The Wisdom of Others

The Power of Community

One of the things I like, or should say liked (past tense) prior to lockdown, was time to myself creating art.  I spend much of my working day with members of my team or colleagues, so escaping to the studio always gave me a much needed break.  Since March, however, the vast majority of my work interactions have taken place over Microsoft Teams. Like most of the country I’m craving the company of others. This means my studio time is less a break from others and more a means to destress and switch off from work, lockdown and all things COVID. 

Asking and Getting Feedback

Unlike many other artists I’m not an active member of a local art group. I only moved to the area at the end of last year and I haven’t quite got myself organised yet.  This means I don’t have a community available to help provide guidance and feedback.  Whilst I have very creative friends, none of them really paint, so it’s definitely something I need to sort out in the new year. I’ve never had the confidence to actively ask others for feedback but I really benefitted from it when I completed a summer school at the Leith School of Art in 2020.  Getting the views of other, more experienced, artists helped me develop not only my technique but also helped me focus on what I liked and didn’t like. This in turn helped me decide what to leave in or remove.

Online Communities

Recently I completed the Art2Life Spark programme. Like many similar learning platforms, a big chunk of the programme involved sharing exercises online.  This is a practice I’m generally comfortable with. They are set exercises, and whilst everyone has a slightly different take on how to do them, it’s a safe environment. Generally you don’t get too many comments or feedback but since completing the programme I’ve been trying to push my art and take more risks. As a result, I recently ended up with a painting which felt like I was getting somewhere but I had absolutely no idea how to resolve. So at the moment, it is far from finished! 

So, I decided to be brave and post this in the group. Maybe it was easier because I don’t actually like where I’ve got to.  My gut is telling me there’s something there but at the moment its quite ugly.  And wow, I’m so pleased I did!  The community provided guidance on how to take it forward by

  • getting more clarity
  • quietening it down
  • and a whole host of ideas on techniques for standing back and assessing my work which I’ll be able to apply to future paintings. 
An abstract image by the author of the piece, entitled No.3
No.3

The Results So Far…

The painting I created was a very different direction for me – much more colourful and loud. Granted, it’s a bit too loud at the moment… Deep down I knew what I needed to do but there is something so reassuring to hear it from others.  I haven’t finished the painting, as one of the suggestions was to set it aside and start something new. I’ve done that but with the second painting, I followed a similar approach and managed to get into a flow. This one’s still a work in progress too, but it feels more resolved than the first. 

An abstract painting image by the author of the piece. Described as a work in progress
Work in Progress: Through the Looking Glass

My inspiration for this piece only really emerged when I got to the 3rd layer. I was thinking back to Sparks and flicking through my sketchbook. I landed on the page where I’d captured ideas for things I loved. Children’s literature, and specifically the Alice stories, jumped out. Through the Looking Glass came to mind and I found myself painting in a checked pattern like a chess board. I’m going to look at working in some form of reference to the Red King and White Queen. I need to play around with what form these should take that works within the piece, but it’s a start.

I’m not sure I’ll keep going in this direction, but I’m loving the challenge its giving me and I’m learning so much.

Well that was unexpected!

Back in May, my parents presented me with a torn a page from the Daily Mail asking for entries for a painting competition.  I have to say, the Daily Mail isn’t my newspaper of choice so I was a bit sniffy about entering. But then I thought, What the hell?

The competition theme was Glorious Britain in Spring. Unsurprisingly it attracted a load of landscape painters.  The entry process was easy – all online, so I photographed one of my Spring Meadow paintings, and submitted it.

I didn’t hear anything back about the entry so naturally assumed I’d been unsuccessful. Then last week, out of the blue, I received an email. It informed me that although I wasn’t one of the four winners, my work was going to be featured in the weekend publication. A result!  Naturally, I assumed the feature would contain lots of examples of entries so whilst pleased I wasn’t expecting too much. I thought maybe I’d be a tiny thumbnail tile amongst hundreds of others.  I was therefore very surprised when I opened the magazine to find that my work was alongside 8 other paintings in a “Best of the Rest” section.  You can view the article here.

