Monday, 31 March 2008

Hard Pruned

corner of Nursery Lane, Silksworth
corner of Nursery Lane, Silksworth
As I drive around Sunderland I see lots of trees in front gardens which have been cut back within an inch of their lives.

Moleskine Exchange

I've just come across some of these while reading other artist's blogs. What a fab idea; a small bunch of artists, from about 3 to about 12, decide to buy, draw or paint in, and them swap Molekine sketchbooks. They're the small Japanese accordian ones, only 3.5" x 5.5" small.

I know someone who participated in a quilting round robin, and it sounds like a similar idea.

In the group who's activities I'm watching, Moly x 12 , some have chosen a theme for their books, such as 'green' and 'horizon' others are just letting it go with the flow. Sounds like a great idea.

I've contacted one lady who missed joining the Moly x 12 group, and am hoping she'll respond. So if anyone's interested in setting up an exchange, please get in touch. Here's hoping.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Portrait Party Entry

Steph's (my) portrait of Amy

Amy's portrait of Steph (me)

Amy and I decided to enter a Portrait Swap. And because it's the site's first birthday they're having a bit of a competition.

Here are our entries. We decided to both work on the same pastel paper, using black and white ink pens, and 2 tones of grey brush pen. This way we worked using similar techniques, so that our drawing styles would show through when you compare the two portraits.

Here's Amy's art site in case any of you haven't visited yet. Give her loads of support (I know you will). It has taken me months to bully her into starting to draw again and her Blog is her only way of reaching out to other artists.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

More Trees

beech tree at Doxford
cherry tree? in Fulwell

beech at Doxford (left) cherry in Fulwell (right) cherry with early blossom in Fulwell

Every spare minute when I'm out and about I've been looking at trees. And drawing trees. Here are some.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Doxford Beech Trees

After work I got the chance to do some sketching near my work. I am very happy with these.

Painting when wet, 1 of .........

It was snowing, and drizzling, and hail stoning on Easter Monday afternoon. I used the palette knife to scrape on the pinkish background, then, instead of blow-drying it, I painted on the branches wet in wet using quite a stiff brush. It was satisfying the way the paint was scraped away, and built up channels. Then I'd wipe the pink off my brush, and load it with a brown-grey mix, and work that in. I'm going to work over and over this one, so this will be the first photo of I don't know how many.

Nine Block Pyracantha

Here it is. I want to sharpen up the edges of the blocks so I'll paint over the boarders again later with the white gesso. I've painted these from my first charcoal sketches, and I want to make more drawings from life in charcoal, paying attention to the shapes the branches make as they change direction or have been chopped short.

My first drawings remind me of a child's drawings. I made a lot of assumptions.

Now it's like I've had my eyeballs washed clean and can see how they really look.

But, faulty as it is, I'm glad I've gotten this study out of my system. I feel like I can move on, without having skipped over a step.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Be Prepared

One of my older sketch books had a piece of elastic ribbon sewn into the cover, which kept my pencils handy and secure from rolling round in my bag. When that sketch book was full, I decided to sew myself a pencil roll. Over the weeks I've widened some of the sections to fit a small retractable knife, and a glue stick. Now it includes the following;

watercolour pencils in red, blue, yellow and black
6B graphite stick
narrow rolled paper smudger
fine and medium watercolour brushes with chopped-off drinking straws protecting the bristles
retractable knife
6B graphite stick
B, 2B, 4B, 6B and 8B pencils
fine and medium Indian Ink pens
black brush pen
blue and black ballpoint pens
black Parker ink pen with refillable cartridge
glue stick

In my bag, apart from various sketch books, I also keep a box of charcoal sticks in various thicknesses, a small aerosol can of fixative and my compact digital camera.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Plastic Pyracantha

I painted this canvas working from the pencil drawing I'd done earlier. I'd wanted to paint it from life, but I was busy with the children all day and then it got dark.

So, after tea, while the rest of the family watched Blackadder, I sat in the corner of the living room and painted, gently rebutting my four year old daughter's kind offers of assistance.

