Tag: pencil drawing

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.

In Medias Res

‘In the middle of things’. This phrase is well known to literature students, for when an author dives into the middle of the action, rather than starting at the beginning of the story. Apart from being the title of my latest series of paintings, this phrase also neatly sums up the last few months. I have been lucky enough to have my work on display in two exhibitions for the first time – one Microcosm in London as part of the DRAW exhibition at the Menier Gallery, and then a much larger collection of my work at a local exhibition in Hurworth Village Hall. I was particularly pleased to be able to display my tiny treasures en masse for the first time.

Painting took a knock during August and September, as my health again went downhill. But thanks to a new consultant (a specialist in epi-genetics and chronic illness) I am slowly making improvements again. My first mission, once I was back with brush in hand, was to finish a wedding portrait, commissioned as an anniversary present.

Since then I have taken a break from commissions in order to experiment a bit. My new series, ‘In Medias Res’, was borne out of the my recent experience of seeing the Rothko room at the Tate Modern. I loved the impact his enormous canvases made through simple shapes and careful control of colour. I wondered if I could take a similarly simple concept of design – in my case just a column/vertical line – but marry this with realism. So each painting in this series is essentially a textural, coloured ground, bisected by a column of contrasting colour. In the first two paintings, this column comprises a spire of flowers. As each painting only captures a small section of each column, almost like a chapter from a longer novel, I decided that the series should be called ‘In Medias Res’.

In practice, calibrating the contrasting colours has been the most challenging aspect, involving colour theory which I can’t go into in detail. However, the basic principle is that if colours are of exactly equal tone, the eye struggles to perceive the image as clearly and so the colours seem more vibrant. In the foxtail lily, these colour contrasts are partly within the  flowers themselves, as the peach is contrasted with cobalt blue shadows. In grey scale, the flowers suddenly look flat, because the contours have been achieved with colour rather than tone.

My next project in this series is a spire of delphinium flowers, but I also have a birch tree, lavender flower, floxglove and stalk of barley ready to go! Another series for which I’m brimming with ideas is my set of microcosms. I was delighted that Microcosm #3: ‘A World of Many Parts’ was accepted by the Society for Graphic Fine Art for their annual London exhibition. For my next microcosm I am torn between a brussel sprout (yes, a brussel sprout), and the iris of an eye! In the meantime, I have been continuing my work in pencil with a floral commission. I was captivated by delicate shadows on this simple Japanese anemone, which I have called ‘Halo’, having spent hours on that intricate ring of stamens!

I will soon be making a return to my canine portraits, as well as working on some paintings inspired by poetry. However, painting is now very much in the middle of many other things, including research, tutoring and script-reading. I just hope my health holds up amidst so many exciting and interesting projects. In the meantime I have started to create a calendar of my work from the past year, which you can see on my rkalbanart facebook page. If you would be interested one for £10, please leave a comment below, as I will only be ordering a small number. As I’m sure you are also ‘in medias res’, I will leave it there!

The personal, the musical, the pretty and the tricky

This has been a week of working in pencils, both coloured and graphite, in pursuit of the personal, the musical, the pretty and the tricky… Also, just in case you don’t make it through my verbosity to the bottom of the post, there is a print sale going on this weekend – not a wimpy sale, a proper sale, with some prints less than half their usual price. Some have already sold out!

Back to the art. First, I finally plucked up the courage to personalise the welsh love spoon, which I called ‘Roots So Entwined’. I’m sure when you think of occupations wracked with jeopardy, artist is not the one that comes to mind. But when you’ve spent hours creating a picture that you are actually satisfied with, it feels unbelievably risky to alter it and potentially ruin all that hard work. Thankfully, of course, we live in an age where I can protect any work of art I make in digital form, but I still feel protective about my original pieces of paper and canvas. After a warm-up personalising a print (no prizes for guessing who for!), I took the plunge. My hope was to get the letters to look as though they had been carved into the original spoon, not just scribbled onto the picture. I decided on the type of classic copperplate font which you would associate with carving, rather than handwriting.

In practise, altering the original was much harder simply because the porous paper was already saturated with the coloured pencil for the spoon itself. So, in order to get the same depth as the letters on the print, I had to use some fine-liner, as well as pencil. However, it all came good, and is ready for its new owner. As I was doing it, I kept have new ideas about potential backgrounds and personalisation. I think engraving the year of a marriage at the top would sit well around the notch, and the number of years below the hollow heart. I also tried out a pretty background of soft dots, so contrast with the clean lines of the wood. Each dot is cross hatched with layers of different colours, hopefully giving a woven texture and is the exact size of a 5 pence piece – perhaps for an anniversary I could draw an actual 5, 10 or 20p into the background design to symbolise the years of marriage. I could do backgrounds of family tartan, favourite prints or colours. So many ideas!

So much for the personal and the pretty. Having so enjoyed drawing the first lovespoon, I thought I would follow the theme in a musical direction. Inspired by my amazing, opera-singing aunt, I was racing to get this done in time to celebrate a special birthday and just about got there in time! Like ‘Roots So Entwined’, this was a joy to do, I think because I so enjoy contemplating the artistry and craftsmanship of the spoon itself. As I was working on it, I had the line from a hymn going round and round in my head: “craftsman’s art and music’s measure”. I wanted to bring out the fact that this is a crafted object, and so emphasised the areas which show marks left from carving on the inner sides, and the clear scooping shape of the wood which create the impression of lines weaving in front and behind each other.

Unfortunately, making art does not always feel so easy! Sometimes it feels like a battle: an endless series of tiny failures. In the past I would have given up when I started to feel like this about a painting. But generally, now, I try to cajole myself in persevering. And, sometimes, it pays off. When I started this, the next in my series of ‘Microcosms’, I was torn between doing it in colour or sticking with the medium of graphite pencil. Having decided on the latter, it seemed SO much harder to capture the complex textures of the faceted orange segments, the fluffy pith and pimpled peel in pure greyscale than it would have been in colour. My guiding idea was the way that the segments fit so naturally together, hand in glove, side by side. Perhaps the symbolism would lead some to think of a world of fragments, but it seemed to me to speak of ecosystems which fit together like jigsaws: a world of many parts, interlocking but not in friction. Nice idea, but very fiddly to depict. In fact, the part which made me feel the most despairing as I worked on seems to be now the most effective: the revealed inner segments. I’m glad I persisted:

It was only after I had finished this picture of an orange that I came across the #sharetheorange campaign, which has just been launched to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease. The motif of peeling an orange powerfully demonstrates how Alzheimer’s physically attacks the brain, actually reducing the weight of an affected brain by about 140g: the size of an orange. It has made me look at my image, with the process of peeling just begun, very differently. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to freeze that process, or even better, to re-peel the orange? It’s not much, but I will put £4 of every orange print sold will go to Alzheimer’s Research UK.

So that’s it: the personal, the musical, the pretty and the tricky. In the coming week I’m hoping to return to oils and take on some longer projects.