Thursday, September 29, 2011

Penguin News has done me proud

Article in our local paper Penguin News about my coming  art exhibition, I've got a local public relations company Sealed PR to orgainse it all for me so they've been doing that PR thing and getting me interviewed by the paper, radio station even the local TV company.

The Tryworks

Way back in April I did a commission for a client of a sheepdog against a backdrop of mountains, Here it is, Bruce the Huntaway. I mentioned then the possibility of another, bigger commission of a historical scene of the old industry of harvesting penguins for their oil, a grisly and largely unknown practice that had been overshadowed by the larger and more emotive whaling and sealing industries.

I have now completed the painting, This is by a long way the largest, most complicated and most difficult piece I've attempted so far in my fledgeling art career. No photographs of this activity exist (that I know of) just accounts and some rather fanciful illustrations so the entire scene is a creation of my imagination based on what is known about the process. It boils down to this (if you'll pardon the pun):

Penguins were driven into a rough corral on a beach using dogs to keep them together in a flock. There was a large trypot that had a spout running into a smaller pot for refinging the oil. The penguins were clubbed inside the corral then passed out to be bled and gutted (to remove as much water and bulk as possible), the carcases were then thrown in the trypot which was heated initially with wood or coal but as the rendering proceeded with the oil soaked remains of the penguins that were fished from the pot with a long handled scoop. the refined oil was casked and shipped away.

Here's how the painting progressed:

This is the initial concept sketch I knocked out to get the elements together in a way I felt worked. On the right is a full size study that helped me to finalise the composition.

This is the initial sketch on 70 X 100cm anthracite pastelmat and the first roughing in of colours and light/shade.  

 All the detail coming together, at this stage I didn't know about the refining pot, fortunately there was room to fit it in where it was needed.

The finished painting. I was trying to get a dirty, hellish feeling to it to reflect the grisly nature of the activity while not portraying the protagonists as wicked people in any way, just men at work with a dirty job to do. I'm pretty pleased with it.


Well....I've got all the work for my October exhibition finished, mounted and framed...actually there's five paintings that still need to be put in their frames but they're mounted and I've got the frames for them so I'm counting them as ready too. That's a grand total of 46 works to be on display...phew!

Here's my Shearing collection of seven paintings which I intend to be the centrepiece(s) of the exhibition, should get a bit of interest I reckon. All are on 30 X 40cm pastelmat.




Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Bonebreaker

Giant petrel (AKA Stinker or Bonebreaker) feeding. I wanted to convey the menace and strength of this huge scavenger, it's bloody head down, wings spread ready to attack to defend it's meal. Yet still I wanted there to be a feeling of trepidation, the desperation of the hungry opportunist that's made afind that it may well lose to another.

This is my biggest wildlife painting to date, it was a challenge but very satisfying. Absolutely unsaleable of course but sometimes you just have to do paintings like that.

Soft pastels on 70 X 50 grey pastelmat.

Friday, September 9, 2011


What are the things that can be motivate us to paint? What gets us to the easel to work with the object of producing a work of art? Financial rewards, ambition, experimentation, even possibly the therapeutic value of painting.

Let’s look at financial rewards, in there are two ways this can be our motivation to paint: either we’re working to commission or on a piece with the only object in mind being to sell it. To my mind this is the hardest way to paint if that really is all there is to it. A commission can be satisfying and pleasurable or it can be unbelievably hard, sometimes its brute force all the way, a rigid application of skill to force the painting out in an acceptable manner. In the latter case, to choose to paint a subject that does not excite you in any way just with the object of selling it, well...I wouldn’t bother, to do that makes art no different from any other nine to five job, what would be the point?

Ambition could certainly be a motivational force, without ambition how would we progress as artists? There would be nothing to get us over the rocky patches. Ambition is what keeps us being artists, I’ve never really believed in the modesty that some painters display about their work, if a painting’s on display then the artist has the ambition and self confidence to put it there. I must add that that’s not to say that I’m ever 100% satisfied with my work, if that ever happens then I know I’ll be in trouble. Experimentation can motivate us in much the same way as ambition can; they are linked in that without being ambitious we wouldn’t have the stones to experiment. 

And therapeutic value? Well we wouldn’t paint if we didn’t enjoy it would we? I find that to just sit down and draw or paint, no pressure, just a subject that gives us pleasure to portray is a great way to relax and unwind. This doesn’t really fit the bill as motivational though, laudable though it is as an activity this is painting as a means rather than an ends. One can achieve good results through this but that’s not really the point, just a bonus.

