One of the most common questions I’m asked is “how long does it take?” So, I thought I’d quickly run through the process of the creation of a recent piece – “Razzle dazzle”
Painting zebras is always a bit of a headache inducer – all those stripes, and five together was ambitious. I started with a small sketch 25x25cm, which went well, and was pretty straightforward.
So, an expensive sheet of 70x50cm paper is clipped up onto the easel and I start on a big version.
|But soon joined the growing pile of rejects on the floor…|
|Herd of Zebras 70x50cm £850|
Then I moved onto the oil, the background took ages to get right, I started with an ochre/blue/pale cream combination, but then changed the background to red which I felt conveyed Africa a bit more, that red dust. Also the ochre was too similar to the foreground colour. The blue doesn’t really show up in the photos, as it is so close in tone to the top layer, but it’s very clear in the flesh so to speak.
|Framed and ready for sale £1500|
|The central Hall, Hugh contemplating the morrocan influenced fountain, now bereft of goldfish.|
I was not familiar with this artist, but this huge – 8 foot square – canvas is extraordinary, it’s such an incredible study of light and pattern. Looking through his body of work, he clearly was drawn to abstract light patterns, and his painting of seagulls in late evening light ‘Silver Wings’ is stunning. His paintings seem remarkably contemporary for his time.
|The punt gunner by Charkes Walter Simpson 1924|
|The Gypsy Horse Drovers 1895|
I know Maud from her prolific dog portraits that adorn many a country house, but this is the first big painting I had seen of hers. A stunning composition, very unusual having cropped the deer in the foreground.
Sheep are such unappealing subjects to paint being lumpen shaped, idiotic and with very little expression (sorry sheep!) but here Henry Davis has made them magnificently noble and dramatic.
|Approaching Thunderstorm in Picardy 1869|
|Dod Shaw on Patrick 1912|
|Brushwork up close. Mental.|
I was hugely honoured to have the opportunity to go and photograph the “Golden Horse” Pearl of Peace at his yard, along with two other stallions. This extraordinary stallion is one of a kind, with an incredibly rare genetic combination that gives him his reflective, metallic gold colouring. He is still a youngster at three but such a character, and a real performer, clearly going to love the spotlight his life will entail! I am hoping to create a series of paintings from my time there, and will post progress on my FaceBook page.
So back to the grindstone in a few days, I’m looking forward to really getting my teeth into a new series, I feel as though I have been away from my studio for too long!
I’m slowly getting to grips with making short videos, and the timelapse ones seem to be the most popular. Here’s a link to a recent painting of a dark grey arab.
YouTube video of Catherine painting
I have to replace my old easel. I first picked him up in Florence, part of a job lot being replaced by the Charles H. Cecil Studio where I had been studying. I was setting up a realist summer art school with James Napier, in London, and we bought them for a pittance, and, I presume, jammed them into our cars to get them back, I can’t imagine I flew them back, even in the heady days of limitless baggage on easyjet.
|Charles H. Cecil Studio|
They did service at the summer school, which rolled on for a year or two, eventually developing into the now enormously successful London Academy of Realist Art (drawpaintsculpt.com) which these days is run by James and his sister. I hung onto my easel (sorry James!) and its done a decade or so with me. A year or so in the punishingly expensive studios of London, a thankfully short while sharing what was basically a cave with James in the London Bronze Foundry and then more recently in my studio here.
|The old easel with a work in progress|
Old age has got him finally, in the end. He shakes and shudders, arthritic in every joint, and is also incontinent, leaking onto my feet (or the spaniels sleeping below) various noxious fluids I use in my work. I had a moment of madness, shopping late night on my ipad and bought a beast from Jacksons Art, a beechwood Chippendale of a model by Mabef. I’m pretty sure it cost more than my first car. It rolls, extends, lays flat, has drawers, but part of me will miss my old, paint encrusted easel from Italy, who knows how many students, and how many works have been created in his rickety wooden embrace?
