How to be an artist

Making a start

Over the last 15 years, since I began painting again, I have attended a fair number of art workshops, some online and some in person. I’ve watched numerous people on YouTube demonstrating techniques. These workshops can be very helpful in showing how to approach particular materials. I see this as learning how to paint. What I am also interested in helping people learn is how to be an artist.

Teaching Techniques

Let me explain my thinking on this as I feel these two things are very different. Teaching how to create a painting is often about specific materials (acrylics, oils, pastel) or techniques. Whereas learning about being an artist has a number of other dimension. The two I’m going to write about are the process of painting and the process of developing oneself as an artist, on an ongoing basis.

I have about 20 years teaching experience in other fields and I wanted to bring some of the approaches I have used in teaching other subjects to how I teach art. I wanted my teaching to have clearer learning objectives and outcomes, to support the attendees in their learning. The sessions would still be enjoyable and fun, but I felt that to give people a rich learning experience I wanted to do more than demonstrate an approach or technique in making a painting.

Structured Learning

An example is a one day workshop I recently delivered for a local art group. The workshop was an Introduction to Abstract Painting. For this group I had decided to put together a booklet with exercises to be completed during the session. The day began with some questions. The questions were about what type of artist you are. Then we went on to do two exercises on colour mixing and to reflect on what we had learnt. Participants were encouraged to make notes on the process as they were going along. The day was a mixture of this type of structured exercise and reflection, as well as demonstration of techniques for the group to then use in their own paintings. Along with this, I spent time with each person offering them individual coaching on their work.

All my workshops now include reflective questions alongside structured exercises to help people in their learning. I still demonstrate in these sessions but I have also including more input from me in the way of formal teaching and structured experiences. A shift from the workshop being a whole day of me painting and the delegates watching and then learning from watching and asking questions. This is where learning moves outside of how to use materials, how to paint or draw a particular way. Or about composition or colour. There is no doubt that these are key skills to have. For me, learning about being an artist is also about developing authentic artistic sensibility and learning from the process of your own art making. A large part of this is reflecting on the work and learning from what you are doing.

Exploring Pattern

An example of this process in action in my own work is a recent decision to explore pattern. I rarely use regular mechanical styled pattern in my work. I love this kind of pattern in others work and example of this would be the work of Jane Davies american artist. Some pattern does appear in my collage work, particularly quick pieces in my sketchbook, but not in my larger paintings. So, I have set myself the goal to explore this and see how it might begin to appear in my work. I may find that actually there is no place, but this will only come through exploration.

A little bit of pattern top right in a study from the Monochrome Challenge.

I have set up a PInterest board for capturing images of pattern I like. I will be regularly doing small pieces in my sketchbook exploring pattern. I intend to put together in inspiration board for my wall in my studio to keep this top of mind for the next few months. It will be interesting to see how this changes. I have been, and will continue to journal on the experience of using pattern and what I notice about how it shows up in my work. Which is not very often at the moment. This process of exploring is, for me, hugely important in being an artist. Learning and working out what I want to develop in my work. Deciding what and how I want to learn and deciding in a process for that. Some of the key elements in being an artist.

How do I teach or coach people to be an artist?

Firstly I am not prescriptive about what you should do, or how you should do it. My aim is to encourage people who attend my sessions to discover what they need to know about their own ways of making art. With the result of being able to support yourself in your artistic development more effectively. Studio sessions and workshops will have a structure and exercises that are geared to help with this. Coaching will be more exploratory although I will make concrete suggestions on things to do to improve your art practice.

There are three ways you can learn with me. I offer individual coaching sessions which are delivered online. These can be booked either in a block or individually and will very much depend on what you want from the coaching. I offer a free half hour chemistry check where we can discuss your objectives for the coaching. You can book a chemistry check here.

Studio Sessions. These are half day painting sessions at my studio in Buxton for a maximum of two people. For more information see my website page. And you can check out feedback and comments on workshops here.

Finally, my new workshop program is launching in the next few weeks. Sign up here to to keep in touch and find out first about the programme and my exciting new courses for 2020. Or follow me on Facebook and Instagram.

