Saturday, June 30, 2007


image on poster is a large sculpture by Peter Carter
I finally got to see the Picasso ceramics exhibition today with a friend and the Picasso Explored exhibition by the LSA, a collection of paintings inspired by Picasso. link to the museum website

I enjoyed the ceramics but his work just doesn't reach me in the way that more painterly works do. They were playful, fun, crudely painted, the combining of form and image was interesting - I've seen cave paintings using the same technique of simplification and using the form of the support (rocks in their case) to enhance the swell of muscle and form of the subjecgt - but better and painted in a much more interesting (to me) way by the cave painters! Standing in front of the cave paintings and seeing the subtle and clever use of colour and form and sheer life of the animals is an emotional experience - the Picasso pots simply didn't have that effect - simply an 'oh yeah, interesting' move on response.
The jug with the bull on was one of the better ones, there were some plates with goats on that I liked and a jug shaped like a bird - most of the rest was, for me, forgettable :(

The work had been collected over many years by Richard Attenborough, his first piece being an ashtray that cost £3! ($6) and generously donated to the museum in memory of the daughter and grandaughter he lost to the Asian tsunami.

The LSA exhibition had some work that I really liked, the sculpture by Peter Carter, shown above for instance. click here to see more work in this show
The relief plate below was done by a friend, Glen for the project and the other 2 images are by fellow members.

Douglas Smith the president had done an interesting telescopic sketchbook, handmade by him, of studies that was displayed cleverly in a perspex box with a little paper easel and window on a view on the final page - 3 dimensional and witty - I liked that.
I'm a member of this group and could/should have taken part in the project but the subject just didn't appeal to me. I've been too busy with ongoing projects to go off in another direction as well - there's only so many hours in a day.
I'm glad I went, but the Picasso wasn't, for me, a show that sent me out buzzing.
The LSA show I enjoyed.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Time and Tide ... and there's more

I've been painting intensively, teaching and being a 'visiting artist', talking to a lovely friendly sketchclub - which is why there has been no update for a while.

I've been living surrounded by the seascapes - they are hanging or stacked all around the living room ( my husband has grown tolerant of it - finally!) that way I can mull over where they are going next and what needs doing.

I decided this one needed a far headland to carry the eye round. It's now finished :)

all images copyright Vivien Blackburn

I love the coast on grey and subtle days as well as the blue skied sunny ones and so the next canvas is about all the subtle brown/grey colours and reflected light of winter. I enjoy working with these subtle colours just as much as the vivid ones.

The one below isn't quite finished. This is based on a section of the coast where pine woods come down to the beach and stabilise the dunes - a wealthy local family who owned most of the area, planted long stretches of them, I think in the 1800's.


This one is propped up at the moment to consider what next with it - to lighten the sky a little or not?

Others are wet and unphotographable at the moment.

I haven't been to see the Picasso exhibition yet but will write about it when I get there. I think I must make the effort tomorrow.

these are also my contribution to 'Light' for Inspire me Thursday :)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Leicester museum and art gallery were planning an exhibition of Picasso's pottery in 2005, that was going to be loaned to them by Richard Attenborough, actor/director,who lived in Leicester when he was young. His brothers were born here.

Then his daughter and grandaughter were killed in the Asian tsunami and everything was put on hold - he has now, incredibly generously, donated the collection in their name.

I let the intial rush die down and hope to get in to see it this week. Here is a link to an article about the show with images

Tomorrow I'm planning to spend the day painting :) and in the evening I am going to talk to a local art group about my work and mixed media etc

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Time and Tide ... progress

I've had an intensive 3 days finishing off canvasses that were in progress and starting new ones.
This one is now finished. It's based on a cold afternoon sitting sketching on the beach, watching the tide coming in along with the gulls. Colours were pearly and muted and silvery.


