Wednesday, 13 December 2017

My First Acrylic

The Giant's Causeway

Giant's Causeway

I always swore I would never do acrylics and oils but here I am eating my words having used both mediums during this term at SERC. I kindly blame Mary Doran for that! 

For this painting I used illustration board that I gessoed three times to get a gritty surface. That was partly because I wanted to do the sky in soft pastels because my early attempts at clouds with acrylics were rather embarrassing. I was away out of my comfort zone but in time I found little things that worked for me (namely cheque cards to apply the paint and a roller to give the basalt rocks their distressed look) The green grassy slopes needed a different technique and I had to use several paintbrushes, thick acrylic and my fingers to achieve something I was happy with. The people were painted with watered down paint and layered and I was pleased with their look and the distance I achieved with them.

I painted this from a series of photographs I took on the Causeway around seven years ago. I decided to go bigger than my usual pastel size which are around 38-40cms wide. I went up to a whopping 70cms x 47cms

This was early days Giant's Causeway with the foreground rocks pencilled in
The finished as it'll ever be Giant's Causeway - click to see bigger!
For various work and family reasons this painting took around three months to complete and I still don't think it's there yet but Mary wants it for an exhibition tomorrow night and I am half reluctant to present it in its current state – i.e. without a frame and a glass covering to protect the pastel area! I compared my painting to the original reference photograph, not to make sure I have got every detail exactly the same, but to see if I have captured the essence of the scene. I stood back and looked at it from a distance. It's definitely not a carbon copy and I feel I have achieved something.   

So there you go! My first real attempt at acrylics. I'll have to try another one in the same style. I have a photograph taken at the same place but turned through 180˚ and looking out to the Atlantic Ocean. Again there are people (more close up) walking over similar rocks as above but against the backdrop of a slate blue sea.

Oil bars coming up soon! 

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

SERC starts tomorrow

Life sometimes throws you lemons so rather than suck them I have learned to make lemonade. My 89 year old Mum had a stroke in May and visiting and looking after her post hospital means art has taken a back seat for the last three months and probably for the foreseeable future as I go to Mum's after work and sleep over four nights a week. All totally worth it mind! She's great! I've a Mac at her house should I need to be bringing work home. 

I do get Wednesdays nights off so I have booked in for another September-December course with tutor Mary Doran at SERC. That'll keep my hand in 7pm-9pm and it gives me a good reason to hang out with my buddy Anne who thankfully has signed up too. Cheryl my niece was going to get back into painting but renovating her new house took precedence this term. 

I am really looking forward to getting the acrylic brushes out and doing some mad art. I'll hopefully get to finish off my Giant's Causeway mixed media artwork in the next few weeks and start on a few others that I have planned in my head. Let's see where that goes...

I also have an idea, inspired by Paul O'Kane at Hillsborough Art Society last Wednesday night, that I could do quick watercolours at my Mum's. I have the pads, the paint and brushes so why not... it'll pass the night away and force me not to watch XFactor and Victoria or surf mindlessly on my iPad. Might as well do something constructive.

Art for All at Lisnagarvey Art Society

Friday, 19 May 2017

New artworks under way

I am working on a few projects at the minute – a Mike Bernard type mixed media piece of art on MDF board and a large pastel artwork. 

The latter is unusual for me as I have sacrificed my usual smoothish pastelmat paper for a grittier gessoed illustration board. I had thought of painting on Dibond – and gesso-ing its aluminium surface but the cost was a bit prohibitive. The piece I am working on is of the Giant’s Causeway here in Northern Ireland and features the iconic basalt rocks quite prominently.

My idea is to do the sky in pastel (the easy bit) and the rest in watercolour and acrylics. It’s a rather awkward marriage but it seems to be working so far. I had to use blue masking fluid on the land area where it hits the sky as I have found in the past that stray chalk pastels are hard to remove in unwanted areas and more so on this heavily gessoed surface. That’s mostly down to my heavy finger blending manner. I rub the pastel in so hard that after 30 minutes CID would have trouble getting fingerprints from me. 

With my 9-5 graphic design work expected to be busy for the rest of the year I think this Causeway paintings is going to be a summer months/spare time project. It measures around 70cms x 46cms. My previous pastel works fitted an A3 sheet  (around 40cms x 27cms) so this significant size increase is rather scary. If it all goes to plan, I may have found a new mixed media style that surpasses my early experiences with pastelmat. It’ll be a bit looser but still quite realistic.

Which is all a far cry from my Mike Bernard excursion at SERC on a Wednesday night. It’s taken me around eleven weeks to discover 'the other side of me’ where creating art is all about fun and less about hard work! 

