Everyone is welcome to just call in to my studio over the bank holiday weekend. There will be work in progress, lots of new work to see and a full selection of my cards and ltd edition prints.
Recently I've been doing a lot of ink and wash drawings, and many of these are as yet unmounted and unwrapped and unframed.
My August bank holiday sale last year was very popular, with lots of you going away happily with original paintings which I had rescued from the cupboard on the landing. I intend to do the same this year, with many original paintings at half of the original website or studio price.
So please come along. You are welcome to just have a look. And at the very least you will find a warm welcome, a chat and a cuppa!
I have recently had the pleasure of running acrylic painting workshops for small groups and individuals who have visited my studio. While I am happy enough to share the techniques I use, the best thing is when people completely ignore me because they have discovered the joy of experimenting, taking risks and exploring this wonderful medium for themselves. If I can encourage people to do that, then I think I have really shared something useful.
These are some of my thoughts. They are aimed at people who are learning to paint or thinking about trying it. They are not instructions, merely suggestions. There are as many approaches to acrylic painting as there are artists. Thankfully, I don't think anyone has ever written any rules for acrylics, there is no prohibition on using white or black or green from the tube, there is no law which says you shouldn't 'fiddle' if you want to or that you should if you don't. If you make a mistake you can correct it and since you don't need to use expensive canvases/paper you can just throw it away and start again if you feel like it.
One studio visitor who 'couldn't do colour' produced this in her first half hour:
Once freed from the misapprehension that there was a right and a wrong way to cover a sheet of paper with colour she was away. She's been producing amazing, colourful abstracts ever since.
I think it's really useful to look at other artists' work as much as you can. Think about why you like something or why you don't. Why it works... or why it doesn't work for you... what do you like? Be inspired... but don't try to copy. You will only end up frustrated. Art is not merely a technical process. It works when you put your soul into it. You can't do that by copying someone else's work.
Take risks, Allow yourself to make mistakes. It's ok. It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's called learning. Why would you expect to run before you can walk?
Photographs are fantastic for reference, but I find it is better not to try to paint from a photograph. If my only reference is a photograph (and believe me the tops of Cumbrian Fells are not always comfortable places to sit and sketch!) then I draw from the photograph back in the studio and then paint from the drawings. This helps in several ways. The drawing helps me to understand the subject, identify my focus of attention, clarify what needs to be left out and what can stay in. Only when I have done this can I be confident about a composition. Using a reference drawing rather than a photograph also helps me to avoid the trap of concentrating on irrelevant and distracting detail which detracts from the overall painting.
Once you've established your composition and you're ready to start, transfer your drawing to your paper or canvas or board and start painting. Aim to work on the whole image to begin with. Detail can come later. If you concentrate too much on one area you may well find it is difficult to pull the whole thing together later. Edges and shapes can be refined later if need be. Acrylics are forgiving and allow corrections at a later stage. You don't have to get it right to begin with.
If you are struggling, leave the painting for a while and come back to it. 10 minutes may be enough or weeks or months if need be! When you come back you will see it with fresh eyes. Details you thought were important will have receded into the background and you will be able to judge the accuracy of your drawing and the wisdom of your composition with fresh eyes.
Remember that our brains want to make sense of the images we see, and all we have to do as painters is to give the viewer enough information to enable them to do that. More than that is unnecessary and may be superfluous.
If you are interested in a workshop for groups of up to 6 people in my studio, or individual lessons, please contact me.
Holding Open Studio events
I first came across open studio events when I lived in Dorset, some years before I started painting professionally. The Dorset Arts Weeks trail was a big county wide event. It struck me then as the perfect way to enjoy and perhaps to buy art. It was a surprise that there were so many people near to where I lived producing such a wide variety of lovely work... not only paintings, but sculptors, potters, and jewellers. Nothing mass produced, every piece unique, and at prices which generally seemed affordable and fair.
Now that I am lucky enough to be one of those artists, holding 'open studio' has become my favourite way to sell art too.
My very first open studio was part of the first Teesdale Open Studios in 2008. I had just started painting professionally and had taken part in my first exhibitions locally, so it was perfect timing for me.
With some trepidation I put out the signs, opened the front door and waited for my first customers.
I am happy to say that not only did the customers arrive, they stayed, they chatted, they engaged with my work, many of them bought cards and some bought paintings. And some of those customers who came then have been back many times since, sometimes to chat, to see what I have been doing and enjoy a cup of tea, and sometimes to buy another picture.
For myself, I enjoyed it so much that I now open my studio several times a year, usually at weekends or bank holidays, and at other times by arrangement.
