Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Time and Tide: sunset and pools at the beach

This is one of the recent ones in the Time and Tide series, a smallish one of just under 3ft tall. It's about those evenings where the clouds and colours are patterned and vivid, layers of different coloured clouds, delicate peach pinks, small fluffy clouds that are lower and the pool reflecting it all.

The pattern element was important as it was that sort of evening. It makes me think of Fairisle knitting! It works well with the others in the series.

What do you think?

Daughter and new son are both doing well and she's so happy :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

a grandmother!

My daughter had a little boy by emergency Caesarian section last night. They are both doing fine, I hardly slept last night!

I rushed the card into the post so I hope she gets it tomorrow.

My grandmother was really special - I hope I can live up to her :)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Time and Tide continued, a patch of sparkling water

A patch of sparkling water, copyright Vivien Blackburn, approx 36 in high

This mixed media on canvas is based on sketches I did of the light sparkling on a small area of sea on a fairly calm day. Sometimes it's fun to zoom in and concentrate on just one small area. It hasn't photographed well I'm afraid with a bit of interference from the varnish :(

Today I've been working on a couple of new larger canvasses, which will take a while to resolve.

I'm hoping to get to a really good pastel exhibition at a gallery in a nearby market town. Work on show is by several artists who belong to the Pastel Society - I visited their exhibition at the Mall Galleries in the Spring and reviewed the show.

Some of those I particularly liked have work there - Averil Gilkes is showing her beautiful seascapes and Ingrid Wilkinson her gorgeous abstracts. I know it will make me want to reach for my pastels again :) the gallery website

Sunday, August 26, 2007

sketching at the beach

quick sketch of moving figures in watercolour, pencil, biro and coloured pencil copyright Vivien Blackburn

Yesterday I went to the coast to deliver the work to the Neptune gallery. My husband went with me and I decided to sketch - not a good idea! It's not the same as going with friends who also paint - I was conscious of having to hurry up so he wouldn't be bored, the beach was busy with bank holiday visitors, who constantly walked in front of me, moved, put up windbreaks or tents or took them down just as I was going to sketch them ..... not ideal !

So I only got this quick sketch done ... not good, a very bad composition as I just sketched people when they held a position long enough and they are both looking out to the left. I didn't have time to consider properly and even though I had my back to the seawall, people came to look, which is distracting. (excuses excuses!) I thought I'd post it just to prove that I did manage to get a bit of sketching done. :)

I've added the photo to show how photos don't give you all the information - the scene was brightly backlit and so the camera shows the breakwater as intensely dark with no detail - in fact, though it was dark, the cracks in the wood and the grain were interesting and there was a greeniness of ?algae. The wide angle lens doesn't see distances the same as the human eye (I did move some things around a little in the sketch) but like the green in the breakwater, some subtle colour changes aren't there as I saw them. (the people are all strangers, husband was sitting next to me chilling out :) )

It was a lovely hot sunny day though and it was just so nice to be by the sea, even on a busy beach, when I prefer isolated quiet ones.

Friday, August 24, 2007


webcam at Mawgan Porth

I wish I was there now - but soon :)

I'm absolutely exhausted so no sensible post today - but do look at the webcam link above of a typical Cornish beach, a couple of miles from where I used to live.

The colours today were lovely and changing with the light :) - click back through the times as it takes a picture once an hour and you can see the tide coming in, going out and the light and the colours changing at Mawgan Porth

I wish I was there now - but soon :)

I'm absolutely exhausted so no sensible post today - but do look at the webcam link above of a typical Cornish beach, a couple of miles from where I used to live.

The colours today were lovely and changing with the light :) - click back through the times as it takes a picture once an hour and you can see the tide coming in, going out and the light and the colours changing dramatically. webcam at Mawgan Porth

I wish I was there now - but soon :)

I'm absolutely exhausted so no sensible post today - but do look at the webcam link above of a typical Cornish beach, a couple of miles from where I used to live.