These two are also finished

and I got out 2 canvasses with paintings on that I didn't like (24x30 inches) and painted over them. It's often nice to do that because you can use the colour underneath, letting it show slightly through the overpainting or scratch back to it.
I like this ratio of 4:5, it's squarer than the European 'A' sizes and I much prefer it.
These will have a very little bit more done to them when I have chance to decide what! but they are very nearly finished.
The shine is from the wet paint.
Blue Day
Hazy Day
I've got some more stretchers made up (by husband) but need to stretch the canvas and my heavyweight stapler has died. Of course I haven't got any staples for the lighter one, which is why I dug out these canvasses to work on.
Now I'm having a break before dinner and catching up on blogs and emails :>)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Time and Tide continued .....

all images copyright Vivien Blackburn

These were the original paintings in the Time and Tide series - done some time back and all gone now but this shows how I hang them - higgledy piggledy with different widths and heights. There have been others since in this ongoing series.

The idea came from my sketchbooks. I paint regularly at the coast plein air, working on cryla paper - when the paintings are framed there are strips of paper that are cut off the edges. These show the colours of the day and so I'd stick them in my sketchbook. You can see them here I loved these pages and other people always commented on them - it added the dimension of time - the tide ebbing and flowing, the weather changing from blue sunny days to misty, to cold winter days with muted colours to stormy and wild as your eye travelled across the strips.

It needs, I feel, to be done on this scale - the paintings are all quite big 42inches to 54 ins tall. It doesn't work as well on a smaller scale, I've tried and not been happy with them. It gives more room to play with paint :>) at this scale and that's half the fun :>)

I want to do some winter ones as well as the sunny ones in this current series.

At one point I was travelling to the coast with a friend to paint twice a week - with a 200 mile plus round trip and an intensive day painting it was exhausting! but exhilarating. One autumn day travelling to the coast with a friend to paint we decided we must be mad - it was very thick mist on the way and we were going to paint! When we arrived the mist was just lifting and I loved trying to catch the scene in paint. The painting is below. I do wish I lived nearer the coast and could get there more easily and catch all the gorgeous different weathers.

This, the nearest coast for me is a flat one with sand dunes and salt marshes, vast beaches full of light and air. I love it there but still prefer the rocky granite cliffs, small coves, wild Atlantic seas, wildness and wonderful colours of Cornwall, where I lived in my childhood. The small stone harbours there are lovely as well. The salt marsh harbours are very different with their muddy creeks.

Friday, June 22, 2007

seascapes: Time and Tide

I've been able to get on with the paintings :>)

On the left is the first one I did this afternoon - it's 8 inches wide and about 3ft 6in tall. It's on one of the new canvasses my husband has been busy making up for me :>).

I got him to make the canvasses a different way. It's one that I have used in the past but not for a while. He attached hardboard (masonite in the US, mdf would do as well but is a carcinogen to work with) - we'd had B&Q cut it to size on their nice big machine. Then the stretcher bars are attached, lining them up perfectly, and then the whole is covered in canvas, stapling it at the back. It gives me a firmer surface to work on. It's a bit heavier with the hardboard but of course also stronger. The sides are quite deep as I don't frame them, so they need to look good as they are. I really enjoyed working on the firmer surface and I'm going to get him to do some more :>)

They were very difficult to photograph - I just used flash as the light is going now and I've corrected them as well as I can.

On the right is the second, 8 ins wide again but taller than the first, about 4ft 6ins, this time looking back towards the land from the sea, towards the dunes.

Today's 2 are in acrylic on unprimed canvas - I like to use unprimed canvas as it's possible to use the acrylic almost like watercolours, blurring, running, splattering and then going into thicker paint towards the end just where necessary. The hardboard meant that the wet canvas dried a little more slowly, which I really liked as it gave me more time to work into paint.

There are 5 others in mixed media on traditional canvas stretchers, again with deep sides.

This on the left is one of them, done from sketches and memories of sitting sketching on a cold afternoon, watching the gulls waiting for the incoming tide. It's a little less blue than this in reality - it was a cool pearly light, a little hazy with a veil of cloud.

It's acrylic underpainting, finished in oil paints.

I have sketched at the coast a lot over quite a long period of time and so though I don't reproduce sketches - I don't always even have them out - the memory of the light and the water is there to draw on.

I really believe it's important to sketch plein air if you want to do landscapes or seascapes. Photographs don't catch the colours and light that the eye sees.

