Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Modern technology and other horrors

Well, the mosaic course went well. It was a long day, but good messy fun and time to catch up with a couple of students I hadn’t seen for a while. Everyone agreed it was a tricky technique, but the good thing about mosaic is that even if your design is less than perfect, the pieces are just so darn pretty it still looks nice! Here are some of the creations we had by the end of the day...

A pretty circle;

This lady bought some lovely ceramic tiles with her;

Another cute fish;

An abstract stars and moons design;

Simplicity always works;

One of my regular students created this delicate beaded design;

Flowers used to make modern designs;

Metallic paint used to good effect;

Yes, that's a handbag mirror in this pretty mosaic;

 One of my favourites, a simple sail boat with mirror sails;

Look carefully and you will find a mermaid here;

This one was thrown together quickly at the end of the day, yet works fantastically well;

Another of my favourites, a fabulous funky bird;

Many are unfinished, and students were given a sheet to take home to enable them to complete the work at home. Sometimes grout just needs a bit longer to dry...

After that successful, if tiring day, the week went rapidly downhill, due to that blight of modern life, computers. Boyfriend is a genius with computers; if it can be done he can do it. It’s not his job, just an obsession. So when I purchased this lovely little shuttle computer, I knew he would build it and set it up for me.

Which he did, super! Then he installed Windows 7 and the problems started. Don’t get me wrong, Windows 7 worked just fine, until I tried to get all my old files over.

Years ago I used to keep all my students and contacts details on record cards, and that worked fine. But I was seduced by computers. You can store everything on me they said, less room, less mess, update whenever you like... So now all my contacts are in Outlook Express. Email addresses, phone numbers, and most important of all those little notes that remind me who people are, where I met them, which classes they have attended before.

But Outlook Express cannot be easily transferred to Outlook (the more advanced version of the same program). And Outlook Express cannot be used with Windows 7; indeed it is now obsolete and will only be supported for another 3 years or so. After about two days of trying very clever stuff indeed, boyfriend had to concede that all he could do is get some basic email addresses across. No formatting, no details, just addresses. “This is NOT normal!” Said boyfriend, pointing at my complex filing system and billion or so sub-folders, as I started on my third sulk of the day.

I am not sure at what point I lost it: Not when I found that all my Outlook Express details couldn’t be transferred. Not even when I discovered that my graphics program Paint Shop Pro 8 is unsupported by Windows 7. I think it was when I discovered all of my word files had been converted into ‘Read Only’ files for no apparent reason other than it darn well felt like it.  Super, every type of work I do on the PC, now ground to a complete halt.

“Microsoft are ruining my life!” I sobbed. With the unfinished studio, a house stuck in 70’s d├ęcor hell, Christmas looming and our lovely new cat happily kicking cat litter everywhere as the vet says he must stay indoors until the next set of injections, I just can’t deal with the computer imploding too.

Boyfriend just sighed... he has seen it all before apparently. He had of course kept a copy of all my old hard drive, for the time being I am back on Windows XP, on my old PC.

Finally we have had snow here, not as bad as Scotland where people got stuck in their cars in sub zero temperatures for over 15 hours...

But enough to freeze the river Stour in places!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Feline Happy...

It finally happened, a cat chose us! We went to the animal rescue sanctuary last week, and wandered amongst the mud, kennels, runs and myriad of animals, everything was there, including chickens, rodents, dogs. We were met by the ‘meeter and greeter’ cat Boff, a tailess tabby who did a good job of showing us in. Then a nice lady took us to the first run. Boyfriend tried to make friends with a very scared looking fluffy tabby, but I was determined to stick to my rules: One cat only. Short haired. Friendly. Absolutely no neurotic, grumpy cats coming home with me. Most of the other cats in that run were nervous wrecks or spoken for, so on we went to run two. “I’m afraid all the cats here are in pairs” said the nice lady. “There is that little black cat” said the owner, passing by, “it’s very friendly.”

Out came the little black cat, pausing to stretch its back legs in a totally unconcerned manner before allowing us to make a big fuss of it. Perfect. When a dog wandered past the run it took a quick swipe at it with its paw. I liked it already. But there was bad news: “I am afraid the owners handed it in because it is pregnant” said the lady. “Don’t worry, we can re-home any kittens” she added. Easy to say, much harder to get a sobbing teenager to part with a litter of adorable kittens I thought. Then suddenly some luck. “Wait a second,” said the nice lady, peering at the backside of the cat... “It’s a boy!”