Last Thoughts on the Monochrome Challenge

Fresh work

My last thoughts on the monochrone challenge are that it was fun! I produced a lovely series of small paintings that I am pleased with as examples of fresh, spontaneous abstract work.

What else came out of the experience? Well, it was a bit of a distraction over the summer. The challenge is an example of how I sometimes have a bright idea that I go full stream ahead with filled with enthusiasm, without fully thinking about how it might feel to carry it out. This process is something that shows up for me in life every now and then. It is something I am learning not to do. As August is generally my month off the challenge was a work project that felt like it interrupted really important leisure and down time. The challenge itself was great, the timing was not so good. Something to note and remember for my next project.

What else did I notice? About the work itself, rather than process. There were a lot of very simple compositions. I find that I want to take some of the simplicity of the forms and transfer this kind of idea across to my larger work. This is definitely a direction in which I am heading and noticing this happening in some of my larger paintings.

I also noticed that I began to use some simple patterns in some of the pieces. This is something I have wanted to explore for a while and which I am delighted to see show up in my work. I’m in the process of developing some ideas on how I’m going to do this with more focus and direction. My intention is that it will be a sketchbook project that I will work on over the next few months. Expect to see posts on Instagram and Facebook of the work as it happens.

This whole collection of paintings, there are just under 30 of them as I have sold a few over the summer, stimulated some thinking about anyone who is new to collecting art and where to start. I’m hoping these small paintings might make good starting pieces for someone who is considering buying original art rather than prints or reproductions. The beauty of these small pieces is, as inexpensive works on paper they are not a huge investment for someone new to buying original art and developing their taste. They also look great grouped together in twos, threes or fours to make a larger display with more impact.

You can see all of the paintings from the challenge on my website here. They will also be with me at my next exhibition at the Artist and Designer Fair Buxton Pavilion Gardens on the 23rd and 24th of November 2019 which is my last exhibition before Christmas. Looking for an unusual present? These small paintings could be the ideal Christmas gift.

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Fun Before or Fun After

The main thing I’ve been thinking about this week during the Monochrome Challenge, is the process of completing these small paintings every day. Over the last week I have had a few things on. As a result, painting time has been at something of a premium. This has meant there have been a couple of days when I have not managed to get to my studio until quite late in the evening. Then to be facing the blank page when I was probably tired and not feeling particularly energetic has been difficult. On the days when I have been able to get to my studio early, it has made big difference in the ease with which I have been able to complete the painting and the experience of doing it. My engagement has been very different. This holds true even though these paintings are only small.

This experience has also got me thinking about a broader question in my art practice. Do you/ I paint before or after. Does the fun of painting come before other tasks and work, or does it come after.

Day 19 having fun before.

I know I have something of an Until process. This is lived as “I don’t get to have fun (ie painting) until everything else is done.” What this looks like on a day to day basis is I will write up my To Do list first thing in the morning and not get to my studio Until the main things on it are done. I will often not getting to my art until later in the day, sometimes late afternoon. Then I might be feeling tired, I will often have been pretty busy most of the day and I am definitely not as energised, and possibly not as creative, as I am first thing in the morning.

The focus of the challenge has really highlighted this process to me. It’s got me thinking about how I can work differently to take advantage of my creative energy first thing in the day.

I’m going to need to put in place some simple processes like keeping my To DO list to hand in the studio so I can add to it as I remember things. I think also making an agreement with myself to do the things that are on it that feel like they are both important and urgent. By focusing on priorities I can allow the other things to wait. And knowing that’s ok because getting to my art IS a priority.

I think it is interesting how our personal psychology can sometimes get in our way. What is your work/fun process in life? Do you have fun before or after? Have you needed to make adjustments to support yourself in your art practice?

Colourful Interest

I am at the end of week two of my Monochrome challenge. The challenge I set myself was to complete a small, 10cm x 10cm, abstract painting everyday during August. I could use one colour if I wished. So, how has this second week been? Two big themes this week.

