Monday, 29 July 2013

Adventures in Linocut: Nicky Browne & Tessa Charles at Hampton Court

Yesterday I went to see a show by two specialist lino-cutters, Nicky Browne and Tessa Charles. It is at the Fountain Gallery just across the bridge from Hampton Court Palace and runs Tuesday to Sunday until the 4th of August.

They were having a "Meet the artists" afternoon so mostly I went to steal their knowledge but I had a good look at their work as well and interestingly the only thing the two bodies of work had in common was an interest in the craft and the process.

 Nicky's work is often quite architectural in subject and very much related to drawing; indeed there were several drawings on display as well. It emphasised line making. The ones that fascinated me most use the trick of printing white ink on a dark background. This means that when she carves she takes away where the lines will be in the finished work and effectively prints the background. This enables her to use standard drawing techniques like cross hatching and helps keep lines flowing, relaxed and of a consistent width. This uniform width is the key to her work. It is as if it has been drawn with a technical pen and the end result is that some of her work has a curious feel like a very free and loose engraving - which I suppose it is.

Tessa by contrast is all about simple blocks of colour (some flat, some textured), arranged to form complex images. Her themes and subjects were often about nature - plants, feathers and animals all made an appearance. She seems to take particular delight in using more than one colour on each block. Sometimes these are areas of two colours blending into each other, sometimes one is overlaid onto another and sometimes they are kept entirely separate. On one level this is pragmatic as it allows multi-coloured prints without worrying about registration but it also allows an extra level of creativity and interest and must require some serious skill and experience with a roller.

The contrast between the two makes the show all the more fascinating and it's well worth a look if you're in the area.

Friday, 26 July 2013

And relax...

Just a quick thank you to everyone who turned out this last night; I enjoyed meeting you all and I hope you liked the show.

If there were questions you didn't ask or I didn't answer don't be shy, drop me a line - even if it's just to find out the best place to park or to ask for suggestions if you fancy taking a closer look at Runnymede for yourself.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Roll Up! Roll Up! Summer Shade Opening Night Tonight @ No Naked Walls

Tonight's the night, Ladies & Gentlemen. Step right in to our little gallery of wonders! Don't be shy Madam, there's plenty more room. Enter another world of light and shade, chock full of illusion and mystery. Hurry! hurry! you have but five weeks to see it all.

Gasp at the magnificent Jo Louca!

Swoon before the might of Elizabeth Jardine!

Blink in the light of Alan Perriman!

That's right Ladies & Gentlemen, tonight your intrepid tour guide and MC, Sharon Withers, will lead you if you dare from the heart of exotic Chertsey deep into the primeval forests of Surrey. Who knows what lies within?

For full information and location check the No Naked Walls website. Hopefully I'll see you between 6:30 and 9 tonight but if not, the show runs through to 29th August - do check the website as the gallery is not open every day.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013


It was full moon a day or two ago and the sky was hazy but cloudless. I've been waiting for this so stumbled out across the fields.

Last full moon there was patchy cloud to soften the world but this time, with no clouds to help, the world was harsh, strange and simple.

By midnight the only colour in the sky was from distant towns and the motorway.

The quality isn't great in these pictures as I was using the camera as a sketchbook rather than taking photographs for their own sake - you can't even draw when its that dark. I was more interested in the level of darkness I could see, the remnants of colour I could see and recording the exact amount of missing detail so the camera was howling about the amount of light I was letting it see which is why there's so much noise. I've been kind to you and made everything lighter than the files I'll be working from otherwise you wouldn't see a thing unless you turned out the lights.

You can see why midnight is sometimes called the witching hour. While I was walking I saw the way this one bare tree clawed at the moon. It set me thinking about the old moonraker story - a fool lived in a village and saw the reflection of the moon in a pond and tried to fish it out using a rake. Old myths and stories still live in the landscape - all you have to do is look.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Graham Sutherland: Welsh Landscape with Roads

With everything coming to a head work-wise, I've fallen into the trap of getting wrapped up in my own stuff and lost sight of everyone else's. So, to snap me out of it and as a tribute to the relentless heat which is supposed to finish tonight, I give you a Sutherland drenched in an alien heat.