Well, the vet confirmed it; a boy, and already neutered. What luck! The animal centre had called him Snake for reasons unknown, green eyes perhaps, but Boyfriend and the Teen have re-named him Gimlet. His somewhat bloated stomach has since been diagnosed as a very bad case of worms, and he has had a tablet to get rid of them.

Gimlet has proved to be adorable, even tempered, affectionate and if not exactly a lap cat, then certainly a sit next to people whilst stretching out to take up half the sofa cat. The first evening he was with us it was like he had gone to cat heaven, after living in an outdoor run with minimal contact he found himself in warm house, with new toys and 3 humans making constant fuss of him. Even concerted efforts by boyfriend to tickle his feet and endlessly wind him up have failed to turn him into a psychopath.

All week I have been trying to take photos of him with limited success. He is so black, the sofa is black and he automatically shuts his eyes when the flash goes off which looks like this:

In the midst of all this cat fuss, final touches on the studio are happening, although very slowly due to bad weather, and boyfriend working long hours. But the new workbench is finished!

It is already proving invaluable, firstly to finish the pastel dogs portrait I have been commissioned to paint by one of my students,

and today it is covered with equipment I am preparing for teaching a one day mosaic course tomorrow, (weekend, what weekend?)

And finally on the art front, I have just received the first copies of my illustration work from the paper models company. Big Ben! It’s so tiny and cute, I will give one to the teen to assemble, she likes that sort of thing...

Monday, 15 November 2010

Just a quick link

Meant to post this link last time, but forgot so here it is:

A post by Welsh artist and Blogger Judy Adamson. Judy kindly asked myself and 6 other artists why we use 'real' art materials, rather than work digitally, as is the trend nowadays. The answers are surprisingly similar, and the post provoked strong debate...

Seven artist's reasons not to go digital

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The end is nigh!

 No, not the end of the world, the end of my studio build. I have actually been working in the studio this week, although mainly on computer/paperwork. The heater has not been quite sufficient for the size of the building: I have been putting it on timed for 6am and starting work at 8am, but the studio is not warm enough until about lunchtime.

We have therefore ordered an extra plug-in heater, which I hope will supplement the warmth during the colder months. The studio is well insulated and dry, plus it warms up quickly when the sun comes out, so in the warmer months it should be cosy.

There is a myriad of minor finishing jobs to do, including painting, cushions etc, but the main jobs remaining are to get the sink connected with real water, and build the large work table that I will do artwork at. The table is designed to have paintings, browsers, large rulers etc stored underneath. Due to it's height I will work on a draftsmans high stool. After a few frustrating days when we were unable to start due to the appalling weather (the table saws need to be used in the garden), work finally got underway.

The frame is huge, and we have already considered that it could just be used to make a cage for teenagers, during any bouts of whinging/bad behaviour/being stupidly noisy, but tempting as that option is, I do need somewhere to paint.

So work continues, and should be complete in the next two or three weeks. Meantime at least I have the paperwork organised, which is good as I am starting to work out next years classes. It may be November but I am already planning spring and summer next year.

As for artwork, I am out of my comfort zone again, having been commissioned to draw a pair of cute little Jack Russells by one of my students in charcoal. Considering it's about 30 years since I last drew a dog its not going too badly, but time only time will tell...

Friday, 5 November 2010

No more moaning...

Just a quick post today; as promised the photos from last weeks Saturday Class. I don't usually get my camera out on a Saturday, but everyone did so well I couldn't resist a few quick snaps. The subject was Night Pictures in Pastel, to be completed on dark coloured paper. I have to say, whenever we do pastels there is more than the odd moan: "I don't like pastels..." "I am no good at pastels..." "But they are so messy..."

Well class, in future I am not listening to the moaning, as the evidence shows that you are fabulous at pastels!

Check out these great pieces of art:

A charming atmospheric piece;

There's nothing like a sunset in the snow;

 The long arm of the law shows a surprisingly sensitive touch;

Wow, perfectly spooky for Halloween;

One of the most experienced artists in the class shows Van Gogh leanings;

Plumber by day, accomplished marine artist by weekend;

Another successful snow scene for this student;

The matriarch of the group shows the youngsters how it is done;

A seascape of Malta's Valletta harbour at night, beautifully executed;

 And finally, a stunning local sunset;

Well done class, see you tomorrow!

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Arrived Safely!

Well I did it. I moved in with my poor unsuspecting boyfriend... The week of the move was exhausting, the week after the move was exhausting, and much time was spent trying to find a home for stuff. For a standard British 3 bedroom home this one is surprisingly roomy, although its probably about the size the average American uses to keep half a dozen chickens in. Still by local standards it's spacious, what it does not have however is storage. Cupboards, none, kitchen, nothing to speak of, DIY jobs outstanding, several billion: at least we won't be bored.