Small pleasure I know, but as the competition had some pretty esteemed judges – Andrew Marr, Philip Mould and Mark Bergin. It gave me a great boost of confidence!  And a bonus, my entry is also featured in a virtual exhibition at Mall Galleries in their Glorious Britain in Spring exhibition. I should also say that I loved the painting that won, created by artist Amanda Murray.

Is It Worth Entering Art Competitions?

If you google “why enter art competitions” you end up with a pretty well balanced list of links. Half of them bemoaning why they’re a complete waste of time, the other half evangelising the benefits of increased exposure.  I understand both points of view. For many competitions you have to pay an entry fee (this one was free to enter) so the real winners are the organisers. I don’t mind if that means I’m contributing funds to a gallery or credible art organisation, especially given the tough times they are currently facing. 

What I do agree with are the claims that they offer false validation.  If you are relying on these to feel good about your art, then you’re heading for disappointment.  The few times you get recognition is great, but for every positive result there will be lots of rejections.  (I think I’m still scarred from having my entry to Tony Hart’s ‘Take Hart‘ gallery back when I was 9 or 10 years old, rejected). 

Most will tell you that your worth as an artist should come from within. I agree whole heartedly.  People paint for many different reasons – a natural urge, therapy, a way to switch off from stresses and strains of daily life or simply because it makes them happy. There are no right or wrong reasons – if you enjoy it, it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.

So, Would I enter a Competition Again?

Absolutely! My ambition is to get something accepted for the Summer Exhibition, but I’m realistic.  If I did succeed it would be great, but either way it won’t stop me enjoying the process of painting.

Another Online Art Course

If you’ve read my previous updates you may have guessed I’m a bit of sucker for a workshop. As we seem to have been in lockdown forever this has meant switching from physical attendance to virtual learning. 

Benefits of Online Training

On the plus side, virtual courses mean you get to work through at your own pace. With the pressures of the day job this can be a real benefit and it opens up access to international courses that might otherwise have been off the cards.  Recently I took part in the Art2Life Breadcrumbs challenge delivered by the wonderful Nicholas Wilton. I’ve been a fan since subscribing to his YouTube channel and was waiting to apply for CVP in February. Because of lockdown restrictions, he’s taken advantage of the situation to launch a new course – Spark.  It’s a 21 day course but as its all online you can move through at your own pace…and I’m running slightly behind. 

Art2Life Spark

I wasn’t sure how I’d find it. It’s less focused on technique and more on mindset (although the technique bits are also excellent!) but I’m thoroughly enjoying it.  The course is a combination of:

  • bite sized videos
  • art exercises to put into practice what you’re learning,
  • and live calls each week.

It’s a great distraction from the pressures of the day although I admit that spending time focusing on limiting beliefs and reframes was a tough one!

Art2Life Spark Book index page

As with many of these courses there’s a very active Facebook community. Here you get to see what everyone else has created. It also gives you the opportunity to ask questions and get feedback. 

What’s lovely about the teaching is that it focuses on play. It has taken me a while to get my head around letting go and not worrying about how the finished page looks, but I feel I’m gaining a lot from the experience.

My efforts so far

I’m not sure I’ve quite pushed myself far enough just yet, but having a full day just mixing paint and creating collage pages was lovely. It felt like a jolt back to almost childlike playfulness.

A relaxing weekend!

I’m almost finished module three, and I’m really pleased with how my Spark book is transforming into a key reference for the learnings…even if I’m not 100% happy with all of my output. 

Learning About Value

I need to spend more time working on my free pages and worrying less about playing catch up. It is a temptation to try to keep on track with each module opening up. Despite that, I’m starting to see how “difference” and “design” could improve my work. I just need to rein back a bit as my pages are all a bit too busy.

Same Shape, Different Ways
What’s Next?

I guess the downside with online courses is that whatever free time you get is generally spent “studying”. True, it’s done in a fun and playful way, so my plan over the next few weeks is to work through the final sections. When I’ve finished I’m going to look at how I start to put this learning, along with some of the techniques from Lorna Crane’s course, into action. Then? I guess I’ll see where they take me, art wise.

