Monday, 10 December 2012

Nuns can be a bit of a card at Christmastime

Early December sees the conclusion of my workshops and demonstrations for the year. Occasionally I do a Christmas' demo which often involves a painting containing lots of snow and other festive things.I look forward to these as mince pies and other nibbles are often produced by the group at half time. Merriment and chatting then goes on for so long that sweat pours down my santa hat as I rush to finish the painting in the remaining ten minutes! Sometimes full consternation is shown by the organising sectretary when I turn up with a photo set in the height of summer! After reassurances, the required snowscene is duly produced! This is also the time of year when I carry out my festive studio clean out. Drawers are tidied, artwork is filed and rammel removed. Long lost missing items are discovered behind the radiator.. Emptying my correspondence folder, I recently stumbled upon some instructions I had been given for a commission long long past. I had obviously kept it because it tickled me. Many years ago, I was regularly commissioned to produce Christmas cards for a publisher. Detailed instructions and photographs of how the end product should look would start arriving through the post from May onwards. Most paintings went off without a hitch, though it was sometimes difficult to visualise what lay beyond summer trees in full leaf as some of the photographs depicted.
As I said, this was many years ago, but I did keep one particular set of instructions which I will share with you verbatim;
“Add light snow, lights on inside church. Add people walking towards shrine entrance (to right of picture). Include three nuns. NB These are nuns based at xxxx Description; 2 tall and thin, 1 short (& more rounded) of Afro/carribean (sic) origin. Picture of this lady on bottom RT corner of sheet Enclosed from a video box, please therefore include outline impression of these three nuns with others walking towards shrine. Highlight the two stations of the cross (shown in picture with brick pillars and tiled roof). Add winter flowering colour – winter heathers? & shape of Lavender bushes – not in flower. Note : photo faces east so afternoon sun could be shown on picture.
Remove: crop foreground – bring shrine, gardens & peope (sic) a bit closer. Take out summer flowers & leaves from deciduous trees”
One of the least exciting places I painted as a snow scene was Hemel Hempstead high street, which I leave you with. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all, especially from nun of the above.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Beware of Toilets!

Since my book ‘How to Paint Flowers in Acrylics’ came out and with my recent TV appearances on Sky Arts, demand for demonstrations and workshops for art groups has increased somewhat. Venues can vary greatly from such places as the magnificent pork pie hall in Leicester to the Palmer-Tomkinson building which is like stepping onto the bridge of the starship Enterprise. Some venues are incredibly small, no bigger than a garage, where as you stand back, you end up sitting on the ladies lap on the front row. Others are either very grand with the plushest of Axminster carpets, or quite run down, falling apart, covered in wriggly tin and with the rain and wind blowing through the gaps. One of the problems of arriving at an old venue in winter is that there’s no heating and the room’s freezing cold. This can make it quite a challenge when trying to pick up pastels with numb fingers, so now I take a hairdryer to warm my hands up. Fire stations seem popular with art groups too.. I’ve painted in a couple of those. When going to the loo in one, I noticed that there were colour swatches above the urinals showing a range of earth colours from raw sienna to cadmium orange. Mentioning this to the group when I returned, they informed me that they were in fact colour charts to tell the Firemen if they were dehydrated or not! Loos can be quite a problem, Louise managed to lock herself in one recently and not wishing to show herself up, stayed quiet. Half an hour later at the end of the demo when it was time to go and I noticed she was missing and had to stage a rescue attempt. I quite like to have a comfort break prior to a demo and at the same time fill my water pot. Going into the loo recently, the lady organiser said “I can do that for you…” I remarked that it wouldn’t be very hygienic. “Nonsense! She said, I can do it in the sink for you”.. I then realised she meant my water pot! The other problem with loos is I nearly always forget to turn my microphone off and so the audience are usually treated to waterfall impressions during the break!! Food is another interesting demo phenomena.. around the Birmingham area, a splendid, lavish buffet is often provided at the half time break though this can eat into the time I have available to paint for the group.. My friend Tom won’t mind me mentioning that his group provides one of the finest at Burntwood, making that visit an even greater pleasure. In fact, the foods so good, some artists just book themselves in and tell Tom when they’re coming!! Christmas demos are also a great treat as food is nearly always provided at this festive time. At other places, there’s usually a half time break with tea and biscuits. I only went to one where the group weren’t allowed a break because they the organiser said they talked too much, with me alone getting a cuppa half way through, it made me feel quite guilty and sorry for them. This spring has been one of my busiest ever, but now things are quieting off and it will soon be time to start thinking about the Patchings Art Festival, I hope you will come and join me there and say hello.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Damocle's dangles