Like Nash, Sutherland saw the strangeness and the mystery of the landscape. Here, a skull echoes the forms of the hills, the hillside is baked (unusually for Wales!) to the same red as the sun and the road is the colour of the harvest. Add in the running man and there is a strange feel to it all. I'm especially fascinated by the dark patches; are they there simply to echo the eye socket of the skull, are open cast mines and quarries or are they something else? Whatever their origin, they give the landscape a primal, animal feel.

It lives in the Tate but is currently on loan in the Lake District as part of the Exultant Strangeness exhibition if you want to visit it. Incidentally, that looks like an awesome show. Its on until 15 September at Abbot Hall.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Exhibiting, confidence and a return to normality

As of now, life can get back to normal. I've just delivered the paintings for the exhibition I'm taking part in. The gallery owner has taken 9 oils and my linocuts which I am delighted about. Negotiations are complete and prices agreed.

In the run up to crunch days like this, my confidence comes and goes but I needn't have worried; although my work is different to everything else there it doesn't look out of place.

An artist low on confidence is a pitiful being; if there are a few days in a row when I don't make anything my confidence drops anyway as I become less involved in the paintings and all this week has been more about exhibition preparation than anything else. I have a rule now: on the bleaker days I can't talk to potential clients or galleries and I can't post here to make sure I don't undermine myself. The curious thing is that as my work becomes stronger my confidence doesn't necessarily follow. If I'm especially excited about my current project, older work seems to lose its shine. All it took to make everything right was seeing the work in a different location; the fact that the gallery owner obviously likes my work and made the same choices I would have done helps give me more faith in my judgement as well.

Anyway, come along from Thursday and you can judge whether my renewed confidence is justified for yourself!

Galerie Cartazini Biennial Award

I think I may have stumbled across one of the oddest art contests ever.

"The 'Cartazini Award' began in 1999 and was initially awarded posthumously, with the award being donated to related organizations and charities. From 2003 it was awarded to living, established artists. In 2007 it was awarded on the basis of a limited competition - open only to a pre-selected list of artists. The Award is an open competition - open to all artists and FREE to enter. It is being held again in 2013."

The prize is €20,000. Previous winners include - posthumously - Jean-Michel Basquiat. I saw a retrospective of his I think at the Serpentine and couldn't see what the fuss was about; maybe I'll have another look now that I'm older - but I digress.

The reason I describe it as odd is the selection process and brief. The full details are in this pdf but the key points are: 
  • The first cut down to 100 artists is random - all you do is send one email before the end of this month
  • If you're one of the 100 you then send a link to one piece of work presented how you wish somewhere on the internet along with an essay addressing the question
    In no more than 500 words, please tell us what we want from the Cartazini Biennial Award” - we being the jury if I've read it right.
  • Thereafter it becomes a lot more conventional, involving more works of art, information about the artist and eventually face to face interviews
Stage 2 is a little mind-boggling really. It is, to a degree, reading the jury's mind. There may be clues I haven't found (I haven't looked yet) but really the main clues about what they want are the previous winners and the new selection process.

I don't yet consider my work to be of a standard to win major international awards, but since its free I'll probably enter on the off chance of getting to pit my wits against that essay.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

New Work: Quercus Quercus

By now, any regulars here will know Cooper's Hill and the woods that blanket it. You've seen photos, paintings and linocuts. There's a path that runs along the bottom edge of the woods from the Ferrari garage past Mudward to the wizened tree in the April linocut before bursting out of the end of the woods and continuing on to the Runnymede Memorial. Partway along the path, if you care to look over your left shoulder, you will see two magnificent oak trees interweaving without ever touching. This linocut is a study of their winter silhouette.