When visitors come for the first time, sometimes they are very apologetic... they saw the sign or the advert in the local paper... they thought they would like to come and see but they are not intending to buy. I am aware that coming in to someone's home (my studio is in fact the front room of my house) feels very different to walking into a gallery or a shop. Although I say 'browsers welcome', people are not always very sure that I really mean it... I do!
The tricky part for me is to try to work out whether you want to chat, or to look around without me peering over your shoulders and hearing what you are saying! Either is fine with me. I am happy that you are sufficiently interested in my work to come and have a look.
Sometimes the visitors are other artists who are interested in seeing what I do. Occasionally one thing leads to another and they end up with a palette knife and a piece of scrap paper to try things out. Incidentally, children are welcome too, and it gives me particular pleasure when they are inspired to have a go!
Art is a personal thing and people react very differently to my paintings. The wonderful thing about contemporary art is that there is such a variety that there is something for everyone. On the occasions when someone really engages with my work - I may see them stealing glances back towards a painting when they are supposed to be having a conversation - it gives me a great buzz. I feel encouraged and inspired. If that person had been admiring my work in a gallery, unless they were to buy it, I would never know.
Over the years I have learned a few things... I keep a box of toys for small children, so that their parents and carers can look around in the knowledge that the children are welcome and so that it's a good experience for them too. Older children who want to can have a go with pencils, paints or other art materials which are always (of course) to hand.
I always have work available at a variety of prices, from cards at £2 each, to prints, and framed and unframed originals. I like to think that selling directly to the customer makes my work affordable and accessible, while still allowing me a reasonable return for my work.
I know that if the weather is fine and I have managed to prepare well with good publicity I may get many more people in... but that it is very unpredictable and sometimes it can be quiet... especially if it's snowing! Because I am in my workplace, I am able to simply get on with whatever I am doing at the time, and when the visitors arrive it is a bonus!
I would love it if you would share your experiences of open studios. Have you 'done' an art trail and did you enjoy it? Are you an artist who has taken part in one?
If you've never been to an open studio event, I hope that this will encourage you to go along to one. If you have, either as an artist or a visitor or both, you can comment below or through my twitter or facebook links.
And best of all... do come along and see me either this weekend, at August bank holiday, or get in touch and visit me another time. You will be most welcome!
Having just come back from a lovely week in the Lakes walking and sketching, I thought I would share some photos and thoughts about using sketches and photographs as reference materials in my paintings.
The places which inspire me are remote, empty landscapes and usually involve a walk away from roads and civilisation. Despite my preference for setting off in lovely weather, it can often be cold, wet and/or windy. So there can be a strong temptation to rely on photographs, especially nowadays when cameras are so small, cheap and capable of producing excellent results.
There are times when it is not possible to stop and sketch a view especially in the hills when the wind and rain can appear from nowhere and the temperature is several degrees less than in the valleys.
But I don't see photographs as the objectively truthful records we tend to take them for. They only tell part of the story, and not terribly reliably.
For a start, there are some obvious difficulties. Photographs flatten and distort perspective and not necessarily in the way you want! How many times have you taken a photo of an impressive mountain view only to wonder where the grandeur has gone when you get home and print it out? It's not you - that's what cameras do, especially with a wide angle lens. So a sketch is essential to remind you of where you were and why you needed to record it.
Photos lose stuff in shadow areas. This might not matter if it is a picture of trees or the shadows of a street... but when it is a mountain landscape you can find yourself looking at it and wondering where one hill finished and another began. It can make an enormous difference if you want to paint a range of hills.
The sketch below of Skiddaw in the Lake District shows three lines of hills which were not at all clear in any of my photographs. When I come to paint this view, the sketch will give me valuable information about the lie of the land: and important features such as the gullies and the composition I found interesting with the foreground trees. It misses out other information, such as intervening fields and paths which I would prefer to leave out.
A sketch is a record of a slow, absorbing experience. Years later I can look at a sketch and remember the warmth of the sun on my back, the wind on my face, the calls of the birds all around as I perched on a rock immersed in the landscape. It's able to tell me that story because of the exaggerations and omissions, which will hopefully go into my paintings and give them life.
So I make it a rule never to paint directly from photographs. If I have no sketches done at the time, I work from drawings done from the photographs and from memory... When I have tried it in the past, from laziness or impatience, I have invariably got lost in trying to paint the details and colours of the photograph, which is emphatically not what I am aiming for! It never works!
When people ask me where my colours come from, I can honestly say they come from my emotions and my love of the hills. They do not come from photographs... It's a big subject I will come back to in future posts!