I worked in acrylics, because my husband has a bad chest and turps fumes aren't nice to him. Anyway, I only tend to paint with oils in the garage, or in the kitchen with the back door open for ventilation. And oil paint, turps and kids aren't a good mix.

The acrylics' drying rate was good and, at the same time, bad. Good, because I could use a hairdryer to dry the under-painting. Bad, because I got mixed results when I worked back over areas I'd only painted 20 minutes earlier. I need to read up to see what I can mix with them to keep them workable for longer.

When I'd finished this painting I immediately started preparatory work on a larger painting based on the nine charcoal studies I'd done. Fortuitously I had a ready-cut piece of board measuring 50cm square, perfect for 3x3 10cm blocks with a 5cm boarder. I painted the boarder in white acrylic gesso in an overlapping grid, which echoes my garden trellis. Now I'm pondering what colour to use as a background for the blocks. I may just use the neutral pink which I used on the long canvas yesterday, or I may use a range of tones. No, I want the Pyracantha branches to be the main feature, and varying the backgrounds will just be an unwanted complication. I'll keep it simple.

Oh, the title of this post comes from the fact that I used acrylic paints which are, after all, plastic.

Saturday, 22 March 2008


Thank goodness I got that sorted out. The species of the tree in my garden has been bugging me for weeks now.

The wind is blowing, but leaning against the kitchen back door I have a great view of my pyracantha in the corner of my back garden. Soon it will be covered in blossom, and then the leaves will come out, though there's still a fair covering of dark green leaves high up as it's an evergreen. Even later in the year there'll be masses of small orange berries, which the blackbirds will feast on all winter long.

But for now it's bare and graphic against the wall.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Once Upon a Time.....

.......I was an art student. I studied Glass and Ceramics at Sunderland Polytechnic, which became the University of Sunderland in my final year when the government decided to scrap 'poly's and turn them all into 'uni's.

I was based in a lovely old Victorian building called Backhouse Park, sitting in it's own grounds. It was nicknamed Fraggle Rock, and we art students were referred to by the more 'academic' students as Fraggles, because of our colourful hair, clothing and nutty behaviour. I loved being a Fraggle.

This is me as an art student, holding Yellow Ted, who is my life-long friend, quite literally.

Before I went to college I loved art; drawing, painting, doodling, designing..... College killed it for me, having to justify everything all the time to tutors who's work you didn't actually rate, and who seemed more interested in coming out with glib comments, instead of actually teaching you anything. It was artistically draining and exhausting.

College social life was great, I had fantastic friends, and that's where I met my husband. But the time doing the course was life-sucking, and it has taken me nearly 15 years to start drawing again.

How I dream of being immersed in a stimulating environment, surrounded by like-minded bohemians, with tutors who are mentors, and access to facilities I could only dream of at home - printing presses, kilns, woodworking and metalworking workshops, glass furnaces, acid baths, sandblasting guns, sunlight, hot chocolate, the smell of turps, the sound of Mendelssohn....
But I don't think that place exists anywhere. Van Gogh wanted to create such an environment when he invitied Gaughan to his Yellow House. But it quickly fell apart. If I won the lottery, I'd build my own Yellow House, and you're all invited to join me.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Keep your mind on the driving......

Beech Trees at Doxford
But it's so hard. If I'm in the car with the kids it's actually easier, because I'm making an effort to ignore their antics and drive carefully. But when I'm on my own, especially on the drive to and from work, it's easy for my mind to wander. This is one of the sights I pass on the way into my work each day (in fact this would be the view in my rear-view window on the drive home, as I took this photo on a late December afternoon, but you get the idea, yes?).

This time of year, when driving on a morning I'm heading west with the sun low in the sky behind me. This can cast a gleaming pale yellow light onto the buildings I pass. And if there's a stormy sky in the west, blowing down from the Scottish Boarders, then the gilded houses are set against a dark grey-blue sky. That's when I say a prayer of thanks to God, and start singing 'Then Sings My Soul, or suchlike.

