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

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

painting with ripe cherries

I’ve done a few scary jobs in my time at high level, repairing the gable end of a house and chain sawing Ash branches 40’ above the ground. These things concentrate the mind about safety, ensuring ladders are tied off and properly footed. However, when asked to pick a few cherries standing on the lower part of a set of steps, these concerns tend to leave the mind. Louise had kindly tied a bucket around my neck to leave my hands free. Unfortunately, the step ladder decided to go on walkabout and I ended up falling and breaking my wrist. (I think the bucket of cherries acted like an airbag). Subsequent X-rays displayed a broken ulna and radius and after being encased in a fibreglass plaster, I was told I was out of action for the next four weeks. I was scheduled to appear at Art in Action and another show in London demonstrating oil pastel. This caused some considerable problems as there are very few oil pastel demonstrators in the UK. I understand a young lad was roped in from out of the office for the London show ~ poor chap! ~ Apologies to all those who travelled to see me.
This did at least give me the opportunity to sort out my pastels. I work mostly with Sennelier who supply over 500 tints. Unfortunately, my collection has grown over the years and although I probably only use 35% of the range, it’s a number large enough to cause problems finding the right tints when working. I use a palette of ground rice to keep them clean which helps, but unfortunately over time the well used ones become little nibs hidden behind the less used ones. Also, with the advent of projectors at art groups, working in low light conditions make all my pastels look grey!!
So taking advantage of my impairment, I decided to reduce my colours. Firstly, I pinned up a full sheet of hot pressed watercolour paper and marked the colours according to the Munsell system around the edge. The middle of the paper was the lightest tint (white) the edge of the paper for the darkest tints as Sennelier do a wonderful range of colourful darks. I worked with twelve pastels at a time assessing them for softness and how well mixed the pigment was. Some Sennelier pastels can be quite hard whereas others are quite soft…it’s useful to have a selection of both. The twelve were distributed around the paper to give a basic balance of tone and colour. I then selected twelve more tints and did the same, discarding any tints that were too similar, it’s surprising how many similar oranges and browns they do. I continued until I’ve been through all the pastels which takes me about two days. Looking at the sheet I can immediately see if I have any gaps which are tints that Sennelier don’t produce. I can then supplement with another make. In the end it takes only eight Unison colours to fill the gap. I manage to reduce my collection significantly and make future painting (hopefully!) easier.
Meanwhile, I took the opportunity to do all the jobs I’d been putting off. One was to write a book proposal. After sending this off, the publisher Search Press liked my work and commissioned me to write a book ‘How To Paint Flowers in Acrylics’. Rashly, I’ve committed to finishing the bulk of the text by the end of May 2011. My wife’s taken the grandchild to the coast, leaving me home alone for a week to crack on. The freezer is packed with frozen Tesco ready meals, so I’ve only the cat, dog, garden, field, art orders ertc to think about. I’m starting to feel like Jeremy Clarkson…..

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Do Ojibwa indians count rivets?