I’m not sure what path this will take me on, but I’m looking forward to some discoveries…and no doubt some disappointments.

A First Time for Everything

I’ve posted previously that I have been doing an online course with the wonderful @lornacrane called Perfectly Imperfect: Discovering Your Visual Language

It has been a real voyage of discovery. 

Not only have I made my own brushes, I’ve also been experimenting with acrylic inks (both firsts!) and I’ve even been staining papers with coffee. 

The whole experience has been a great inspiration.

In fact, I’m desperately trying to make it last by not racing through to the end. So more excitement to come! This week I took a break from the exercises to try my hand at making some inks from natural ingredients.

Make Ink

I spotted Jason Logan’s book on someone’s Instagram feed and thought I’d treat myself.  It’s a stunning book – a lovely read and the photographs are beautiful – I’d thoroughly recommend it. 

So, feeling inspired I thought why not give it a go? 

I started with some simpler formulas and thought I’d try my hand with ingredients I had knocking around the kitchen.  So my first creations are……

Beetroot Ink

Created by boiling some clearly-past-its-best-beetroot which narrowly escaped being thrown in the bin by my husband. Allowed it to cool, added a pinch of salt, vinegar and gum arabic. I was quite impressed by the vibrancy of the colour (which shouldn’t have been a surprise as whenever I cook beetroot it looks like a murder has taken place and leaves my hands stained for hours!)

My Beetroot Ink

Red Cabbage Ink

Probably my favourite colour – apparently this can either make a blue or purple ink. The version I created is definitely more in the purple camp – subtler than beetroot.

Red Cabbage Ink

Nettle Ink

A different process for this concoction – I simple blended leaves in the bullet with a little water, stained through an old tea towel, added vinegar, salt and gum arabic. The least successful of the colours: not only is it very pale, but in the blending it also lost some of the brightness of the green

Nettle Ink

Tea Ink

I ran out of nice bottles for this so had to scrabble around for glass containers but it is a nice colour – probably more for staining paper than anything else. This was the easiest to make – stewing tea bags in boiling water then just adding vinegar, a pinch of salt and gum arabic.

Tea Ink

Final Thoughts

The colours are understandably a lot more subtle than the vibrant hues you get with Liquidex inks but beautiful none the less!

Studio Progress

Just a short update this week – my day job is still keeping me very busy which doesn’t leave much time for painting but I did finally get round to finishing four paintings that have been propped up against my studio wall for weeks. 

They are four 30cm square paintings on wooden board and all created with a very muted palette reflecting the subject matter.  I haven’t quite got round to popping them on my website but thought I’d share anyway. 

Inspired By Nature

They started out as very loose sketchbook sketches that I did in the summer months whilst sitting on the beach.  I had no idea whether I was going to use them as the basis for any paintings but enjoyed doodling the shapes and textures of some peddles and the lines in the sand.  It was only a few weeks later when I had a Sunday morning free that I thought I’d see whether or not they would work as the basis of a painting. 

I like the basic compositions – they are really simple and reflect a sense of connection with nature but seem to work aesthetically as well.  I hope I’ve managed to capture the sense of calmness that I felt whilst sitting there, focusing my attention and thoughts on something as simple as stones.  Something I think we all crave at the moment!

Perfectly Imperfect Take Two

I was awake this morning around 5am, which sadly seems to have become a new routine.  This whole COVID thing is an almighty pain in the butt and I, like many others, have been hugely effected by the economic ramifications of the restrictions which hasn’t left much time for my art recently. Flicking through Instagram, I was green with envy at the number of posts from artists who have taken the leap and given up their full time jobs in favour of becoming full time artists. I’m not there yet, but it is still a dream.

Whilst it is a really tough time work wise, I am grateful to still be working and I have managed to get some time over the past few weeks so wanted to celebrate some achievements – albeit small ones

Learning New Stuff

My other achievement was to complete another handmade book.  I haven’t managed to watch all of the videos from Lorna Crane’s course ‘Discovering Your Visual Language’ but that was more of a conscious choice rather than lack of time.  When I do some of these courses I have a habit of racing through and not spending enough time on the practical exercises so with this one I wanted to take time. 