So far I have glued down crinkled up tissue paper, plaster of paris, dry wall lining tape and newspaper cuttings to my gessoed MDF board and will introduce wax resist next week to the proposed stone wall in the foreground and maybe a little pot pouri for bushes and weeds in areas that I want to be a bit more vague. I've also bought a Neocolour Grey crayon which might be fun to use. I’m working mainly with Liquitex Soft Body Acrylics  and Liquitex Matte Medium. After a hesitant start I have discarded my paintbrushes (thanks Anne) preferring to make my marks with an old Danske Bank cheque card, a few wooden clothes pegs and after reading a book by Jodi Ohl I'll be using a roller to create random effects on the painting too. What am I like? Will put up a picture next week of where I am at with this. Don't be expecting too much at this early days stage!

I never did get around to finishing off this mixed media piece! It just wasn't working for me so best I cut my losses now and move on. I have learned that I don't like working on hardened tissue paper though I haven't abandoned the idea completely. Just not for now in my infancy stage!   

Friday, 7 April 2017

Paper Collage by Nancy Standlee

Cupcake by Nancy Standlee
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Pear by Nancy Standlee
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I first did a paper collage for a tourist board client in my advertising agency days. This was in a time before Apple Macs and Adobe Illustrator. I recall my picture having a few boats, a lighthouse, a cliff, land, sea and sky with a few people in a car travelling by road towards a town (I think it was Donaghadee) in the background for a summer holiday. We tore the special coloured art paper so that left an impressive white rough edge and slowly built the landscape up. It was all carefully created and the end result was quite amazing. The client loved it too! I kept the original so it’s in my house somewhere. Check attic!

Many years later the Irish Linen Centre hosted an exhibition of Henri Matisse’s work. The main image used to sell the event was his Blue Nude II, created when he was wheelchair bound and unable to sculpt and paint. He expressed his art with scissors instead and he wasn’t alone. Pablo Picasso got a cut of the action too and well if it’s good enough for these two world famous artists…

I love these cheerful and expressively bold artworks by American artist Nancy Standlee. I will try one of her cupcakes sometime soon. Problem is I need to start collecting/hoarding and then taking scissors to weekend magazines, travel brochures, junk mail and the like instead of dumping them in my green recycle bin! I’ve already started...

For some reason I have hyphenation on in the first paragraph and I can't get rid of it! Annoying! 

Mixed media thoughts

I’ve been going along to SERC ‘Painting for Pleasure’ class for the past six weeks and I still hadn’t found what I was looking for until today when I stumbled across Mike Bernard, a mixed medium artist living in the UK.

I’ve been taking baby steps, looking at gesso and how it might (or might not) work for me. To date my art has always involved me being in control and not stepping outside certain parameters. I have always been faithful to the original scene rather than creating an interesting painting that would express what I think and feel about the scene, the animal or the person portrayed. Well things may be about to change. 

I remember taking part in a debate at the Friday night group I went to last year about what makes a good song. I championed Harry Chapin and his storytelling style but I was made to see that once the story was told, that was it - the morality tale was over. There was no room for ambiguity as Harry had filled in every nuance of the story and left no room for the imagination to come to a different conclusion. Bob Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, Procol Harum’s ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ and Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’ were cited as songs that left you wondering ‘what was that all about?’ I got their drfit and I’m seeing now how it applies to art as well as poetry and other creative life forms.

I am trying to plan out a path now for my mixed media ventures. I want to create a balance between the representational and the more subjective and expressive aspects. Already I have scenes in my head, pictures I have already taken on the North Coast, in St George’s Market and on wet streets.

Mike Bernard mixed media
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I have been looking at YouTube videos, watching Jennifer on ‘The Big Painting Challenge’ and reading online articles  on how I should be approaching mixed media! I'm getting the message! Don’t use small paintbrushes! Use palette knives, lengths of card, small rollers, stippling, impressing, resist techniques – just things that make distinctive marks. I marvelled at a woman who mixed paint on the canvas with her hands and a guy who used a rag to blend and soften and I’m trying to find a path for myself among all these successful artists.