Painting on the Run

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With the Art in the Pen exhibition in Skipton on Saturday and Sunday, there were a couple of days when I wasn’t sure I was going to complete a painting. I had taken a small kit of materials with me to Skipton. This was made up of a small box with black and white acrylic paint on a stay wet palette. I do this by putting a damp cloth in the bottom of an airtight sandwich box. I cover the cloth with baking parchment. The paint then goes on top of the parchment and the moisture from the cloth underneath will keep the paint from drying out.

I also had three brushes, a small palette knife and one single colour. In this case, quinacridone gold which is transparent and fantastic for glazing. the last few bits were a selection of oil pastels all in the brown/orange colour range a charcoal and graphite pencil.

Fortunately Friday morning I was up super early so I was able to complete a piece before we got on the road. It definitely helps my creativity to paint early in the day when my energy is fresh.

Saturday was more of a challenge after a full day of chatting to people and dinner out. However, I got the main ideas down for the piece which felt like enough. The difference in the process of painting between 6am on Friday and 9pm Saturday was huge. Early wins hands down.

Colourful Interest

The second thing I noticed was how much I use colour to provide interest. Which it will do of course. But, this was a monochrome challenge so I decided now I was back in the studio to do the next two or three paintings in black and white and forgo the option of using a colour. To focus just on value as the interest in the composition. It has been a reminder of how this can be really useful as an exercise in thinking about design. The elements in a piece are thrown into stark relief when a painting is solely in black and white – both good and not so good!

Day 11

Have you got a favourite piece from this week? Hop on over to the gallery to see all of the paintings from the challenge so far. Week three is coming up and what next?

Asymmetry and Me

Day 1

Asymmetry and me. that seems to be the theme of the week for this first seven days of my summer Monochrome Challenge. I have successfully completed my first week of mini, 12 x 12 abstract paintings in black and white with the option to a use colour if I wish. So, here are the 7 paintings from the week and on the whole it’s been great fun and very satisfying. In this first week here are some of my first reflections on the process.

What have I learnt or noticed so far?

Asymmetry

It seems I love asymmetry, hence the title of this post. As I think more about this, there is something incredibly satisfying to me about finding a point of visual balance in a painting. Particularly when there are elements in the composition that are vastly different in size and visual weight. How do I know when I have reached a point of balance? To get to that point of balance I think about positioning, visual mass of the elements, value, movement of the eye around the piece. These are examples of the kind of questions I use to assess a piece. Then I use an intuitive sense that something “feels balanced.” I certainly know when it’s not because that sense of satisfaction I mentioned a few lines ago is missing. And when it’s missing I know I’ve still more work to do.

Colour

I was wondering when I began this challenge how I would feel about using so little colour. In recent months I’ve been very focused on colour particularly exploring de-saturating colour and colour harmony. In my larger work I’ve been challenging myself to use colours that are unfamiliar or to put colours together in new ways. It’s been interesting to note that my use of colour in this challenge has mainly been to add in simple dramatic marks. However it’s only week one so that may change.

Drama and Edginess

Bringing more drama and edginess is something I am focusing on throughout my work. It feels like this challenge is proving to be a great opportunity to explore this further and support me in considering how I might achieve this in my bigger work. So far I am noticing that some of the elements that are either dramatic or edgy to me are things like the contrasts between dark and light, simplicity and complexity. Strong lines and shapes also appeal as well as marks that are bold and have an unfinished and rough look to them

What are some of the elements in the work that you have noticed this week? And of the seven paintings completed so far do you have a favourite? I’d love to hear from you.

The Monochrome Summer Challenge

I’m setting myself a new challenge inspired by conversations this last weekend at the Great Dome Art Fair. I took my sketchbook with me from when I completed the 100 Day Project last year. As I was chatting to people about the challenge I remembered how valuable it had been to the development of my work and what an incredibly useful process I had found it. The 100 Day Project sets the goal of completing something creative for 100 days. My focus was to complete a small abstract collage a day in my sketchbook. I have a some big new events coming up this year along with gallery commitments, so another 100 days is not viable however I’d like to do something fun and different to support my creative development.