But it's also when I am known to start swearing too. You see, hubby got me a compact digital camera for Christmas, and I have cursed often for not bringing it with me when I see such a glorious sight. When we went to Vienna last year I only took out my other camera once on the whole trip, as it's a digital SLR, and it's very bulky. That's why he thoughtfully bought me a teeny tiny one, for my arty stuff.
So, at last, I've found how to re-charge the battery for it, and how to download from it, and now it's residing in my bag.

So if you're driving behind me on the way into work, and you are familiar with seeing me swerving as I catch sight of a bird, or a nice view, please now keep your distance even more, as I might just slam on the breaks and leap out with my camera in hand. You have been warned.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Clock #3, put to bed

I much prefer the canvas this way round. Portrait ways up rather than landscape.
I spent about 5 minutes just looking at it, then I drew in some verticals, and added some lines to a vanishing point in what I think of as the middle of the clock face. Then I added some yellow and grey oil pastels, and drew the numbers in more detail.

I think it doesn't work because I have no idea what I feel about it, what I'm trying to portray here. There's no message or clear emotion coming from me. So I'm going to set it aside for the time being, and leave it until I think of something that could give it purpose.

Monday, 17 March 2008

My tree

Garden tree in acrylic March 08
It's really starting to bug me, what kind of tree this is. If I remember rightly it's technically a shrub which was planted by the previous owners, and grew tall as there's little light at ground level.
This is an oil board, about A4, which I covered with a thin layer black and red acrylic. When it was dry I squeezed out a load of white acrylic, and smeared it around with a plastic palette knife, then started scraping back to the black to describe the trunk and branches. After a while I added some green, and then some red as a contrast, and mixed all three to make a pale grey/lilac to suggest the floor and the wooden planter.
I hate it as a painting, but I loved it as an exercise. I should really do some more of these to see where they lead.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

William Hunt

I love my dad. I really do. I can't express how much I love him.
Some years ago, dad and I drove in his camper van up to Northumberland. Just the two of us for a long weekend. We had little idea of where we'd end up, apart from a list of Caravan Club parking sites he'd looked up.
We pootled along at about 45mph, both of us peering at whatever took our fancy. We stopped here and there, followed road signs which looked inviting, or tracks which looked intriguing. I'll never forget that weekend. I took a photo one evening while dad was writing in his diary, which he'd give to mum to read when he got back. The photo is on my bookcase at home. Yesterday afternoon I had the urge to draw, so I looked round to see what struck me, grabbed my charcoal, and took my time on this.
I love my dad. I really do.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Alnmouth drawings

sketches of Derek Jones' prints
Following on from the previous post, here are the drawings I did from Derek's prints at the Schoolhouse Gallery. The home-made accordian sketchbook was perfect for this exercise. Thanks again, Laurelines, for that great idea. sketches of Derek Jones' prints
At Alnmouth beach there were huge blocks of concrete positioned along the high-tide line, protecting the sand dunes which lined the small golf course beyond. They reminded me of the desolated city shown in the Terminator films, and I wondered it they had been purpose made, of it they'd been reclaimed from a broken building somewhere, to be put to this good use. The beach itself was spotless. I'm used to Roker beach which gets a lot of regular local use, and a lot of summer visitors. It's strewn with small pieces of worn plastic, glass and pottery. the only man-made debris at Alnmouth were a couple of washed up lobster pots and the odd broken tennis balls discarded by over-enthusiastc dogs. There were also hundreds upon hundreds of yellow and orange conical shells. I collected a bagfull, and I may draw them sometime.
Sea Defenses at Alnmouth

Friday, 14 March 2008

Art by Derek Jones

Quiet 2 by Derek Jones
Yesterday my cousin Amy and I drove up to Alnmouth to the Schoolroom Gallery to see an exhibition of prints by Derek Jones. I was blown away by his work. His use of Intaglio, my first exposure to this technique, was astonishing, and the addition of coloured tissue to the prints added areas of colour which enhanced his work. But what I really loved was his composition. The way he arranges a figure on a page, the way he positions a head on a face, and what he chooses to omit spoke of a feeling for composition which seemed more intuitive than contrived.