So, 7 nearly finished and only 1 more to do for my 8 that I need. :>)

... and blogger is driving me mad again, closing the spaces between paragraphs - I've gone into HTML and still when I publish the spaces are gone :>( - so sorry for that long last para

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

watercolour and coloured pencils

This week one of my gifted students, Jenny, brought in a superb book by Shirley Trevena (you can see some of the work in it on her website) - an artist I really admire. One of the techniques she uses is rubbing watercolour pencils with sandpaper, over damp watercolour washes, giving a speckled effect - and it looks wonderful. take a look at her gorgeous work :)

Jenny lent me her pencils to have a go - so this is a very quick demo for the class - a play on cartridge paper with watercolour, watercolour pencils and sandpaper :) and ordinary coloured pencils (my own). We went on to discuss drawing with the 'wrong' end of the brush through damp paint to get those veins in the leaves and putting soft patches of normal coloured pencils in areas to enhance and push colours. They've all been used in this demo piece.

I'm sold! I have to get some water soluble coloured pencils :) I think graphitints would be good for this as they are supposed to dry waterproof - which would mean all those lovely little speckles would be safe from further washes of watercolour.

I've nearly finished 5 long thin seascapes (over 4ft tall and around 12in wide) but don't think I can photograph them yet as some of the paint is wet.

My husband has been busy and there are 3 more canvasses ready to go - these are even thinner - about 8in by 4ft 6in. When grouped it looks better with some of the longer thinner ones interspersed. There are some more waiting to be made too :) so I can get on with this series.

The waterways project is still ongoing but on hold at the moment - I've got these canvasses to finish for a show and want to get some more flowers done while it's the ideal season. There are so many glorious flowers about.

Bad Cat seems to have caught the mouse :) He had one in the hall - unless it was another one he'd brought in! anyway he raced outside with it before it could be taken away from him, so hopefull it's gone.

It's really nice out but very windy so using my nice shiny new macro lenses isn't possible at the moment :(

Monday, June 18, 2007

macro and close up flowers

images copyright: Vivien Blackburn 2007

My macro lenses haven't arrived yet but I took some close ups today anyway :) I was hoping to get some good pictures of the wild roses on the way home from work but it was just too windy to get a clear photo - I got a good selection of blurred ones which have been dumped :>( .

So I went out to the garden and took some pictures of some gorgeous fuchsias, a poppy and some roses against the light. The roses are a bit out of focus but I quite like the old fashioned look to their colouring.

I'll be able to work from some of these and others I took. I do like flowers with interesting centres.

I've got some timber to make some more stretchers for the long thin canvasses I need and I'm hoping my husband will make a start on them tomorrow so that I can finish the series of seascapes.

It's cold and rainy so I didn't even think about sketching by the canal on the way home :>(

Youngest cat is in disgrace. Twice recently he's made it in from outside with a mouse in his mouth, to play with and torture and we've managed to catch them and out them .....

...... he's evidently been in with one whilst we weren't looking ..... and let it go - he's VERY interested in underneath the cooker and I've told him he's not allowed out until it's FOUND!

this is pretty much how he's sitting waiting for it to reappear.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

playing with watercolours and coloured pencils

This is a page of watercolour studies of pansies, not intended to be 'a painting', I did a while ago that I came across.

It's a grey rainy day and the light isn't good to get on with the canvasses so I decided to try to pull it together as a composition. I used a bit more watercolour and coloured pencils and cropped it and added the soft blue green background to cool it down a little - the colours felt too hot. The deep dark pansies were really velvety and intense and maybe not the colour scheme I would have set out to use with the orange and pale yellows - but the background helps to knit them together. Bringing the soft mauves into the darker flowers also helped.

I also took another look at a mixed media woodland that was unfinished and worked a little more on that.

It has a little oil pastel in the early stages, watercolour and then coloured pencils.

Friday, June 15, 2007

finished ...... I think

40 inches square, mixed media on canvas, copyright Vivien Blackburn

I worked a bit more on this today, resolving the sky and the gaps between the branches, reenforcing the brightest snow in places - and I think it's done. I am in two minds as to whether to lighten the main tree slightly in places - first I think I will and then decide not to ...... so the decision it's finished is subject to change without notice :)

There is a lot more variety of colour than shows here - the image is too big for the camera to pick them up accurately. There's a much wider range of blues and blue-greys and very small touches of other colour in the grasses and foreground tree. I gave close ups of a lot of this in earlier posts so I won't duplicate them but if you missed them you can see them here or if you look at the 'rocks' tags.