From the 100 Day Project

For the last few years I have taken August off from my other business which leaves me free to paint. This year I’ve decided to add in some extra focus to my painting time over the summer. From August 1st until the end of the month I am setting myself the challenge to complete a mini abstract painting a day. I’m putting in place some limitations to add to the fun and spark my creativity. And because one of the aspects I’d like to explore is more about value and composition I’m gearing the project in that direction. The limitations are as follows:

  • I can only use black, white and one other colour in each painting.
  • I can use a variety of media, acrylic paint, gouache, crayon, charcoal etc
  • I will only paint on paper.
  • One piece to be completed each day
  • Each piece is to be 12 x 12 cm square.

I’m going to be approaching these small paintings in the way I do a lot of my colour study work. I will begin by using large sheets of paper to engage in creative play and then select from this, developing and adding to the painting until I’m satisfied with the piece. In the main this means they will be small pieces, with a lot of spontaneity and freshness to them. I will post each painting on Instagram and Facebook daily and send out a weekly newsletter, so if you are not already on my newsletter list then sign up here to be sure of keeping up to date with the project. The weekly updates will let you know my progress, what I’m learning and the all of the images from that week. Each painting will be mounted and then available to buy through my website.

In early August I have Art in the Pen so that’s going to be an interesting challenge to complete a couple of pieces while I’m away. Other than that the diary looks pretty clear so I’m optimistic and looking forward to some fun and new ideas.

Have you taken part in any artistic challenges? How did you get on and what did you find valuable?

Edginess and Drama

The last few months has been pretty full on, with a busy schedule and numerous projects across both my art and psychotherapy business resulting in very little time to write. 

Deep Thinking

In my regular blog over the last few months I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing my thoughts and reflections on the experience that is creativity and artistic process.  However in the last three months I have found myself just too busy to write.  I have absorbed in some deep personal reflections on how to make more space in my life for my art. Resulting in some significant changes.  I have been so engaged in this that I’ve not been able to write about it. Because I hadn’t figured it out. Now, I’m beginning to get there. 

Part of this process has been having my own coaching. Working with a mentor is incredibly helpful. Having a place to take the questions I am wondering about and trying to resolve is invaluable. As is having someone to support, challenge, prompt, question and offer feedback.  The process is a super charge to your art practice. 

Authenticity

So, what have I been doing?

I think I have been working on developing my authentic voice.  About 6 months ago I had a something of a light bulb moment around colour. I was watching a session by Nicholas Wilton talking about how he makes use of colour and de-saturating colour.  I realised that this was something I wanted to bring into my work. The next few pieces I worked on were an exploration of colour and value.  In the paintings below I have been exploring how to use subtle shifts in tone and value. How to create interest across the darker and lighter areas through making these subtle shifts. Elements that can only be experienced and seen when you move in close to the artwork.  

The second big development happened recently. Through conversations with my mentor I realised I have been quietening down my work for fear of being too much, or that it would not be liked. Not a helpful process in anything creative. I think we do need to find the courage to speak from the heart with our authenticity. Which is also not an easy task for so much can get in the way of this. Old beliefs, experiences and criticism. My email challenge from a few months ago dealt with some of this.

What does being authentic mean for my art? I want more edginess and drama in my work.  For me this takes the form of much looser painting, stronger, less tidy or resolved marks, more energy in the work, strong contrasts in colour and shape, asymmetric compositions and line work. I’ve been playing with these ideas myself. And, I’ve a PInterest Board called Dramatic Edgy Art where I have been collecting images of work that speaks to me in this way.  Here’s the link for you to hop on over and take a look at how I see edginess in painting.

I’ve also been experimenting with some unfinished pieces in this way. Both in my sketchbook and on larger pieces of paper.  

Playing with drama and edginess on paper. Approx 16×23″. Unfinished.

And these ideas are finding their way into my current work. I’m preparing for The Great Dome Art Fair and Art in the Pen and getting some new work ready for Number Four Gallery in St Abbs later this year. I have a fair amount of work underway right now and all these pieces are showing elements of this new direction. These new developments feel very exciting. I’m enjoying the work and watching what unfolds with interest and slight trepidation as I have no idea where this is leading. But isn’t that creativity at its best? To risk ourselves in artistic exploration and to do something even though we have no idea of the result.