|Mmmm, don’t think he’ll be clean for long!|
At last spring is ambling into view. I always view the art season as kicking off with the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea park in mid March. I was lucky enough to get tickets for the private view, and so I duly trotted along with the talented Tania Still for company. As we made (very slow, as one or other of us knew someone in almost every stand) progress around the fair, I was really struck by how many fresh pieces of work were on display. I absolutely LOVED these pieces by Alan Kingsbury on the Panter and Hall stand. Apparently he had a bit of a revelation a couple of years ago, threw all he knew into the air, and started producing these massive, simple, but so striking still life’s.
|Alan Kingsbury 30x40inches £4,850|
VERY excitingly I am going to be exhibiting at the next A.A.F. at Hampstead in the 11th-14th June with the Eduardo Alessandro Studios I am busy burning the midnight oil producing some really cracking pieces that will be shown at the fair. I’m afraid I’m going to keep most of them under wraps until then, but can share this bulldog with you…
|Bulldog 28×28 inches £2775|
I really admire the EA Studios, they represent some incredible artists and I’m honoured to join the team. I particularly love Ron Lawson’s work, an artist I would love to own a piece by!
I’ve been totally hooked on this series, and can’t wait to see who wins. My money is on Paul or Claire. I’ve also been surprised at the general low standard (these 10 were the best from 6000 entries?!?) and the outcry over the judges critiques. I realise I also now sound critical, but drawing and painting is as much as skill as any other discipline and some of them have not the slightest grasp of perspective, proportion or composition. To use an example, we would expect a competition featuring Britain’s best amateur musician to feature people who have a reasonable grasp of playing an instrument. I think it demonstrates the fairly dire state of many of our art schools in this country, the loss of basic draughtsmanship, with a few notable exceptions, (lavenderhillstudios.com, drawpaintsculpt.com) elsewhere the trite view ‘art is subjective’ is parroted. So is music subjective, but I doubt you’d want to listen to a musician who had never practised the basic skills of playing…. Believe me you don’t. My daughter is learning the recorder, she thinks she sounds amazing. I’ve rediscovered the joys of earplugs.
But perhaps you don’t agree? Maybe art is best left untaught, and everyone should develop at liberty, free from from the constraints of the past? Let me know….
|Work in progress 400x500mm|
I’ve been asked recently, a few times, to have students or young teenagers for work experience. This is always as much of an experience for me as I imagine it is for them, as I see my younger self reflected in their faces, and their dreams. I wonder if I had spent any serious time with an artist in my teens whether I would have taken fright at the path I was choosing!
I didn’t stumble into being an artist, it is what I wanted to do from a very young age. I knew, with out doubt, that there was no other path that would give me the same satisfaction and happiness. That is not to say it was a choice without hurdles, my art foundation year at E.C.V. in Paris was at an art school largely geared towards graphic design and advertising, and I saw that this would be a more lucrative path. Luckily, I was hopeless at graphic design, and remained on my road. I then studied at Durham University, and watched my peers go on to quickly earn decent salaries in the city, and buy houses. I wondered if I should maybe get the ‘proper job’ that my mother kept hinting at. A brief detour into portraiture taught me a huge amount (the main lesson being that I was not a portrait artist).
|‘Ivy Leaping’ Oil on canvas|
I think, it was clear in my head that I was unable ‘not’ to be an artist, that being prevented from painting and drawing makes me unhappy and frustrated. I constantly have ideas and plans buzzing around in my brain, I see inspiration in the every day routine of life, be it winter light though the hedge on the school run or watching a wildlife programme on late night TV.
I realise I am fortunate to have known what I wanted to do, and to have had the support to achieve it, but it is both a blessing and a curse. People often say to me ‘Why don’t you paint such and such?’ or ‘Why don’t you draw only charcoals?’ The answer is that I can’t. I have to stay to true to what I want to paint, to my vision as an artist. If I try to paint to please other people I feel I end up pleasing no one, and in the end my art deteriorates.
|‘Blaze of Glory’ Charcoal on paper|
One of the bloggers I read regularly, Making a Mark by Katherine Tyrell, posted this great link to the 2103 BP Portrait winner Susanne du Toit’s Top Ten Tips for being an artist. They resonate with me, and I think I will pass them onto the work experience students.
