Thursday, February 23, 2006

Criticism: who needs it?
The March 2006 copy of ‘the Artist’ carried a depressing letter from a man who endured devastating criticism of his painting at a local Art Society meeting. The experience completely destroyed his confidence.

I cannot understand why amateur Art Societies persist in holding criticism evenings; in my experience they achieve very little. What usually happens on these occasions is that several members chip in with often contrary opinions and anyone looking for consistent constructive advice rarely gets it. The situation that exists in a well run class or workshop where the tutor offers advice and comment on a one to one basis is far more helpful.

Interestingly the correspondent described the friendliness and willingness to share ideas that existed in the Dunedin Art Society in New Zealand in the 1960’s. I can verify that the same spirit prevails in the new millennium. I’ve made three visits to New Zealand and met members of Art Societies in Dunedin, Taupo and Thames. Sometimes I ‘gatecrashed’ unannounced but I always had a warm welcome. They were interested to see how a Pom with an English watercolour style handled the strange young evolving landforms of their country.

Once attuned to the excitement aroused by what your eye likes painting comes naturally. A more experienced and sympathetic painter occasionally looking over your shoulder to nudge you in an appropriate direction is all you need. Criticism given in a room full of people which makes you colour with embarrassment – you don’t need it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I'm pleased for loretta

A surprise email from an old friend dropped into my Inbox the other day. It was from Loretta Proctor – a name you could hear more of in time.

I met Loretta when we both used to exhibit at the Malvern Gallery but now she spends her creative time writing. Loretta has just published her first novel set in Greece in WWI.

‘With its authentic background, snapshots of Greek life and tradition, splendid mix of characters and fascinating story line, The Long Shadow is both powerful and engrossing.’ Writes one reviewer.

Here’s a link to her entry on the Amazon Website.

Loretta Proctor: ‘The Long Shadow’

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

summer festival before winter ends

Each year in June and July my life gets interrupted by the Ludlow Festival. This is because for a number of years my wife has managed wardrobe backstage. Traditionally the main event of the Festival has been an outdoor production of a Shakespeare play in the castle. The Festival runs for two weeks but wardrobe management begins at least one week before the play opens – quite a commitment.

This year having offered to manage the content of the Festival web site it entered my life in January. The web site was developed by the Shropshire Star newspaper and it is huge. Fortunately my remit is only concerned with managing events listing and giving details of accommodation and eating places for visitors. The challenge lies in achieving clear presentation and layout of the text and combining it effectively with images.

Big websites often degenerate into a chaotic jumble of flashing advertising banners which are a distraction. Fortunately visitors to the Ludlow Festival website do not have to cope with them.

Take a look at

Monday, February 20, 2006

a brush with corot
I’ve decided that an artist I must study more closely is Corot. I made this decision after watching Tim Marlow’s recent Channel 5 broadcast from the Bowes Museum. A small landscape by Corot, ‘Landscape with Cattle’ grabbed my attention when Tim Marlow introduced it. Though probably painted as a study ‘en plein air’ the direct manner he adopts was daring for its time.

I admired the way he brushed a heavy application of almost white paint into the negative spaces created by the tree trunks. With a few brush marks he adjusted the tone of the sky and brought the trees forward. It is easy to see why he was admired by the Impressionists. Corot’s classical training manifested itself by the way he rendered the light foliage in the middle distance. Delicate flicks of light green paint moving across the picture – leaves caught by a light breeze perhaps? By comparison the brushwork of the majority of the Impressionists looks quite clumsy.

Corot: 'Landscape with Cattle'

Sunday, February 19, 2006

tim marlow on the bowes museum
I always try to watch Tim Marlow’s broadcasts on Channel 5 because he has the gift of talking about art in plain words – due I like to think by being taught English at Denstone by my brother-in-law. His presentation is natural and unpretentious unlike another Courtauld graduate of an older generation Brian Sewell. Sewell is very clever and extremely knowledgeable but his accent and mannerisms grate with me and I’m never sure if they are natural or cultivated to enhance his public persona. Anyway Tim Marlow is like a breath of fresh air in the art world where pretentious language prevails all too frequently.

I watched Tim Marlow’s broadcast about the Bowes Museum yesterday. The first picture that caught my attention was a lovely portrait by Goya – his small portraits are masterpieces. I first got to love them when I visited a major exhibition of Goya’s work in the Musée des Beaux Arts in Lille. The exhibition had a small gallery of these works sensitively hung with the heads at eye level. All the heads were drawn sight size so the faces gazed out and really engaged with the viewer.

Goya also gives his heads room inside the frame – something which many portrait painters neglect. I was with a group of friends once looking at a portrait of a young woman in one of our local arts society exhibitions. The head was close cropped inside the frame so that the figure was cut off just above the sternum. I commented that the head should have been given more space because she looked as if she was gazing out of a prison cell window. Nobody else could see anything wrong with this so I didn’t labour the point except to say go and look at how Goya paints.

Goya: Juan Antonio Melendez Valdes
One of the participants at my watercolour workshops turned up with a copy of one of Alwyn Crawshaw’s books. He showed me a page with a landscape illustration and said he would love to be able to paint trees like that. Well for a beginner that is not an unworthy ambition and at least he had a clear idea of what he wanted to achieve.

Popular though Alwyn is my only reservation about emulating him is that through his entertaining TV series and ‘how to do it books’ the beginner is left with the idea that watercolours are dashed off in half an hour. This direct approach is fine for the plein air painter if that is the way you like to work.
Dashing off a response to the first compulsive eye catch is exciting but there is a deeper magic to be discovered in the studio

So there are sound reasons for taking a more considered approach in the comfort of the studio Elements of the composition can be rearranged and new colour harmonies explored. I’ve been surprised by the strength and depth of colour that can be built up by superimposing several clean pure washes by using more leisurely studio methods.

The oil painter can work up his plein air sketches in the studio – Monet invariably did. The watercolourist though has to begin again with a totally fresh vision.

Friday, February 17, 2006

I ran a series of Watercolour Workshops through autumn 2005 for a group of complete beginners which has sent me back to the basics of watercolour painting – a careful line drawing as a first stage and then laying down a series of controlled transparent washes.

This is a traditional studio method which requires a quite different approach to the direct methods employed in plein air painting. It’s a way of working which I have tended to neglect for some time but returning to it was a marvellous relaxing experience. It needs time it is fatal to apply the next wash until the one beneath is thoroughly dry - the hairdryer gets plenty of use. Better still is to leave the work overnight and greet it like meeting an old friend the next morning!

Another long neglected aspect of using transparent watercolour I discovered was the use of unmixed colours in my washes. A dilute Alizarin Crimson wash applied over the whole picture took the harshness out of a Cerulean Blue sky and brought a subtle harmony to jarring colours in other parts of the composition. I would never have thought of applying this unifying wash had I not left the painting overnight and come to it with a fresh eye the following day.

There is no better way for the beginner to get into watercolour painting than by practising this method.. Another spin off is that on your leisurely way it is easier to accept the challenge of drawing directly with the brush to add variety and enhance the initial outline drawing. It is the most relaxing and rewarding way to paint with watercolour