His work was displayed opposite another printmaker, but both my cousin and I preferred Derek's work of the two. Unfortunately I couldn't afford to buy any of Derek's pieces, but I did choose a print by another Northumberland Artist, Mike Bell, but more about that in a later post.

After coffee in the galley, the owner of which was a very friendly, helpful and chatty chap, we drove the Alnmouth beach and sketched in the sun and the wind. We took the coast road back down to Roker and had fun the whole while. My cousin Amy is such good company and, being a fellow artist, knows what I'm raving about, at least some of the time.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Excellent news

I've been nominated by Casey Klahn on his blog The Colourist as one of 10 blogs he deems as excellent. Praise indeed from a man who's work is strong and intelligent, and is a true craftsman in the world of pastels. Now I need to ponder on who, in turn, to nominate for my 10 most influential blogs.

So here, in no particular order, they are, with the reasons why they have me hooked.

The first four are art blogs which I have learnt from and check on daily for more tips, ideas and just to see what they've been up to.;

Muddy Red Shoes - I love Sarah's work, and her writings have been so helpful to me, especially for her walk-through in painting Music Night at le Brasses du Bengale. She is the first artist I've found online from who I've bought a painting.

Paint and Pastel - Gesah isn't shy of sharing successes, failures, and everything in between, and is quite frank about her work. I admire her honesty.

Life Plein Air- Ed's paintings are bold, and I think if you cut him, you'd be slicing through layers of paint before you reached flesh. His work often takes my breath away.

Cougar Peak - throughout 2007 Jared Shear painted the mountain view from his house every single day, all weathers and seasons in a range of materials. I really really miss my visits to peek out of the window in his home in Montana. Check him out as he's still blogging on his other linked sites.

Eudaemonia For All - this is the writing blog of Lisa Mattlin, and I can't even remember how I first came across her. Maybe she had commented on another artist's site I'd found. Anyway, her observations on the process of writing tie in so closely with my experiences of painting, it's like she can see inside my head. And I've told her as much on many occasions.

Next I must include Lisa's husband Scott Mattlin. Not because of any sense of obligation to Lisa, but because Scott has become my light in the storm. He's received my occasional haphazard pleas for help by email, and never judges my immaturity or scattiness. He always offers both reassurance and, more importantly, constructive instruction.

Next comes my older sister's blog, Beansprouts, which has just been nominated by the Observer as one of the UK's 50 most influential blogs. Melanie never preaches, but speaks passionately about sustainability.

From Mel I found Musings from a Stonehead. Stoney (whose real name I don't think I actually know) has a croft in the cold wilds of Scotland and is the most hardworking, bloody-minded, caring, down to earth, belligerent bugger I have ever had the pleasure to know. And his blog is a pleasure, and a breath of fresh air - no pun intended, given the current weather up there.

Homesteading in a Condo is a relatively new blog, in which Ilex writes about her wormery. I've admitted it now, I'm addicted to reading her heartfelt accounts of life and death, love and war, and red wine consumption under the mulch. The worms don't drink the wine, as she drinks enough for all eight thousand of them. Only joking, Ilex.

And last, but no means least is Marvin The Magnificent - Marvin was eaten by aliens in December 2007, but I'm offering up goats and doves in the hope that he'll return. I need to know what happened to Jen, Moonchild, Diane, and the rest of the innocents he's endeavoring to protect, whether they want his help or not. Come back Marvin, I miss you terribly.

