New Year, Same Me

I’ve never been a huge fan of New Year celebrations.  When I was younger there was the inevitable pressure to plan big nights out. They generally failed to meet expectations and required long walks home as taxis were always harder to fine.  Now I’m older I don’t feel the need to cave into the hype. With the added factor of lockdown, this new year’s celebrations were perfect. A lovely meal at home cooked by my husband and sitting in our living room, in front of a roaring fire, watching fireworks set off by others on the beach. 

My ‘not buying into the hype’ also extends to making new year resolutions.  I’ve never really understood why a date in the diary should somehow strengthen your will power to do a load of stuff you failed to do throughout the year. So, no resolutions for me – but I do like a bit of plan.  I tend not to do loads of planning for my art. I think, in part, it’s a reaction to needing clear plans in my day job.  But this year, with the reintroduction of lockdown and the prospect of days and weeks merging into one, I felt I needed a bit of structure.  When I say ‘a plan’, its very loose – a page of brain dump ideas I may or may not get round to doing. But the intention is there. 

So here’s a few things on my 2021 Plan….

Learning, Learning, Learning

First on the list is CVP – Nicholas Wilton’s Creative Visionary Programme. I’ve looked into this course several times: toying with the idea of signing up but have never taken the leap. It’s not a cheap course, and I think last year that was the obstacle for me. We had just moved house and I wasn’t sure what my plans were work-wise, so it didn’t feel like the right time.  In addition, and I don’t know why, I perceived online to be a less valuable exchange than the ‘in-person’ workshops and courses I’ve attended.  Our COVID world has put a stop to that. I’m still waiting to attend a number of in-person workshops I’ve booked, but I’m determined to also push forward with the virtual.

I attended the Art2Life Sparks programme last year, which really helped me push forward. So, this year CVP is back on my list. Hearing such high praise for the course from artists who have completed it, I’m going to treat myself!

More Challenges

Second on the list is to throw myself into a few challenges.  I loved taking part in @clairemillenart 12 days of Christmas art challenge and really like one of my final pieces, so this year I’ll do a few more.

The first challenge will be #oneofmanypostcards.  I’ve spotted this in a few feeds of artists I like and follow on Instagram. Artists such as @shedstudio52 – I’ve been following the hashtag for a few months.  @johnapedder, another artist I follow, developed the initiative. It encourages creatives to produce postcard size works, post them on Instagram and offer them up for free.  In return, people are asked to donate to a charity of their choice.  It’s a lovely idea, as it doesn’t put pressure on the recipients and it spreads goodwill and community spirit. Lets face it: charities today need our support more than ever.  I made a start at the weekend so I’m hoping to finish them off this week.

Experimenting with Different Mediums

I had a spring clean of the art room over Christmas. It was a much needed tidy and sort out.  Rummaging through drawers and cupboards, I found load of art supplies I have purchased across several years. I’ve never quite got round to using them yet, so 2021 will be a year to experiment!

Collage is going to be one of my first, and I have already created a few.  I spotted posts by @Suejohnsonstudio over Christmas.which inspired me So, this year, I’m going to experiment more. I’ve decided it’s a great way to recycle the off-cuts from the (rather twee) greetings card type pieces I’ve made in the past.

This weekend I also gave Lino cut a try – playing with my gel plate; so now I have a load of collage papers to play around with.

Back to Basics

The last on my list is to start drawing again. I stopped my daily practice of drawing when I switched my website from a blog to one that showcases my art more. I’m not planning on returning to such a rigid discipline, but I do want to start drawing again.

I completed a couple of new paintings this week which I will get round to uploading to the sketchbook section on my website. I haven’t added any for a while, so maybe that should be on my plan as well!

I hope you are having a peaceful start the year, considering all that is going on in the world x

Take care and be kind to yourself

Nic        

Happy New Year

Happy new year!  I hope everyone made the most of the Christmas break and whilst the festive season may have been a little different it was good to see family, even if on a very limited basis.

12 Day Christmas Art Challenge

I was lucky and had a full two weeks off work so managed to get some studio time each day.  I doubt I would have been quite so disciplined but an art challenge from a fellow artist I follow on Instagram, Clare Millen, inspired me to get into the studio each day.  The challenge was to paint for 12 minutes each day for 12 days on a single piece.  I actually opted to work on two so rather than the accumulative 144 minutes, I clocked up 288 minutes.  On the face of it, it sounded simple but actually I was surprised by how tiring it was.  The pressure of sharing work in progress combined with the fact that I couldn’t put it to one side for a few days made me very focused but I’m not convinced it made for good art.