It all started a while ago when fed up with watching rerun after rerun of the X Files, I looked around for something a little more cerebrally challenging. Then I spotted it, a series called Big Art. Now ever since Alwyn went off the air, apart from the occasional appearance by Rolf, decent art programs are about as common as hen’s teeth.
The program opened with the presenter having his Gee Wiz car remodelled by a famous, world renowned artist/sculptor (never heard of him). By some piece of convoluted logic the presenter then deduced that his car was now a work of art. I wonder if the sculptor had cooked him breakfast, he would have eaten it or framed it! Now I know many people have a strange view as to what constitutes a work of art. My understanding is that a work of art is something that has no practical purpose other than to elicit an emotional response from the viewer, a bit like a member of parliament... so I suppose wind turbines would also fall into this category and hence why said MP's allow them to be built.
Anyway, Like Ronnie Corbett in his comfy chair, I digress, The idea of the aptly named Big Art show was to follow a community in its efforts to erect a large carbuncle on the edge of their conurbation, something that many a Betty Page wannabe had tried and failed to do.. The residents were interviewed and one said how nice it would be to have a large monument somewhere locally to save keep travelling tup'north for artistic enlightenment..(cut to Angel of the North). Monument? I thought that was something that was a target for scrap thieves. We are now introduced by the program makers to a potential contributing artist. He/she (I'm not sure which) is mentioned and quoted as being someone who’s art was so radical he/she wasn't awarded a degree (must remember that excuse…I wonder if he/she was doing representational stuff!).
The residents were then kindly whisked off to Germany to view a depressing piece of ‘big art’. It wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Stanley Kubrick oddessy with monkeys throwing bones at it. Some local monkeys had tried to brighten it up by spraying their ‘tags’ all over the base which had improved it somewhat. By now I was bored and switched back to the X-Files…
I’m not sure about big art, I like Anthony Gormley’s work, though I think Crosby beach was a better place without his contribution. I just worry that communities and councils are jumping on a giant Angel of the North bandwagon and despoiling our beautiful countryside with these arrogant erections. Not all art produced by an artist is good, even if they do have a well known name. If you want to sell a larger piece of work to hang over the mantelpiece instead of a small one in the toilet, the choice of subject and the content of the painting has to be carefully considered. I just wonder if some of the big art accepted by communities is toilet rather than mantelpiece work. And don’t get me started on safety, what with the problems of inflatable versions blowing away, killing people and rusting spiky things giving a Damoclesian kill threat to passers by.
So I say let’s not put up another big white horse or chalk maiden in the countryside and just enjoy nature’s natural beauty.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Santa's Green Elf