Tension in Design. 8×8″ mixed media on cradled panel. Framed and available from the Cupola Gallery Sheffield. Edginess appearing in my current work.

What has been an exciting moment in your art where you felt like you were pushing the boundaries of your work? I’d love to hear about your experience.

Travelling without Knowing

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Landfall. Mixed media on panel. 20×20″ Framed

A post on my inspiration for Landfall and Harbour Light.  Two paintings currently in my portfolio and available from Number Four Gallery St Abbs.

Exploration

I’m interested in exploring, and this includes both our inner and outer worlds. As a psychotherapist  in my other work, I spend my time with people helping them explore their inner lives. And for myself this has been a continual process of discovery.

I have always loved the sea and travel,  as I explore the outer world.  My love of the sea is such that it has even taken me beneath the surface.  For two or three years I was a keen scuba diver exploring the underwater landscape with as much enthusiasm as I explore above. Art and painting feels like it is another form of this exploration.  One in which I am bringing together these two types of exploration, both inner and outer.  In my work I am often inspired by the places I have seen, their history and how I have experienced them.  This post is a reflection on the experiences of travelling and coming back to the familiar from the new.

Travelling

There are two paintings in my current work that were named in connection with these experiences of travel and exploration. Landfall and Harbour Light both have shapes and colours in them that remind me of being out at sea and approaching land from a distance. They remind me of being on a boat, standing on deck and seeing land approach.  Distantly at first, the first shadows and shapes emerging slowly, then with more and more definition.  During daylight as cliffs, buildings and fields become visible. Or in the evening, when the harbour lights are shining out.  My fantasy is that the lights winking in the distance guide boats in as they return home. That might have been the case 100 years ago these days I expect that technology plays a much larger part in bringing ships home.

Harbour Light
Harbour Light. Mixed media on panel. 8×8 ” framed.

There is also a metaphor  in the naming of these works.  The sense of an exploration of colour and shape and the resolution of that exploration as forms are discovered in the process of painting.   A form that resonates and brings a settling in the artist.  As something emerges in the process of laying down paint and marks that brings sense of familiarity or meaning to something that can be a chaotic process, without a clear direction or intention. So for me, that was when the ideas about harbours, land and sea became apparent in these paintings.

When I begin a new painting it is like setting out on a journey and one where I do not know the direction of travel.  To go forward I must be willing to suspend my need for knowing as I explore and find my way.  the work becomes about responding in the moment to what is happening rather than planning or thinking about an end goal.

How do you approach your work?  What are the challenges you face in following your creative process.

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This Week Colour

If last week was all about value, then this week has been all about colour.

After a few months of consolidation I feel like I am in the middle of another period of development in my art practice.  I’ve been aware over the last three months or so that I’ve not been as keen to go into the studio, the work hasn’t been flowing quite as easily and I’ve been feeling slightly dissatisfied with the paintings I have been making.   Reflecting on this, it seems that I’ve not been that excited by what I have been making. It hasn’t felt that new, but more of a variation on a theme that began about a year ago.   And I haven’t quite known how to change that.

So I have been thinking, and painting and getting feedback, and painting and thinking some more.  And then I watched one of Nicholas Wilton’s short videos on Colour and something clicked.  I already had knowledge and awareness of how to de-saturate colour to reduce it’s intensity.  As we do this the colours adjacent will then be seen with greater contrast. But like many things that are part of ongoing learning and development we can come at something we think we already know and with a new context experience it differently.  We can find a different perspective and discover something new or that we hadn’t quite grasped.  Sometimes we experience a greater level of understanding and integration.  So, the video was something of a light bulb moment as several things fell into place and I understood why I’d not been liking my work.  I began to get some ideas about how to change it.

Working with Limited Palette

Firstly I had been working with limited palettes. Generally no more than three colours, with variations of light and dark.