It seems to have taken forever as I kept working on other things at the same time such as the waterways stuff, the long thin seascapes, teaching ...... and trying to have a life :) .

I worked further on 4 long thin seascapes but they are wet and unphotographable at the moment and not quite finished. I have to get some timber and some more canvas tomorrow to make up (well for my husband to make up for me!) some more long thin canvasses to do some more for this series.

I ordered the macro lenses from ebay ...... so excitedly waiting for them to arrive at the moment :)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

my daughters macro flowers

NB all pictures copyright C Blackburn

My daughter is, I think, a very talented photographer - she's got a good 'eye' and good technical photographic skills.

These are just some of the gorgeous macros of flowers she's done - I got her to download them onto my computer for me, as I've discovered that though I hate working from photographs, I can work from images onscreen sometimes - I think it's to do with the light, it's more like 'real' light than a flat print is. Somehow the 3D-ness comes through better as well. So I'm hoping to work from some of these eventually.

it's such a gorgeous time of year for flowers, taking some more macro photos myself is on the to-do list.
Apart from the fact that she can focus to 1cm anyway with her camera, she has a set of those macro lenses that screw on like filters. I used to have them for my old SLR - they are very very much on my must-have list now! I love the narrowness of the depth of field and the way the background is abstracted, enhancing and concentrating the attention onto the main subject.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

abstracted flower or rescuing disasters

images copyright: Vivien Blackburn

I came across a disastrous watercolour flower abstraction when I was sorting through some paperwork and sketchbooks and stopped to work on it with coloured pencils and try to pull it together.

It could now be the basis for a large canvas, playing with fluid paint, glazing and line - or of course a large watercolour/mixed media.

I do like mixing media for the bigger range of marks available.

Another thing on the 'to do' list - more watercolour/mixed media work.

and ..... played with in Photoshop

Friday, June 08, 2007

I want to paint

I was all set to spend the day painting but got a phone call from college and ended up going in to cover for a colleague :( so my painting day went west.

This is all the artwork I got out of the day! a quick doodle of some pansies I picked from the college garden on the way in, they are those lovely small pansies - heartsease.

And tomorrow (Saturday) is a meeting of county tutors - which nicely messes up that day as well :( - luckily there are only a couple of these meetings a year. I had a phone call asking me to take in a piece of my work ....... what do I take? maybe a canvas and throw a sketchbook in my bag in case? I expect I'll decide on the way out of the door in the morning. It will be interesting to see other tutors work.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

working back and forth continued :)

Lindsay asked: Vivien, thanks so much for this detailed explaination. I like how you are discussing the back and forth part. I feel that with charcoal too but never thought about it with oil paint. Oil Pastels can't be worked this way because the lights look muddy on top of the darks. I can't wait to start in oils.You probably did answer something just like this earlier. I was still thinking more along the lines of drawing rather than painting. I am finding painting requires a much different way of thinking. So your information probably zoomed over my head.Few more questions? Are you using black or mixing your darks from complements. Its hard to tell in the winter scape.And are you using a flat brush or rounds or both?Again, many thanks for such an in depth,multi media answer.

so .... here goes, I'm answering here because it follows on from the last entry

.... I don't use black to darken colours - virtually never ever. I use complements like alizarin crimson with viridian, which gives wonderful intense darks in all colours from deep burgundy through black to a deep forest green. I also use combinations like burnt umber with either prussian blue or ultramarine, which gives some really nice darks and greys. I like my darks to have colours and black does tend to kill them I feel. Lamp black and lemon yellow does make a lovely dark green though.

The darks in the winter painting had burnt umber as one of the darkening agents with Prussian Blue - there is no black in it at all.

I also don't mix colours thoroughly so that there are slight variations within a mix, in my work I'm not interested in flat areas of colour usually.

