Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Busman's Holiday

Twice in the last two months I have taken a week off, but being of a control-freak-must-achieve-something-at-all-times disposition I didn't take the time off to laze about. I sometimes suspect I only work to have a rest as days off generally include to-do lists and large amounts of exercise. But this time I had something bigger in mind, namely the hideous 70's fireplace in our lounge:

That photo was taken before we moved in, because a week after that event the delightful object above was in a skip. Sadly we are still living with the shag pile carpet and nasty floral curtains, but one thing at a time...

Firstly we had to have the gap enlarged to fit the little wood burner we acquired on ebay (if it doesn't come from eBay or Ikea it is unlikely to be found in our home), and a nice man charged us a mere several hundred pounds to raise the lintel. Then boyfriend made the concrete hearth and rendered the fireplace with lime plaster, which despite him being trained in such things was a nightmare and more fell off than stuck on. The hoover was permanently out, but eventually it was ready. 

Short pause for discussion about what to tile the hearth with (I won), as I fought to have old fashioned red quarry tiles.  My triumph was short lived as the chap in the tile centre told us you can no longer get them. But can't is not a word I understand so we headed for the reclaim yard up the road and I got what I wanted.

A longer pause then occurred whilst we had another discussion about my idea of making a mosaic around the fireplace. Boyfriend was against this in a big way, his horror when I said it was going to be red too was great, and he reminded me of all those shows on tv when someone has done something mental to their home, de-valuing it instantly.

I stuck my nose in the air, reminded him I was a professional artist and dug my heels in. He gave in and to his credit once he had agreed he resigned himself to it and said not another word. My confidence was somewhat faked though, as I still hadn't come up with a final design, and starting with a little tile I had aquired along my travels dead centre, I basically started making it up as I went along.

Despite wanting my own way with the house, I am sensitive to boyfriend's hatred of anything floral, girly or too ornate so I started with a simple geometric pattern of circles, avoiding too much sparkle. I toyed with squares, but it didn't seem to work and a pattern of decreasing circles in beige, blue-grey and dark brown from the usual mix of broken crockery, tile and bits and pieces emerged.

I took the idea of the gentle curve along the top from the shape of the glass panel in the stove. It was then a matter of filling in the background with some warm red tiles that were hanging about the place, and boyfriend helped by cutting some tricky curved shapes. Then it was just a matter of time, back-ache and wondering why I had started and would I be finished before the new year...

Eventually the tiles were applied, but not yet grouted.  Then it was time for the nice man to return and fit the fire, relieving us of more money. The crazy thing is we were more than capable of doing the work ourselves, but it was cheaper to have a fitter do it (and certify it as safe) than to apply to building regs for inspection.

 The mosaic wasn't finished, but we couldn't resist lighting the fire, and as if by magic, Gimlet appeared and showed his approval.

 Boyfriend, whose taste can always be relied upon (to offend), found us this delightful wood bucket. I think perhaps we can do better... (Back to ebay again)

 Finally it was time to do the grouting, always tricky with such an uneven surface, but I have been making mosaics for years and took my time.

 And there it was finished, boyfriend likes it, I only said 'I told you so' a couple of hundred times and the teen was delighted. She has been banned from touching it, having a love of fires that is a little too worrying. She argued her case well, but I reminded her that people who include the word pyromaniac in one of their email addresses can't expect to be handed matches.

Of course it won't be to everyone's taste, but we are really happy with it, and to have a fire at night to supplement our rubbish boiler is heaven!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Piranhas... 2D

I like to make paintings and prints with sea related themes, but of course everyone gets bored of seahorses and beach huts after a while. So it was clear where I needed to go next... Piranha!

If there is one thing that usually gets me back to the print workshop quicksharp it is an impending exhibition; namely the Gainsborough's House Printmakers at the Edmund Gallery in Bury St Edmunds in December.

Normally I avoid text on lino prints because the fact that you have to engrave the text onto the lino backwards, combined with a graphics program which doesn't have spell check (most of them don't) has in the past led to bad stuff happening. But this time I felt the need and my Piranha prints were born:

Some were put onto printed blue backgrounds...

Some straight onto white paper...

And one, in a new experiment, onto a painted watercolour background:

This worked amazingly well and is more colourful in real life than the photo shows.  I loved the way the colour variations showed behind the flat colour of the lino. Rather than working in layers and cutting away the block (reduction printing) I tried a much faster method of applying the red ink to the lino with a paintbrush. This also worked better than expected, and I now have two new techniques that I will certainly be using again.

Whilst researching Piranha I discovered some interesting facts:

* There are over 50 species of Piranha and most of them are vegetarian (like me!).

* More people eat Piranhas than Piranhas eat people.