Mike Bernard mixed media
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Aside from three in a previous post I have added several more examples here of Mike Bernard’s work and I know I will never get anywhere close to his brilliance but I’d like to think I might be on the same pitch one day. I look at his paintings and just stare in awe for five minutes and then try to work out his methodology. I look at people who are paper cut outs, twisted tissue paper foregrounds and areas of titanium white that don’t need explanation. He’s using broad areas of colour for his main shapes, with diluted ink, watercolour and acrylic paint and using pens to add lines and details. He’s big on collage, on glueing down newpaper and magazine clippings for background, often to express texture – brickwork on a wall, tiles on a roof or a well worn road. Sometimes the text is relevant to the picture, more often not! I don’t know if he organises his collage to tie in with relevant scenes in his pre-painting sketches – cling film in sea/water areas, a trimmed edge of a newspaper cutting to tie in with a gable wall or crinkled tissue paper for rocks and hills. 

Mike Bernard mixed media
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This is where gesso, PVA (a glue based substance) and matte medium comes into its own. These are going to be my new best friends in the weeks, months, maybe even years to come. They should work well in tandem with my Liquitex acrylic paints and inks. my newly bought rollers, templates and other mark marking objects I am collecting from here, there and everywhere. I am even collecting weekend magazines from newspapers and cutting out useful coloured bits and text galleys.

I think I am good with composition and putting together images with a strong concept and visual appeal. This play on balance and coherence I think will come easy. What might be more worrying is bringing some order into the chaos that a collage brings and some identification of a scene out of the wishy-washiness of an underpainting. I’ll have my work cut out to create a rhythm and a pattern of shapes and colour echoing throughout the work. And then there’s my need to be in control. I have to learn that sometimes the most beautiful things happen when you let go and allow accidents to prosper.

Mike Bernard mixed media
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Speaking to a ‘real’ artist friend about Mike’s work, he saw a problem for me! I always represented true-to-life the colours I saw in my pastel landscapes. I would have to abandon that quest for realism and work with colour in a more contrived way. In short I will also have to cut down on my colour palette. A restrained use of colour can be an effective means of creating harmony and impact in a painting! But what do I know about colour theory? The short answer is zilch! I just might need a knowledge of basic colour principles and an understanding of analogous (new word to me), harmonious and complementary colours. There was a four letter thought ringing in my head. I’m not going back to art college. It’s my party, I’ll break all the rules if need be and I’ll paint all the wrong colours if I want to! My art college bud Geraint would be in stitches hearing me even think like this.

Mike Bernard mixed media
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I probably will work from photographs and you can bet your life I’ll probably sketch it all out beforehand after working up my collage in Photoshop. I’ll be able to clone, add and take away, and work out moods for an autumn yellowy-brown landscape scene or a blue harbour in winter. No point in having a skill if you cannot use it in a different context. I did this with my pastel of Bow Street on a snowy morning last year. The colours in the painting were more exciting and bore little resemblance to the dull morning I actually photographed. Same as my Argory pastel. There was a world of artistic licence used to enliven the result. I have a feeling I will respond in a personal rather than a conventional way. I have been doing it without really being aware of it, but that’s all down to my Photoshop expertise and my intensive preparation beforehand.

How to sex up a boring shot in Photoshop!!!!
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I have no idea what I want to work on. I don’t want to use canvas as I’m restricted to shop sizes and I haven't the time to stretch my own. I'm a busy graphic designer remember! I initially thought correx board with a few layers of primer but it’s maybe too flexible and not got a long shelf life. After reading about artists who work in this field I may use mounting board or if I am daring enough, MDF board, for bigger pieces, prepared with a coating of gesso.

I will slowly find my way. I’ll learn what works for me without getting too bogged down in colour this and colour that and endless experimentation with textures and shapes. I know I have to be patient and respect my learner status at this early stage. The same art friend reminded me of the butterfly. It starts life as a caterpillar, then spins a cocoon and waits for its transformation from slave to Cinderella. It cannot change the order of events not can it speed up the process – it's just the natural order of things. So it is with my transformation. It's waiting in the wings. I just need to be ready for the day and then get on with it. The fluff in the tumble drier can wait!


Monday, 20 March 2017

The Big Painting Challenge Series Two Week Six

Missed the Big Painting Challenge Final as I wanted to watch Ireland’s brilliant win over England in the Six Nations rugby match on ITV Hub last night. Days as good as that don’t come around too often. That meant I watched TBPC on iPlayer early this morning and I did well managing to avoid knowing the final outcome. There were four artists left and we had our own wee Ulster girl in the Big Painting Final but I wasn’t holding out much hope for Jennifer even with her new silver shaded hairstyle.

The four Finalists with their mentors
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The first challenge was portraiture and it had the artists wondering who their individual sitters were, so half expecting it to be their mentors Pascal and Diana and the presenters Mariella and Richard it was a huge BBC Surprise Surprise when a parent of each of the finalists walked through the door and proper gunked them. I think I would have lost all concentration but it did seem to settle the finalists and all four produced their best work of the series. They all got remarkable likeness and if I had to choose a favourite it was David’s 2.0 version of his father. 