The colours today were lovely and changing with the light :) - click back through the times as it takes a picture once an hour and you can see the tide coming in, going out and the light and the colours changing dramatically.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

painting styles - should you have a style?

one of the Time and Tide series - about changing weather, time, season, tide and light at the beach copyright Vivien Blackburn

Katherine's post today is very interesting and is a subject that matters to me individually and as a teacher in adult/higher education. she talks today about artists developing a style.

Students often talk about finding their style and I tell them it'll happen. It's like your handwriting, it's unique as long as you let it evolve without forcing it and stylising it like calligraphy.

Whilst it's important for your work to be cohesive, it needs to be cohesive because it's your voice coming through and not because you have decided to be - for instance - cubist, or to churn out cutesy little cottages with orange lights in the windows (now who could that be? >:>) )

Great artists develop over time and often work through many 'styles' which are simply aspects of their development, a strengthening of their skills, exploring issues such as light or movement.

Monet and the Impressionists early work was relatively tight but evolved to the dazzling abstraction of Monet's waterlilies over time. He became focussed on the issues that interested him, the effect of light and how somtimes things just dissolve in light as they do in Turners paintings, which he loved.

Giacomo Balla was interested in showing movement, his woman walking a dog is a lovely dynamic little work.

Cubism isn't about pattern but about multiple viewpoints of the same object - a challenge that Braque and Picasso worked through. How to show multiple views and create a cohesive finished work? how to say more about something than one viewpoint can?

None were interested in creating a 'style' but interested in the the subject - light or movement or muliple viewpoints.

David Prentice (link on the right in my links column) paints in the Malvern Hills - he works daily plein air, sketching. These are representational, loose and keenly observed, fairly traditional. Then in the studio he does beautiful big abstracted canvasses and pastels in heightened colours. These introduce the element of time, of weather systems passing and take a more aerial view than is possible in reality. It's these issues that the paintings are about and the colour and marks serve to enable this. He has experimented with mirrors in his canvasses, set at angle with canvasses that are folded and shaped - not getting stale and formulaic but constantly thinking and pushing and experimenting and taking risks. With these your view of the painting changed as you walked by and different elements were reflected - they were really interesting but actually I preferred the canvasses without.

To develop 'style' you need to know what it is you want to say with your painting/drawing. What is it that made you want to paint the subject? the light? the drama or mood? the sense of place? what sort of mood are you creating? peaceful, dynamic, lonely, busy? Holding these thoughts as you work will influence the kind of marks you make, the colours you choose, the medium - and your 'style' will evolve :)

These long thin canvasses in the Time and Tide series were done, not as a stylistic thing, but to work together as a group, adding to the feeling of time passing, time of day and season changing, the tide coming in and going out , the light, colour and weather changing - and hopefully a sense of being there, seeing these things.

Don't try to work in the style of another artist - it's like walking in someone else's shoes :) not comfortable! take elements of information and technique from lots of sources and then make it your own. If your work isn't like other peoples - great! it means you have your own voice :)

Artists who have influenced me are varied - certainly late Monet and Turner sketches for their wonderful way of painting light itself, Schiele for his wonderful incisive flowing lines, the subtlety of Gwen John, the drawings of Van Gogh, the Expressionists for colour and drama, Degas for his wonderful drawing and off beat compositions, Toulouse Lautrec for incisive drawings and characters, Rembrandt for his insight and free use of paint, Caravaggio for chiaroscuro and drama and characters and so many more - all of them very different but all with something in particular that draws me to them and elements I'd like in my own work in my own way.

so .... what do you think? do you agree? disagree? what are your influences? do you have a style?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Seascapes for the next show

all work copyright Vivien Blackburn
I've been busy finishing off some canvasses - they are still wet so I'll have to photograph them later and sorting out some framed work to take to the Neptune Gallery.

These are 2 of the framed works that will be going. Both done plein air in oil paint. They are on treated paper, so are framed as if for watercolours, with a 3inch matt and limed ash frame.