There is of course something else that can motivate us, that element that means we can stand to our easel and the painting just flows out almost without effort? I’m talking, of course, about inspiration. We know inspiration when it occurs, whether it’s a scene, a photograph, another painter’s work, a piece of music, whatever it is it draws us in and motivates us. The joy of inspiration is that it can be tied in with other motivational forces, a commission isn’t always a dry exercise of skill, we can be inspired by the subject even if it isn’t one we have chosen. We can paint subjects that inspire us with the motivation of making money; again the combination is greater than the sum of its parts. Ambition & experimentation? How could these have any real worth as motivational forces without inspiration to be the catalyst? When inspiration is paired with any of these motivational elements our art is at its zenith, it’ll be the best of what our skill and talent can achieve at that time.

Falklands Conservation Charity Ball advert

This is a screenshot of our local paper the Penguin News, the advert is for the annual Falklands Conservation Charity Ball which I've donated a couple of paintings to....and like last year they've used one of my paintings in the Ad, reckon they must like it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Walk on the wierd side.

Every now an then I have a go at painting or drawing something wierd, a nut doctor would probably love these...

Charcoal on A4 cartridge paper:

Pastels on brown card, 35 X 50 cm.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Interpreting and composing, why & how?

What makes a painting 'right'? what combination of elements does an artist bring together to produce a composition that works? I found myself pondering this after seeing a painting presented in an Artists group on Facebook. It was by Grizelda Cockwell (before anyone asks she is a relation of mine, my mother actually), a simple, exquisitely executed oil painting portraying a window in the wall of an old, corrugated iron shed, to the left is the edge of another shed, an iron clad nissan hut. Everything is very weathered, paint peeling, iron rusted, broken pane in the window....anyway why am I trying to describe it? look for yourself, here's a link to it. To my eye the only thing that didn't work was that composition was slightly off, the focus of the painting (the window) is pretty much central and this didn't quite do it for me, perhaps this wasn't the place for critique but I did comment as much, Griz then asked me how I would have composed it and I replied that I would have shifted the point of view and altered the contrast of some elements. A friend of Griz's (David McEwen, a very skillful professional artist) who had seen the painting in the flesh then put me in my place with the comment "I've seen it, it's right as it is.". That comment is what got me thinking about what's right or wrong in composition.
Can a composition can be fundamentally 'right' or fundamentally 'wrong'? Things can be wrong with a composition for sure, incoherent jumble of elements, objects distorted to fit the canvas, poor distribution and so on. But what about being right? can a composition be so 'right' that anything else is lesser? Taking an example of working from a good, well composed photo or static reference: If I alter the appearance of some elements or move elements around to make it work how I want it to would then the result then be a 'wrong' composition? and why? Would it be wrong because I had taken a good reference and messed around with the elements or wrong just in that the composition was bad in some way? If the latter was the case then fair enough but the former? I don't buy that at all, I've on several occasions taken a perfectly good, accurate reference photo or set of photos and composed the elements in a way that I felt worked as a painting, unless I've been suffering from some horrible compositional blindness this has always worked for me. 

Where this is taking me is to thinking about that fine old platitude: "draw what you see, not what you think you see", this is fine up to a point as advice to help aspiring artists get over the hump of seeing what's there rather than a montage of preconceived ideas of what objects are...the sky is blue, grass is green, a human nose is a triangle with two holes in it and so on. Where it breaks down is when you've got that nailed, your eyes are open and you can draw what's there, now comes the problem where you need to paint or draw something that is known in the eyes of the viewer and yet cannot be accurately portrayed in two dimensions as a facsimile of what's there (as a photograph does). I'm talking, of course, about interpretation. As artists we can interpret what we see or what references we use in any way we like, some like to enhance colour, movement, feeling, some push or pull perspective, some allow themselves to be guided by the process of painting, by responding to how their paint reacts as they progress (as with watercolours of course). What restricts interpretation is only such discipline as to which we adhere, the discipline that is most restrictive to interpretation is photo-realism, at the other end of the scale is the crazy world of abstract expressionism, in this the artist has interpreted so freely that it can be the case that the subject or meaning of the painting is lost to the viewer. As to how much we as individuals interpret what we see...that's up to us, do we interpret and compose our paintings to please ourselves, to get across our feeling or our message, for the satisfaction of achievement, to please people who'll view our paintings, to make a money? When I paint I would hope to be able to achieve at least some of those goals. 

 "Draw what you see, not what you think you see" tells us to open our eyes and see clearly without interpreting, without automatically superimposing our knowledge of what we're looking at, This has to be achieved before we can take the next step which is to see clearly then to interpret what we're seeing, one could say: "Don't draw what's there, draw what you need to be there".