Two pieces of news

One is that I’ve been working on paintings to accompany poems due to be published in a Christmas collection, the other is that I was commissioned to make a painting for the cover of a short story collection by a rather good author. The downside, for now, is that I can’t reveal any of them until the publications are out and the very exciting moment of the cover reveal is announced by the book author. So for now, a place-holder:

The next piece of significant news is that I’ve somehow completed the first of my OCA level 2 painting modules which, while I’m waiting for forma assessment and having a bit of a break, has given me time to move back a little to a more classical style. I’m not good at this and, as much of the course work leans towards the expressionistic and semi abstract, has me concerned I’ll land a BA without being able to paint a nose.

So I had a go at a jug, obviously.

The objective was to find volume in objects rather than expressively indicate them. This is not likely ever to be my style but I’d really like to be able to make a passable effort.

I chose a photo in Aristides’s book on painting and manufactured a similar composition on the table next to my easel. Instead of a white ceramic jug, I had a blue one; the loaf was substituted by a pile of stand-in flannels, and the egg was represented by a small jar which wouldn’t stay still or try to be egg shaped.

In the end, I had a jar, a ‘beaten copper’ jug, a red onion, and some nasturtiums of which only the nasturtiums actually exist and were never in the room.

Here’s the process.

Charcoal drawing on varnished card, isolating tonal areas.

This is the final iteration – probably! – with paint scrubbed off with a flannel, blended and moved around for shade and highlights, and details added to the leaves, flowers and the onion with acrylic pen.
This detail is unavoidably shiny and so there is a cast of reflected light on the surface that is difficult to avoid. Nevertheless, I’m relatively happy with the outcome, especially considering there was not one element of it in the room!

Aristides, J. 2016. Lessons in Classical Painting. Watson Guptill Publications. Reference photograph P 44.

Bought some stencils …

… went the full ophthalmologist.

The stencils are aluminium, 2″ and 4″ size. I’d been doing some work with text and realised that, back in the day, I would have used Letraset rather than my own handwriting, which was only decent in primary school and now is barely legible.

The first is Payne’s grey on varnished cartridge; the second adds a scrape of silver acrylic across the surface to roughen the appearance (because I’m in new-kit playschool); and the third is what happens if you slide some Hooker’s green over the grey then add some off-key hot pink from Stuart Semple. With the right glasses, you could probably see that in 3D!

Key learning? First, those stencils are sharp so handle them carefully. Second, they’re light and quite bendy which makes them reasonably easy to use – I applied these upright, not flat, although flat might have been better. No dribbles though, and I like dribbles! Third, they’re washable – scrubable if you get to them a bit late – and I doubt the paper-based versions would survive that.

Tip – you’ll notice I didn’t use the whole alphabet. Primarily that’s because there wasn’t room, but oh my goodness am I glad of that because washing 20-odd pieces of sharp edged metal with more sharp edges inside the cut-out was quite a challenge. They’re from Stencil Marking.

Filmora Pro – video tutorials by fast talking fellas

I use a couple of apps to make animations based on original art work. One is MotionLeap which lives in my iPad and has a range of presets you can adjust to your own requirements; and the other is Filmora from Wondershare which is a video editing suite. Filmora is more heavy duty than MotionLeap by a long way, especially the Pro version which I’ve been wrestling with since I bought it and which has defeated me several times.

So now I’m collecting YouTube tutorials for reference, and I’m finding them fast, furious, nerdy, and blokey but on the whole, when I can just slow them down a little, very handy. Welcome to my reservoir of geek.

This is the first one I found and the best to date.

The second video is a bit more focused and again helpful if you’re finding your way round.

This one is about key frames which I’d seen mentioned but had no idea about. I do now!

Here we have colour grading and colour correction.

This is voluble and slightly weird, but maybe not if you really wanted to know about anamorphics. What’s good is that, by the time I got here, I was beginning to recognise some of the FP elements as they whizzed by.

[Question: why do they all say to ‘just go ahead’ when they mean ‘do this’? Is it a thing? When did it start being a thing?]