However, I did take the opportunity to just enjoy the process – letting myself go – pushing paint around without any plan is very liberating.  I also took the opportunity to just doodle, also a very carefree exercise.  The latter stages were, however, more stressful as I realised at around day nine that I had no idea how to resolve the works. 

The Results

In the end the rectangular piece which had been my favourite throughout the challenge didn’t work out but I did get to try out masking which was on my “to do” list.  And the square piece which I hadn’t felt connected to actually resulted in a painting I like, although this was only down to some very drastic action in the final two days.

What I do enjoy with challenges is the clarity of plan – you know what you need to do each day which takes the head scratching out of it.  And the sharing, knowing that others are going through the same experience creates a bond.

So what’s in store for 2021? 

Definitely more painting but I’m hoping to mix things up a bit and push myself more. I’m also going to have a go at creating some videos so watch this space.

Enjoying the Process

As we end a bizarre, scary and damn right destructive year, I wanted to take some time to reflect on what I’ve learnt.  This may be a pretty desperate way to look for positives, but I’m generally a fairly optimistic person. Like so many others, however, I’ve struggled over the past few months.  It’s an over-used phrase, but it really has been an emotional roller coaster. Just as I felt myself relaxing on the run up to Christmas, my mum had a heart attack which threw us all into a state of panic.  Thankfully, she’s back home, having had a stent fitted and is recovering well.

Prior to lockdown, I was pushing forward with my art, even if my biggest achievements were finding time to paint or complete an online course.  When your day job is results focused it can be hard to switch out of this mentality.  Maybe that’s why sketchbooks and more illustrative work appealed to me. When you only have an hour, it’s easier to rattle off a half-decent sketch than start a painting. 

Painting takes time.

I think this has been one of my biggest learnings…even if it’s taken almost a year for it to really sink in!

Learning No. 1: Put in the Hours

The rush for results was such a driving force for me.  Finding time has always been difficult. So, when I did get a day in the studio (or even a couple of half days) I put pressure on myself to achieve some form of result. I’d be disappointed when that didn’t happen. 

Lockdown changed all of that.

I was painting with a different purpose.  I started enjoying the process and appreciating the time for what it was: time to play, experiment and learn.  It became more of an exercise in wellbeing rather than trying to create a finished sketch.

This change helped me see that my paintings started to develop in their own time.  Over a few weeks canvases, boards and paper started to accumulate in my studio. Many were half started/half finished pieces with layer upon layer of paint.  Not all the pieces worked out: some still remain propped up against the wall, destined to be revisited at some later date. But… my work has started to mature and develop organically. 

Building up layers

Taking the pressure off myself has also allowed me to experiment more.  I have spent more time on my art, so have had the freedom to try new materials, art supplies and new techniques.  I’ve had some absolute disasters, but I’ve learned so much and have a wealth of different techniques to play with. 

But none of this would have happened if I hadn’t spent so much time painting. 

Learning No. 2: Learning to Play

I’m fortunate during this lockdown period that, unlike many, I have kept my job.  The day job has changed.  Working from home is, at times, a challenge. It’s more difficult to switch off, and the amount of hours I work have increased significantly: early morning starts and calls late into the evening.  Days spent on video calls do not replace actual interaction. It takes more time to sustain working relationships without coffee and a chat around desks. 

But it’s not without some positives and the big plus for me has been more time at home. 

It’s taken me a while to find the right gear change between working and painting. Earlier this year, I’d switch off the laptop and head up to my studio to paint. But it just wasn’t happening – I’d have a few frustrating hours before deciding to pack it in and settle down to watch some box sets. 

Then I did a free taster course online with Louise Fletcher. One of the exercises was a 20minute warm up where you take a few colours and just play with mark making and paint.  There is no expectation that the results will be anything worthwhile and this simple technique of play opened a door for me.  It’s the perfect gear change! 

Serious Play

The act of not thinking, and just letting my hands push paint around on a piece of paper somehow clears my head of all the unanswered emails or meeting prep buzzing around in there.  So learning to play again has to be one of my biggest achievements and one of my main sources of joy.

Learning No.3: Be Myself

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been able to draw.

By that I mean when I draw something it generally resembles the object of focus.  It is something that has earned me praise since I was very young.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  It is great to get that boost of confidence when someone likes what you have created, but over the years it has developed in me a need to end up with a ‘nice looking’ ‘finished’ result.  And when this is your driving force it stops you from experimenting. 