The Portraitures of a Parent
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It was quite ironic that their mentors were hands off and unable to offer them tips or guide them in the final. Free from Pascal’s imposing shadow David made his own decisions. You could see his orange-clad mentor chomping at the bit in the background just dying to step in and direct/confuse him and Suman who had reverted back to her safe and tentative style of Programme Three. Suman ran David a close second, with Alan next. For all that it was Jennifer who took the biggest step forward in terms of personal progression and while I don’t like her style I have to admit she painted a well observed and recognisable picture of her mother. She couldn’t have done that six weeks ago! Daphne was rather cutting when she congratulated her on making ‘a perfectly normal human being’ – by implication not another bloody alien! 

The judges weren’t on hand to offer critique on these family member portraits. 

I didn’t think much of Pascal’s white boiler suit, mop, sponge and decorating brush tips for David and Suman. Yes, it might help them loosen up but this wasn’t the time or place for such a mad exercise. Suman who is usually keen to please didn’t incorporate any of Pascal’s odd team talk into her final painting. And David ignored him fearing he’d produce a wacky Jackson Pollack. Diana’s advice was more timely for her painters as both Alan and Jennifer used her tips in their final pieces.

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Who in the BBC thought it was a cracking idea to have the artists rocking, painting and getting seasick on a river boat? The wind was knocking over canvasses a la Hastings and all it needed was a bit more puff to render this Showstopper pointless. Why didn’t they paint from where Canaletto stood if this was to be based on his riverfront at Greenwich with the Royal Naval Hospital, and the Queen’s House in the centre? I assume the wee Venetian man was at his easel on the opposite bank! While the sun did make a fleeting appearance it looked to be quite an overcast day so they didn’t have to worry too much about shadows and the sun in their eyes. 

I sighed when I saw Jennifer lay down hair extensions on the canvas. Why? She was reverting back to the old Jen or maybe taking confidence from the knowledge that the only two times she triumphed over Suman was when she used these hairy ‘stencils’? Did she not think that her new found card painting style from last week was more suited to this straight edged architectural task in front of her? I knew then she had no chance.

Not sure how either David or Suman painted their canvasses
with the awkward angle they were at to their subject
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David and Suman were painting beside each other and it was interesting to see how alike their paintings were. David’s wide landscaped painting was closer to the original Canaletto and I loved his sense of space. His dirty river Thames looked more believable than Suman’s, but her more zoomed in painting had more warmth and personality. This was going to be a close contest. Alan trailed behind the frontrunners yet again. His painting was rather flat with no foreground boat interest and little greenery. His drippy painting even suggested it might have been raining (it wasn’t).

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Suman got the nod from the three judges and deserved to lift the trophy. From very timid beginnings she made consistent progress and her confidence seemed to develop week by week as she took on board Pascal’s words. She’s a braver artist than David and more likely to break new ground and that’s what maybe swung it in her direction. She was a lovely person as well and you couldn’t help but warm to her! I felt sorry for David early on in the series as he was fighting both himself and Pascal. Being older he was definitely more stuck in his ways and not in awe of Pascal and his arty-farty ideas the way the younger Suman was. Alan needs a huge boost of confidence. He does need to loosen up and find a bolder style. He’ll take away a lot from these six weeks. As for Jennifer. She’ll do OK. The programme wasn’t right for her. She was lucky to survive the first two weeks but hey she did Northern Ireland and her mother proud. She oozes personality, has a lot of confidence and can talk the hind leg off a donkey! Will be looking out for her and her work in the future.

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Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Movement in dance

This is one way to do it!
Capturing movement - watercolour the best medium

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Big Painting Challenge Series Two Week Five

Five painters left! The stakes are getting higher. This week’s two tasks were stinkers and called for a completely different mindset from previous weeks and from the look on the artists faces some were beaten before they even started. Catching movement is a simple enough exercise in photography where you can slow down the shutter speed but in on-the-spot painting it’s a whole different kettle of piranhas – you’re depending on blurring the freeze-frame of the image you referenced in your head. 

