too, Mary. Again, regardless of whether you believe Jesus to be the Son of god or just a bloke, he existed and so did his mum. A Mother and Son. And I am sure, to Mary, aside from her son's status, he was her boy who did naughty stuff and funny stuff and made her laugh and weep and kept her awake and made her super frustrated and angry and happy and sad and all the other rollercoaster emotions you feel as a parent. Which is why 'The Pieta' has me moved to tears almost every time I even think about it. 

 

The first and only time (so far) I have seen 'The Pieta' was during my honeymoon in Italy. We were in Rome for a part of it and went to Vatican City and into St Peter's Cathedral. I have to say I had no idea what was in there (apart from the famous Sistine Chapel ceiling which is a whole other queue and section which we were not prepared to queue for - 3 bloody hours!!) so when I saw it it literally stopped me in my tracks. It disarmed me. Tears welled up and I had to move away because I was going to be full on crying in front of a statue if I didn't move...

Here was a statue of a mum with her dead son in her arms. In total despair and crisis; awkwardly cradling this grown man, who was still her child. Wondering what she could have done to prevent this. Broken, numb. Even if you believe she was the mother of God, she was still a mum who just lost her baby. I thought this statue moved me back then, since I have had kids, it basically ruins me every time I see it. 

You will see many critiques of the piece, looking at lines, drapery, crafmanship and quality and while all of these things are mind-blowing (its Michelangelo FFS..!) its the sadness of the piece that gets me every time. It could have been carved out of polystyrene with a blunt blade, but the fact that someone has seen what this woman would have been going through as a mum - not as 'Mary mother of God' but just as a mum having the worst day of her life, that is what makes this piece so moving to me.

So, I  try to remember that while I am rushing about during my daily life, trying to get the kids around tesco without having a breakdown, or fill the car with diesel or negotiate a busy street, that someone might actually be having the worst day of their lives. Right there. Right next to me in the queue. If they are being a dick and not saying 'thank you' when I let them pull out or if they are being slow and dithery while I stand behind them waiting to pay, more often than not I have thoughts about flipping the bird or huffing loudly or making some exaggerated gesture to show my annoyance. But I am trying. I am trying to remember that they might be struggling with some catastrophic news or horrible pain and so sometimes I need to shut up and stand in line and let people take their time. And if they don't wave a 'thank you' or hurry themselves along, its not because they are purposefully being obstructive, it could be because they are suffering today.

I hope that this post hasn't brought you on a downer - it wasn't intended that way! I just needed to share why a statue carved out of marble brings all these thoughts and emotions into my head. Its a pretty awesome piece and even just from an artistic / aesthetic perspective, the workmanship and detail are just incredible. If you ever have the chance to see this piece, make it a priority. In fact, any of Michelangelo's works should be a priority if they are near to where you are. Anyways, always be kind and if you are celebrating Easter this weekend, I'm wishing you a very Happy Easter!

The New Man in my life

So its been a few months since I posted, sorry about that but we've been busy. New baby and all. Yip! He arrived all safe and sound at the beginning of November, a cute, scrunched up ball of hunger.  

We're 12 weeks down the line and I didn't think I would be saying this but...I have managed to do some work! GASP! One of the many wonderful things that happen when you become a parent (Parents can read as much sarcasm into that last bit as they like...) is that you become super efficient and very good at multitasking. Compressing several jobs into one smooth action, executed with no time wastage at all, you get through the day LITERALLY juggling all your tasks. Of course, sometimes it comes crashing down and you have to roll with that and expect it to happen from time to time, but for the most part, efficiency is key and I am always looking for tiny efficiency gains in my day.

Having Meg already and all her routines etc, Mr Man had to fit in with the Nobles and he has, oddly leaving me some time in the mornings for work or at weekends if husband can watch the kids. Its allowed me to have some time to myself and continue my work - albeit on a very reduced service - all of which help to keep me sane.  Though he's sleeping less and demanding more now, so things might change again for a while. I am also able to put him in the gym creche now, so some of my mornings are dedicated to recovering my pre-baby body (hahahahaha! well, Im hoping to get as close to that as possible). The impact of which is less time available to me in the studio. But the days are getting longer and so the possibility of me working after the kids have gone down, is opening up to me again. The studio lives on! Viva la studio! 

On another note, I was chatting to a friend who is a blogger (Aly Harte Ohmygodherblogisamazing! go check it out www.darlingedna.com she is a talented artist and mum and lifestyle blogger) and I was thinking about all the lovely stuff she puts in her blog and how its about her life and experiences. I rarely use my blog because unless its directly about my work, or isn't an epic piece, Its not worth putting in. Well. I am changing that. My blog, my rules. I am going to start using this to document some of my thought processes, experiences (positive and negative) and encounters. It won't all be epic. It might be a few lines, but I promise to start using it more and opening up a bit. Hoping you'll join me...It will be an efficient adventure!