These days my sketching materials are very basic. I don't like carrying a lot of weight when I am out walking so in the hills I rely on a few pencils, a rubber and a hard backed A5 sketchbook. I roll the pencils in a little bubble wrap to protect them and fasten them with an elastic band. The elastic band then holds down the pages of the book to stop them blowing around. If I want to add colour, I also take some 1"pieces of inktense blocks in a matchbox. More often I write a note to remind myself of the predominant colours which I experienced that day. I don't need or want anything else...
Except of course I need a brimmed hat and my glasses!
I love exuberance in art. I like to look at a painting and share some of the intensity of the moment when the artist first contemplated the idea. A painting may have been carefully planned and painstakingly produced but I don't wish to know that. I like artworks which look as though its creator really didn't stop to think, but had to get on with it... even if that isn't the case at all in reality.
I suppose ever since Van Gogh went out under the beating hot sun of Provence that sense of urgency and spontaneity he portrayed has been a highly desirable quality in contemporary art.
There are of course wonderfully skilful, hyper-realistic artworks which are hard to distinguish from photographs, and these are tremendously popular... but they don't make my heart sing. There seems little justification to me in spending long periods of time achieving what a freely available piece of equipment (i.e. a camera) can achieve in seconds.
However, there are some aspects of a painting which are very important to me and which I try very hard to get right. My aim is to achieve an overall freshness which disguises the careful planning and forethought!
Place is very important in my landscape paintings. My work is usually bought by people who know the location very well, and visitors to my studio will often not only recognise a particular hill, but will know which hill it is painted from.
So however bright the colours and sketchy the detail, I always pay attention to the topography. I like to know that the land lies true: that it 'works' in terms of light and shadow, the rise and fall of the hills, the tumbling of the water. The rocks must sit heavy on the ground, they should tumble convincingly, the paths should be inviting.
One way to achieve this is by careful drawing. I usually draw the view at least once before I start work on the actual painting. If I go away and come back to it at this stage, it is usually obvious if I have misjudged the shapes, or if the snake of a path is not convincing.
Once I am working on the painting, other factors come into play. Is there enough tonal contrast? Can I forgo the detail in the foreground to concentrate attention on the focal point?
It feels like living dangerously!
Somehow it still seems preposterous to present a sketchily finished painting which doesn't have the careful attention to detail which I know some people crave...
Sometimes it is just difficult to be confident that a painting is finished, that I don't have to carry on spelling it out...
But sometimes it just works and that's wonderful.
It was good to get out last Friday onto Cronkley Fell at the top of Teesdale. It was cold and breezy, with a covering of snow on the higher hills, but the benefit was that it was superbly clear, and dark clouds added drama to the landscape.
If you could only visit Cronkley once in the year, it would have to be in the spring to see the flowers - not just spring gentians but other gems like birdseye primroses and sandworts, and clumps of wild thyme and rock roses growing in the sugar limestone. And this is where you'll find golden plovers, choosing the most desolate places to nest despite their delicate looks and plaintive calls...
But for me wintertime is a close second choice...
It's a wonderful, varied and interesting landscape, combining distant views and lots of interest on the fell top: unlikely rock formations, waterways appearing and disappearing, the crumbly limestone, a line of well kept cairns by the path and a trig point nestled almost out of sight. You rarely meet anyone else, especially at this time of year. The only sounds are the buffeting wind and the yakkety tak of the grouse.
I'm afraid I'm no good at fumbling about in the freezing cold without my gloves and the paper would have blown away so no sketching... but I did take plenty of photos and I came home feeling inspired. Below are a few of those images.
One of the reasons why I love to sell my work through Open Studios is because the people who visit, whether they actually buy anything or not, come because they are interested in art and like to talk about it.
So I thought it would be interesting to use this blog to talk about some of the things which people most often comment on when they come to my studio. I would love it if you would like to follow this up by posting your comments here, or (as many of you already do) by sharing your thoughts on Twitter or Facebook.
For obvious reasons my use of colour is one of the things most often commented on in my paintings, and one of the most commonly asked questions is whether that is how I see the world when I am walking around...
Well, no not really... In fact not at all. When I paint I am not seeking to produce a naturalistic image of a view, so I don't feel obliged to recreate the actual colours which I happened to see on a particular occasion.
Bright colours lift my mood. And I think a love of colour is one of the things which drew me to art in the first place. I can remember to this day the elation I felt as a teenager on first seeing one of Van Gogh's paintings of a peach tree in blossom in the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester.
Colour for me expresses freedom and beauty and the intensity of emotion I associate with being alone in the hills or on a beach in the sea bright light watching the crashing waves.
I hope in my art to share that joy with you, and if I can achieve that, then I am happy.
On choosing colours...
A related question which people often ask is how I choose which colours to use.