Wow, is that an art studio I see at the bottom of my garden? How convenient...

Still, we have got it into some kind of temporary order and the living together thing is going fine, I feel very at home here, probably helped by the fact that the house was not new to me, boyfriend having moved in a few months before me. The trick to living together I have decided is just to be gracious sometimes. For example, when my boyfriend explained to me this week that he had reversed his car into mine on our very narrow drive, and that it was my fault for 'parking too far forwards', I immediately apologised. It was, I admitted,very careless of me to strike the back of his car with mine, particularly as I was sat on the sofa indoors at the time. I was watching that show on the Sky nature channel: When Stationary Cars Attack. Anyhow no damage was done to the car, and I happily stored the experience away for future use when I reverse into his car, men being so understanding about matters involving their vehicles.

The teen was grumpy and overly dramatic about in the time leading up to the move, but she was away when the big move took place, so we ensured her room was straight and as soon as she saw all her old furniture and books she was perfectly happy, and immediately set about her favorite occupation; doing nothing.

A few days after I moved in the paper models company who used me for some illustrations last month gave me another commission, so it was back to working on the dining room table again, frustratingly the whole time I was working I could see my new (not ready) studio at the end of the garden! The commission this time was Norwich Castle, which I thought would be a doddle, it just being a big square. I couldn't have been more wrong, it is neither square, nor symmetrical; not a window or an arrow slit is in the same place on any of the sides, plus several parts of it I couldn't even find a photo for, not even on trusty Google maps. Time for some artistic license...

Here is a picture of a front detail, this is just one tiny part, the areas where the paint has bled out are for tabs which will secure the model together:
No castle is complete without a few characters, here is my peasant:
I also produced a jester, knight and maiden. You won't believe the stuff that comes up on Google Image search when you type in Medieval Maiden. But in the end I managed to make mine look chaste, not slutty...

Once the commission was done it was back to painting the studio with emulsion, while boyfriend attended to yet more cupboards and fittings. Its not done yet but so far we have:

Blinds at the windows:
A sink, as yet unconnected to water:
Worktop and shelves:
And a corner bench seat with lift up lid for storage:

Currently we are fitting the alarm system, then computer and finally a large work-table with built in storage underneath for drawing boards and paintings. Then it's just a small matter of catching up with 6 months work.

This week I also took part in the 'Big Draw' which aims to get people all over Britain picking up a pencil. I was based at Colchester Castle, and despite a horrid rainy day, half-term ensured a never ending stream of children and a few adults to have a go with dip pen and ink. The ink was permanent so I put it into tiny glass eyeshadow containers, which work fantastically as small, safe ink wells.

This was my work area, it took some time for my my eyes to adjust to the dark 'museum lighting', the photo makes it look a lot brighter than it was:
I was on the upper floor with a great view over the roofspace:
I would love to show you a photo of all the kids working, but as I have lamented on this blog before, one cannot innocently snap photos of kids nowadays, 'tis not the done thing. However, one nice lady let me take a photo of her daughter's drawing; I cannot remember the young girls name but hi, and thanks so much for participating on Tuesday!

At the end of a busy week I was faced with preparing for my Saturday class, 'Night pictures in Pastel' was the subject I happily set a few months ago... of course Thursday evening saw me in the usual last minute panic, desperately trying to take photos in the dark, leaning on the roof of my car for stability, with a grumpy teen who I had just collected from the bus station. The teen wanted dinner, not a tour around town with her crazy mother apparently...

However I got some good photos and this was my favourite: (No that's not a lake in front of the church, it's the reflection of the roof of my car!)
It was a good subject for Halloween as it turned out and the class did amazingly well, I will be posting photos of their efforts in a few days. Now its back to the studio, it really does feel like we are on the home run, I cannot wait until it is finished.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Just before I go...

Where am I going? About a mile up the road. Yes this is my last post before the big move... My computer goes offline on the 1st of October, and my internet access will be somewhat limited after that date for a week or two. For those who know me personally, my phone number will remain unchanged... for anyone who emails me: all my mail is routed through Google mail, so I will get your email, there may just be a little delay in me picking it up and replying.