The other piece of advice that I read somewhere recently was “Learn to live on less” and it struck a chord. Most artists will never earn a fortune, or get serious recognition, but they will be an artist, and that is reward in itself.
|‘Up, up and away’. Charcoal on paper|
I spent most of January shivering in my very damp studio struggling with artists block. Always an artists worst nightmare, exacerbated by the thought of nothing to show in June for the exhibition. I started having nightmares about standing in the gallery, with a crowd of people looking at blank walls, and then at me…
However, luckily it passed, I had produced several very average paintings (all of which have since been scrapped) then one good charcoal and is so often is the case once I get on a roll I start producing plenty of work that I’m pleased with.
|Black & Tango|
2013 has been a great year.
I think at the outset I was determined it was going to be a good one. 2012 had been pretty shit, I badly broke my ankle, and then, having recovered from that, was diagnosed with cancer. There seems to be a general view that skin cancer is somehow a less dangerous form of cancer, more of a cosmetic irritation. Which I admit, was probably a view I also held. (Got a dodgy mole – just get it chopped off; problem solved.) Turns out, that’s not how it works, and skin cancer is as frightening a black hole to look into as any other cancer. I was lucky.
So, my aims for 2013 were to get fit and healthy, and to acquire an agent/gallery in London, plus at least one other in the UK.
I also wanted to grow my ‘brand’ through PR, social media, retail outlets, and by entering a selection of Art competitions. People always seem surprised when they ask me about my daily working life how much time is spent away from the studio, but being successful as an artist is largely about being successful as a business. No one is going to wander into your studio and buy enough art to warrant you to pay tax. So it was a happy moment taking this photo of my picture “Ivy Leaping” in prime position in the window of Oil & Water in Wandsworth, another goal ticked off the list!
|Oil & Water Gallery, Old York Road, SW19|
I also signed up with The Stockbridge Gallery in Hampshire, and managed to get into the BBC wildlife artist of the year finals. It has been clear through my work that I’ve managed to rediscover sense of joy, that I think had been noticeably absent.
I’ve tried to be bolder, more experimental and use greater colour than ever before, and have found that this has seeped out of the studio and into what I eat, what I wear and my outlook on life in general.
|“Over the last”|
I am excited about 2014, about the opportunities and possibilities that lie ahead; my solo show with Oil and Water Gallery in June 2014, the competitions coming up, and of course, the many and varied people that I so love meeting in the course of work. I feel very blessed (well, except for the tax bill obvs!)
Happy New Year
|Me, wearing my favorite new jumper!|
I’ve been spreading myself far and wide in the past couple of months entering pretty much every art competition going. My painting ‘Stags in Rut’ was awarded ‘Commended’ in its category in the BBC Wildlife Artist of the year, and I was given a lovely certificate, (though frankly would have quite liked the free safari and/or some cash!) and I got to spend the day in Marwell Zoo with the immensely talented Fran Sanders , who is a genuine wildlife artist.
I did wonder if I could stretch the boundaries of truth and enter the Sky.com portrait competition which is offering a very lucrative prize pot. Ironically I trained as a portrait artist, but quickly discovered I wasn’t best suited to that career; the best portrait artists leave their clients half in love with them, whereas I think my sittings were more akin to spending time with the Gestapo. I can’t chit chat while painting, listen to Shania Twain on loop and am not very tolerant of ‘suggestions’. Suffice to say, it was a short stint, and I moved into painting animals, which are largely silent and un-opinionated. Here’s an example of one of my early portraits (paid model – did as was told.)
The Henley Arts Trail was a resounding success, hundreds people trooping through the studio doors, viewing and buying art. However next year, to save time, I might equip myself with one of these T-shirts….