It is an edition of 30 on Japanese-style washi. The printed area is about 13.5cm wide x 16cm high. I've varied pressure to leave the branches more lightly printed and the core of the trees darker and stronger.

As I'm prone to doing, I have taken a slight liberty with the title. Strictly speaking the trees are called quercus robur, commonly known as the English, French or Pedunculate Oak. If, however, one goes another level up through the taxonomy of plants, it is in the quercus section of the quercus genus (that basically means its in the white oak group of oak trees - you learn something every week here!) so although no-one would really call it quercus quercus if you stretch a point it kind of is. I wanted to call it that though because, just as two identical words come together to form one name, so two very similar trees come together to form one silhouette - indeed in summer they look like one tree with two trunks.

This is just step one on the path to something I find very exciting based on two observations - 1: it is so difficult to work out which branch belongs to which tree I might as well choose for myself and 2: one tree appears more masculine, the other more feminine. This is the final stage of my prep work except I need to change medium, find a different printing technique or work far bigger - any time I tried to shave the branches finer the lino started to crumble.

Harriet Brittaine: En Plein Air winner

Better late than never, I would like to offer my congratulations to Harriet Brittaine, winner of the inaugural Windsor & Eton En Plein Air speed painting competition.

I know nothing of her work other than what is on her website but it is pleasingly direct and well worth a look; it is easy to see it would translate well to the constraints of the competition. Incidentally, I find the Latest Work section particularly intriguing.

Here's the news story

Monday, 15 July 2013

Wait a While O Weary Walker, Sit and Cool Your Feet

The South East of England is about as hot as it ever gets at the moment. It's been that way for a couple of weeks and the forecast says there's more heat yet to come. We've gone from one of the coldest and wettest Springs on record to a proper, sustained heatwave with barely a month in between. To walk through the woods, surrounded by wilting undergrowth, is to hear no birdsong, to hear no insects, to hear no breeze, to hear nothing but your own footsteps and a few unseen creatures running away from you through the bracken. Even those creatures running from you for their lives can only be bothered to run a metre or two before they stop.

So what's a boy to do?

What else but fall in love with the river again? In this weather, the simple luxury of sitting on a shady bank, dangling your feet in the water, is a true Goldilocks moment.

 If your river is busy like the Thames (broken glass, needles) or stony get yourself some proper river shoes or sandals (Teva rules!) then go dangling.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

En Plein Air - the results are in...

...and I didn't win. In fairness, my work today wasn't good enough and the best painting on the day won even if I did hear a couple of murmurs of discontent over the subject matter the artist had chosen. Ultimately the painting was the most complete, the least error strewn and the painter was the one who dealt with the strict time limit the best. In short, it was the only painting there that looked even close to being worth the very generous prize. I'm good for nothing right now, but I'll look up the artist's name tomorrow because she probably deserves a post to herself.

[edited Wed 17: The winner is Harriet Brittaine - see my later post for links]

It was an interesting experience and one completely new to me. Indeed, it is almost the opposite of the way I work and that alone would be enough to make it useful. The format was turn up, get given a list of four sites to choose from between 10 and 10:30, set up and think, paint from 11 to 2, clear up, hand the work in at 2:30, the work is on display in the busiest part of Windsor from 3 to 5 and a bit after 4 prizes were handed out. By contrast, my modus operandi is to go for a walk, spot something interesting and photograph it, let it stew for a couple of months then return several times over the following months, sketching and re-photographing before blitzing a batch of paintings in the studio finishing them at an average of one a week. Exercises that break these habits lead to rapid personal and artistic growth so I may repeat the scheme. It won't be futile, the judges returned to my painting a clear half dozen times and spent a long time talking, pointing and smiling (incidentally, pointing and smiling is good, pointing and laughing isn't!) so I can't have been far off for all my painting's problems.