I’ll be adding to this post for a while, probably. For now, I just need to find someone to explain why my portrait orientation image was put under a microscope and wouldn’t come back out. Turned out fine, just want to know what I pressed!

Idiot’s Checklist For Exhibiting Your Work When You’ve Never Done It Before – by A.N Idiot

It’s not quite true that I’ve never done it before but, compared with a table in a village hall and a tent in a garden, actual wall space in an actual gallery room was not only a step up but also came as something of a culture shock.

There’s a big difference between unstable carboard easels at child grab height or chasing after art work knocked off its stand by a heaving tent flap, and fresh white walls with barely visible hanging devices you’ve no idea how to make use of. Who knew fishing line played such a part? Or sticky things that aren’t sticky and hold paintings flat against the wall? Those are Command (not Commando – different thing altogether!) strips. And labelling is an art form on its own.

So it was that I had to leave my paintings propped up against the skirting board in the gallery because, despite thinking I had them prepared to hang anywhere, the anywhere in my head depended on hooks to accommodate the loops on the boards or the wooden stretch frames of my canvases. The other two artists, probably struck by a combination of horror and sympathy, got them on the walls for me, and so began the search for advice about a process I had never had cause to know anything about before.

The videos below give an indication of the kinds of climbing, hammering, measuring, limbering, lifting, manipulating, and in one instance interior decorating, skills artists seem to need to participate in the simple act of showing their work. It’s quite physical.

I’m not in the first flush of youth and, while I have no registrable disability, I do have some limitations that generally fly under the radar until challenged by unusual circumstances such as ladders, holding large pieces of unsupported work steady while on top of a ladder, being able to see the invisible fishing line while not losing my balance, or negotiating stairs with big things in glass frames. That’s the short list and I began to wonder how some of my colleagues on the OCA art degrees manage; people whose disabilities qualify them for aids and supports but nevertheless hamper their physical range and are much more than a perfect storm of inconveniences. Is it essential to be physically fit, able-bodied, youthfully agile to be a practising artist? It kinda looks that way.

There’s a lot of advice in these videos, and I know I would have found them extremely helpful had I been as physically able as the presenters. But I’m a bit short, a tad balance impaired, I need two pairs of glasses to get from measuring a wall to making a dot to lining that dot up with another dot. Then I need another hand to balance a spirit level on something I needed a third arm to grab. I have a bit of arthritis, an injury which is invisible and tolerable as long as I don’t do a lot of bending, standing still, or sitting in unsuitable seating; and I could probably do with a roadie to get to some venues with my stuff.

So do I give up and just accumulate art work in the loft for that time when family inevitably has the task of emptying it? Do I aim for digital only products? Or do I pull on my big girl inventive pants and find a way round this?

For now I’m going with the Big Girl Pants.

The solution seems to be preparation, scouting the territory and making notes about the set-up. What’s there and what isn’t; what sizes are their usual displays; how do you want yours to appear; will you need a roadie to help with transport and hanging? This is the conclusion I’m coming to and obviously there’s a cost implication. But before I get all uppity about that I have to remind myself that I already pay now for several services that I wouldn’t have needed to purchase before, and this one differs significantly in that I stand to gain monetarily from an exhibition.

So what do I need?