* Pirahanas do not generally attack large healthy animals (or people) and are fairly shy, although they can give a nasty bite.

* Piranhas travel in packs, not so they can drag unsuspecting hollywood actors under, but for protection against predators. Yes, stuff eats them (carefully, I suspect).

* Their evil reputation comes from an article President Roosevelt published after a trip to Brazil. The locals wanted to give the president a show, so they blocked off a section of the river, filled it with a shed load of piranha fish, starved them for a few days and shoved an old (and bleeding) cow in the river. The rest is history and the PR of the piranhas has never recovered.

Anyhow, I am pleased with my fishes; fish with teeth are undoubtedly cool! All that was left was to photograph them for internet sale, and to frame one of the best ones for the upcoming exhibition.

In addition to the internet and exhibitions, I will take a couple of these prints to the craft fairs I am attending in December, I think there is a shortage of items at such fairs that appeal to men and boys, and I think my Piranhas might just fill the gap!


Thursday, 4 October 2012

Showing Off

In most jobs, however glamorous or fun they might seem from the outside, it is 98% hard slog which no one ever notices or sees. But sometimes there is a rare opportunity to show off; to make people say "Oh, that's clever!" For doctors it might be that rare and sudden procedure that saves a life. For racing drivers all those hours of tedium on the track pay off when they win that grand prix. For visual artists one of the best ways of showing off is undoubtedly to paint glass or water (preferably both at the same time).

There is something about painting these reflective, transparent, half-there-half-not-there items which people find really impressive. After all, how do you fix something on paper if you can see through it? If it changes colour every time you move your head slightly and reflects a hundred colours.

 Both the above paintings of mine are several years old, they both depict flowers and glass and they are both hanging in my mother's house. Not the biggest art lover in the world, nevertheless, my flower paintings are her favorites, and she obviously likes glass too. I think she actually paid money for the top one. When I was starting out she went through a phase of sneaking into my exhibitions, and buying my work under a false name. She had the best and kindest intentions, but you can imagine how mortified I felt when I discovered the truth about my sales...

Apart from my self confessed wish to show off occasionally, I genuinely enjoy the challenge of glass painting, and having not done any for a while I decided to return to the subject, and combine it with another re-visit: hydrangeas. 

I painted this one a couple of years ago, and it gets very high views on my websites, but I confess I have never been entirely happy with it...

There are some things I was pleased with, but the vase was actually cream, and ended up getting darker and darker as I struggled to get it to look three dimensional. My (at the time) not quite under control addiction to prussian blue (an incredibly strong pigment) meant the leaves were somewhat too dramatic, and took the focus away from the flowers. Finally, and this cannot be seen from the photo, the paper was a creamier colour than I like. A few months later Saunders Waterford made all my dreams come true (easily pleased, me) by launching something called 'high white' paper and I never looked back.

So back to the present day, and the hydrangeas in my garden were starting to turn to autumn colours, and I saw an opportunity to try them again. This time I picked three blooms from the same plant, one still bright summer pink, one faded to pale pink, and one tinged with autumn greens and  reds. 

I put them in a big square vase and did my best to capture the rich greens in the leaves without overshadowing the flowers. It is going into the local Rotary club exhibition next week, so it will be interesting to see if people like it. My students were split, some preferred the earlier painting, but I am definitely happier with the more recent one, I think it is fresher and lighter.

I really enjoyed painting glass again, and if you like to paint I would advise you to try it too, and remember what I tell my students:

"It's transparent, not invisible." If you can see it, you can paint it. And then you can show off... just a little.


Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Last Day of Summer?

It is well known that I loathe the cold, and Winter. There is some pleasantness in Autumn, but after that, as far as I am concerned it is a matter of 'getting through it' until Spring arrives. Having some minor circulation problems the cold also causes me health problems, and increasingly, pain in my hands. 

And it is not just the cold, everything I love goes away; butterflies, flowers, pottering around in the garden picking salad veg and strolling about barefoot. But the worst thing is the lack of light, uninspiring for painting, difficult for photography and making me yawn at 8pm. The days are shorter and like some kind of furry creature I just want to eat pies and sleep.

So when last Saturday I got back from teaching my Art Class to find an appointment-free afternoon, and boyfriend trying to stop himself prodding and fiddling with the lime plaster he had just applied to the fireplace, I said "Let's go somewhere!" The weather was beautiful and it really did feel like this might be the last 'proper' summer day.

Boyfriend had a suggestion: A couple of weeks ago he had been to Leigh-on-Sea near Southend to pick up a second-hand dishwasher we purchased on eBay (Beko, nearly new £53 - bargain!), and had come back enthused with the local coastline.