Clearly to an extent it's dictated by the mood of the painting, the light and the time of day. So in the watercolour of Great Mell Fell above I wanted to capture the light of the sun on the fellside late on a summer's afternoon as we returned from a long walk in the hills.
Of course the colours are there: the golden glow on the hillside and the reds and greens of the bracken, heathers and grasses are there in the landscape, but in my painting I am looking for a more vibrant effect.
It helps to use layers of pure colour, not mixed on the palette, and a lovely way to explore this is to do preliminary drawings with coloured pencils. This takes away the urge to mix and match colours before they are applied to the painting. It is particularly useful to do this with my acrylic paintings, where the texture underneath encourages the colours to break up and show through in the same way as the pencil lines.
When I sketch on location, I often rely on a very limited palette of three inktense blocks, as in the sketch of Long Meg below. This was ample to inform the colours I used in both the large acrylic painting and the smaller watercolour which I painted at a later date. Neither is a direct copy, but a combination of sketch and memory were more useful than a photograph could ever be!
There is so much more to say on this subject! Every painting is different and I do use a variety of references - sometimes from location sketches, other times from sketches made from photographs. I will come back to it another time.
In the meantime please do share your thoughts. There is a link below for you to make comments directly on this blog.
It was a surprise to me on my return from my first trip to the Mediterranean to find myself painting townscapes. Before I went I had thought about painting the coast and the countryside, but it was the towns which captured my imagination. The ancient cities, built to protect their inhabitants from constant invasions, had an air of mystery and permanence which the dusty countryside, desperate for water and under pressure from development could not match at the end of a long hot summer.
Walks in the countryside were marred by the daily presence of hunters shooting at every migrant bird which had the misfortune to seek landfall on Malta. We were shocked by the extent of this and the way in which the hunters seemed able to ignore the law against killing birds of prey with impunity.
We learned from our Maltese friends that this is a hugely controversial and political topic in Malta at present. Birdlife Malta is an organisation which opposes the hunting at considerable personal risk to its members and supporters.
In this view of Valletta from Sliema seafront, I loved the solid bastions, the buildings piled up together, the glorious dome of the church in contrast to the steeple of the English cathedral, the terracotta domes and the unifying effect of the warm Maltese stone. I found I could achieve a degree of realism without too much detail by painting on a textured surface with a palette knife, as I do in many of my British landscapes.
The Cittadella on Gozo is a medieval fortified township which rises serene and beautiful above the modern town of Rabat (Victoria.)
I painted it from a viewpoint at Ta Cenc looking across the cultivated fields. In this painting I wanted to reflect not only the grandeur and beauty of the ancient citadel, but also the force of my emotions about the chaos and disorder of the surrounding countryside.
I approached the painting using the same techniques and colour palette as the Valletta picture, but with a much freer approach to the foreground. It was a challenge to combine the figurative image of the buildings with the abstract foreground. However, it seemed to work if I gradually reduced the focus of the buildings in the town. The red paint in the foreground was applied with a palette knife straight from the tube.
I do hope to paint more townscapes in the future, but for the time being I am enjoying a return to more familiar territory in the hills of the English Lake district. Still serene, seemingly impregnable and beautiful, but definitely not dry and dusty!
10% of the sale price of paintings of Malta will be donated to Birdlife Malta.
I know from the popularity of my tree drawings how much people enjoy a good degree of realism and detail in their artworks. I have just completed a commission, a large painting of Ben Wyvis, and in this I employed much more realism than I usually do at the request of the person who commissioned it.
Contrary to expectations, it can be much easier to produce a realistic painting, relying on the purely visual. It cuts down hugely on the judgements involved! It is much less to do with intuition, and an emotional response, and more to do with the joy of employing skills, paying attention to detail and faithfully depicting the particular.
This year I have spent much of my time exploring landscape in watercolour. But I was most definitely not trying to produce traditional watercolour landscapes... there are plenty of artists who are already doing that very well. While wanting to retain a strong link to the places I was painting, my aim was primarily to convey 'what my heart sees' in the landscapes I love.
This is very much the same approach as I take in my acrylic landscapes, but using watercolour felt so much more risky! Once that scarlet lake is all over a foreground it is very difficult to remove it!
It is so exciting when a new visitor comes to my studio and they clearly connect with the paintings. When they make comments like 'I know in my head those colours are not there... but they are!' I feel I have got it right, whatever the medium I have used. A friend of mine who loves the hills took some time to respond to my work. Then one day she announced: 'I get it now, it's like poetry not prose!' She now has several of my landscape paintings in her home.
I hope that you will 'get it' too... and to continue to enjoy my work. Next time I might tell you a little about the townscapes I have painted since my visit to Malta. Another challenge!