Worried artists : Jennifer, David and Alan
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The artists first challenge was to paint a solo ballerina dancing a series of four movements that she would repeat over the two hour duration (minus a few rest breaks). They could work in whatever medium they wanted to capture her graceful movements and make sure she was anatomically and proportionally fit! The bottom line for the painters was they could not afford to draw a still-life image. Yet so many did!
First Challenge: Top Left Suman : Top Right Alan
Bottom Left Jennifer : Middle David : Bottom Right Jimmy
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Suman had an immediate setback. She had chosen to work in charcoal but the paper was different from her usual brand and didn’t respond as she expected. That would have been a good time to have had an artistic tantrum, but she carried on in her usual happy-go-lucky manner. Unfortunately her drawing/painting was static, a snapshot of what she had seen. Alan did give his dancers a vague sense of motion with one disappearing off the canvas but it was all too dark and cumbersome for me. Jennifer did rightly with her wispy, squiggly marks. She showed good observation but she too didn’t achieve the required movement! David I thought did an OK job with the ballerina but went mad on his rave techno background. What is it with him and purple. He didn’t have much movement but then who did! Wait, Jimmy did!!!! He used watercolour to express movement and did a decent job. But there’s a big gigantic and enormous BUT! Jimmy must have been in another room painting a rumba dancer strutting her stuff as Jimmy had the poor girl twist pirouetting (it’s a new ballet move) to the Dance of the Overweight Sugar Plum Fairy. His dancer would never have been able to stand demi-pointe on tippy-toes… Blimey, Jimmy has never heard of Kim Kardashian. Where has he been living?

This was a good exercise in movement. Human learned from it – David not so much!
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If the first task caused the artists’ brain farts the Showstopper would multiply the difficulty level several times over. But they were better prepared this time as the mentors tips on tackling movement paid dividends to those who had ears to hear and the nerve to put them into practice. Suman might have laughed initially but did find value in Pascal’s exercise of trying to capture a crowd of 100 people with just one vertical stroke of the brush. In the other camp Jennifer benefited hugely from Diana’s idea of moving paint around with a card and would incorporate it into her second piece.

Jennifer's new trick: moving paint around with a piece of card
So what’s the craic then? Just paint four dancers arabesquing, attitude-ing, croisé-ing, grand jeté-ing, plié-ing and pirouetting (thanks google) to the beautiful sound of Swan Lake. Jimmy, take note! Swan Lake! The dancers flitted on and off the stage leaving the artists floundering on how best to represent what they had been visibly moved by. They needed to think about the choreography of the dance and portray it in such a way as to allow their audience to use their imagination to fill in the gaps. I was speaking to a learned artist friend about this last week and he said a painting should be a question, and not an answer, a journey and not a destination. Always leave something unsaid for people to interact with.

Showstopper work: Top left David : Top Right Jennifer : Middle Suman
Bottom left Jimmy : Bottom right Alan
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Suman got movement almost spot on with her flow of dancers in her painting, except for one tiny dancer at the front (as Lachlan pointed out). Her randomness in the direction of figures gave her painting a wildness and energetic vitality. Her differing size of brush strokes, colour and tonal values showed she had taken on board Pascal’s advice. My only question would be Swan Lake and ballet is anything but random, the dancers have to be disciplined to be in the right place at the right time and perform the right moves on cue! David’s piece hinted at that and its uniformity and ‘oneness’ depicted a set pattern with their touching tutus. I’m not sure whether that was intentional. On the down side he didn’t get anywhere near the same movement as Suman. The judges liked Jennifer’s work and I am pleased for her. She has knuckled down, taken advice and learnt new techniques and this piece showed how far she has come in these five weeks. For me she showed the nimbleness of ballet more than the others with her delicate use of colour. Poor Alan and Jimmy failed on many levels. No movement, poor composition and a lack of imagination for starters. Alan’s curtains got a slating while Jimmy’s dancers were badly observed. They’re both in danger of leaving. 

Human goes through to the final while Alan has to mosey home to Glasgow
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Not surprisingly Suman got the immunity card and must be considered favourite to take the crown next week. I hoped Jennifer would run her close though now that I have seen that the next task involves architectural observation I think that might be a step too far for her.  Health and safety will be a huge issue for her next week as Jennifer does not do straight lines! 

Alan stayed and Jimmy had to trek back to Glasgow and find out who Kim Kasdashian is. Hope he recovers soon...  

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Big Painting Challenge Series Two Week Four

It’s OK painting flowers, violent waves in seascapes and exotic wildlife in the zoo, the hardest task in painting is to capture a likeness and personality of a person sitting in front of you. Because the face aids recognition for the viewer the artist has to get not only all the wrinkles, the dimples and the freckles to help identify them but also the right skin tone and personal expression. It’s not easy! 