So off we went, only to find that the local Regatta was on, and half of Essex had turned up:

Finding a parking place was tricky, and the area next to the coast was heaving with people. I do like a market, but this was more the place to find rip off band merchandise and dodgy burgers than vintage finds or local treasures. We fought our way though the locals, catching glimpses of a calmer scene between the local shops and pubs:

Every few minutes a train thundered past, as the railway is very close to the coastline:

And we snapped lots of interesting boat pictures, both big boats...

And smaller ones...

And the most impressive one of all, the home of the Essex Yacht Club apparently! 


Finally we wandered up through steep local parkland and got a great view of the evening light on the water with heathers and plants in the foreground:

It was a great farewell to Summer, and as we drove home the inevitable text message arrived from the teen, who had just arrived home: Where was everyone, and what time would dinner be ready? I waited until we got back before breaking the news that we had already eaten and that perhaps at 17 years old she might manage to cook herself a little something. As she muttered her displeasure and stomped off to raid the fridge of free food and heat it up with free gas, at least she could console herself that the dishwasher would take care of the dirty dishes...

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Beach Huts revisited


Above is one of my most popular paintings, and my biggest sources of regret. 

When I started painting, I just shoved things in frames and attempted to sell them. Sometimes to my surprise, this worked and the paintings went off to new homes. Encouraged I shoved more things in frames and displayed them in more places. This gung ho attitude was, of course, doomed to failure. I began to forget which paintings went where, and begun to feel sad that I couldn't look at the ones that had sold anymore. 

So, systems were put in place; reference numbers, delivery notes, and out came my camera (not a very good one) to photograph the paintings before they sold. More recently in addition to being photographed, my work is professionally scanned, enabling me to turn it into a limited edition print, a card, tea towel or anything I have the time and money to arrange.

I have often said that if I painted beach huts from morning to night I would be a rich person, their popularity never wanes, and the image at the top of the page gets top views on any site I put it on. Sadly though, the low definition image is not good enough to use for prints, and the original painting sold through a gallery in Bury St Edmunds a couple of years ago.

So, business being rather slow this time of year, I decided to unleash the power of beach huts, and revisit the subject of Southwold:

My modest amount of facebook followers seem to like this new painting, but boyfriend, wandering into the studio said "It's not as good as the other one". He is a constant source of encouragement in my life and has unwavering faith in my abilities, unfortunately he is also a man of absolute truth. You ask him "Does my bum look big in this?" at your own risk, because he simply doesn't understand that women do not want a careful assesment and honest answer to this question.

Whether it is better or worse than the first one is hard to say, I could fall back on that old chestnut; 'all art is subjective', but at the end of the day I am fairly happy with it, and not one to repeat stupid mistakes, it is off to my printers for a high definition scan tomorrow.

After that I shall wait to see if the desire of the buying public for all things beach-hutty is still as strong as ever!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

A little online collaboration

Back in the spring, when the idea of self publishing some of my illustrations was just formulating in the back of my mind I received a lovely email from a seller on Etsy called Joy. Joy originally came from Ireland, later moving over to the USA with her husband.

At the time I was toying with the idea (and still am) of self adhesive sheets with images on that could be cut out and used for decoupage. Anyhow, Joy was asking if any of my work might be available in 1 inch stickers, and a little investigation showed me that crafters use these for a number of projects. In America they are often called 'bottle caps' and are used to decorate anything from jewellery pendants to badges and, I assume, bottle caps!

So when I had my first stickers made I sent some over to Joy for free, hoping she would give me some valuable feedback:

Joy was pleased with the stickers, and in return sent me this lovely pendant she had made from one of the moth stickers:

I was of course, delighted with it, and it reminded me of what a lovely business I am in, and how special the people are. After years of working in offices, with their petty backbiting, gossip and general unpleasantness, it is so lovely to be away from all that. Of course in every walk of life you sometimes meet grumpy people, but generally, other people in the arts and crafts world are generous, helpful and always happy to cooperate and achieve something together. 

I am particularly enjoying being on the Etsy site at present, it works wonderfully well, and is a dream to use, which cannot be said of many places on the internet. I am also getting better at taking photos, helped along by my stash of still life items, recently augmented by a gift from a friend of a ton of vintage china. Some of it was broken, and will be used for mosaics, but some of it was just too beautiful to hit with a hammer, so I am making full use of it as photo props. It must be working, because I have sold 2 of these cards online this week:

Now I just have to photograph and list the other cards, and hope that smaller sales such as these (and hopefully some nice feedback) will give people the confidence to buy larger items like prints online. 

Onwards and upwards, and who knows who I will meet along the way!

