Thursday, 29 April 2010

Unintentional publications!

A couple of days ago I learned the importance of thinking before you press computer buttons. To be honest it’s a lesson I never seem to learn. Whilst very busy I have been working intermittently on an article about a commissioned watercolour I finished a couple of weeks ago. The article is up on the Squidoo site, and one of the best things about Squidoo is you don’t have to publish until you have got it just right.

Unless you stupidly hit ‘Publish’ when you meant to hit ‘Save Draft’ of course. So after a 3 hour panic where I was forced to finish it at speed, here it is: 

Read my diary of a watercolour commission here

This is the painting I did, and the article tells the story of how it came to be. 

In addition to the usual trying to paint, arguing with teenagers, and in vain efforts to keep on top of the paperwork… I did a mosaic workshop on Saturday for a private birthday party.

Initially I had not been keen to do it, as it was a Saturday I should have been running my usual class, also it was some distance away, and there is an awful lot of stuff to cart about for mosaics, not to mention the health and safety implications when working with broken crockery, the stuff is lethal, and easily as sharp as glass. However, mistaking my lack of enthusiasm for skilful bargaining the gallery owner offered me more money, and in the end it was arranged. The mosaic technique I practice is called Pique Assiette, which means ‘picked plate’ in French, and refers to the idea of making mosaics from found materials and broken crockery etc, and it is becoming more popular, as people take more interest in recycling. And to be honest it’s a whole lot more interesting than those little ready made glass tesserae you get.

My friend and Saturday student Sarah had volunteered to come and help me, which was very kind of her. She was keen to learn the technique, and I picked her up at 8am (ouch!) Saturday morning. On arrival we learned that the workshop was for a lady who didn’t know what she was coming too, just that it was something crafty. A group of 10 friends came in, men and women about equal numbers, and they were all in high spirits. I provided them with wooden bases, and we set about making plaques. There was not time to grout the work but they produced some super stuff, and I left them with instructions on how to finish off at home. We shared some of the buffet lunch and another artist arrived to do mixed media painting with them in the afternoon. By this time wine had begun to flow and they were all very happy when we left them. Apparently every time someone in the group has a birthday they do a different activity, what a fabulous idea! Unfortunately the group made it clear I was not to put their photos on the internet, but I am sure they will not mind me posting a photo of the delightful plaques they made, all ready to grout. The most unusual one was the chap who made a rugby ball and some red roses for England! Sarah’s is the pretty red heart with white background, here is a close up of it:

Friday, 23 April 2010

Planning on planning

The last couple of weeks we have been thinking about the new studio I want. A builder who was two and a half hours late, (always a good sign) quoted us just below every last penny we have for the project. The quote was for a brick building with a flat roof (budget restrictions) and it didn’t sound attractive.

An architect visited and pointed out several things the planners may object to including nearby bridleways and trees. He suggested a wooden building instead and offered to put a quote in for an initial survey with recommendations. He never actually submitted this.

Meantime I scoured the internet for wooden buildings. Most were much like sheds, and I feel the cold, besides I have no intention whatsoever of suffering for my art. A few were proper studios, very modern, companies based in London, costing about 10k per sq metre. Then at last, a reasonably priced company, selling large wood cabins and offices with nice thick insulation and double glazing. The nearest showroom was Bedford, and on Sunday we drove out. I was pleased with the cabins and found one I liked.

Wednesday was spent filling out the form you fill out to see if you need planning permission. This involved drawing a to-scale plan of the house, garden and surrounding areas. Despite my CSE in Technical Drawing this was not an easy task, mainly due to the difficulty of measuring the garden, which is far from square, with several inaccessible areas due to big shrubs. We notice that neighbours have also taken advantage of the previous elderly occupant to pinch a foot of land behind the garage.