I had also been wanting to bring in a sense of space and simplicity to the design of my work.  But because the colours were so limited, the paintings were feeling too simple. As a result I was then using lots of texture to compensate and create more interest.  Resulting in work that was beginning to feel the same or certainly very similar.

When I did use more colours, because I was working with paint that was only slightly de-saturated the work would feel garish.  And rather than think to de-saturate the colour further,  I would paint over it and go back to the limited palette. And round again.,

 

So, armed with a greater understanding  I have playing with de-saturating colour and it has felt very different. I think  I have a lot still to learn about how to do this, make it work effectively with how I paint. Design takes on a whole new set of exciting challenges.  I definitely feel a sense of lightness and space that wasn’t so easy to attain before.  And I am experimenting in new ways with new ideas.

Does this experience sound familiar to you?  Have you found something in your art practice that you revisit and gain new understanding each time?

Useful Links

See some of my work at the Chatsworth Exhibition during January and February with Peak District Artisans.

Sign up for my email challenge which has a exercises all geared to support you in boosting your artistic confidence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Capacity and Connectedness

This post is about some discoveries about capacity and connectedness that emerged from a recent period of struggling to paint.

I’ve been having a tough few weeks. My art; often a refuge, delight and source of energy has not been going well. I have been feeling frustrated, irritable, comparing my work to others and feeling self critical. As a therapist and coach I recognise this as being in a defensive pattern because I am feeling vulnerable.  I am feeling vulnerable because there is a lot going on in my life at the moment, both good and not so great.  Across all areas of my work I have been very busy.  We have had really successful start to the year in my psychotherapy training business (TA Training Organisation).  In my art a new gallery,  Number Four Gallery in St Abbs, have taken eight pieces of work for their Christmas Show. I have been accepted to join Peak District Artisans. I exhibited at the local Artist and Designer Fair in Buxton.

However, in the midst of these positive events, there have also been some difficult things happening that are affecting me emotionally and psychologically. So I have retreated from myself and others in a protective way that is an old unhelpful pattern. Which brings me to the point of this post and the learning I’ve gained from this experience.

So, what is the learning I’m wanting to share?

Firstly about connection. If we are making authentic art this is an expression of part of self. Then it seems to follow if we are not fully connected to ourselves we will be disconnected from our art.  As I think back over the last couple of months this is what I have been experiencing.  In my art making, in the studio in front of the painting, I was going outwards to what others were doing and looking to repeat what I had already done, rather than looking inwards at what I felt inspired to do. My choice of colour, mark making and ways of painting were not what I truly felt in the moment because being disconnected from myself meant I was disconnected from what I felt.  How important it is then to our art making to stay connected to ourselves and the personal choices we want to make.

Secondly scaling up and scaling down.

During this period the only thing that felt “like me” were some colour studies I was working on.  Using an exercise from Louise Fletcher fellow artist, (see Louise in This Painting Life on Facebook) I had about 15 different small colour studies I was playing with. What I was noticing was that the bigger works (a couple of 20×20 inch paintings)  were not resolving themselves.  Again, on reflection, I can see that it was almost as though I didn’t have the capacity to do anything bigger.  That not only does making bigger work require us to scale up in terms of the tools,  materials and composition, it also requires us up to scale up in terms of our process as well.  Being able to hold and contain the experience of something bigger takes capacity.  For larger work to be successful it needs to feel integrated as a whole rather than something that is almost a collection of smaller works on a bigger canvas.  So in the process of making larger works the artist needs to have creative energetic capacity to conceptualise the whole.  Which is not about planning the outcome but more about having mental space and energy for the art-making process.

Are there any useful “how to’s” from this experience? Well for me a recognition that I have a busy life and so there will be times when I don’t have capacity for major works. When that happens it’s ok, and that art making can still happen, just on smaller scale. The “how to” from this is acceptance of personal limitations.

Does this tally with your experience of moving between larger and smaller works?  I’d love to hear how you maintain your connectedness?

All colour studies will be available to buy at my next exhibition in Buxton at the Pavilion Gardens on Friday 23rd, Saturday 24th adn Sunday 25th of November.