I feared for the seven artists left for Portrait Week. Two of them will be leaving so the pressure is on. The venue for the two tasks is the National Portrait Gallery in London. I have been at Tate Britain, Tate Modern and the V&A but oddly enough never here despite it being sited on Trafalgar Square. I have stood on its steps with Kris, Grace and Wai Moi and ventured inside to use its toilets but I don’t think I have walked around the galleries. Now if it had rained I might have been inquisitive enough. I have no idea why I’m such a cultural nomark!

Was reading online last week that Jennifer has a first class honours from the Art College in Belfast and has led art residency programmes here in Northern Ireland which hardly makes her an amateur. Does she tick the box ‘single mother’? ‘Irish’? and Ruaridh, (who also has a degree in Fine Art), ‘deaf’? and ‘Scottish’? So why are they on the show when there are probably hundreds of more deserving and truly amateur artists out there watching in TVLand? Going to art college should never disqualify you from entering a competition like this however! Very few students in graphic design/ceramics/product design/textiles/photography courses get anywhere near a paintbrush or a chance to work in oils and acrylics. I know I only picked up a paintbrush, for the first time since A Levels, a few weeks ago! But going to Art College and getting a degree from a Fine Art course should raise at least some eyebrows at the BBC. If the programme does come back for another series I hope they would adopt a more informed approach to selection.

Blimey have just read that Camilla dishes out art advice on her YouTube Painting Channel! 

Self Portraits (click to see bigger)
Ruaridh's self portrait (click to see bigger)
So what happened this week? The first challenge is a two-hour self-portrait using a medium sized mirror beside the art easel. How daunting is that! I felt sorry for the Scots,  Jimmy and Ruaridh as they wore glasses and as I suspected both were rather hesitant to include them in the finished canvas. Pascal leaned on Ruaridh to include them while Jimmy, a self-acclaimed portrait artist ran scared and found other things to touch up. It has to be said it didn’t really look like him without them. Alan did well with a very limited, almost monochrome palette which meant it looked more like a sketch than a painting.  David achieved a great likeness  despite a wonky eye, and for me did the best in this task. Ruaridh I felt did the least convincing male self-portrait. His neck was ridiculed by Lachlan as being spam-like. Charming. I felt his proportions were out. And what of the three women left? Suman painted well but didn’t get a good likeness, Angela had red cheeks and grew a moustache, while Jennifer for a reasonably attractive young lass painted herself dog ugly as if seared by a nuclear explosion. Oops is that politically correct and fair to dogs? Daphne summed it up best: “In terms of us knowing it was you it’s failed really abysmally and the proportions are just dire”

Sitters Baroness Floella Benjamin and Angela Rippon CBE
The five-hour Showstopper meant the artists had two sitters. I had heard of BBC newsreader Angela Rippon CBE but Baroness Floella Benjamin was unknown to me. I googled her while watching the show and discovered she was a jill of all trades: actress, author, television presenter, singer, businesswoman and politician who somehow had escaped my attention all these years. Sad to say I missed Play School in 1976!!! And all of her Jackanory appearances.

The portraiture showstopper was all about resemblance and making the painting look like the person. It was also about composition and how much of the sitter you should include to capture their elegance. 

Sitter portraits (click to see bigger)
So who caught something of the sitters? For some unexplained reason David thought this was the ideal time to use a palette knife for the first time. Lachlan I thought was being mischievous when he said he didn’t recognise Angela Rippon in David’s painting at all. I think the BBC should book him into Supersavers immediately! Thankfully Daphne disagreed with her fellow judge and that started a debate about what makes a good portrait. Lachlan did see more of a likeness of the ex-newsreader in Suman’s effort though like me he saw Anthea Turner too. Ruaridh’s painting looked as if Angela needed to go on a Slimming World course. The best likenesses for me were in Floella’s camp. Alan surprised me with his work - great likeness just made her about ten years older than she actually was. Jimmy did quite a good graphic representation of the baroness and included a few symbolic features. Jennifer for the first time in the series listened to the judges advice, was less abstract and demonstrated that she could observe and draw. What a difference! While I wouldn’t have marked her as highly as the others she did deserve to stay in the process for that progress alone. Angela made Floella look quite gaunt and sick and she and Ruaridh were the two asked to pack their bags and leave. I thought David was the best this week but it was Suman for the second week running who picked up the immunity card from the public.

Have I spotted a winner yet? The smart money would probably be on Suman as she’s on a roll, David is technically good while Jennifer would be a dark horse but she’s marmite. She needs to think less about selling herself and her ideas and more about what the brief is. I don’t think Alan and Jimmy have any chance. 