So there you have it. These are the sites that fan my flames and make me red-eyed and grumpy from staring at the screen hours on end.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Tree Lines #9 to #12

tree lines 9
tree lines 10
tree lines 11
tree lines 12

And here are the last four.
Next, I want to paint the white shapes onto a black background. Thick white paste-like paint, leaving black grooves.
When I drove home from work yesterday I noticed a number of trees in peoples front gardens which had been pruned back hard, resulting in the most uncomfortable shapes. Especially as it's not quite spring here yet so they are still bare of leaves.
Today the wind is up again, and I walked into the kitchen this morning to find two collared doves taking shelter on my bird table. There are a lot of plants on my windowsill so I was able to get most of the way through making coffee without disturbing them. Until I reached up for the sugar, when then took fright and left.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Tree Lines #5 to #8

tree lines 5
tree lines 6
tree lines 7
tree lines 8

Here are the next four in the series. Some I smudged with my finger, some using a rolled paper tortillon, some I just drew over and over with the charcoal.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Tree Lines #1 to #4

tree lines 1
tree lines 2

tree lines 3

tree lines 4

After drawing the tree in my garden I sat at work all day distracted by the way the tree cut across the plain canvas of the painted wall behind. So, this evening, in the dark, I took a series of flash photos of the tree from different angles, and made charcoal studies from these on 6" squares of watercolour paper. Here are the first four. I don't know what they'll end up being used for but I had great fun doing them.

Batten down the hatches

There's a big storm hitting the UK today. The worst areas affected will be the south-west, and as I'm in the north-east I'm getting off lightly. But there's a driving rain, and the noise of the wind as it batters our house which overlooks the river Wear and the North Sea is frightening at times. I was first woken by it in the wee small hours. And hubby is driving in a high-sided van down to London today. I just hope it's still upright. Goodness knows how those in the south-west are faring?

Anyway, I made a start on a garden drawing yesterday, using charcoal. There's a thorny tree in the garden which has been pruned hard over the years so that all the leaves are above head height. The split trunk is contorted and makes a great set of lines against the cream-painted brick wall. I pressed and twisted the charcoal stick as I drew. I know it's a subject I'm going to draw time and time again. I have an idea for a canvas with a matt, chalky background with the tree cutting across, and maybe just a hint of the green diffused light on the wall cast by the canopy.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Getting organised to draw more

I don't have time to sit, without distraction, and draw during the daytime most days. My hubby sometimes arranges to have the kids to give me some 'art time', but, as we both work, when we have the chance we'd rather spend time with the kids together. He's working all hours at the moment, and yesterday I made him a pecan pie as a treat to keep his spirits high. The kids didn't like it much, but that just meant all the more for us.

I've been thinking about what I can and what I can't do when I'm with the kids. What I can do is take them to interesting places. I can't expect them to amuse themselves while I sit down in an interesting place for a 40 minute sketching session. But I can take photographs of views and objects, then draw them on an evening while the kids are in bed.

So, this morning, I made up three accordion sketchbooks, an idea I got from Laurelines' travels, then spent 15 minutes in the garden taking photos of the views. The accordion sketchbooks seem like a fantastic way to collect together views and images on a theme.
I love my garden. It's a peaceful space, even though it's the size of a postage stamp with walls on all sides. I have a number of bird feeders, and even in winter I'll stand at the back door watching the activity of the goldfinches and blackbirds, and the changing sky overhead against the terraced rooftops beyond. Because it's so small, I can only ever see a narrow area at a time depending on where I stand or sit. Because of this, I've arranged it so that every corner and wall is a landscape in itself, with areas of interest, as well as space to let your eye wander so that I don't feel too enclosed.
The photos I've taken will provide me with plenty of starting points for drawings and studies.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Rip it up and start again

Well, that was the idea I got from reading An Artist's Journal yesterday, and the next step will be something to do with scruffy train stations, hence the blue and orange I used which reminds me of the Merseyrail Waterloo platform. That was a place in which I spent many hours whilst I lived in Liverpool. I feel I must add that I was there waiting for trains to various destinations.
So, I covered a canvas with burnt sienna, ultramarine blue and a reddish orange, and worked it in with a 50/50 mix of water and PVA glue. When I was happy with this (happy being a moveable feast, you understand) I ripped up the pastel and ink drawing of the yellow clock and glued it on. I was surprised about how strongly I felt when I was arranging the pieces. However, there's a piece on the left which curls and leads the eye out of the left of the canvas, so I'm going to need to bring the eye back on, or create an barrier on the left. I may in fact turn it round 90 degrees clockwise, putting the clock at the top instead of on the left and see how that works.
I'm interested to see how the glue dries with the acrylics. I've never mixed these before, but it felt like the right thing to do at the time. You'll notice I'm still avoiding working on, or even talking about the big self portrait I started.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Out of chaos comes.... chaos