Brushes : it depends on the size of painting. On large canvasses I'll often use large brushes from the DIY store; designed for varnishing, they have nice long flexible nylon bristles and don't cost an arm and a leg :) - they are about 2 and 3 inches wide. I also use a variety of hog flats, filberts and rounds and I like the brushes designed for acrylics with the flexible nylon bristles as well in all sorts of sizes and shapes. They have a softer touch and are better for some details. Then I use painting knives and a colour shaper to push paint around and cut through it. Sometimes I'll use the edge of a piece of card (a lot of the twigs were done that way, you can bend the card as you print the paint with it). Occasionally I may use a paint roller. As I already said, I don't use the paint very thickly - I don't really like paint applied thickly for no real reason - sometimes it's needed and that's fine.

I never work entirely in oil pastels largely because of the colour mixing and the fact that I can't work backwards and forwards. They don't suit my way of working. But I do use them with watercolours as a resist, in the same way that people use candles.

These are a couple of very very quick doodles I did to show my students how it works. I like the way I can put marks down and then drop a completely different colour over the top and they come through. I use them to add texture or put lights in and preserve them while I drop dark paint in.

It extends the range of marks available and is a quick and fluid way of getting things down.

I've found that cheaper oil pastels are ok, but to work really well it's worth buying Sennelier as they are wonderfully buttery and rich - and they also have some luscious metallic colours.

You can put oil pastels over the watercolour but it isn't as interesting, it's more opaque and doesn't have the same lively effect.

For me the working back and forth is essential - I can push darks, bring back lights, adjust colours, glaze areas, scumble paint so that the underpainting shows through - and it all becomes so much more interesting and more sustaining than a more illustrational one-layer version.

I hope this helps :)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

trees and 'sky holes'

I was asked about how I paint/draw trees and deal with the 'sky holes' - it was asked in the comments section and it related to an older post - and I can't find it! so apologies if I'm not answering the question right!

all images are copyright

The answer isn't simple because it depends on what medium I'm using.

This one was done plein air, in oils, over a couple of hours maximum. So wet in wet paint. The sky was painted back in between the leaves and branches as in the studio painting below.

Oil paint is the simplest, because I can work backwards and forwards. I will probably roughly sketch in the branches and/or foliage but then I'll go back in with the sky colour, sometimes while the paint is wet, to get soft blurred edges and sometimes later when it's dry to keep the colour clean. It give more organic, less hard edged shapes to the branches and twigs and enables me to get finer lines for the highest twigs and have lost and found parts, the way that the eye sees the tree - we don't see it clearly defined as in a photograph.

This was stage one of the 40 inch square canvas, started in acrylic paints in the underpainting, sorting out where things were going. A lot of the snow and ice remains in the final version but the trees and sky were worked on a lot in oils, pushing the further trees into the distance and creating a depth to the pattern of twigs and branches.

Here a section of twigs and branches is finished - worked and reworked in layers, painting branches, overpainting patches of sky, scratching through to get twiggy thin marks - always working backwards and forwards towards the effect I'm after.

I like acrylic for the underpainting for speed of drying and because when I scratch through oil paint to the underlying acrylic it scratches to a clear clean colour. Scumbling oil paint also allows the underlying acrylic paint to show through. I don't like working in acrylic for the whole painting though. I like the feel and handling of oil paint in the later stages. The work may look textured, and is, but I don't use terrifically thick globs of paint, I use a knife but it's about applying the paint and making the kind of loose marks I want rather than applying quantity. Some washy bits are actually very thin paint and some of the knife marks are scraped on very thinly.

If I'm sketching or using watercolours then I do need to establish where the sky will show through. I never put a wash of sky down and then fit the trees on top. I need to know where the sky holes will be and then fit the sky in and the leaves/branches around them. Putting branches and leaves down on top of a wash can give a cut and pasted look.

This was an experiment to see just how badly watercolours behaved in a normal moleskine - the answer was VERY badly! they beaded and sat on the surface and had to be scrubbed in with a finger - so I finished the sketch with coloured pencil over scrubbed in watercolour. Here's the drawing and disastrous watercolour!

The branches of the tree were light against a darker background so I needed to establish where they were and fit the background around them. The twiggy bits were darker so they could be put down on top of the sky where necessary.

