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Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

How imperceptibly the seasons turn, and suddenly it’s not summer, but autumn. After summer salads we turn to roast dinners and chocolate, after sitting in the sun we cuddle up inside. However, the autumn is also a time of new beginnings as students start a new academic year, and after finishing the Ilkley show over the summer, it has felt like a new beginning for me too. I have been able to take up some new commissions, and plan for a new double-microcosm and self portrait.

Following the hard work preparing for the Ilkley Show, I started with a few fun projects: painting a frog on a stone in acrylics for my local gallery manager, painting a new 2p miniature of a tiny stallion and finally a purple Quality Street as a Tiny Treasure.

Painting in acrylics again was a real challenge – without a special slow-drying medium, the paint drys as soon as it hits the stone, so blending colours is almost impossible. The flip side of this is that it is possible to work really quickly, which is always fun. The image was transformed right at the end by painting shadows under the frog, which suddenly made it sit proud of the stone’s surface. My local gallery manager now uses it as a paperweight! The Quality Street was similarly improved at the last minute by trimming off a gold border, which somehow destroyed the 3D impression of the painting. Doing this Tiny Treasure in watercolour was perfect for the subject, as the transparent layers of paint perfectly mimicked the overlapping sheets of coloured wrapper. The only question is, which colour to do next? Finally, the tiny stallion: it had been drawn out, ready to paint for a couple of months, but I hadn’t found the right moment, and was struggling to decide what to do with the background. Eventually I decided to leave it blank, and I love how unconstrained the stallion appears as a result!

Starting a few new commissions has involved a lot of sketching, which doesn’t come across so well digitally, but is a very liberating and enjoyable part of the creative process for me. One commission is of a sweet little boy, which will be unusual for me as I plan to execute the painting in monochrome oil. These sketches show the challenge of capturing the huge expressions of a little face, and trying to get a likeness from very little reference material. However, I am looking forward to painting the image of him looking down on his birthday candles – there is such a magical sense of calm focus in his face.

The second commission is of a dog breed which is new to me: a Bracco Italiano. These are beautiful, characterful dogs and the individual I’m painting (sadly no longer with us) clearly had a very sweet and gentle personality. After considering a landscape composition, where Pico looks out over fields of barley, we eventually decided on a comfortable view of him sitting on the sofa. This is a lovely composition and allows me to depict his soulful expression, but it will involve the tricky process of painting out one of his owners, whom he was sitting next to and partly on top of! The shadows are also quite dark in the reference photo, which helps to create a strong shape and likeness, but I will need to avoid making the whole painting appear too dark.

Finally, I started a new palette painting inspired by this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness:

These misty greens, pale yellows and blues are lovely, calming colours to work with, and mixing my palette colours at the start of each session is the best bit! The barley in particular needs more detail, which will lighten it up and introduce some lively blue tones, but next I need to move on to the brimstone butterfly, which I might redraw for a better orientation. I love these palette paintings, but with every square being a painting in itself, they do take a while to complete.

My next update will be in my patron newsletter, and will feature my next microcosm drawing. In the meantime, do send me your thoughts – what you would like to see more of, which of my projects you find most interesting – I love the feedback! Wishing everyone a fruitful October!


Behind the Scenes at an Exhibition

August was dominated by the Ikley Art Show, which involved a really intensive period of painting, followed by an operation, which brought my artwork to a standstill for the rest of the month! Preparing for my first exhibition solely of new original work was a real challenge and from it I learned many lessons. I hope you will find these interesting as an insight into the preparation which goes into an exhibition:

  1. Don’t commit to exhibiting paintings which are not yet finished (or in some cases, not even started). I was so pleased to have a full display of work that in retrospect it’s easy to forget how stressful it was to paint to a tight time limit. On the one hand, having an exhibition to focus on definitely increased my productivity, but the paintings which were done close to the deadline caused no end of heartache when even the slightest thing went wrong! I am gradually learning that painting has to be planned far in advance – it always takes longer than you imagine, and of course you have to build in all the drying time for oils!
The only painting which I hadn’t even begun when I committed to exhibiting a set list of paintings in June!

2. Don’t order mountboard online! I made the mistake of ordering all my frames and mounts online, which meant I wasn’t able to check the quality of the mountboard. When they arrived, I found that the mountboard was of awful quality, with ‘cream core’ (which goes brown over time…) and a plasticy surface. So, in addition to painting, I had to remount the whole collection in the week before the show.

