Monday, 24 September 2012

Five years on.

Tempus fugit … Time flies. And it’s never been truer than with my blog. I first started blogging 5 years ago today. FIVE YEARS!!!

When I dived head-first into the world of blogging it was to add another dimension to my web site. My web site had been started some 8 years earlier in the hope of getting feedback and advice on the results of my newest hobby, painting. As I progressed (albeit very slowly), time and time again I came across people who had thought of having a go at watercolours, but never taken the plunge because they didn’t think they’d be any good at it, and others who had tried once, not produced a masterpiece, and therefore given up. I became increasingly aware of a burning desire to tell these people that they must have a go, and that they must not expect their first efforts to be great. And of course, I wanted to let both groups know that the enjoyment is in the ‘doing’ regardless of the end result.

Although it has earned me a reputation for lacking confidence in my work, my approach was to spread the word by example, and so I adopted the policy of posting ALL of my work, good and bad, and pointing out the things that hadn't worked as well as I'd hoped. I've tried to show beginners by example that it’s okay to ask silly questions, because no question is silly. I've tried to show them that you have to show your bad work if you want advice on how to improve. And I've tried to show them that the best lessons there are, come from our own mistakes. In fact, we learn more from a bad painting than we do a good one.

But what happened with my blog was not at all what I’d expected. I follow other artists because I think they are far better than me and they are skilled people I think I can learn from. Therefore I assumed that if I were fortunate enough to pick up any followers they would be beginners just starting out. I had never, in my wildest dreams (and I have some pretty wild ones) expected to be followed by extremely talented and competent artists as you all are. It makes no sense. 

What I get from following your blogs are lessons in technique, hints and tips, demonstrations (via WIP’s), insight into other mediums, inspiration by the bucketful and the opportunity to view some exceptional art. What I get from having you follow my blog is encouragement, support, advice and a massive sense of belonging. This last point is probably the greatest prize of all.

To mark my 5th blogiversay I thought I’d post a few pictures that have been milestones for me for various reasons. And for any beginners ambling by, I've explained why each of these weren't completely straightforward.

Miniature Rose

Though a simple painting, I've always felt very pleased with this one. It was my first painting of a single flower and I remember struggling with the blending as the darker tones turned to mud.

Captain Jack Sparrow

This one was my first serious portrait. I didn't know anything about graphite blending so experimented using a tightly rolled sheet of kitchen paper, and I remember struggling so much with a 8B pencil as I tried to get some dark blacks.

The Market Square, Northampton

This was my most ambitious pen drawing. It was one of the first pictures that I did a full Work-In-Progress of. There was a lot I didn't know how to do with this one, but I made it up as I went along, and it came out okay in the end.


This one was an experiment in trying to paint 'heat' and I was very pleased with the way it turned out. Much better than I could have ever hoped. This is the only painting I've sold in an exhibition.


The best thing I can say about this one is to quote the final sentence from when I posted it on my blog. 

Different pencils and two serious mistakes ... am I disappointed? No ... I am three more step along this wonderful journey of discovery.

Fuchsia "Winston Churchill"

Having started out with watercolours and then discovered the wonder of pencils, I suppose it was inevitable that one day the two mediums would come together into a single picture. Drawing with pencil on a heavily textured watercolour paper was another challenge that I hadn't anticipated ... but I got there.

"We did it!"

If someone had told me at the beginning of this journey that I would draw a portrait of my daughter and son-in-law on their wedding day, I would have laughed out loud.

Frustrating, challenging, and not without it's disappointments, yet this wonderful art journey we are on never ceases to be satisfying, rewarding and so full of enjoyment. To all my followers I say a big, heart-felt thank you .... you're the best.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Grey Lady

Here is a drawing I did for a bit of fun. I took it from a photograph sent to me by a good friend who saw this street performer at the Edinburgh Festival. The performer was dressed all in grey, including grey make-up on her face, and it was that monochrome appearance that appealed to me from a drawing point of view. The shape of this lady was entirely defined by shadows, highlights and textures.

We are not certain, but we believe the street performer was portraying "The Grey Lady" who haunts the family chapel at Glamis Castle. She is said to be the spirit of Lady Janet Douglas who was burned at the stake as a witch on Castle Hill, Edinburgh in 1537. She was accused of plotting to poison the King but the charges were likely fabricated for political reasons. Allegedly, the ghost has been seen quite recently by a number of witnesses.

I'm not entirely convinced by this as the period dress doesn't really suggest 16th century to me, but since it's only a bit of fun, it's as good an explanation as any other.

Monday, 10 September 2012

It's not always about the art

My latest 'plein air' adventure resulted in some fairly poor art, as usual, but that didn't matter in the slightest. I'm rapidly coming to the opinion that the 'art' is secondary to the sheer enjoyment of getting out into the countryside, on foot, ambling along listening to the birds, taking in the fresh air and enjoying the wildlife.

This time I headed to a 'wet' area near here that doubles up as a 'flood plain' receiving all the run-off water from the nearby concrete jungle. I followed a path alongside our main river, and after about a mile found that the river ran alongside a lake with the path being on a narrow strip of land between the river and the lake. It was there that I spotted a small shack under a tree in a field being ploughed by the farmer. I decided this was to be the subject of my painting. I set up my kit just to one side of the path and sat looking out across the river.

After about 15 minutes of sheer bliss and tranquillity on this warm summers day, I became aware of a movement further down the track. When I looked I saw a herd of sheep coming my way. They pretty much filled the width of the strip of land and there were scores more following the advanced party.

Being a 'townie' and never having had anything to do with sheep, or any other animals apart from my pet dogs, I admit to feeling somewhat insecure sitting in the path. So I stood up. I was hoping to make myself look big enough for them not to charge .... or is that Bulls? Anyway, I stood my ground and waited to see what would happen.

I need not have worried because, once they'd approached a little nearer, as if on command from some invisible shepherd, they smartly moved into rows of two.

If this had been a class of school children under the watchful eyes of their teachers I could not have been more impressed.

Most of them walked calmly passed without so much as a glance in my direction, though some were mildly inquisitive and couldn't help try and get a peep at my half-finished painting.

Some looked as if they wanted to say "Good morning" and have a chat.

And after several minutes of watching them stroll passed, still they came. My best estimate, for what it's worth, is that there were something like 100 sheep in all.

But I soon felt at ease with them and returned to my painting, aware that they were steadily passing by just behind me. 

Though feeling more confident now, when one of them suddenly let rip with a loud and rasping "Baaaaah", I jumped a mile and almost spilled my paints. Good job I didn't or this little guy may have received an unexpected make-over.

As I suggested at the beginning, the 'art' that took place that day was not very satisfactory. Within minutes of starting the watercolour I wasn't very pleased with the way it was going. I think we know when something just isn't working. Rather than persevere or worse, start over, I just left it. However, later at home I took a different view and decided to finish it from the reference photo's I'd taken.

And as I walked back along the river path I could see part of a Quarry over some bushes around a bend in the river. I climbed up on a fence for a better view and sat there to do this quick pencil sketch

I'm looking forward to my next walk ... whether I get to paint or not.  ;-)