The studio is not finished, the house I am leaving is a big mess, the house I am going to is a big mess, but we are all consoling ourselves with the fact that it should all be improvements from now on. Its also the start of a new life, and an end to living alone with  my daughter, and a beginning of a new era where I no longer have sole control of the TV remote (welcome to documentaries on Engineering Big Things with Steel.) The teen is coping with the move by being more disorganised and hormonal than ever, but hopefully she will settle down when she realises her room has the best view in the house! I am looking forward to having a studio, it looks wonderful, even in its unfinished state, also to having a dedicated sewing area to feed my other obsession. Most of all I am looking forward to moving in with my wonderful boyfriend, the only man who ever really believed in me, both as a person and an artist, and who never tells me what to do (he just looks exasperated a lot.) 

In order to consolidate this new family based lifestyle, we will soon be welcoming a new family member... yes its time to adopt a CAT! I have lived with cats my whole life until four years ago when my dear Brian (female, don't ask), a lovely gentle black and white puddy cat passed away. Boyfriend simply adores cats so as soon as we get a spare moment we are off to the rescue centre to let a cat choose us. 

Apologies for the lack of photos, I have no time to upload any. See you after the move!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

An illustrated life...

Being outrageously short of blogging time in recent weeks, I have at least been taking lots of photos. So here it is... the last 3 weeks in images (and a little text!)

The one day watercolour skies course at Gainsborough’s House goes well; we start looking at simple plain skies, move on to clouds.
After lunch we attempt to find that ever-elusive beast, the perfect watercolour sunset. First I demonstrate a couple:

Then the class have a go:

A new student and ex-gallery owner from Cambridge had a moment of epiphany; “I simply haven’t been using enough paint!” Proof that there is nothing like a demo to really make sure the techniques are understood.

The Saturday classes being suspended until the new term in September, I assume the class are enjoying a well deserved break from art... until I start hearing rumours of impromptu meetings, picnics, and even alcohol! Forced to investigate I head off with my camera; it’s true! The art class have escaped and are roaming around Long Melford, I find them near the churchyard, squeals of laughter helping me locate their position. 

Thanks for the free lunch guys!

Work on the studio continues. The decking is finished, along with railway sleeper steps...

 Lights get fitted, spotlights at the rear where my computer will go, and two hanging lights at the front where I will paint...

A worktop is installed and the cupboards started...

And my favourite thing so far, a small but perfectly formed hanging system on the left hand wall, to display the artwork I might one day find time to start making again.

Back in the house, the littlest bedroom continues its transformation into sewing/computer room with worktops and cupboards.
The corner cupboard separating my sewing area from boyfriends computer area was a genius idea if I say so myself. I am obsessively neat, and he is well, male. This gives me a barrier. It would have been like Israel and Palestine all over again, but with sarcastic post-it notes... Now it’s more like the Berlin wall, prior to all that overrated re-integration business.

 The teen returns from her travels, with laundry in tow. Yes, these used to be socks. I thought about washing them, but decided to have them humanely destroyed. Must explain to daughter – SHOES go in between mud and socks.

I had vowed to only keep up with urgent work, and teaching, the big clear-out and box packing taking up all my time. But then, with great serendipity, and appalling timing, an illustration commission lands in my lap! Unlike just about every other professional, amateur or just plain hopeful artist I have ever met I have never wanted to ‘illustrate a children’s book’; realising that the number of children’s books published per year is probably in the hundreds, whereas the enthusiastic would-be illustrators of these books seems to number several billion. I have done a little illustrating in the past, however, and would like to do more.

Illustrating being so hard to get into, and never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I consider the offer, decide I really don’t have time, and say yes anyway. I make a workspace by dumping everything on the floor, and taking over the table. I get the commission late Monday, and the company want it by Friday morning, so no pressure.

The illustration is an exploded view of Big Ben, to be printed on a cut and stick type kid’s 3D cardboard model. 

Also I have to paint four London figures including a punk rocker and Churchill! It must have fun touches and not be too stuffy. The company bring me a to-scale model, an example of another illustrator’s work and plans to work to.

 The scale is tiny and the measurements have to be scaled up. It takes a couple of hours before the random geometric shapes start to make sense and I actually understand what is required of me.  I am suddenly grateful for that year I unenthusiastically studied Technical Drawing at school. 
Part of the side panel (the main body of the building below the clock face).

Most amusing of all is the request that I should portray Boris Johnson on a bicycle. The teen finds this hysterical and for days is wandering around saying “Boris Johnson On A Bicycle!” in a loud voice before cracking up laughing.

I get the commission finished and await collection, the deadlines being too tight for postal submission. The company seem pleased, and tell me it may lead to more work. But whatever happens,  it was fun and great experience, not to mention more than a little out of my comfort zone, which is not a bad thing at all I think. The second my work is out the door, it is back to the packing cases! The house move deadline is seeming shockingly close.