Next week’s task appeared to be all about movement as the closing credits showed ballerinas dancing across the floor.

Bono Pastel

Bono - U2

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Big Painting Challenge Series Two Week Three

I came into this programme following the startling revelation that my Wednesday night SERC tutor Mary Doran once had Jennifer as a student! I’ll say nothing more on this staggering confession, save that I am off to get some hair extensions to use in a painting tomorrow. 
The Pretty Flamingos - that aren't pink!
Whipsnade Zoo in Dunstable, Bedfordshire is one of Europe’s largest wildlife conservation parks and home to nearly 3,000 animals, many of which are endangered in the wild. The artists were lined up to paint pretty pink flamingos and large plodding greyish elephants, eight hours of animal portraiture ‘en plein air’ and in weather more suited to painting than that endured in Hastings last week. No animal is ever going to model for an artist so I’m not sure why David was getting frustrated at them turning their back on him.

Ruaridh got the colour wrong and they were fairly flat!
The two hour task was to draw a flock of flamingos milling around in their pond. These iconic and oddly shaped birds stand on tall, bald, stilted legs with knees that bend backwards with every step taken. The artist’s task was to give the birds a sense of life, and through observation draw them accurately in terms of shape, colour and if in a group picture, composition. Where did the cliché pink flamingo colour come from? They definitely appeared more orange on my television so an artist should never ever assume colour! The eight made their customary pencil sketches that probably didn’t stand up to much critical anatomical scrutiny and then set to work on their finished piece.
Jennifer just about got everything wrong!
I was disappointed in most of their efforts. Jennifer really hasn’t a clue how to observe, compose or sell a picture – the craic is apparently that me, the judges and most of the UK can’t see what Jennifer is seeing. Alan works too flat and wooden while David appears scared to leave his comfort zone and is merely content to keep the judges happy. Suman and Ruaridh did OK and I am warming to Angela yet again!

It was interesting that Daphne contradicted her fellow judge David twice in the judging of the flamingo round. Makes me wonder again why a third judge is needed, particularly someone who hasn’t the same professional painting pedigree as Daphne and Lachlan.

The Elephants
Before tackling the Elephant Showstopper Pascal led them in an observation exercise – 90% looking and 10% painting which in this case meant sixty seconds looking and only seven seconds making quick descriptive brush marks of an elephant. Suman starts off the most confident composing a baby elephant large scale on her canvas. It’s clear she knows what she wants to achieve. Ruaridh and David are both unhappy with their first offering and start a second one while Camilla cops out and paints an elephant’s arse with her palette knife! Angela’s is looking rather twee because she’s painting too many small, undetailed and insipid elephants. Less is definitely more! Jennifer is doing what she does best! Hair extensions, paint splattered randomly on the canvas and moved around trying to make something out of her ‘observation’. And I can see what she’s trying to achieve once she explains what’s what… but it’s not clearly recognisable as a lumbering elephant. Not yet anyway!

Choose the Pascal inspired one on the left David – or your own! 
Pascal calls David’s canvas busting elephant a masterpiece but none of the judges agree, which calls into question Pascal’s mentoring input. If I were David I would tune Pascal’s voice out. It’s clearly at odds with his own (and mine). And no you wouldn’t see it in the Saatchi Gallery Camilla! Wise the bap! Ruaridh also followed Pascal’s advice and he too got less than complimentary words from the judges. Camilla’s three legged elephant didn’t get any rave reviews, nor did Angela’s wimpy effort nor Jimmy or Alan’s. I got to say I love Jennifer’s final canvas - the trunk and the eye were brilliant – easily the best she has produced so far but it’s not in the same league as Suman’s who offered us the best painting in the series so far. The judges agree with me as did the immunity panel made up from zoo workers who give Suman a quick-pass to next week. Well done! Jennifer must have been close to a hat trick!

Suman's winning canvas
Camilla was asked to leave the process as Daphne considered her naive and unable to move on to the next level. This competition is as much about development as ability, and you can see the evolution and a willingness to learn in several of the painters (Angela and Ruaridh). Some are more stuck in a rut (David, Alan and Jimmy) while Jennifer with a bit of skilled drawing application could improve dramatically.

Jennifer's best painting of the series so far!
Next week is portraiture. I see Angela Rippon is a sitter. Getting a likeness will be a real test for some of these artists. 