I love the different light and colour as the seasons, time and tide change. Nothing stays the same for long and it's necessary to paint fast. The first painting was the day after a really bad storm and high tide - there were intense deep blue skies and the wet sand was vivid colours, around us were damaged dunes and sea defences. The second was a warm April day, after a long cold early spring. It was bliss to be in the sun :)

I'm hoping to have some time to paint after I've delivered the work - so fingers crossed for good weather later this week :)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

and now for something completely different :)

Russian Dolls: copyright Vivien Blackburn

I've been down to visit my daughter who is expecting her first baby in 3 weeks - so lots of excitement :).

So now I have a lot of finishing off paintings and organising to do to get some work ready for an exhibition and catch up.

This is a rough design for a card for her - it's her and her husband and their cat as Russian Dolls (they aren't at all that shape! - well she is at the moment but not normally :) ) - I haven't decided yet whether it will be a cut out to shape card or a square card with the image on. What do you think?

Someone already pointed out that it might be a good idea to have the baby larger than the cat ....... or else the baby fits inside the cat ...... oooops!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

the language of painting and more about my degree course

Masquerade and Albertine (detail) copyright Vivien Blackburn
oil on canvas approx 4 inches

Marion Boddy Evans in her newsletter (you can subscribe to it on ) showed this quote:

"My aim is to escape from the medium with which I work. To leave no residue of technical mannerisms to stand between my expression and the observer." -- Andrew Wyeth

It's so utterly opposed to the way I work and the artists why really appeal to me! :D Not wrong or right - just a very very different viewpoint. He certainly achieved his aims. His work, for me has a remoteness, a certain coldness, a lack of passion.

I love to see the marks, the language of the paint - exciting swirls, lines, blobs, splatters, free expressive marks that create movement and drama - but based on keen observation. I love the work of Kurt Jackson ( ) in a variety of media - he catches the spirit of place, the light and the colour of places in a unique way. Or the work of Shirley Trevena ( ) who does the most amazing free watercolours with a terrific sense of colour, composition and drama. Both use keen observation but then move on to make a 'Painting' rather than a picture. On my website are links to lots of other artist I love who all work in this expressive way.

Marks are really essential to me - it's the visual language of painting/drawing and provides a rich 'vocabulary'.

Looking at past masters - Rembrandt for instance - stand back and you see a weary old man, beaten down by a tough life - walk up to it and there are swirls and dabs and globs and trickles of paint - almost abstract in places. Monet of course is the same, waterlilies dissolving in light and reflections - marks and dabs and globs of paint - luscious :D - too many biscuit tins and chocolate box reproductions can make you forget how wonderful the originals are.

Expanding my 'visual vocabulary' was just one of the things I gained from the degree. Learning from tutors in classes and fellow students as we experimented.

One module started with us having to take in a roll of Fabriano paper - nearly 5 feet wide - and work on large sheets with black and white emulsion with anything we could come up with that would make an interesting mark. These weren't meant to be finished Paintings (capital T!) but learning curves. We used rollers, sticks, combs, cotton reels, hands, fingers, feet, jugs to pour paint, splatters, string, scourers, corrugated card, card to print with or mask shapes, sponges cut to shapes or not - the list was endless - anything except brushes or traditional tools in this exercise. I loved it!

All of this fed into my paintings, observational or abstract.

The detail from a painting shown above (done without brushes) relies on paint scraped on, scratched through and small blobs of paint. The whole thing is only about 7 x 5 inches on canvas and shows a tangled section of the roses that grow over a fence in my garden. The roses had the feel of chintzy Ye Olde Tea Shoppe fabric to me and that was the aspect that interested me, rather than a botanical image of the roses when I did this small painting. You can see the whole canvas on my website

I don't see the marks as 'standing between expression and observer' because when I look at the works of expressive artists I'm drawn in by exciting marks - I want to stay looking longer, walking close, standing back, looking in detail.

So many philosophies of painting - it makes for interesting work :)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

doing a fine art degree

Undergrowth: copyright Vivien Blackburn 60 x 24 inches

People often ask if you can develop fully as an artist without doing a degree. I can't answer for everyone - but for me, I know I wouldn't have.