Late afternoon I pay over a fiver to guarantee next day delivery. “It’s only going to Hadleigh” mutters the lady at the post office. But I know better than to underestimate the council’s ability to lose stuff and claim never to have received it. Just to make me feel like I am getting value for money, I log on to the Post Office website next day, where apparently I can enter a number and track my package. “This service is currently unavailable” says the website.

But I needn’t worry, an email turns up from the planners, acknowledging receipt and assuring us they will try and reply within 4 weeks. But it may be longer due to ‘Other service demands’ The letter ends with ‘we look forward to receiving your cooperation’ which sounds like a phrase the Chinese government might have used to tell you they intend to knock down your house to build the Olympic village.

Years ago I worked as a clerk at East Herts District Council planning dept. It was in the ‘80’s, and the strength of the Civil Service Union meant that the management had little luck in making anyone do any work, particularly if it meant lifting anything heavier than a paperclip. On a Friday everyone had saved up their flexitime for a two and a half hour pub lunch at the local which sold fruit wines strong enough to kill rats. Occasionally I was left to cover reception. Irate people would phone, demanding to speak urgently to planners and building control officers. I could hardly tell them that the entire building was at the pub, and when they came back they would be in no condition to speak to the public.

Lets hope things are more efficient at the planning department nowadays, but as my boyfriend points out, if it takes over four weeks for them to tell you whether you need to apply for planning permission, how long in heavens name does it take for actual planning permission?

Friday, 16 April 2010

Planes, Trains and Van Gogh

In the middle of an exceptionally busy time for me, on Sunday, a day off! The date had finally come round for my friend and student Sarah and I to go to London to see the exhibition: “The real Van Gogh, the artist and his letters.” We had tickets for the Royal Academy, and they were timed entry, so we needed to be there at 2pm. Generally I ignore my local town train station and drive to Colchester. It is only 20 minutes away, and that way I can get straight on the fast train to London. But not this time; due to the line maintenance there were no direct trains running. So it was train from Colchester to Witham, bus to Billericay, train to Liverpool St London, then two tube trains. 

But we made it. The rooms were quite dimly lit, to preserve the letters, which were displayed, often next to the paintings they refer to. They were not translated in full, but nevertheless they were fascinating. The first thing that struck me was the fact that nearly all contained sketches. Some were studies, or illustrations of things seen, most in pen, some coloured, one contained a picture of the brushes Van Gogh wished his brother to buy, amazingly brush design appears to have not changed in over 100 years. In an age before cameras, Vincent would draw a small thumbnail sketch of his latest painting to show his brother.

The exhibition was arranged in rooms, in chronological order. The first room contained many of Vincent’s attempts to master proportion and perspective, and his letters detailing the making of a device, a frame with crossing wires, which he is delighted has helped him. You can still buy little Perspex versions of these in art shops. In fact the first painting Sarah and I look at is a still life on a table, the perspective is definitely out. How reassuring to know that someone so talented struggled like the rest of us.

A phase follows where complimentary colours are explored: “No blue without yellow and without orange” writes Vincent. A stunning still life of oranges on blue illustrates how complimentary colours glow. Another painting, designed to showcase pink roses against a blue and green background, has faded to white flowers, as the paint used was not stable. I wonder if it was Alizarin Crimson, a notoriously fugitive pigment. We modern painters are lucky to have new replacements. It’s only just over a hundred years, and it’s a completely different colour. I feel suddenly justified in being so fussy about my paints. It’s one of the reasons I don’t do much collage, although I love it, I can’t bear to think of the inevitable fading…

Other rooms contained portraits, sketches inspired by Japanese woodblock prints and many more letters. I was struck by a rare letter in English to an acquaintance in the country. The letter is beautifully composed with excellent grammar, by someone who is often portrayed as coarse and uncouth. It seems the real Van Gogh was rather more cultured. Books read by Van Gogh were displayed, including one I have read myself (The Christmas Books by Dickens) and there is an overwhelming sense that reading and writing were in a way as important as painting.