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Day Tripping

 Last week I did something I rarely do, and took a week off. At amazingly short notice, boyfriend also managed to get the week off. I spent most of the week clearing out cupboards, sorting out the piles of junk in my studio, whilst boyfriend tackled the messy and tricky job of lime plastering the fireplace ready for our wood burning stove. 

But we set a little time aside to head for the coast. Boyfriend loves photography, and photos are important to me for inspiration, painting subjects and of course to give my art students new things to tackle. We started with a little trip to Mistley (above), more river than sea, and more time was spent stuffing icecream than taking pictures if I am honest.

The sailing club was pretty though, and decked out for the olympics.

Then we had a whole day at the coast, starting with Walberswick, which I have not explored much previously:

 I loved the places along the estuary where you can buy fresh fish, although as a vegetarian I don't indulge, they were very picturesque.

My favorite snap was of this boat, just waiting to feature in a childrens illustration I think:

Then we realised we could actually walk across to Southwold, and never being shy of a few miles walk, we set off.

 I have it in my head to paint Southwold beach huts again soon, I did a fabulous painting years ago, and it gets top hits on every website I put it on, problem is, I didn't get it professionally scanned, and my photos are too low in resolution for giclee prints. Of course the original is sold, so this potential money spinner haunts me and has lead to my 'get everything scanned before framing' rule.

We finished off our trip with an evening walk along the front at Aldeburgh, musing on the fact that the same boats are always on the beach, and wondering if anyone ever takes them out?

We were lucky with the weather on our week off, and I am pleased I took the time out. I have become an appalling workaholic in recent months, this recession is no joke when you deal in what is essentially a luxury product, and like most people in this country I am having to run faster and faster just to stand still.

Taking stock after my week out I have a clearer, cleaner house, a tidy studio, we are well on the way to completing the fireplace, and found some lovely tiles in a reclaimation yard for the hearth and some for the kitchen, I visited a bead shop I had wanted to check out for a long time, and picked up some charity shop bargains, and made two new camisole tops on my sewing machine. Best of all though I had time to think, and boyfriend and I finally spent some time together and found time to talk about plans for the house.

There really is more to life than working!

Friday, 10 August 2012

You're my butterfly...

Well it has been over a month since I last posted on my blog, and there is no excuse for my shoddy behaviour, but I will attempt to justify it anyhow...

As well as attending several art fairs and having work in several exhibitions I also had to fit in some painting for the Sudbury Summer Art Show, which I was helping to organise. Here is the Poppy painting I managed to do last minute, whereupon one of my students promptly bought it. Great, but of course, PANIC, not enough new work for the show!
 So I started an even-more-last-minute painting of the railway walk (a popular local stroll):

The exhibition itself was stress personified, 5 of us trying to organise 41 artists. I was in charge (with another lady artist) of sorting out the screens. When we ran out of the specialist hooks that hold the work on the screens two hours before the private view I could have cried. I literally ran to my framers and begged some wire, and we frantically wired the rest of the work to the screens.

The exhibition itself was a triumph in the end, and standards were definately higher than last time (we selected the artists this year). As I strolled round the private view after a quick dash home to change, I felt proud of all we had achieved.

My screen didn't look too bad either:

 In between all this exhibition stuff I have been working with my printers on having some of my paintings made into cards. In addition to this I have also been planning my first self-published illustration work. In the past I have illustrated for other people, but being an illustrator is not the dream job people imagine. It is more about unrealistic deadlines, low pay, loss of copyright and lack of artistic freedom.  So being a control freak, I figured: illustrate my own stuff, keep hold of copyright, and have total control over how it is marketed.

 And after a long wait, where I probably drove my printers to distraction with my requests for samples, changes, new ideas and general pickiness... the stuff was ready! Above are bookmarks and sticker sheets.

Then we have limited edition prints and at a lower price point, A4 posters.

I must admit I was daunted by the box of 1000 tags, all needing to be strung. Where is the teen when you need her? Answer: last heard of in London, feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square with her grandparents and on her way to Buckingham Palace.

Now that most of the contents of my bank account are winging their way to my printers I have a nervous wait, to see how well they sell. The quality is fantastic, and they look good, so I am quietly confident. But then it is probably my stupidly optimistic outlook that keeps me working as a self-employed artist in a recession.

And that lazy cat is no help. Although I love cats, I also love hygene, and in my house there is a 'no beds, no worktops' rule for cats. Everyone knows Gimlet is not allowed on the bed, and Gimlet knows this too. Usually he abides by the rules, but every now and again (just like the teen) he decides to push the boundaries to see what he can get away with.

His favorite trick is to curl up under the bed, with the appearance of being in deep, deep sleep. You prod him, no reaction, you leave the room, and WHAM, two minutes later he is on the bed feet in the air, utterly unrepentant:

 Sadly he has no shame, none at all.