Christmas is nearly here and it looks like its going to be another crazy one too, what with anti Coca-Cola green Santas rebelling against Cokes traditional grab of the nations childrens milk teeth, Panto dames banned from throwing sweets, Lollypop ladies not allowed to wear fancy dress to work (amazing that one, I would have thought motorists would soon slow down at the sight of a giant chicken!). the annual festive killjoy's list seems endless.
Quite a number of years ago, I worked for a large corporation. Over the years, the job I enjoyed became more and more engulfed in health and safety. Most days seemed like wading through thick treacle.
At Christmas each year, some brave soul would scale a highpoint in the factory and place a tiny tree with lights on. This annual tradition was finally banned after it was felt by higher management that the lights would distract passing train drivers!
How I longed to get away from all this and would often stare out of the office window and dream of becoming an artist.
When I finally left, I felt that at last I was free from petty bureaucracy and could follow a more enjoyable path.
Unfortunately, I have noticed over the last year or so how the tendrils of interfering officials has crept into the artworld. I am now regularily asked to provide an electrical safety certificate for my hairdryer and overhead lamp. This is quite comforting as once the clip on the lamp gave way, hit me on the head, flinging the bottle of ink out of my hand and over a nearby audience member. The black stain on the carpet tile was carefully swapped for a cleaner one under a bookcase. The woman was less easy to placate as she had just emerged from Marks and Spencers having bought the most expensive suit in the store to come to see my demonstration. She wanted compensation from the art group.. thank goodness for my PAT certificate!!
At another village hall I was instructed to open and close all the firedoors to check they were working correctly. This felt a bit like striking all the matches in the box to see if they worked...
 I was even  recently asked to provide a safety assessment on a drawing class!
I'm not sure what dangers a pencil and paper posed the student, however, after much thought and drawing upon my experience from my previous career, I decided to warn the student not to hold the pencil the wrong way around as a sudden movement could result in the loss of an eye! Paper cuts could easily turn septic, resulting in possible blood poisoning and amputation!
It's a good job it wasn't a watercolour class, I dread to think how many souls could be drowned in a bucket of water!
So here's wishing you a Happy Christmas and don't forget that my book 'How to Paint Flowers in Acrylics'  is just days away from being available to buy;

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Tim’s Top Tips; The Paradox of watercolour paper

Not so long ago I turned up to run a watercolour workshop only to see the organiser handing out sheets of decorator's lining paper. Assuming that this was a cheap way to protect the table surface I carried on… To my surprise, students started to carry out the exercises on the said paper! I queried this with the organiser as I always send out a suggested materials list prior to the day. “Oh, it’s only a workshop” she replied, “ members don’t want to waste money on good paper  just doing exercises” I think those words encompass the paradox of watercolour painting. If I were teaching Badminton  and suggested that people practise with Disinfectant bottles and corks stuffed with feathers, some may say that they weren’t developing their full potential due to inferior tools. Yet people are happy to work on rubbish papers, saving the ‘expensive’ paper for that special painting. And guess what? That ‘expensive’ paper becomes precious , nerves set in and the resultant work is often a failure. Nothing does more to inhibit creativity than having this mindset. Some of the best student paintings I've seen have been produced on the free samples given away at art shows!
So there we have the paradox..  amateurs should always work on the best paper they can afford, even for practise, when you become really good at watercolour, you can produce good work on inferior paper (though you probably won’t want to’)
So which papers? Bockingford  is quite a serviceable cheap paper, I prefer the rough. St Cuthberts mill make the best version of this. Strangely, WH Smiths Bockingford doesn’t paint nearly so well.
Langton is another Bockingford type paper but varies in quality, I’ve seen some sheets paint worse than blotting paper.
Fabriano is now a basket case. they used to produce some wonderful surfaces, I loved their Artistico for watercolour. Then I found it didn’t paint as it used to, something that’s been confirmed by fellow artists. Other papers have also been changed beyond recognitian.
Saunders Waterford is another strange paper, in one class three students produced watercolours which were as dull as ditchwater.. they were painting on Saunders but on the ‘wrong’ side, Since then I have seen this happen many times, but only on Saunders, other papers seem to work quite well on both sides. The main problem students have is identifying the ‘right’ side of paper. There is no standardisation, but generally, if the makers name is impressed, that is the back, the front often has the makers name standing proud like Braille.  If you cut sheets up always put a  pencil ‘B’ on the back as once you lose the makers name, it’s difficult to tell which is the back as one student found. They ordered 1/4 sheets from a supplier and asked for the front to be marked. The paper arriced with the back marked as the front.. more dull paintings!
I like to use Sennelier rough when demonstrating. This is mainly because I paint at a really steep, suicidal angle, and the more absorbent surface is controllable at this angle. It also paints very well on the back. It’s a very white paper, other cotton rags can look quite yellow when held near it. Interestingly, Saunders are now bringing out a whiter versin of their product. So which is the best paper? It can vary from artist to artist and from style to style. Barry Herniman loves Leonardo paper made by Hannemule, a surface I have yet to try. Trevor Chamberlain loves the old pre-war David Cox paper, sadly no longer available and he jealously guards his last few remaining sheets. The late David Weston was a big fan of Two Rivers.
For me and quite a number of other professional artists, the best paper in the world is Arches. Paint sits on the surface and dries much brighter than other papers. It has a wonderful smell and feel and gives a satisfying ‘clunk’ when you flick it with your fingers. 
And finally, the worst paper award has got to go to Crimson & Blake paper sold exclusively by The Works, which is only marginally better than Izal toilet paper to paint on…
pre-order yours now, copies available early December