 

studio shutdown

Birth of baby number 2 is fast (Although, ahem..not as fast as I would like....) approaching and in no time at all, he will be here, making constant demands for feeding and changing that will leave me exhausted and with time for very little else. Please don't assume that I dislike my own baby before he is even born, I will revel in our little marvel and as he grows to be a sticky, shouty, crazy little person, I will grow to love him more and more. However, newborns are bloody hard work and  having been through it once and knowing what's ahead of me, I'm preparing to buckle up for the ride and accept the next 6 months of my life (err...at least... I'm hoping I'll start to emerge back to the world around May 2017...) will be a sleep deprived blur, covered in regurgitated breastmilk.  

And so, this knowledge that the attempt to do anything else apart from survive, coupled with the fact the new boy is going to need some space of his own (even if it is just to put his clothes & nappies etc), means my studio is in temporary shutdown. Last time, I was able to work right up to the birth of the baby because we had the additional space. We also were going to move, so once packed up, my studio would be out of sight and reach for as long as it would take for us to buy a house (this took about a year). This time, my studio will be compressed into a corner of a room which our guests will have to share. Advance apologies if you come to stay with us and get poked by a wayward easel or a maverick canvas stretcher bar...

The plan is to build a new studio outside but planning regs, budgets and new baby will all take their toll on the timescale of this and so I don't know when I will be able to work again. It is super frustrating. For me, art is quite an immersive process so unless I can get a minimum of 3 hours clear to work, its not worth picking up a pencil. But all my stuff will be up there, teasing me. Knowing I won't be able to get 3 hours together for a long time. And even if I did, locating the stuff I need and dragging it out will significantly eat into that. Sigh. First world problems, I know. But as its something that I am literally driven to do, sort of like a compulsion, its a really difficult thing to get my head around. I think also as its something I have had to constantly push back and re-discover through my life, pushing it back again is quite a frustration.  I'm hoping I will just be too tired and milk stained to care. 

I'll leave it be for as long as possible but the reality is that at the beginning of October, I really am going to have to pack things up and call it a day, for a while at least *sad face*. Sorry for this lament. I am quite sad about it and every day brings me closer to the joy of meeting our new little man but also closer to having to put a bit of myself on hold. I'll still be taking commissions into the middle of September, but after that, I'll wrap up. I promise to have a massive big huge 'new-studio-I'm-back!' party once I have a new studio and I am back. There will be alcohol. And paintings. You are all invited and can fill me in on what i've missed in the first half of 2017. 

Childsplay

We are about to celebrate 3 years of our beautiful and hilarious daughter and like most families, intend to mark it with a stressful day of screaming children, unmet expectations and searing expense. Yes. We are having a party. 

I have already landed myself in water far too deep for my short stature and now have to ride the crest of this ridiculous wave. She wants a 'monster truck' themed party so we did what any confused and vulnerable parents would do and looked at pinterest. This scared me even more as the people of pinterest clearly have unlimited budgets and therefore can hire the worlds greatest party planners to co-ordinate little Johnny's 4th birthday party. I was rather hoping my creative side would make up for any budget shortfall but I had not anticipated this. 

Having been told that a bouncy castle could not be installed at our address due to new rules and regulations on hard surfaces, my list of 'things to do at a 3 year old's party' just went back to zero. How was I going to entertain x25 3 year olds?? Pinterest suggested some things but most were ruled out due to crazy expense, a terrible mess that parents would not forgive us for (EVER) and complicated rules and instructions that we couldn't reasonably expect a bunch of 3 year olds to follow or comprehend. Drat. Back to the drawing board. Literally. 

I decided to adapt one of the games to a less complicated version of itself and realised I would need several medium to large boxes  (which I would then have to craft and paint to look like monster trucks but we are not even there yet...!). Luckily a friend takes a fairly regular delivery of some supplies and offered me several medium boxes. Thanks to an overly aggressive cleaning incident, she had just replaced her vacuum cleaner and gave me the box for this too. I took them home and set them out but the child had other plans...

She had already seen herself blasting to the moon in the larger of the boxes and spent most of the day begging me for a rocket ship creation. As the day went on and my patience wore thin, I could see us sitting in the garden, jointly creating this beautiful rocket ship with tin foil, buttons and switches. OK! I agreed. Lets make the rocket ship! Hooray! It was to be such a great thing! 

I got myself into my painting gear and got some of my goache into small glass dishes. I brought it all downstairs and we made a start. But what was this?! Orange paint being splurged directly into green paint? Large brown swirls, dripping down the side of the box?! No No NOOOOO! This was not the control panel that I was thinking of? The circles I was trying to paint were being cris-crossed by blobs of pink and yellow running together. But what did I expect asking a three year old to help me? And wasn't the joy of doing this together, all about us actually enjoying what we were doing? I needed to relax and let go. So I did.