I started my professional painting career at the turn of the last century after getting some publishers interested in producing my artwork. This was achieved after a lot of legwork visiting trade shows. Unfortunately, at these shows, publishers are interested in selling rather than buying so anyone turning up on their stand in an anorak, backpack and large portfolio case were swiftly ignored. I found one way around this problem was to dress smartly in a suit and carry examples of my artwork in a briefcase.  Swarms of exhibitor assistants would soon descend on me thinking they had a bite only to be consumed with disappointment when they found out who I was. But at least this tactic got a foot in the door whereas the anoraks would sit around looking disconsolate from being continuously ignored. After a lot of perseverance one of the commissions I attained was producing aviation fine art.  These were large canvases produced over a long period of time for relatively little reward. The only kudos for me was when my publisher sold one to someone famous. Unfortunately, I have so far been unable to purchase food with kudos…
After producing a number of aeroplane paintings over a few years, I came to encounter an anorak wearing species takes great delight in showing you that their expert knowledge of fact is far greater than yours when it comes to depicting actual events in art. These characters are well known in the artist’s community and are christened ‘Rivet counters’ as they take great delight in pointing out that you have added one rivet too many/ too few in your latest painting of Titanic as it sails out of Liverpool harbour. These people’s technical knowledge knows no bounds. An anorak can describe a railway line’s incline to the nearest half a degree by the amount of smoke coming out of the train’s stack or even how heavily laden an aircraft is by the dihedral it’s showing. I’m sure some could tell you the temperature of a glass of water by measuring the radius of the meniscus!  Many a day have I agonised over the colours of the supply parachutes dropped out by German paratroopers or the particular date when the Iron cross on a Fokker dr1 was partially painted out with semi-transparent red dope after German high command issued an edict that from henceforward all aircraft would display the Balkan cross or the exact shape of the British army’s new low level parachute.
As time passed I gained further commissions. One was to spend long hot summers painting Christmas cards for a publisher. Salesmen would go out and gain a card commission after which if I was the selected artist, I would receive a brief. Photographs would arrive taken in the height of summer which I would then defoliate and try to imagine what lay behind, oh, and snow…  One commission I had was just a simple painting of a Kentish church tower and porch. I felt quite proud when I finished it feeling it was one of my better works. A few weeks after sending it off to the publisher, a brown envelope arrived. “Aha! I thought, another commission..” As I ripped open the envelope I found to my dismay that the artwork had been returned having been rejected by the customer. Accompanying the said work were four sides of closely typed A4 paper describing all the elements they were unhappy about, even down to the way I had missed depicting a fine layer of scrunch 8” below the rim of the tower and that the number of diamonds in the stained glass windows were incorrect!
These days although they no longer bother me, I still encounter the counters no matter what I’m doing. I enjoy Twitter, but even there an off the cuff remark is pounced upon by the counters. I think I applied the old saying ‘older than my tongue and younger than my teeth to sheep saying ‘older than my cud and younger than my teeth’ only to be informed straight away that lambs ARE born with teeth! And so to the present, As I continue to work on my book How To Paint Flowers in Acrylics’ to be published by Search Press, I have been called upon by various artgroups to demonstrate how to paint flowers. On one occasion I was painting Blacked Eyed Susans only to be informed by a stern lady in the audience that I was actually painting Rudbeckias and Black Eyed Susans were a totally different plant. Fortunately, I had checked my RHS plant guide beforehand. I corrected her and just for good measure also informed her that it was the  State flower of Maryland after 1918 and the Ojibwa used the roots as a poultice for snakebite..that shut her up!
So never mind David Beckham when you’re vilified for wearing your OBE on the wrong lapel or worse, even at all, those rivet counters are everywhere!!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Road to Hell o2

I type this sleepy eyed from a sleepy little B&B in a sleepy little village in Suffolk as my body tries to come to terms with the major physical jolt that is casually referred to as ‘moving the clocks back’. I find as an artist who is no longer on the treadmill of clocking in at specific times that the adjustment back to a normal routine takes longer and longer. In old money, the time would be 7:45, I’d be warm and cosy in bed and just looking forward to my full English. As it is, it’s only 6:45 and I can’t sleep….

This time last week or should I say This old time last week, I was getting up in another B&B in Tunbridge Wells, or had I got another hour to go? I find time shifts more confusing than watching Back to the Future…