  • Ideally a packer who might be the same person as the lifter, shifter, and hanger.
  • A roadie to collect, load, transport, unload, and deliver to the venue, then reverse the process when the exhibition closes. That’s two chunks of time.
  • A checklist so let’s start here:
    • Speak to the organiser of, for instance, an art trail to find out what’s expected generally.
    • Speak to the owner of the venue, which might be a shop/gallery, a gallery/shop, or an actual gallery if you finally broke through the ceramic ceiling. If you’re in a tent, be ready to chase after escaping art work as adverse weather conditions can interfere with the stability of any display. Also you might find you’re expected to help put up and then dismantle the tent.
    • Visit the venue and ask about space, expectations (how many exhibitors, what size paintings for instance), and what hanging systems are already in place. Will you need to fix your own and if so, what constraints are there? And are there some items that can’t be moved? If this isn’t a permanent exhibition space, it will probably be used for something else the rest of the year.
    • Agree your stewarding duties.
    • Agree the venue’s commission. Industry standard is 40%.
    • Ask how sales are managed. Do they go through the venue’s own books or do you need to supply your bank or PayPal details?
    • Agree dates if those aren’t set by an external body (such as the art trail organiser).
    • Agree delivery and hanging date and times.
    • Agree take-down date and times.
    • Hire roadie and agree hours plus rate per hour. You can offset this, along with any other costs, against tax so don’t be mean.
    • Make a contract for the roadie and ensure you both sign it. Include a cancellation clause that covers fees due to them if you cancel, especially at short notice. Have a backup plan in case you need to replace them quickly or manage alone.
  • When you’re stewarding, remember you’re the face of that exhibition, so if you’re sharing the space with other artists, ask them about their work so you can talk about it to people. And do this before you tell them about yours because that’s just courteous.
    • Find out about ventilation. This pandemic won’t last forever but while it’s here, be safe.
    • Find out about refreshments. Sometimes the venue owner will provide tea/coffee/water but probably not food, although once my host emerged from her kitchen with a full-on salad followed by home-made scones with cream and jam.
    • Take any essential refreshments you’ll need. Fluids will be important (so find out about the loos as well!), and you may need something light to top up your energy levels or blood sugar. Remember stewarding is physical and mental work, draining if you’re not used to it, and that will cause your energy levels to plummet. Best to keep it to something you can quickly set aside so that you’re not inconveniencing a visitor. Bananas and snack bars are a gift.
    • Try to tell the story of the painting a visitor is looking at. Also know when to shut up!
    • Remember questions visitors had about works by the other artists then ask them at handover or by other means so you have that story to hand next time.
    • Remember also that you are representing yourself even – maybe especially – when you’re talking about someone else’s work. People may not buy your paintings but they will remember you and they’ll probably look out for you next time.
  • Populate Instagram, twitter, and Facebook with your work. QR codes next to your works can link to added extras like blog posts showing how it was made, a video of you talking about it, quick vids of animations, you tik tokking it, AR (augmented reality) ‘easter eggs’. If there’s no wifi and the phone signal is poor, do that where those facilities are available and make sure the labels, your business cards or flyers, have those links too.

This list is not exhaustive; in fact much of it is post hoc, things I should have done this time but hadn’t thought about. So please print it, add to it – for yourself, in the comments, or both – modify it according to your own circumstances and what you’ve learned from each exhibition, and pass it on to the next novice exhibitor you meet along the way.

Post script.

My costs at their most basic for this exhibition are £170.00. This includes the participation fee of £40.00; £30.00 for the roadie to get my work down stairs and into my car; and £100.00 for my time on-site, calculated at £10.00 per hour which is just above the National Living Wage for everywhere but London. It doesn’t include preparation of, for instance, labels, the cost of flyers and business cards (I can use those elsewhere), the pre-exhibition meeting with the other two artists and discussions with the owner of the gallery, or my time getting the work to the venue.

We’re so over skirting boards!

Over night, the picture fairies came in and magically hung my paintings on the vacant wall. Where I had nothing to attach them to, the means of attachment appeared; and where dizzying heights would have dizzied me off the ladder, a sure-footed goat of a helper hung two paintings by barely visible fishing line. Some others had to sit this round out but they’re in a drawer nearby and, like the burglar’s mate, I can spring them any time.

I’ll most likely be there 11-2 on the 28th-30th and 4th-5th, with the very experienced Caroline and Andie picking up in the afternoons – their work is on the other walls.

If you spotted that absolutely beautiful clock in the first picture above – well that tells you what the room is like. The rest of Sakala? Full of parasols, wraps, skirts, tops, bits, bobs, and trinkets in the most vibrant colours you can imagine. I won’t get out of there without at least one thing I never knew I needed, and that will be every day!

How many paintings can a painting propper prop ..?

As many as there are skirting boards in a room!

I was ill-equipped, it turned out, to hang the kinds of paintings I’d taken. I’ll have several yards of transparent thread and a roadie who’s good on ladders next time.