And it was awesome. She had so much fun painting the box. She got to decide what every blob meant to her, after all, It was her control panel and she was going to be the one using it so it should make sense to her and no-one else. It was me who 'helped' and asked for instruction in the end. She told me what she wanted and where. We had great fun painting the 'fire' from the blasters. I hadn't enjoyed painting like this since I was 5. A great big bristly brush that allows almost no control, great big globs of paint, mixing inconsistently and against all colour wheel rules, shapes no one  has ever heard of. It was fabulous. 

I'm not sure how many other parents feel this way when they do a craft with their child, or if its just the creative amongst us that struggle with the 'letting go' and allowing something to be crap, but I would urge everyone to have a go at childsplay every now and again. It frees the soul just messing about and not doing it seriously and the fun that the little one has had with her creation is amazing. I haven't been able to get her out of it all afternoon, which is fine by me,   

born this way?

Recently a friend made a comment to me along the lines of, "But you are really good at art" and it has led me to reflect on my introduction to Art and creativity. Was there a single moment or time when it just happened or was it always there, born into me and decided at conception, just like my skin colour, my sexuality, the shape of my eyes? I don't know and I'm not sure we ever will but I guess we humans are a multi - layered species, whereby exposure and experiences during our lifetime mould and shape us and allow different layers to rise to the surface at different times. Sometimes what is in us to do, rises to the surface no matter what our circumstances or environment. 

So what does it mean to be 'good at Art?'.  I don't think there is such a thing really. I guess its a broad term and generally meant as a compliment. I am ok at drawing and painting I guess but does this in itself make me artistic? Creative? Its certainly not the only avenue that a person can fulfil a desire to create. Up until I was in my late teens, my view of what 'Art' was had been cultured by my teachers and society. I had no idea how vast the scope of Art truly was. How you could lack drawing, painting or sculpting skills yet still be fabulously creative and expressive - even within the visual arts world. You actually don't always have to be technically brilliant to make something people love. Having the technical know how and tools to make and create is handy to achieve the exact effect you want but it is not essential.  Being told you are 'good at art' is also a very subjective line. I guess it depends on who said it to you, their preferences, experience and exposure to all things Art. If my sister says I am good at art, it carries less critical weight than if Charles Saatchi or Tracey Emin said the same thing to me. I suppose its the equivalent of going on Britain's got talent after your mum told you you were great, only for Simon Cowell to tell you the truth.  Explicitly though, we all need criticism to move forward and develop whether it is from Charles Saatchi or our mum. 

Back to the whole nature v nurture thing. So does natural born talent exist? I believe it does to varying degrees. Not all children born with a talent for piano will become the next Beethoven, some will be better than others depending on their environment and opportunities. I was fortunate to be born in a first world country and afforded a fair and free education, exposed to all subjects and learning from the age of 4. If we aren't born with a certain prevalence to topics, then why am I shockingly bad at maths? I had the same number of maths classes, in fact, probably more, than art classes. Logically I should be better at maths than art but that is most definitely not the case. So did I have a fantastic art teacher? Not really. Mrs Worthington was a fairly narrow-minded, traditional woman who thought those who were better at drawing and painting were better artists than those who were not as good. Which life has taught me, is not the case. Art in the 90's classroom was delivered in a very traditional, stoic way and those who didn't enjoy drawing, painting or cutting lino wth blunt instruments were kind of left behind. The sad thing was, looking back now I think of all the creative minds that surrounded me but because they maybe weren't fantastic at drawing, were not seen to be suitable for the study of art. It seems like such a waste, such a missed opportunity. I like to think that as life progressed, those individuals overcame such hurdles and carried on their creative path in some way.  

I saw an article the other day about being born with a talent and how something something...right brain something...something...versus left brain...something...either one or the other etc.... I can only talk from the benefit of my experience. I am an artist. Turns out, I always was an artist, but life took me on a necessary detour before I found my way back. I am an artist that enjoys and understands science, law, psychology, literature. I have a degree in Environmental Health, but no degree in Art, just a lowly 'A level'. I don't like the theory of being put on one side or another, artistic or logical - like somehow the two are mutually exclusive and I am an artistic, illogical mess. Look at the great M.C. Escher who combined his two loves: Mathematics and Art. I might approach something in a different way to another person, but I think we are all allowed that  - there aren't just two ways to approach something 'Right brained or Left brained'. And what I consider beautiful and attractive may not be for the next person. 

So, good at art? Maybe. We can all be good at art in one way or another, we all create all the time, we maybe just don't recognise it as traditional 'Art'. I think its harder to be bad at art actually because anything made with passion or driven by a need to create, is beautiful to somebody. It has come from the soul, so like it or not, its Art. If something is created with the attempt to be 'bad' then it too is by default, Art and is only 'bad' from a certain point of view. Whether it is saleable, mainstream, challenging, interesting, distasteful or offensive is a different point and does not make art 'good' or 'bad'. Every kind of person makes art and there is art out there for every kind of person.