I also made this decision after completing the first book, which I shared in an earlier blog post.  I was happy with some of the pages but overall the book felt too busy so with this one I wanted more of a flow and experimenting with different materials. So, I rummaged around and found some handmade papers and started by staining the pages with coffee rather than paint.  Have to say it feels a lot more successful.

I did try uploading a video but WordPress wasn’t playing ball. You can view it here

The Business Side of Things

Whilst I’m still feeling my art in terms of setting myself to sell works, I did have one achievement this week which was to upload a few of my paintings onto ArtFinder – https://www.artfinder.com/nicola-young#/

Explaining Paintings

Thank you to everyone who commented or DMed me.  It seems that for most people they did really appreciate hearing a bit more about the rationale behind each painting.  I do have some explanation on my website, if you click on the painting and scroll down to description you’ll find a bit more of an explanation but as a few people asked about specific paintings here’s a few more…..

WATERS EDGE, SKIMMING, SPELLBOUND and TWO SOULS
Completed in August 2020

I’ve grouped these paintings together because they are all based on the same inspiration and although different in size (there are two pairs size wise) I created them at the same time.

What sparked the idea?  Since April I have been working on a collection of works inspired by rock pools and the stoney path around the coastline between Cullercoats and Whitley in the North East where I live.  It’s an area we walk in regularly so you become familiar with the shapes and structures and how they differ depending on the tide.

Many of my earlier pieces like Bay Mosaic and Tide Pools reflect the muted, earthy tones of browns and beiges but during the summer months I wanted to capture the of freshness of the season and the sense of everything appearing brighter and bolder in the sunshine so I decided upon a more playful colour palette. The inspiration was really the joyfulness of summer.  With more people holidaying in the UK this year the beaches were alive with families and it was great to see little ones rock pooling with tiny fishing nets and brightly coloured wellies!  The experience evoked childhood memories of paddling in the sea and trying to skim pebbles across the waters surface.

In this collection of works I wanted to convey the ripples and beautifully organic shapes that you see as a pebble gently touches the water before bouncing forward – although I have to admit that my skills in skimming or skipping pebbles is rubbish.

IN THE DISTANCE

Completed in June 2020

What Sparked this Idea? Just along the street from my house there is a beautiful nineteenth century French Gothic style Church – St. Georges.  It is right on the seafront, appearing to rise up from the beach.  It dominates the landscape, because of its sheer size but also the colour which has darken over time giving it a rather gloomy and imposing appearance.   I decided to google it and find out a bit more about its history and the description really captured a sense of history “a beacon to local people, seafarers and travellers”.  Apparently it was a navigational aid for fisherman and I’m sure for those of faith a comfort when returning safely home.

What struck me was that despite its dominance and the fact that it has survived the test of time, all of this pales in comparison with the permanence and vastness of the sea.  In this painting I wanted to convey how small the building was in comparison and also give a sense of fragility, existing in a moment of time but with the possibility of being engulfed by the water.

NO HOPE OF ESCAPE

Completed in January 2020

No Hope of Escape

What Sparked this Idea? From our living room you have an amazing view out to sea.  The summer months are great, the sea is calm and often a lovely bluey green and early in the morning you have the hardy swimmers and the paddle boarders, replaced later in the day with families playing on the beach.  But I think my favourite views of the sea are when its stormy which tends to be the colder months. 

Its during these months that the sea really comes to life – angry crashing waves that bash against the harbour walls casting spray high into the air.  During the day the water is a bluey grey with highlights of foamy white but in the evening you can sometimes see deep red or pink hues, reflecting the colour of the sky. 

In this painting I wanted to capture a sense of that turmoil in the movement of the waves.  Knowing that no one could battle against the sheer power and relentlessness of the water.

Perfectly Imperfect

That’s the name of the online art course I’m currently doing. Its actually ‘Perfectly Imperfect: Discovering Your Visual Language‘ run by the brilliant Lorna Crane, and so far it has been great! If you need a distraction from all the doom and gloom this course is just the thing. Not only do you get videos of the stunning Australian coastline, but also a step by step guide to making your own brushes.