Overall the exhibition was worth the long journey, and the fact that as is always the case at such popular exhibitions, quiet contemplation was impossible, there being at all times elbows, rucksacks and tall people to squeeze between. I am left wondering about the connection between the need to paint and the need to write. In a modern age would Van Gogh have been on Blogger, or facebook? It’s an amusing thought. Not as amusing as the text I get from my daughter on the way home… “Actually I am very clever and I know who Van Goth is he painted sunflowers and people I think”

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Insure yourself: a cautionary tail

A couple of weeks ago I had an unpleasant experience. It started when one of my closest friends forgot my birthday. But that wasn’t unpleasant, my birthday is just after Christmas, and someone always forgets it, and like everyone I occasionally miss a birthday too, so I thought nothing of it. And when, a few days later she offered to buy me lunch to make up for it, I was positively pleased she had forgotten. I will crawl across broken glass for a nice lunch out.

“I have got you the best present” said my friend L as I tucked into Italian salad, and went on to explain that she had put in a word for me at the business centre where she works, and they wanted to display my art on the walls. This was good news indeed, I am not stuffy about where I display my work, and have had more sales from cafes and offices than smart galleries. There is something about people having time to ‘get to know’ a painting that makes them more likely to buy.

The receptionist seemed to be in charge of sorting it out, so I arranged to take a painting to show her, although I soon discovered that the reception job was shared between several people. The offices were large with a reassuring security button entrance, past the reception area, no access to the general public. They were modern and clean, with large hallways and a hireable conference room. Receptionist 1 liked my work and asked me to bring in as much as I like.

Over the next couple of weeks I retrieved paintings from here and there, in order to rotate the ones I had out, and have enough to display at the business centre, the paintings were cleaned, wrapped for transportation, new ones were labelled and they were logged out in the book I use to keep track of them. 3 small posters were designed and laminated to give information on the artwork. 12 paintings were taken to the business centre where receptionist 2 was delighted to receive them, and as I left was arranging to have them hung.

2 weeks later I bumped into L at the gym, asking her how the paintings looked, I was disturbed to find that they had not hung them yet. I phoned the centre. Receptionist 1 answered and asked frostily if the work was insured.  I explained that my insurance only covers properly curated gallery exhibitions, and that she should check to see if the centre’s insurance covered them. I asked her to phone me straight back. Another week went by and my daughter scribbled a phone message back on my desk. The work is not insured it said, please contact us. (On the plus side the teen took a message!)

Now it is not that insurance is unimportant, or that they should not have raised the issue. But it should have been raised at the initial meeting. They left my work laying around in a back room without contacting me, time is most definitely money (as is petrol) and they have wasted mine.  Arranging quickly to collect my work, I arrived to meet a new receptionist (number 3.) She was charming and apologetic as she handed me a form; “sorry” she said, “but I can’t give you the work unless you sign a release form” Nice that they were now doing things by the book, and I wondered what would happen if I told them to shove their form. But it wasn’t her fault, and I even resisted signing it “Van Gogh.”

The worst of it is, I think I have been a victim of office politics. Perhaps the good intentions of my friend put someone’s nose out of joint, or one of the receptionists did not like the other one. I temped in offices for enough years to know about the petty vindictive practices that some long term employees thrive on. My three laminated posters have also disappeared, even though I asked for them back.

I am too busy to worry about it at present, and will address the issue of insurance when my new studio is built. Meantime perhaps I will display the work in my favourite local French cafĂ© again. The walls are made of something resembling cream cheese, and the ever changing display of artwork only stays up by a combination of luck, and the fact that gravity has so far been too busy to take an interest. And on the day one of the paintings falls on someone’s head, the owners will no doubt look them in the eye, and explain in the epitome of French politeness (the sort that gives the person they are speaking to no doubt of their inferiority) “Ah oui madam, but I think perhaps you should av choose a different seat, no?”