Fortunately, this black core mount was the only one of sufficient quality to be used for the show.

3. Frame everything up at least a week in advance. As many events organisers will know, it’s often the smallest things which trip you up. In my case, not all the frames were designed to be hung in the same way, and only on the day before did I realise that I needed different fixings for some of the pictures.

The thin metal frames needed completely different fixings from the traditional wooden ones, which required a last-minute dash to a DIY store!

4. The difference between a liner and detail round! Somehow, in the midst of all the organisational challenges of the show, I made a step forward in understanding which brushes I use for detailed work. This discovery was made while I was attempting the fox whiskers on my amber palette. Look the at the picture below. If you were to paint a fine line, which brush would you pick up?

Round detail brush on the left and liner on the right.

The teeny tiny one right? Wrong! I have always used these ‘detail round’ brushes for, well, detail. And for most of the detailed work I do, they are a great choice. However, their main function is for ‘on the spot’ work. When I started using my existing brushes for the long whiskers it was infuriating. These tiny brushes hold little paint and so you end up stopping and starting, rather than creating fluid lines. They also easily deposit annoying blobs of paint when you use them for long strokes. So, as I discovered, a long liner brush is required which somehow solves all these issues. I don’t know whether I was more delighted to have found this solution or infuriated that it had taken me this long learn it, but it just shows that with a skill like painting there is always more to learn. However, it turned out alright in the end:

The foxes whiskers had to be repainted, but came out well when I finally used the right brush!

Since my operation my energy has taken a hit and it has been hard to get back into painting. Now it is exciting to look ahead at new projects and pick up some others which fell by the wayside before the show. I have already done another 2p miniature – this time a chestnut horse.

Here I focused on the power and tension in the muscles. I think it is also my first animal miniature which has no background at all. I think this has the effect of making it seem even smaller, because a background in effect gives the animal a miniature world to live in, and so in comparison it looks to be a normal size. Without a background there is no point of reference, so the horse could be any size at all. I’d love to hear what you think and whether you prefer the lack of background.

My immediate next projects are another microcosm (a poppy seed head) and another palette painting (emerald), but beyond these I’m thinking about a few new ideas which aren’t part of an existing ‘series’. I will be giving my patrons the first previews of these, since their support is fundamental to me being able to experiment in this way. If you would like to be one of them, you can get discounts and exclusive previews for as little as £3 per month.

Before I go, a piece of good news. This microcosm, ‘In the Eyes of the Beholder’ has now been accepted into the Society of Graphic Fine Art DRAW exhibition in London. In the way we view the world, we are each a microcosm, taking in and reflecting upon the immensity of life through the tiny window of an eye. If you would like to see this work in person it will be on display at the Menier Gallery between the 1st and 13th October.

On Ilkley Moor Baht ‘At

This month has been all about preparing to be an exhibitor at Ilkley Art Show for the first time. I have been holding back some originals from sale for a while, in the hope of this opportunity. I will be displaying two ‘collections’ this August: six paintings from my In Medias Res series and two from a new project, which I am really absorbed by at the moment: a series of palette paintings.

I have described the premise of ‘In Medias Res’ before – these paintings take a section of something long or tall, like a foxglove spire or a tree branch, and depict that section as if it were a chapter of a longer story. To me the meanings of these paintings are clear, but in the exhibition there will be no notes accompanying them, so I will have to see if these ideas come across! I hope that, even in the meaning seems utterly obscure, visitors will still enjoy the rich colours and beautiful flowers. I am adding a couple of new paintings to this group, specially for the Ilkley Show. They are both small, square panels depicting willow. Eventually this will be a set of three, all with a pale pink background but showing the progression from silky grey buds, to green and finally orange leaves. I have painted in the pussy willow panel, though it needs more detail on the buds. I love the simplicity of this composition – it reminds me of Japanese prints in this way. You can see the other Medias Res here.