Handmade Brushes

This has been a real eye opener for me. I love to paint with palette knives, scrapers, feathers, sticks and even my fingers, but I would never have thought about transforming objects into actual brushes – and the marks they make are fabulous. I created my own set following the instructions and even added a few extras using seaweed I found on the beach. Not only do they produce really unusual and quite unpredictable marks, but the brushes themselves feel great in your hands.

Mark Making

I spent most of Saturday just playing around with the brushes and ink, trying each out to understand what types of marks they produced, and I have to say I’m hooked! The combination of unusual materials and angled drift wood handles does make it difficult to control the marks. But there is such freedom in the fact that a straight line doesn’t really need to be completely straight or that you don’t have a hope in hell of getting seaweed to conform to anything other than the marks it wants to make.

Handmade Book

So after much experimenting, I took the plunge and created my first book. It is definitely imperfect but as a first attempt I’m really pleased with it and I love some of the spreads. I think I was influenced by the raging sea that I could see and hear from my studio as I have too many rhythmic and, well, just frantic mark making. It would definitely have been improved by some subtler spreads with a bit more white space and more structured marks. It’s interesting that some of the pages I loved individually don’t work so well as a collection, and some of those I really didn’t like, on reflection, I now do.

My plan this week is to make a second book. Rather than working alongside the videos without really knowing the end goal, this time I will plan.

And if you want to see a video tour of the full book I’ve uploaded one to Instagram (ragtagmagpie1658)

When Will This End?

I think everyone agrees that the past year has been rather odd.  I’ve read so many posts from people over the past few months talking about how much they were struggling with lockdown and then, once this was eased, the anxieties of getting back out into the community with the continued threat of infection. 

Throughout all of this I felt very fortunate. Lockdown was tough but I’ve been very lucky, none of my family contracted COVID and I live in a beautiful area of the country with lots of outdoor space so unlike many in city centres I didn’t have the claustrophobia of feeling cooped up.  In addition to this, my day job pre-lockdown meant I spent significant chunks of the week several hundred miles from home, which came with long train commutes and stays in rather bland hotels. 

During lockdown I was able to continue working from home, and whilst I lost any semblance of work-life balance the trade off with time gained by not travelling, and the excuse to indulge in some Netflix binge watching was a positive.  Being based at home 100% also meant that when not working I was able to spend more time drawing and painting which I’m sure was also one of the reasons I managed to escape the stresses that others were feeling.

But over the past few weeks, people I know have been lost to this awful infection and with rates on the increase the possibility of another lockdown is all too real – with more lives lost and a devastating impact on the economy.  While I’m not someone who usually suffers from stress, over the past few weeks I’ve noticed my sleeping patterns are a bit erratic which is a sure sign this whole experience is taking its toll. (On the plus side, waking at 4am has meant I got to see some amazing sun rises, but a few extra hours of sleep would have been a bonus!).

And now not only is it impacting my sleep, but I’m also struggling to motivate myself to paint. In an effort to improve things, I’ve spent a bit of time googling and reading articles and blogs to see how others deal with this.  Coping strategies seem to range from stepping back and giving yourself a complete break, to just powering through and accepting what you produce might be crap. 

If you’re feeling the same way here’s a few of the articles/blogs that I found most interesting.

Artsy 5 Ways Artists Can Overcome Creative Block

My solution, and I’ll let you know if they work, is a combination of several of those outlined in the articles.

I’ve:

  1. cleaned and sorted the studio
  2. written a few lists – mostly ideas for new projects
  3. started a few new projects, not sure if any of these will produce anything  good but hopefully if nothing else it will get me over this hump!

One positive I did spend a bit of time playing with the artroomapp that lets you import your paintings into room settings at the actual size so have managed to create a few shots of what my work would look like if you have “Ideal Home” type interiors.

“A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words”

Firstly, I’d just like to say a big “THANK YOU” for all the feedback on my new website. My husband did a great job creating this, and I’m really pleased with it, but it’s lovely to hear that others like it as well!

Continue reading ““A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words””