Monday, 20 February 2017

The Big Painting Challenge Series Two Week Two

I painted ‘en plein air’ for a week in North Wales a long time ago and I loved it. From sitting on a grassy bank, sketchbook in hand drawing boats in Abersoch harbour and market trader stalls in Pwllheli to capturing life in a disused slate quarry near Nefyn in charcoal. We struck lucky that week as the weather was untypically warm for October. That’s why I felt sorry for these newbie ‘en plein air’ artists. They got clobbered with four seasons in one day weather down in Hastings. 

The refurbished Hastings Pier
I helped out on an RLSS photographic shoot in Hastings around ten years ago so I was fairly familiar with the location and the pier (prior to its refurbishment) though not from the side the artists drew it during the first two hour challenge. I wasn’t very excited with the view though I can see why it was chosen to explore scale, perspective and proportion.If this had been a cricket match, rain would have stopped play and the match abandoned but artists, their mentors and tv crew are made of sterner stuff and the Battle of Hastings had to go on however squalid the conditions, It was crazy stuff as the wind and rain was literally blowing the paint off the canvas so it was hard to make headway! Even Van Gogh would have given up and headed to the nearest café and drawn the pier from their window or if no view some sunflowers on their table!!! He didn’t do any Wheat fields in a storm did he!

Jennifer's blitz
David's nuclear bomb
Hard to say who did best as none of them really stood out. Ruaridh captured a great sea and beach but his pier went missing in action. David’s effort looked like it had been hit by a nuclear bomb such was the radioactive colour scheme on the beach. Jennifer – well hers was less nuclear but still blitzed enough for me to believe the pier was destroyed by German fighter planes in WW2. She tried her best but my goodness she’s just not cutting the mustard!

I like it when the two mentors takes centre stage and demonstrate useful tips for the six hour Showstopper painting. Pascal got them practicing simple outline shapes with markers in different colours to represent different aspects of the landscape in front of them - beach, trees and buildings for example while Diana had her artists drawing at arm's length with a stick of charcoal on the end of a cane. Hmmm - not sure about that idea!

This was my favourite. I think Angela's captured Hastings best!
Showstopper time! The seafront of Hastings. Wow! There’s a lot to take in! Pascal’s lot are looking east and have the view I would prefer to have painted, while Diana’s drew the short straw – west! I don’t really get the point of six hours on the one scene especially when the sun (if there was one) and the shadows cast would have moved quite dramatically during that time period. Easier, drier, warmer and more comfortable to grab a few photographs, take them to a copy shop and get a few of the better ones printed up A3 size! Cost a few quid but hey you don’t get frustrated with the damned British weather. And stuff the purists who say otherwise! Interesting that the few artists I have seen demo and heard bleat on about the wonders of painting 'en plein air’ over painting from photographs have paintings on their websites that are 4x3 ratio - around that of a digital print! They're shameless bluffers!

Camilla's banana beach and crazy perspective
Back to dullsville Hastings before the mist rolls in off the sea and out again, and then before you can sing Y Viva Espana, turning almost Mediterranean sunny, but not as in David’s portrait painting of this Hastings seafront landscape. He and Pascal are often at odds with each other - it’s almost like David purposely disobeys the fine art, art school tutoring he’s given by Pascal and goes back to his own tried and tested impressionist style which in my book was wildly off the mark this time around. Camilla has a banana beach thing going on and it’s weird. She’s poor on perspective which is simply bad observation. She doesn’t plan her paintings – just crashes in with a large paintbrush and as I see it hopes for the best!
David and Suman's Showstopper canvasses
Suman interestingly works on a circular canvas – a view as through a porthole of a passing ship. I like it - works for me. Jimmy’s effort looks cartoonish but half decent! Alan and Angela's are at least recognisable as Hastings and the best of the bunch! Jennifer who is painting beside the rest of the group (yes, beside them) has a completely different view of Hastings - she’s more to the right – an awful, awful lot more to the right and she's bluffed this Showstopper with something more sea than land. It looks as if her canvas is painted from the front of a Club 18-30 banana boat speeding up the coastline! But the fine residents of Hastings give her immunity because it reminds them the most of their seaside town! What? Really? Honestly? You're having a laugh! You cannot be serious!  You're not! OK, BBC this joke is going on too long! For me Jennifer failed on a sense of place and composition but I’ll give her the sense of light and because one out of three ain’t bad (with apologies to Meat Loaf Ch1v4) she can stay this week.

Jennifer's madcap view of Hastings seafront which mostly ignored the buildings
Did Maud deserve to go? I think so. For me it was either her or Camilla who like David seems to spend most of her time annoying Pascal! It’s animals next week so that’ll test a few of the painters! I think Jennifer will have her hair extensions out again!