Anyway, It was the first day of a three day session at the Search Press Studios to photograph and document my work as I produced three step by step paintings for my book, How To Paint Flowers in Acrylics. I’d arrived the previous night driving along the now slumbering M25. Upon arrival in Southborough (a suburb of Tonbridge), I expended my year’s allocation of parking petrol looking for a space to put my car. Eventually, I managed to manoeuvre into a tight spot somewhere near Hastings. Nightmares ran through my head of someone breaking in and stealing all my precious paintings and so with a lot of huffing and puffing, I made several sweaty trips to the B&B, humping all my work and art equipment into the safety of the boarding house.
The next day, I arrived at the studios to meet Edd (my editor!) and Paul (the photographer) after coffees and settling in, I was directed to a small table surrounded by massive lights, booms and very expensive cameras. To one side was a set of computer screens and equipment that would put Goonhilly to shame. Nervously, I squeezed into position, tucked my elbows in and started to work on the first of the set pieces. Edd sat besides me and studiously made notes of my technique, thoughts and colours. Periodically, I would pause for photographs to be taken of key features. The camera would be swung in at all angles and sheets of polystyrene would be wedged under my nose to help cut reflections and get that perfect shot. This went on for several hours with a break for lunch. By the end of the day, exhausted, two of the paintings had been completed, it was good to be so well on. On the second day I completed the last canvas and then did all the twiddley bits to camera, brush strokes, palette knife techniques and more polystyrene. On the third day I could rest, as Juan, the artistic director was summoned. Artistic directors are like artists but much more focussed on minutia. As we delight in rusty old barns, so Juan would take great delight in examining my old tubes of paint, broken worn out brushes or become fascinated by the patina of paint around the lip of the jug I store my brushes in. Even I became quite enthusiastic about the beauty of a close focus shot of the edge of a piece of curved canvas sheet.
Things were running very smoothly until there was a loud BANG! We all simultaneously jumped out of our skins! After putting them back on, we looked to the right at all the heaters, wires and lights, Paul ran over and frantically started sniffing all his equipment. Unable to find anything, we suspected that a heater had shorted out. Paul looked relieved that none of his expensive equipment was damaged. We continued until lunchtime and then called it a wrap.
I made it back on the M25 before it woke up again and was home by teatime.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Road to Hell o

According to a recent newspaper article, drivers stuck in jams on the M25 can be excused for thinking they have been stranded for a lifetime – because the truth turns out to be even worse. One stretch of London’s orbital motorway, is reputed to have caused 118 years of hold-ups in only 12 months, according to official figures. As I drove down last Wednesday, I didn’t realise I was about to age another 118 years in a day. What’s the M25 got to do with art you may ask? Well, for me it’s the yellow tarmacked road to the next stage in my artistic career at the Emerald city, Royal Tunbridge Wells. The last time I visited this place was approximately 46 years ago to holiday with my mum and dad in auntie Betty’s house. In those days there was no M25 so after setting off in the dark and driving through plagues of moths(funny what you remember) our black Austin A40 would reach the mouth of the Dartford tunnel at about lunchtime, when we would stop to think about our mouths. It was when mum thought about her mouth that she realised her false teeth were missing! (an eighteenth birthday present). After gumming down a few sandwiches we pressed on and reached auntie Betty’s house by late afternoon. A frantic phonecall to my elder brothers still at home(an probably partying) got the said gnashers dispatched by Royal Mail. Amazingly, they arrived the next day, astonishing considering that this Christmas we lost and failed to receive a record amount of parcels ourselves! Anyway I digress just like Ronnie Corbett in that comfy chair… I was fortunate enough late last year to get a commission from Search Press to produce a book entitled How to Paint Flowers in Acrylics and last week was my first meeting, to meet the team which includes Edd the editor (Yes! He must have been born to the job). A direct route to meet the team is around the M25. Past experience of driving on this monster when I worked in Ascot had taught me to treat the journey like a military operation, leaving nothing to chance. M1? No that would mean spending longer travelling east on the Haietlik, M11? No that would mean travelling on the second biggest carpark in the UK, the dreaded A14. The A1? Yes, that’s got to be the best option, then I can cut to the M11 at Hatfield if there’s a problem. As I drove down at 7:00am the nice lady radio traffic reporter reported that the M25 was closed eastbound due to a jackknifed lorry! Not to worry I thought, it’ll be cleared in the two hours it takes to reach the Lindworm. As I approached Hatfield still no go. I pull off and reprogram the Sat nav. It shows a route to Ockenden that takes me through north east London. “Great” I thought, not only will I be competing with every man jack coming off the Nagual but I’ll also have to be on the lookout for footpads and highway men. I decide to abort. As I turn around the nice traffic lady says that the Sceadugenga has reopened. The Chris Rea song stops revolving in my head at that point. I arrive just half an hour late, thirsty and busting for the loo, the nice people at Search Press give me a soothing cuppa and we plan the book. Back home now just taking a little time out tio write this blog before painting and writing like a mad thimg in the hope that this will be the best flower painting book Search Press have ever launched. It’s nice to know someone’s smiling down on me…