To order Sennelier Watercolour paper follw this link;

Thursday, 27 October 2011

How to become a famous TV artist

Great news! Ed the editor informs me that my book , How to Paint Flowers in Acrylics will be hot off the presses in early December.. that's sorted out all my Christmas presents this year then!! I thought it would also be a good idea to have an accompanying DVD made which would compliment the launch of the book. With this in mind, I contacted the SAA, not The Students Award Agency , but the Society For All Artists, which they wisely avoided calling SWF...
After giving details of the book that implied that i would need a screen test, meanwhile, could I send in and screen footage I had of me presenting to camera. I sent some you tube footage in despite this, they contacted me back to say I was obviously relaxed in front of the camera, and there was no need for a screen test. I was booked for a three day filming slot which should produce a DVD and three half hour television programs for Sky TV. I met Ed (yes another one!) and Gary and was ushered into their very impressive studio. All went well until my synapses decided to take a short break and I couldn't string two sentences together. We got through that however with some judicial camera work and managed to get the filming of the painting, intakes, outtakes and uptakes all in the can by mid day two.. they seemed pleased. We had a tour of the SAA facility which looks like an Ocado store on a quiet day, the quality control department were rigorously testing several electric pencil sharpeners following a customer complaint about it going blunt, a bit like striking matches to see if they light...  I was shown an original Alwyn Crawshaw painting that had been rescued from a toilet which had no windows and a notice advising attendees to use air freshener where appropriate! Ahh you know you've made it in art when your work is hung in a toilet!
As a reward for finishing early, I decided to blow some cash at Screwfix next door, which incidentally did not involve what you're thinking... it's a hardware company...
So, looking forward to the rushes

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Turners not for turning

Great to see the Upper Lodge water gardens at Bushy Park, South London have been restored to their former glory using an 18th Century painting as reference.
I hope the painting wasn’t created by someone who had attended one of my outdoor painting courses! I often encourage students to pay scant regard to what is actually there and ‘feel free’ to move things around for a better composition. At Waxham following a request from a student to create a Seagoesque sketch, I swapped over two farmhouses to create a much more traditional Norfolk landscape. (see piccy)
I discovered artsts do this many years ago on a trip to Venice clutching a book of Turner’s paintings. Could I heck as like find half of the view points Turner had painted! As he had freely moved things around I felt this gave us all the freedom to take liberties and transform the mundane into the attractive. Recently  Francesco da Mosto  also tried to find Turner's viewpoints and failed and he's a local! So now I take great satisfaction in fooling people of the future by creating paintings and not copies of a landscape..after all that’s what camera obscurers were invented for. So I hope the Bushy gardeners don’t take the paintings too seriously!
You may be surprised to hear I’m old enough to teach artists from the 18thC. but I’ve just had a confirmation for a booking for a workshop at the end of the month telling me that I can get a pensioner’s discount at the local pub!!
If you want to join me in Norfolk next year, visit my website