When I sketched down by the canal in charcoal I could work backwards and forwards again - the leaves of the tree were light against a dark brick wall - the leaves and branches were 'drawn' with an eraser, lifting the charcoal. Then I could go back in and darken the wall in the spaces.

I really like media that allow me to work this way, pushing and pulling the lights and darks and colours until it's a close as I can get it to how I want.

and with watercolour I let the distant trees and sky blur.

I hope all this makes sense and helps :)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

studio spaces

I came across photos of my old studio space when I was looking for something else (which of course I haven't found yet)

my old studio space at an open studio day

I rented a studio space when I finished my degree. It was in an old Victorian school, which had 2 floors divided by cobbled together partitions into individual spaces, no heating, holes in the roof - and was bitterly cold. In Spring and Summer it would be much warmer outside than in there. We had one portable gas heater per floor which was usually out of gas. If it had gas left then someone who'd got there before you had usually hogged it and was sitting working right next to it with an open dish of turps - how they didn't blow the place up I'll never know!

After a while I realised that though it was lovely to have the room to be messy and pour and splash paint as much as I wanted, I hardly went in. If it was warm I generally wanted to work plein air and when it was cold ... it was like getting dressed for an Arctic expedition to go in and I'd come home chilled to the bone. Also it was across town and so I had to know I could stay for quite a while or it wasn't worth the trip.

There was another studio group who had invited me to join them - some really good artists - but this one was equally cold, parking was almost impossible and it was up 3 huge flights of stairs above a factory - with asthma that was not fun. Carrying big canvasses etc ..... no way.

My youngest daughter left home and I decided that her room would become my - warm - studio.

It's much better. I can walk in any time for a short while to work or consider what needs doing to work in progress - the only problem is that short times because-I-have-other-stuff-to-do-that-I-really-ought-to-do can become all-dayers with the other stuff forgotten! I don't have to suffer someone else's awful taste in music and or brain dead dj's :) or get sidetracked by people who wanted to chat when I wanted to work. Materials and work aren't divided between home and studio. I do see all the jobs I ought to be getting on with when I walk out of it though!

I'd love a bigger space, the storage alone is too much in volume, eating up the space I have to move around in :( ..... which might be better when I get round to a major sort out (oh look a little pink pig went flying by)

Some friends and I did look at a potential studio space that was very conveniently near for me - and HEATED - and the heating was in with the rent, so no potential arguments about shares of heating bills to spoil friendships. Unfortunately, though we nearly made it, we couldn't quite get together the number of artists to make it economically viable :( - given more time we probably could have. Also no one wanted the headache of being the one to collect rents and be responsible for it all.

We'd though of running classes there as well and having several open studios a year. All that needs people to do a certain amount of administration and artists aren't always good administrators - I'm certainly not. We certainly didn't have funds to pay anyone :(

This group have set up a rather smarter gallery version - I would love to be part of something like that.

John Blockley used to have a gallery in Stow on the Wold with studio space above, which he shared with Moira Huntly. That always seemed a wonderful set up to me :) They are artists worth googling. I really love the work of John Blockley. His drawings were superb and he abstracted the landscape with a wonderful vocabularly of marks and techniques.

the old John Blockley Gallery, now the Red Rag Gallery

Friday, June 01, 2007

A rose for Rosie!

copyright Vivien Blackburn coloured pencil
another study of those overblown roses in coloured pencil - this time in the moleskine. It's very hard to scan without it looking washed out. I had to layer it and photoshop it to get it like the
original. The scanner also expects white paper so I have to add yellow as the moleskine is a rich cream and it throws the colour balance.

I got to the Pastel exhibition this afternoon and there was some good work there - ooh!! they've put my tree paeony on the front page bless them :)

Tonight is a meeting of our small group of friends - we'll have a post mortem on the group exhibition and chat. I hope someone takes some work as I'm too tired to bother!

I think belonging to groups like these is good - the Pastel Society have introduced some plein air days this year and are having a second exhibition later in the year. They have an annual talk by a well know pastel artist. It's a chance to chat to other local artists you may never otherwise meet.

Our small group are friends and friends-of-friends are from local universities. We exhibit together (and of course separately), meet up to chat, go to to exhibitions, go out to sketch ... it's nice to have a group to call on.