I'd done my Foundation Year on leaving school - a degree in Art starts with a Foundation Year, where you try all sorts of disciplines and experiment wildly :)

At the time I wanted to go into Fashion/Fabric design - but realised what a tough world it was, the visiting lecturers from London told us constantly! I decided I wasn't actually that tough! so I didn't continue to the degree years.

I married, had my family and started painting again. I joined an adult ed class where the tutor wasn't very good sadly, he didn't inspire, didn't know how to help beginners or those like me who were terribly rusty. I knew there must be better classes - and there were :)

I found a very good tutor, who worked on developing individual skills within a class, running it like a workshop. He'd bring in books or catalogues of artists work to show us, would show us different ways of using materials and then let us use or not use it as we chose and help us with our individual projects. My work really came on with the crit and feedback. My teaching nowadays is done in a similar way, I really appreciated those classes.

I also found a good watercolour teacher. Her husband was a tutor at the local uni on the Fine Art Degree. I did watercolour classes and then oil painting classes with her. Again she challenged us and set imaginative briefs.

Independently, they both said I should go back and do my degree and at first I didn't think it would be possible as I worked part time and had the family. Then I found out that it was possible, had recently started, to go part time and just take a little longer. So I juggled (often chaotically) a part time degree, part time job and the family and trying to have a life as well!

My teachers had tried to explain that my work wouldn't develop the same without doing a degree and I didn't really see their point and didn't necessarily believe them. But once on the degree course I saw what they meant.

It was intensive, we, the students (mostly young but with just a handful of mature students like me) worked long hours, we had each other to discuss work with, talk problems over with, share workspaces, angst, ideas, help and information with. We saw each other through self doubt and generally learnt a lot from each other, as much as we learnt from the tutors.

I had to cope with projects and challenges that I would never have tackled otherwise - and find a way to make them work for me. I had to meet deadlines with heavy workloads.

It gave me space to experiment, to go out on a limb and try things, to make a mess in a studio space of my own, where it didn't matter, work on very large canvasses and huge sheets of paper, learn printmaking, get stressed, deeply depressed downs, happy highs when things went well ... and have fun.

I really wouldn't have missed it for the world.

If you come from a background where your family are artists then perhaps it isn't so essential - Kurt Jackson didn't do a degree. He had that background. As anyone who reads my blog regularly knows, I love his work!

Studying with a variety of high calibre tutors who challenge you can also fill the gap - but that's ok if you have lots of money or live in a major city and have access to quality tuition as a friend does - she has access to some amazing classes that I'd just love to do.

So many ways 'in' but for me the degree was right - it taught me to analyse my own work and fellow students - crits were always in depth and to 'go for it' to do my research and think around a problem and to question and ask why, not to accept others opinions as necessarily the only way, however expert. It gave me more confidence in working my own way and developing my own way. It taught me to understand work that I didn't necessarily 'like' and appreciate the quality - whilst still disliking it on a purely emotional level :D

I'll talk more in later posts about specific examples of projects and things that I felt I really gained from or that were fun. I think this one is long enough :D ... and it's late now, so goodnight gentle reader :) and let me know what you think helped your work to develop?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Feathers - sketching

sketches copyright Vivien Blackburn

pastel pencils on sugar paper

I picked this feather up in the garden and sketched it in different media, experimenting with the different feel of each medium. I like the pastel pencil version best as I could look at the subtle hints of colour in a monochrome subject.

carbon pencil

With the carbon pencil it was harder to get the soft greys and the image is less subtle.

2B pencil

With pencil it was possible to get the subtler greys but it hasn't scanned as well :(

Now, shall I carry on and do some more in water soluble graphite and watercolour ? charcoal? mmm maybe when I have the time I will.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Exhibtion photos as promised :)

ok - so as promised, the paintings in the gallery, if you are on an email subscription and want to see the pictures you'll need to log in today, sorry - I've done a slide show of the exhibition - you can see it if you click here

They decided not to hang them together but to scatter them around the gallery so that they formed a repeating motif. I would have liked some of them hung in a group but never mind.