One thing that puzzles me every time I stop and listen, as i did today, to punters at an exhibition is their perception of quality. I'm not going to claim status as an arbiter of taste, but again and again it seems that people either can't recognise or don't care about the difference between a skilful, intelligent, inventive and rigorous piece and an unskilled and thoughtless piece. You could almost suppose people's taste in art is more punk than you might expect, its about the immediate reaction not the build quality. You could suppose that, until you stop to consider the winner of the people's choice prize. Let me be clear, this is not an attack on the winner of this prize today - for what it was it was as well executed as you could hope for within the time limit. What it wasn't, however, was unusual, inventive or imaginative. It showed Windsor Castle from its most famous viewpoint and presented it in the way closely related to the way it is usually shown. In other words, the favourite piece voted by about 100 locals and tourists was the piece that gave what they already knew, a well made visual equivalent to comfort food perhaps. An interesting observation, and it bodes well for when my skyline paintings hit the gallery!

So, an interesting day in many ways. I learnt about myself, I learnt more about the taste of the man on the Clapham Omnibus, and I began to learn a different and useful way of working. The event is a serious opportunity if its repeated next year - the first prize was £500, the field was quite small and the standard was very variable so anyone with proper skills has a serious chance. If there is anything similar close to you I recommend it without reservation - there will be people of all abilities so don't be shy.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

New Work: Cooper's Hill Coppice in June

I decided to go very simple for June's instalment, with an area of coppicing giving a harshly patterned background behind a gentle arrangement of sycamore leaves. This time I've used "normal" paper to allow for the colouring which has been done by hand. Its a different shape as well due to me rethinking the composition half-way through but its recognisably related to the others when seen in the flesh, and learning the aspects of the process that you only pick up through experience is part of the point of this series.

Its been a while, so here are the others from the series so far as a reminder:

Monday, 8 July 2013

Gear Review: the Tilley Hat

Summer has finally hit southern England and, as those of you who watched Wimbledon will know, it has hit hard. Judging by what I've seen of the Tour de France and heard on the news about the USA, the sun has now come out across much of the northern hemisphere after a long, cool and squally spring. In fact with temperatures inside my boat/studio hitting the mid thirties (thats 90ยบ for the Americans here) I've been working outdoors so I thought that instead of a paint review this month I would tell you about one of my essentials, a very particular sunhat.

To an extent, any sunhat would do but the Tilley hat is so much more, especially if you are around water. Designed and developed by sailors, it is water resistant with some in the range being designed as rainhats rather than sunhats. They come in a choice of fabrics and brim sizes, have ventilation holes that double as a holder for your sunglasses and have a pocket in the crown. From my point of view the best points are that if it goes in the river it floats long enough for me to fish it out again and that it doesn't go in the river in the first place because it has a very simple but very effective way of strapping onto your head in the wind.

I  used to work somewhere that sold these and was trained up by the rep, so a word about fit. Don't buy a size that is tight. Many people seem to want a hat they can ram onto their heads to make sure they don't lose it. With the retention system there's no need for this - trust the special tape measure. You should be able to wiggle it a little from side to side comfortably because your head swells and shrinks during the day. When trying one, fit your first 2 fingers inside the hat and flat against your forehead. You should be able to get them there easily, and when they're there the hat should then be tight.

I've been using a hemp one with a medium brim for a couple of years now and I swear by it. I went for the hemp because it gets a worn-in look much quicker than the other fabrics but still lasts and lasts - by nature I'm a bit dishevelled! It'll be going with me to this painting contest on Saturday because you have to keep the sun out of your eyes, but sunglasses mess with the colours.

Friday, 5 July 2013

En Plein Air - Windsor & Eton Quick Paint

I'm off to Windsor next weekend, Saturday 13 July, to take part in a speed painting en plein air competition - I'll have three hours at a given point somewhere outdoors in the town centre to make (and frame) a painting of Windsor on the theme of the 60th anniversary of the Queen's coronation. The challenge and the fun isn't just down to the speed, its down to the interruptions there will be from the public and the fact that, not knowing where I'll be painting, I won't be able to prepare much so it will be seat-of-the-pants creativity. Hopefully it will be fun, certainly it will be intense - find out the location at 10:30, start painting at 11, stop painting at 2, hand in work for exhibition at 2:30 and collect work again at 5, hopefully with a prize as well! With a £500 first prize it will be a mix of people doing it for fun and people taking it very seriously; I don't know which camp I'll fall into yet.