It really does feel like that sometimes. I get an enormous boost up the ladder from something – selection as a finalist for the BBC Wildlife Artist of the Year competition, or a couple of great commissions, but then the next week, an agent or gallery rejection will send me slithering back down the snake to square, if not one, then further from the finish.
Being an artist is not an easy career choice, it is very personal, and requires an extremely thick skin, and a limitless amount of self belief. I am learning to enjoy the journey, and celebrate the successes, and write off the ‘failures’ as just another stepping stone. In many ways, being an artist is not a career, but a life, and as the great Winston Churchill said
” Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts”
So philosophising apart – being selected for the BBC Wildlife AOY is fantastic, the next round of judging is next week. This is the painting selected, which is in the ‘British Mammals’ category. Fingers crossed, but to be selected at all is an honour.
Dogs, dogs, dogs….
I’ve had a back log of private commissions to do this summer, and somehow, once I got on a theme it carried on into the gallery work.
Up to Yorkshire to paint six of Jim Howard’s working collies, he was the English sheepdog trialling team last year, and I was so impressed watching his dogs work. A real treat to be in the spectacular Yorkshire countryside, have proper roast dinner with Jim’s mum (who runs Lane Farm cottages) And of course, drive a quad bike, with a sheep as side passenger – not something I’ve done for a while.
These labs were a little closer to home, but such distinct characters.
Then, to be honest I got a bit carried away, and started on some more unusual breeds, so not sure where I’m going to place the paintings, I don’t think they’ll appeal to my regular clientele!
Luckily I’ve been in talks with the lovely Victoria at the Stockbridge Gallery, who predominantly represents dog artists, and happily I am to be included in the ‘stable’, so all the recent dog paintings are going there at the end of month.
After six months work, the painting of Her Majesty’s Fell Ponies was finally presented at the Balmoral Jubilee Garden Party. By all accounts, she was pleased with it.
It was a privilege to be asked to do the commission and I only hope I have done them justice. The great Australian art critic, Robert Hughes, passed away recently and I was forwarded one of his acerbic quotes;
“The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.”
I am certainly not blessed with perfect confidence, so can only hope that an amount of doubt is a good thing. Confidence is so crucial to an artist, I think the initial version of this painting was ruined by a loss of confidence, which translates to a lack of surety in handling of the oil paint, and a few hours of nervously dabbing at the canvas can wreck a months work.
Unfortunately the Highland cow painting has suffered this fate, and been consigned to the floor. However I got going on this one, and finished it over a few days. These lovely looking cattle also supply our local pub with superb steak!
The past couple of weeks have been unusually prolific for me, the release from the stress of the royal commission coupled with a backlog of ideas, and full time child care, means I’ve produced more this month than the first half of the year. Dogs, still life, sporting paintings, here’s a couple of examples.
A week to go before my painting is presented, it’s all framed and the plaque is finished. I’m beginning to feel quite nervous about it…
I’ve been working a lot recently (more child care) and have finished a couple of works. I found these wonderful natural canvas panels in the Jacksons Art catalogue, and am loving the finish, they lend a contemporary edge in the square format. In fact, liked them so much I’ve ordered a couple of metres of raw canvas so plan to make up some bigger sizes myself (the panels are quite limited in sizes)
The first image is of a still life I set up in Scotland, in that glorious late evening light you only get north of the border. I stopped doing still life about 4 years ago, I’m not sure why, I think I had just got bored with them, but doing this one reminded me how much I enjoyed it and I have a second, more complicated composition already sketched out on canvas, which should hopefully get finished this month.
I’ve been meaning to paint my own dogs for ages, though persuading Ivy to model took hours, and a lot of cheese. The result is great though, again on the square format natural canvas. I’m going to have a go at doing Whirly the poodle at some stage, although she doesn’t lend herself to painting with all that curly brown hair…..
People often say they would love to come to the studio, but either don’t want to bother me, or don’t know when I’m working there (admittedly rather erratic hours!). So as of Wednesday 1st August I’m going to have an open studio morning every first Wednesday of the month, from 9am – 2 pm. Coffee and cake on offer!