Colin Halliday was showing square seascapes, there were some nice textile pieces and there were interesting driftwood sculptures, pottery and some gorgeous jewellery, all with a sea theme - they were even playing sea mood music :D

Monday, August 06, 2007

and another portrait

copyright Vivien Blackburn

And another portrait sketch of my daughter, a little younger this time, leaning on the back of a chair while we had a drink somewhere - she could never sit still! - and wondering what to get up to next - it usually involved hanging from a high branch on a tree with one hand saying 'look at me' - eventually I stopped worrying!

One year when she was about 8, we were in Plymouth and there was a big event up on Plymouth Hoe (a gorgeous big grassy area overlooking the fantastic harbour entrance and right near the town centre). The army had a high climbing tower with tiny ledges widely spaced, that led onto rope walks and those high rope slides.

We stood and watched as much older boys struggled and took ages to climb it. She watched and wanted to have a go - the soldiers were a bit unsure but let her have a go - she went up zoom like a little spider, flew through the rope walk and the slide and left the soldiers, who'd been expecting to have to rescue her, open mouthed!

I think I must have been subliminally influenced by Julie Oakley in doing these portraits She is doing a daily portrait of members of her family and self portraits - there are some great sketches there. Her children are still at home so they are from life, unlike mine. which uncharateristically for me is from a photo.

I wonder if I can persuade daughters to pose next time we visit? I was quite pleased to find that I can do a free sketch from a photo though, not becoming too literal and bogged down in unimportant detail.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


copyright Vivien Blackburn
mechanical pencil in Moleskine sketchbook

Portraits as such aren't something I normally do - but last night TV was boring, what's new? and so I decided to work from an old photo of my daughter when she was younger.

She has beautiful hair and the pensive pose in this photo was just typical of her. Oh the tears and tantrums when that hair had to be brushed though :(

Thursday, August 02, 2007

One of my favourite children's books set in my favourite place :)

The Mousehole cat(pronounced Mowzel - ow as in ouch!) is the enchanting story of a time of near famine, based on a true event, seen through the eyes of Mowzer, a fisherman's cat. Winter gales had prevented the fishing fleet from going out and the villagers were starving - one fisherman braves the gale to save them, taking Mowzer his cat with him.

The illustrations are absolutely beautiful and it's set in one of my favourite tiny fishing villages in Cornwall - well it's spread a bit nowadays but the original village is tiny, narrow alleyways and cottages snuggled up to each other against the wild weather that Cornwall can get.

The Guardian writes about it: An utterly magical picture book with rich, vividly coloured illustrations, friezes and borders that complement Barber's simple, almost severe telling of the dramatic Cornish legend of Mowser the Cat and Tom, the old fisherman, who brave the fury of the Great Storm Cat to save their village from starving.

The way the illustrator, Nicola Bayley, draws/paints the characters, the sea and above all the great storm cat are simpy gorgeous and she catches the area beautifully. She catches the beautifully greeny blue of the sea in Cornwall.

I'd highly recommend it to anyone who loves Cornwall, loves cats, likes old fishing villages, paintings of the sea, good illustrations, good childrens books .... it's charming, funny and children as well as adults will love it :) You can buy it from Amazon or Cornish bookshops online if you think it sounds interesting :)

Mousehole was a favourite place when I was child, living on the north coast of Cornwall - Mousehole is on the south coast - the harbour is tiny, the streets narrow and then it was still lived in by local people, sadly now I think most of the little cramped cottages are let to holiday makers.

and today's doodle in class :

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

small seascape sketches

Stormy Evening copyright Vivien Blackburn

Looking through a sketch book I found these 2 unfinished works and finished them off - they are both mixed media (containing everything but the kitchen sink!).

This one is earlier in the day, the clouds starting to build up.

Those unfinished long seascapes on canvas are still sitting waiting to be finished off but I've been busy with other non-painting stuff :( .