Last night I grabbed some time to draw, and I decided to look at a retro yellow alarm clock that I bought from e-bay last year.
I started off by taping down some pastel paper to a board, making a square about 14" across. Then, with soft pastels, I worked in the colours. The paper was grey, and the shadows were grey, with harsh light reflecting on the glass cover of the clock. I didn't like the pastel strokes, so I smudged it all with my finger working in an anti-clockwise direction, which caused a lovely dark area between the minute and hour hand. I sprayed it with fixative, then painted over with inks - black Indian, canary yellow, and an opaque white. Then I stopped, as I wasn't getting anywhere fast.
Looking at it this morning I can see that the yellow needs to be much warmer, the shadows need to describe the shape of the clock and I want more detail on it. It looks mucky at the moment, but I don't want to scrap it. What to do next, I wonder? Any suggestions?

Monday, 3 March 2008

How do you expect me to work under these conditions!

Big sigh. I'm getting there. Clearing out the studio, that is. Dad bought me a big floor-standing easel, because the canvas for the self portrait I'm working on is too big for the table easel and my upright one, which he half-inched from school 25 years a ago for me, holds the canvas too high for me to reach it. I wonder if Toulouse Lautrec had to stand on a box to paint? And he was 2 inches taller than me in his stocking feet. Probably in his fishnet stocking feet, if the stories are true, but I digress. So I need to clear floor space for the new easel, which is still in it's box because there's no room to assemble it (I knew that 'mantle' wasn't the opposite of 'dismantle, and it took me a moment to remember what was). Luckily, some of the tables I'm currently dumping stuff on have screw-off legs, so they'll be coming down. I was desperate for storage space, so shelves have been put up in odd, and now inconvenient, places but I can work around those. It would just be nice to have nothing above waist level, so that my line of sight reaches all four walls, giving the appearance of space. I also need some wall space to hang my completed work and other images that stimulate me. However, the walls were built with industrial brick which is a bugger to drill into. The wall is too uneven to blue-tac stuff too, and it's brick painted with emulsion, so blue-tac slides off it eventually anyway.

Also, the idea for this self portrait is to depict both me and my studio, so I want to position myself so that the background is interesting, not just a chaotic mess of irrelevant stuff. At the moment it's filled with pink plastic boxed of mega blocs, camping equipment, the broken windsurfing gear our neighbour upstairs left behind, and other funny stuff. Actually, that makes it sound quite interesting. BUT, there isn't room to swing a cat, or a feather boa (sorry Toulouse, I couldn't resist. Given me ideas for another self portrait, but, again, I digress).

Last week clearing out I dropped off 10 bags and boxes at a nearby charity shop, and there's another three in my boot from yesterday ready to donate. I can now see the light from the tiny window in the corner, but there's still just too much stuff in there. I mustn't grumble, at least I have a space of my own to work in.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Much loved.

Here's the cards and pictures my beautiful two children made me for Mothers Day. In fact I was sitting on the loo when my son came in for a cuddle wished me a 'Happy Mothers Day' at about 6am. What a way to start the day. Followed by a fluffy pink-with-brown-dots dressing gown, a box of chocs, and a set of gardening tools enamelled in ditsy flowers. How cool. I don't think it was for Mother's Day, but Lisa got an amazing gift from her hubby.

After hubby cooked breakfast, we headed off to check out a kickboxing group I'm going to join. This is a totally not kind of me thing to do, but I'm really fired up about it. Just think, soon I'll look like Stephanie the Vampire Slayer.

When we got back I spent half an hour clearing the bottom end of my studio, and have spent this afternoon reading and lounging around with the family.

Anyway, roast duck for dinner after a long hot LUSH bath, me thinks. I hope everyone else is having a lovely day.
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