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!!