I recently completed Nicholas Wilton’s Breadcrumbs challenge and was completely demotivated by my first few drawings.  I abandoned the need for a finished result and just let myself go.  This resulted in really ugly drawings! Had it not been for the fact I’ve watched and been inspired by others’ comments on his videos on YouTube for over a year I think I would have walked away.  But I stuck with it and pushed past my reservations, creating a load more ugly paintings. 

Then, about 2 weeks later, a light bulb moment! 

This process of painting what’s inside me started to throw up some really interesting textures and finishes.  Combining this with some stringent self-editing afterwards, I actually started to like the finished results. More importantly, they felt like they were truly mine: my style, my ideas and a reflection of who I am and my life. 

Bishops Path

Now I’m not going to lie: I’m finding the work more challenging, and it takes so much more time to create something I’m happy with…but the work has more depth and is something I’m really proud of.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

In my day job I have no issue in making decisions. In fact, I often have to remind myself to step back and take some time as I generally get an immediate gut feel on which way to go.  When you’re managing large teams of people I find they are often looking for decisiveness.  They come to you for direction – on how to take things forward with problems that need solving.

But in my art it’s a whole different story.  Over the past 7 months I’ve had more time at home, meaning more time in the studio.  I’ve found in my studio time, unless I’m in the unthinking, playful phase of just starting a painting , I spend more time sitting back and trying to decide what to do than moving forward.  I can spend 3-4 hours working, but only around an hour actually applying paint to canvas/board it.  A lot of time is taken up preparing – mixing the right colours. Selecting different brushes Mark making tools. The first 20mins completing some warm up exercise… but a big chunk of the time is standing back and just looking.

Early Stage of Play

Perhaps this is why I enjoy the early stages of a painting more, even though I get more satisfaction from the latter stages.  Those first few layers have a joyful abandonment: where you get to smear paint across a clean white surface, scribble to your heart’s content and allow paint to drip down the canvas – it is so carefree.   There was a time when I struggled with this stage the most:.  the fear of marking a pristine white canvas or page. It often resulted in my making very small tentative marks. But that has now passed: there’s not much I enjoy more than scribbling and covering a surface in intuitive marks.  You get to be a child again: focusing only on the process in the present, with no thoughts about where the painting might be heading or what the final work will look like. 

Mark Making in the Early Stages

I was reminded of this recently when one of my work colleagues sent me photographs of her children painting a large canvas.  The beaming smiles and energy just radiated out of the photo!

Heading in the Right Direction

For me, this sense of unthinking play continues for several layers. The comes the inevitable: time to step back and spend time looking at what you’ve created -deciding what you like and don’t like.  What you’ll keep… and what you’ll edit out.  Often I’ll put the work to one side, start another and come back to it with a clearer view.  More of a plan on colour combinations, shapes and structure.

Heading in the Right Direction

It’s at this stage I often start to take photographs so I can check in on my iPad when inspiration strikes (or not)!  Changing images to black and white helps me assess value clarity. Sometimes, even just staring at the image on a screen helps me visualise different ways forward. What it might look like if I edited out a colour or darkened or lightened asection. It’s only once I start applying more paint it really comes to life.

Frozen by Indecisions

As the work develops this usually starts to get easier, I have more of a sense of where I’m heading. Then, in the final stages, I’m often struck by absolute indecision.  This is a real struggle for me as it’s so counter to my usual way of being.  Generally at this point I have to put the work to one side, often for weeks (which is why my studio is littered with half completed paintings).  This stepping back is now a fixed part of my process. Only by exception do I work on one piece start to finish.  The distance seems to give my brain time to process. It also helps ensure I don’t get too attached to elements of the painting I really like but might need to be painted over.

Knowing When to Stop

After you’ve tackled this challenge you have the next – knowing when to stop.  I found myself facing this challenge completing my Alice inspired piece ‘Through the Looking Glass’.  I thought I was done: tools down and a conscious effort not to apply yet another layer of paint.  But then, after dropping into @artroomsapp to get a sense of what it would look like in a room setting, the urge to play around was still there.  This made me think there was still something not quite complete.  Eventually I realised what it was.

Rather than leaving the piece as one painting, I have now taken the scalpel to it and what was one A1 painting is now two.

I’m pleased to say that the little voice in my head that was nagging is now silent so it is definitely finished!

From Work in Progress to Finished Art

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!