I think the palette paintings are more self-explanatory. Each painting involves a handful of tiny pictures united by a single colour. So far I have done Amber and Sky Blue. In part I was inspired by an excellent book called The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair, but I also like the idea that an artist’s palette is the world around them, as much as tubes of paint. However, as I’ve been planning and painting different colours, I have been struck by how each colour has a different nature and associations. For example, when I was trying to think of different subjects for the light blue palette, I was surprised by how rare this colour is in nature (apart from the occasional blue sky, of course!). And even where it does exist, it is usually the case that the colour is created by special cells or feathers which refract the sky’s colour. So the colour isn’t really in the bird or butterfly, but an illusion. This maybe has something to do with soft blue’s mystical connotations with distance and memory, which again has a scientific basis, in that the further away something is the bluer it appears. The blue palette is nearly finished, but I will be replacing the forget-me-nots with love-in-the-mist, to create a more solid block of colour:

The colour blocks for the amber palette, meanwhile, all seem to be associated with evening and endings: the crepuscular fox, the autumnal squash and acer leaf, the aged whisky and sunset. The fur of the fox needs some lighter orange tones, but then I can’t wait to mount these up. Each block with be individually mounted and then raised up within a panoramic box mount. I hope it will look like those white artist colour palettes.

I have also just finished another canine commission: this time of a lovely lurcher called Blossom. Apparently she’s quite shy, so I’ve painted her looking to the side, curled up on the sofa. Her mottled fur was such a challenge to paint, but it also helps to convey the shape of her head and body. I originally intended to leave the background plain, but actually the amber and brown hues pick up Blossom’s eye colour, and balance out the composition.

And alongside all that, I have set up a patron scheme and been continuing my miniature work, with a new, ladybird tiny treasure and a new series of 2p animal miniatures in watercolour. I hope to return to these after the Ilkely Art Show. If you can make it to Ilkey on the 10th or 11th of August do come along – I’m told the standard of artwork is very high this year, and it will be an unusual opportunity to see a number of my originals on show together.


Pre-Puppy Paintings!

I have been remiss. It is over two months since I last wrote a blog post and in that time things have gone up, down and then in an entirely new directions… During the ups, I have been able to do the paintings I’ll share below. But May also saw some serious downs: physical but leading also to psychological. During this time I decided to come off treatment for a trial period and, along with my husband, to get a puppy….  As such this post will necessarily be brief! With an adorable, cheeky and willful 14 week-old puppy to look after, periods of peace and quiet are at a premium! Though my health has actually improved since our lives were turned upside-down by this tiny terror, I have yet to work out how to combine painting with a puppy. I suspect reliable potty training is the first step, though this is eluding us at present….

Usually I have a number of painting projects in the air, waiting for their moment. The moment for this canine portrait came, sadly, when this 15-year-old golden retriever died at the end of April. Had health allowed I would have put paintbrush to canvas-paper straight away. That was my response when our golden retriever passed away nearly a decade ago, and I still felt the urge to bring a lost personality to life in paint, perhaps as a way of keeping memories alive in the face of absence. In the second layer I’ll need to work on getting more contrast in the shadows, which are trickier because old Hamish’s fur was white with his venerable age! However, I was pleased with the goofy retriever smile and enjoyed capturing the wet of his long tongue.

At the end of May I enjoyed a whole week of painting, where I was able to pursue some of my own interests, rather than focusing only on commissions. Last year, I met a professional artist who told me it was crucial to keep this side of my art going, and I did feel refreshed after of week of my own projects. I started with a magnolia flower, which I had originally intended to be a tiny treasure, but as I worked on it I felt the bloom had a statuesque presence which made me feel more like I was working on a portrait than a still life. The petals have a pink flush and porous, dimpled texture that did feel like skin to paint. So I decided the original should stand on its own, not as a tiny treasure, and to intensify the focus I painted the background a dramatic black. This was a very tense 20 minutes, as I knew any slip with the black paint could ruin hours of hard work! However, here she is: “A Portrait of a Lady”.

Next, I spent a morning finishing a tiny treasure of two mussel shells – inside and out. I could happily return to this subject. The interior iridescence and the outer patina are mesmerizing, if baffling, to paint. Sometimes my paintings are driven by ideas, but here it was the pure form that got me.

Lastly, I was chuffed to finish this painting of pink garlic in a black bowl. This painting could easily also be purely about form and colour, but in fact it is part of a developing series where I paint everyday objects which have changed their significance for me as a result of having Lyme Disease. In the past I looked a garlic purely as a culinary ingredient, but it is also a powerful antimicrobial agent, which I now often take in the form of allicin and part of my medicinal armoury against Lyme. I have called it ‘Active Ingredient’.

The challenge now is to get back to the easel for some post-puppy painting, while not neglecting my tiny terror! If and when I manage this feat, I have a vintage wedding portrait to do, pet portraits to continue and tiny treasures inspired by the fruits of the season. In the meantime, here’s to the sunshine!