The long range weather forecast looks perfect so come and cheer me on, or else join in!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Save the Dates: No Naked Walls & the Runnymede Gallery

Well, there's no backing out now for either me or the gallery!

Some of my work will be on show from 25 July to 29 August in Chertsey and some more during the first weekend of August, the 3rd and 4th, at the gallery in the National Trust Lodge at the Windsor end of Runnymede.

Since Chertsey is in effect my professional debut, the next two or three weeks are your last opportunity to buy from me at negotiable prices - thereafter my studio prices will be consistent with what I fetched at the gallery because to do otherwise would be unfair on the dealer and any collectors - so have a look at my website and if anything catches your eye contact me to find out about availability and pricing, you might be pleasantly surprised. I'm happy to ship worldwide but remember, when the show starts the prices will become more fixed!

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

A temporal landmark

As you know, I've been thinking a lot about landmarks over the last couple of months and I've also begun to think about time. Well, current events have made realise that there is a certain type of landmark that doesn't just tell you where you are, it tells you when you are as well.

From my posts here, you could be forgiven for thinking Runnymede to be a timeless pocket of nature which ebbs and flows with the seasons but fundamentally stays the same and to a degree you would be right. Ultimately however it is not a natural environment but a collaboration between man and nature that has developed over two millennia or more. As with anything managed by man, there are occasional, sudden changes and there have been two such changes this week.

Firstly, the first crop of hay of the year has been cut, left for a couple of days to start to dry, baled and taken in. Second, the fairground has arrived.

Seeing the hay being cut tells you that from a weather point of view, given the particular spring we had this year, it is midsummer. The fair turning up, in Egham at least, means its around about midsummer from a calendar point of view as well. The fair gives an extra level of precision - is it open? are people coming or going? are the lights in the caravans on? The hay gives us extra information too - the farmer thinks the weather is going to be fine for a few days.

A particular hay meadow isn't distinctive unless it is in isolation; its hedges may be but the grass isn't at first glance. I wonder if its a landmark at all, or if its actually a timemark.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Sir Francis Barry

It was recently suggested to me I should take a look at an artist unknown to me, Sir Francis Barry, Third Baronet of St Leonard's Hill and Keiss Castle. Now that is a mouthful. Would that he had had the other title in the family, Baron de Barry of Portugal, which rolls from the tongue more elegantly. I'm glad I did look at his work, although even after several weeks I remain a little nonplussed. I have sat down and read a book, but it was the sort of book that left me none the wiser. It is based on correspondence found in a briefcase after Barry's death and conversations with his descendants and yet it so full of gaps as to be barely there at all.

So what can we say with confidence? He was born in 1888, his young years featured domestic difficulties and he became a painter against the wishes of his family. He spent years in Cornwall and in mainland Europe and as a painter prioritised colour above all else, claiming Matisse as his major influence. He spent many years working as an etcher and this shows in the graphic simplicity of his paintings. At different times his work shows the influence of the Newlyn and St Ives painters (at which time he was associated with the Royal Academy), the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, the Pointillists and the Fauves, even the Surrealists and de Chirico. So I guess he drifted on the tide of fashion to a degree as many artists did at this time; it is difficult to know as the chronology of his work is unclear and his early work missing. What I take to be his mature style is full of colour in simple rhythmic compositions. It is at times almost psychedelic although, since he painted until the late 60's, it is impossible to know if he foreshadowed this or reacted to its rise.

Anyway, a perplexing mixture of pictures, with no indication of date or scale to be found: