Friday, 28 May 2010

No time to paint

Years ago I read a book by an author whose name I can’t recall, entitled “No time for work”. It was a memoir of an Irishman’s long career of work avoidance, it was very, very wrong, (particularly the time he spent as a teacher,) but incredibly funny.

At the moment though, there seems too much work. So much that I haven’t picked up a brush all week. My summer courses are getting nearer, bookings to be dealt with and preparation, as well as advertising to be done. The first one is nearly fully booked, but the next two are not, so that needs working on. Unable to do Suffolk Open studios due to the impending house move, I have  at least entered a couple of local exhibitions, these as usual require paperwork, submissions, turns taking stewarding etc. This week in addition to my normal Saturday morning class there is a mosaic workshop I am doing in the afternoon. Same venue; teach class, come home, swap equipment, go back. Of course it’s nice to be busy, but there is little time to paint, or to catch up with the internet work and website updates I need to do.

At my class last week someone bought in a photo to work from, I was rather taken by it. Not the photo itself you understand, but the fact that it was laminated. I have never been a fan of the recent obsession to encase everything in plastic, but I am having a lot of trouble keeping the photos I use for classes in good condition. My Saturday class has 13 students, and about just over half the time we work from photos. I never use them for still life or flowers, but they are necessary for boats, landscapes etc. And I am afraid they get spoiled. I don’t blame the class, I have done it so many times myself, water or paint splashes and splatters, and there goes another photo that was costly to print, or that was saved from a long discarded magazine. So this morning my new laminator arrived from Amazon, and now I can begin the process of laminating about a zillion pictures.

This coincides with the arrival a few days ago of my super new filing cabinet for the studio. It is currently in the front room downstairs; I can’t be bothered to drag it upstairs to my office when I move so soon. It is not normal apparently to be so enamored by a filing cabinet, but for someone who loves organisation as much as me, it’s the best thing in the world. So all the old files are being sorted out, labels are being made and it will soon contain business, car, household paperwork and the new laminated photos, in categories obviously. So that is adding extra work, and lets not even mention the tax return…

My friend R visited this week, she is a proper (school) art teacher. “Students,” she said “Drain you of your creative energy” Well I love my students, and enjoy teaching, but it’s an interesting thought.

One of my favorite sayings at home is “I bet Van Gogh didn’t have to deal with this sort of crap” and I said it again when I discovered my daughter had spilled half a bottle of shampoo over her karate suit/sports bag. From an early age I have taught her that spills must be dealt with immediately, so of course she left it all weekend without telling me. Long enough for the brown belt (yes she is surprisingly good) to seep its colour onto the karate trousers. It doesn’t help that the washing machine has died and I am now driving laundry over to the new house 3 times a week.

And on the subject of teenagers, they are often underestimated in terms of how resourceful they can be. So here is a tip for teens, learned last week from my own clever daughter: It is important for teenagers at all times to have access to computer games and other virtual entertainment, lest they be forced to spend too much time in the real world (boring.) If the batteries to your Wii Sports Resort remote should run out, be aware that you can swap them for the ones in your parent’s new cordless computer mouse. Wait ‘til they are out obviously. Whilst you are in the office help yourself to any stuff you need like sellotape etc. Don’t worry if the batteries you put in are leaking that acid stuff, just remember the teenage mantra (deny everything, deny everything.) This will save you the exhausting business of working out how the battery charger works, and give you some additional entertainment, as your irate parent tries to work out what on earth is up with the mouse, and why the sellotape has disappeared again.

So with an office that looks like an explosion in Staples, a teenager on a mission to send me insane, laundry problems, and no time to paint there is only one thing to be done. Book a course. I always do this when I need to re-charge creatively and just find time to put paintbrush to paper. So on Tuesday I am doing a screen-printing taster day (I have never done screen printing ever, so should be fun), and next month I am doing a short garden painting course, I go most years, to the artist who taught me to paint. Because attending classes is relaxing and inspiring, but teaching them, whilst rewarding, is hard work.

The good news this week is that we have had the go ahead from the planners to put the new studio up. A base must first be laid though, and sadly my boyfriend is also too busy working. His company has put him on 12 hour night shifts and all he does is eat, sleep and repeat himself a lot (sleep deprivation.)

Well I knew this summer would be trying, so I am keeping a picture in my head: Beautiful new garden studio, organised filing system and an lock to keep out teenagers, erm I mean intruders…

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Squirrel Portraits

As a kid I only drew two things (in Biro): pop stars and animals. I was good at animals. Recently though, animals have been fraught with difficulty. It’s because I specialize in watercolour; there is something about the medium that just doesn’t say fur. I think it is no coincidence that most of the successful wildlife artists use oils or pastels. It’s the brush or pastel strokes you need. I am sure that there are watercolour artists who specialise in animals, but the ones I have seen use semi-abstract fluid marks with great simplicity. But if you are going for realism and detail, pure watercolour is difficult. I have had success with birds; the crisp edges of watercolours do feathers a treat.

Then there is the fact that I don’t particularly like a lot of the bigger animals. I understand paintings of majestic lions and tigers sell well, but I don’t really feel any empathy for large smelly mammals with sharp teeth and bad breath. I rather like little things, frogs, fish, butterflies, stuff that hangs around my garden with no intention of eating me. Of course I have been tempted to try wildlife art, there is no doubt it sells well, but it isn’t easy to get copyright free photos. And my budget barely stretches to a day at Mersea Island and an ice cream, I can’t just pop off on Safari. 

Reading an article on a top wildlife artist a few months ago I was interested to see he had an arrangement with a photographer. Unwanted shots were purchased copyright free for a few quid, what a good idea! Well you might be wondering what all this wildlife musing is leading to… in a nutshell (pardon the pun) it’s squirrels; or to be more particular the squirrel in the picture above. This particular squirrel is one of several who visit my boyfriend’s father’s house. They jump up to the window sill and wait for the walnuts that are handed out from an open window, its very sweet to see, and a perfect photo opportunity. So when I found a gorgeous squirrel photo that boyfriend had taken, I couldn’t resist trying to paint it, despite previous dodgy offerings with fur and watercolour.

I started with a background of pure watercolour washes, keeping it splashy and softening the edges where it met the fur. Then I built up the squirrel, starting with watercolour, moving on to watercolour pencil, which I built up in layers and softened with water, and finished with Gouache, using both black and white (not generally in my palette) and a rough, dry brush to build up the fur effect. It was not my intention for it to be a fine art piece, the best I thought it might be worthy of was a t-shirt or a mug on my merchandise store. But actually I am very pleased with it, and may even put it into a frame. Its given me a new appreciation for wildlife art too, its really labour intensive. I think I will do a few more animals in the future; after all I used to be good at them. The teen is unimpressed, it looks, she says “like a rat”.

Often the difference between success and mediocrity for artists is just a bit of luck. So I am hoping for a lucky break. All it takes now is for Lady Gaga or Paris Hilton to get a pet squirrel and my new career as rodent portrait artist will really take off. Then I will be able to afford that safari.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Best foot forwards…

When I was at school I was very happy to be double jointed. I would push my thumb down level with my arm to amazed and disgusted exclamations from classmates. Yoga classes were fun too, it was cool to be flexible.

But then when I was 22 I found a lump on my foot and the doctor pronounced bunions, which I thought only old people got. Deformation of the bone, caused by soft ligaments not supporting the foot properly… perhaps being double jointed was not such fun. By my late 20s my feet were painful, deformed and a real nuisance. Only ugly boots fitted and eventually I decided on surgery. Doing one foot at a time, with a 6 month gap, the bones were broken (local anaesthetic), re-set with metal pins and I hobbled about on crutches for nearly four months each time.

Well now my feet are fine, but I must be careful, as it is a problem which can return. And more importantly it can be hereditary. The teen can do the thumb trick too. So despite my generally broke single mum status, shoes are not skimped on, they must be leather and good quality. So when my daughter wandered in from school this week and announced “My shoes don’t fit” (looking about her as if a pair might magically appear), I resigned myself to spending the equivalent of a weeks food money at the local quality shoe shop.

The teen’s feet were measured, and pronounced to be size 5.5 (the same as mine) and we asked to see some school shoes. “We don’t have any that size” said the shop assistant with the carelessness that only lack of competition in a small market town can engender. With no time to get to a bigger town, I decided to order from Clarks online, my favourite shoe store. Except Clarks refuse to sell school shoes without fitting them, and will only send them to the nearest shop which is Colchester, half an hour away. I fire off an email to Clarks pointing out that my daughter is nearly 15 and knows when her shoes are too tight, besides this is an adult size! But I am out of options, so order the shoes.

Meantime, despite being behind with work, I accept an invitation from my friend D to go and paint for the day. I take along the painting of a boat at Snape Maltings I am working on. I am unhappy with it, and it is not going well. “Hmm says D, you have done the water too dark, and now you are fighting to resolve the rest” He is right of course, but I try to increase the tonal values, to at least get it looking reasonable. Whilst we paint, D enthuses about an exhibition he has seen at the Minories gallery in Colchester. “You simply must see it” he says, showing me the catalogue. Ah well, I can go when I pick up the school shoes I think. At the end of the day, D thinks my painting is not one of my best, “But you have improved it” he says hastily. “Don’t spend too much longer on it, it’s making you unhappy” he says perceptively.

So off to Colchester I go. It’s the last place I want to be on a Saturday afternoon, when I have worked all morning. It should take about 25 mins, but an hour and many traffic jams later we finally park. We pick up the school shoes from Clarks, served by a teen who looks barely older than her customer. “Do you want to try them on or anything?” She says in a disinterested voice, making me even madder that they wouldn’t send them by post. Then it is on to the shops and an attempt to get my daughter who has the complexion of a Nordic milk bottle to have a sun hat. But she doesn’t like any. She picks a floral one for me though, and I am unsure if she thinks it suits me, or she just wants to make me look stupid. But I buy it anyhow because I like it. The teen is by now too hot, bored, tired, starving hungry, her legs hurt and her jumper itches. I realise any attempt to drag her round an art gallery will be met by advanced sabotage in the form of loud sarcasm and whinging. She does like private views, but mainly for the cheese straws. In the end I pacify her with a chocolate bar and we head home. I will have to try to make the exhibition another time…