Tag: art

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.

 

Whistle-stop tour

After neglecting my blog for far too long, this entry will have to be a brief run-down of my work over the last few months. In December I was still preoccupied with my series ‘In Medias Res’, in which I paint sections of longer objects – be they flower spires, ears of wheat, tree-trunks or, appropriately, icicles – almost as chapters of a larger story (from the latin, ‘in the middle of things’). The delphinium was the second in the series, and I struggled to capture the papery delicacy of the petals. However, in the end I was really pleased with the powerful colour balanced, which is so outside my usual, subtle palette. As I painted, it was the richer purples which felt most vivid, but actually on reflection it is the paler, lavender hues which sing most against the golden ground.

The icicles painting was initially conceived as another ‘Medias Res’, and was a joy to paint. The optical effects of undulating ice felt extraordinarily abstract and yet surprisingly realistic at the same time. There are times as an artist when you genuinely see something which you would not have noticed as a mere observer, and this was the case with the bubbles suspended at the centre of the larger icicles. Not only are these a beautiful visual detail, they seem to suggest the freezing of time, as well as water.

My other seasonal work was the microcosm of a brussel sprout. I had been mulling over this ever since I saw James Acaster’s book tour, in which he describes a series of cabbage-based pranks. As with so many of my pictures, what began as a purely visual idea began to take on surprising meanings as I planned the work. From the outside, a sprout looks like a ball of layers, but I became transfixed by the fact that, cut in half, the inside reveals a tree-like structure, with the branches radiating out to support the surface. And so round and round in my head while I drew this microcosm went the carol: ‘The Tree of Life my soul hath seen, laden with fruit and always green’. Though the symbolism made complete sense to me, I thought it would seem mad to anyone else, and so I was delighted that it was snapped up by a herbalist, who saw in the image the power of nature to heal and regenerate.

 

At the start of the new year, I worked to complete my collection of Tiny Treasures, with the exciting prospect of them going on display at Blossom Street Gallery, in York. My additions were two insects, both edged in gold, and a silver fish cut into ‘two pieces of silver’. With these three I wanted to emphasise the precious, jewel-like quality of these miniatures, with the gold outlines inspired by religious icons. On a practical level, the gold backgrounds made it possible to paint in the fine outline details of hairs and delicate legs, which would have been impossible to cut out. As with my other Tiny Treasures, I loved working in such concentrated detail on these, though it was terrifying when I came to the point of cutting in two the silver fish! It was wonderful to recently see pictures of the collection displayed beautifully by the Blossom Street Gallery in glass cabinets, which perfectly echo the glass and metal frames.

However, the biggest milestone since the new year has been finishing a series of five small canine portraits. It was a wonderful to capture each of these different personalities. Some people might think that portraying a pet is somewhat sentimental, that one retriever looks very much like another. But I hope this collection of characterful boys argues otherwise! To finish the set involved a day of revisiting each portrait to add little details, particularly the hairs around the muzzles, but it’s a stressful task, as you don’t want to overwork and lose any of the virtues of the existing painting. Now dry, this collection should soon be with their owner and for the first time in over a year, I have no canine commissions in hand! So, if anyone has been waiting to commission a pet portrait – now is your chance (it is, after all, the year of the dog).

Bringing us up to the present. While all outside is white, my current work-in-progress is all about black. It is another poem-painting, in the same format as ‘Pied Beauty’, which I painted two years ago. This painting is inspired by a different poet: the start of ‘Under Milk Wood’ by Dylan Thomas. This radio-poem-drama begins at night in a small town, as the listener witnesses the dreams of its residents. The evocative opening description involves a number of types of black: ‘bible-black’, ‘sloe-black’, ‘crow-black’, and the black ‘fishing-boat-bobbing sea’. I want to capture the visual connections between these vivid metaphors. I began too hastily with ‘crow-black’, which will need to be revisited. However, progress on the sloes has been very rewarding. Much like the icicles, the patches of turquoise, deep navy, pale lavender and ochre seem to make very little visual sense, and yet they gradually knit together under the brush to create these mini black and blue plums. The shadows are particularly interesting, with light being reflected from one sloe onto another.

So, over the coming weeks I will be working away on this, and on a new Medias Res of apricot foxgloves.

Welcome

Welcome to the blog where I’ll keep you updated about my plans and projects – what’s on the easel (not that I have an easel, but figuratively speaking…) and what’s hot off the press (not that I have a press either…). I try to paint or draw regularly – every day if I can, though I suspect this will be disrupted by starting an MA course in a few weeks. Anyway, there should usually be something new to check out every week. I tend to study in the mornings and then, when my brain is full, crack out the easel (still, no easel), and paint for a few hours, trying not to overrun in my afternoon study!

Rachel Alban
Window on a rose

If you have come to my blog via the home page, you will see that I have divided my work into four categories, so I thought first of all it might be an idea to introduce you to each area of my work. In general, I’m painting and drawing small scale at the moment. It is sad that art should be so determined by practicality, but this is mainly for financial reasons – as everyone has been squeezed by the recession, I’m sure I’m not the only artist who has noticed that the bigger canvases, the bigger paintbrushes, and greater quantities of paint, all add up. Hopefully a few commissions will allow me to branch out beyond A5! However, from a development point of view, the smaller format also allows me to experiment, without committing hours and hours to one idea. Lastly, there is an iota of artistic consideration here: I am soon to be studying Persian painting, which, as Oleg Grabar notes, is ‘Mostly Miniatures’. Being fairly diminutive myself (5 foot to be exact) maybe I’m naturally inclined towards the small, but there is something jewel-like and condensed about a small painting that makes me think of poetry, as opposed to a novel.

Of course, I am not wedded to the small format – as I upload some older works to the site, you will see some larger scale paintings. And, needless to say, I would accept commissions with any scale requirements (within reason – I haven’t attempted a wall mural since I was nine!). So, now to introduce my studies, portraits, nature close-ups and landscapes…