Propping works though. It has an air of the Left Bank – laissez faire with a hint of Disques Bleu and an inscrutable shrug.

There are some more to come, but for now I give you – Strayfish Arts at Sakala, on the art trail with Caroline Darke and Andie Armstrong*:

Steyning Arts Trail; August 28th – 30th and September 4th – 5th. Free shrug unless I’m holding a coffee.

*Yes, from Sky Arts Portrait Artist series, that one! Jamie Ampleforth, another Steyning Sky Arts Portrait Artist contender is at venue 2, Church Cottage, Vicarage Lane.

Strayfish Arts on the trail

Sometimes you just have to give paint and water the day off to play together. Left to get on with it, these have made some fine little labels and business cards in earth and sky colours. All very abstract although I’m sure I saw a rabbit in one of them!

Now, remember those rubber stamp printers where you fiddled around picking up individual letters or numbers with a pair of eyebrow tweezers and stuck them in rows on a little platform to make an address? Well I need the 21st century version of that!

#labels #businesscards #handmade #homemade #steyningarts #arttrail #sakalasussex

Steyning Arts Trail – what else is coming to Sakala!

I did some more unwrapping today. This piece was part of the batch I unwrapped a couple of days ago but which had somehow wangled a trip out in the van and made a bid for freedom!

It’s the very divvil to photograph because it’s under glass so you get the whole kitchen in there as well and that really is NOT in the painting. Part paint, part collage, this is acrylics on paper mounted and framed. Definitely best seen in person! Red frame though …

Approx 26″ x 19″ mounted and framed.

Steyning Arts is never too posh for cats! This is based on a photo of one of mine.

Acrylics on canvas. 14″ x 18″

I found this remarkable woman during a search for faces when, as part of the course, I was required to make a portrait and I was heartily sick of painting my own face. The photo was black and white and uncredited.

Acrylics on canvas. 14″ x 18″.

There’s a long tradition of men painting naked women, sometimes in the company of clothed men. Degas didn’t do that so much but he did hang out backstage around young girls – the Petit Rats as they were called – and painted very many of them. This painting is based on (‘after’, as they say) his ‘Woman on a Balcony’. She is quite haughty and may have been a person of importance, unlikely to strip off for an artist. My young woman though is giving the artist the side-eye, I doubt he’d risk any unpainterly moves.

A painting within a painting; acrylics on canvas. 14″ x 18″.

Next – the box with the smaller stuff in it!

Strayfisharts at Sakala, Steyning Art Trail August 28th – 30th and September 4th – 5th. Sakala is also normally open every day.

Steyning Arts Trail – what’s coming to Sakala

I’ve been doing some unwrapping today and i absolutely can’t wait to get these on a wall! With many, many thanks to Frames at the Golding Barn industrial estate, these are ready to meet their public.

Mounted and framed under glass. Size approx 27″x21″.

This piece, impossible to photograph so it definitely needs to be seen in person, this is a work of gloss on gloss on gloss. Acrylics on glossed black card and echoing in abstract some of the gilded work of Klimt.

Mounted but not framed. A1 size.

Born of a lockdown bus trip via webcam from Lancaster to Keswick, this piece is made from strips of mirror foil, painted with dilute watercolours and acrylics, some allowed to drift downwards by gravity and find its own way to the bottom, some blown onto different courses using a handheld air blower. There are so many reflections here, again it’s a monster to photograph. It does have its own video though, and there’ll be a QR code nearby for visitors to access it.

These were made as a pair, the one on the left a print of the one on the right. But they carry different textual elements; one from the I Ching, the other the Tao Te Ching, both Chinese philosophical guides. I chose the first source for text from a page opened at random in the I Ching (on the right) and then mirrored that page for the Tao Te Ching text on the left. They work well as a pair or as standalone pieces.

I think I need another house with nothing in it but white walls. Oh right – that would be a gallery, wouldn’t it!

Steyning Arts Trail August 28th-30th and September 4th-5th. Sakala, High Street, Steyning.