Wednesday, November 28, 2007

sketchbooks a personal view :)

from the medieval tomb of Roger LeStrange in Old Hunstanton

I've just been reading Katherine's post for today at

She's discussing some interesting books on keeping sketchbooks - well, as you know if you've been reading here, I love sketchbooks :) I love using them and looking through other people's - it's an insight into the way they think about their work, their process, ideas, whether they work in linked series and a chance to see all those things sketched for the sheer interest and never intended to become 'finished' paintings.

My sketchbooks are where I think ideas through, draw things simply because they interest me, make notes on artists that I should look up, stick bits in, preparatory work for canvasses, lists of ideas or materials or notes on work I've seen, experiments with mixes of media ..... anything and everything. Mine are messy and mixed, not intended to be show pieces, though a friend produces immaculate books of watercolour studies on his travels that are complete and tidy journals - that isn't the the way I think. you can see lots of pages from them here.

I'll work in them in any medium. The rubbings above, done whilst visiting a wonderful ancient Norfolk church on a horrible rainy day were a spur of the moment thing. It was horrible outside, the tomb was fascinating and beautifully engraved with the medieval knight in his armour. I decided to see if the thick paper of my sketchbook would work to take a rubbing - it did :) not as well as a finer paper but I was pretty happy with it. I'd never done a rubbing before and I know they are usually done with wax and a fine paper - all I had was a thick cartridge paper sketchbook and pencil! The friend I was with and I spent a happy afternoon out of the rain doing a series of these and it was fascinating to see the artist's work coming through onto the paper - from so many hundreds of years ago.

The next page of my book may be a pencil sketch or a watercolour, pastel, coloured pencil or oil. Below is a very very rough sketch of a wild, cold, wet day in the same book as the rubbings above.

quick oil sketch on a wild rainy day

the shadow on the left is from the joining page - it's in a tiny book and was done very very quickly with a palette knife - well more correctly a painting knife. It was just a record of the colours and mood of the day - and the reason we were visiting churches and keeping out of the rain :)

I rarely use small books as I feel cramped by them - A3s are my favourite but are a bit big to carry unless I'm on a sketching day with fellow painters.

I like the surface of moleskines for pencil and coloured pencil but wish they would make a larger size - even the one they call large is one I'd call small!

One of the artists whose sketches I really admire is John Blockley. His drawings were so free and so telling. He sketched a lot in Snowdonia, around Mount Snowdon. He caught the way the trees were twisted by prevailing winds and the stone built farms nestled into the countryside amongst the rocks and steep mountainsides. These led on to wonderful abstracted canvasses. I can't find a link to any drawings :(

Another artist who sketches, in a very different and more illustrational way, is David Gentleman. One book of his is a trip around the entire British Coastline, sketching everywhere - from wild and lonely places to the docks and oil refineries. The drawing is the key element in his work and colour, though used well, is of secondary importance to him.

Sue Lewington works in a similar way with pen and watercolour, but I love her use of colour. Her work centres largely around Cornwall and the Scillies.

You can see books by all of these on Amazon recently uploaded sketches of mine are here

do you keep a sketchbook? and how do you use yours?


Saturday, November 24, 2007

the john davies gallery

David Prentice: English Air, Advancing Shadow
This post has been written with much cursing of blogger as it kept playing up, disappearing into another screen and losing whole paragraphs that I'd written and saved - but it hadn't saved them >:>(

One of my favourite galleries is reopening after a move from Stow on the Wold - in a gorgeous old stone building, but quite small - to a large industrial unit with masses of space in nearby Moreton in Marsh.

I'm going to the Private View next week :) - these are great as the artists are usually there and it's a chance to talk about the work over a glass of champagne. I'm usually the designated driver so read fruit juice for me.

There is a great selection of contemporary art on show and JD also shows 19C and 20C work. It's the contemporary that I love though.

Artists showing include:

David Prentice who I've often mentioned. I love his traditional-ish watercolours and his exuberant, dramatic, large, to-drown-in, pastels and oils

Stephen Carruthers new to me - interesting free landscapes in muted colours

Sandy Murphy interesting free landscapes in muted colours but with vivid skies.

Mark Dempstead some rather nice figure studies

Peter Evans I love his detailed close ups of distressed surfaces

Anthony Green I like his fun shaped canvasses with unusual viewpoints

John Kingsley abstract landscapes, a Scottish painter in the tradition influenced by the Scottish Colourists

(Scottish Colourists )

Matthew Lanyon the son of Peter Lanyon, work very much influenced by his father

Sandy Murphy another Scottish painter in the Colourist tradition. Abstract landscapes and flowers. I like the painting this links to.

Chris Prewett interesting quirky portraits

James Robertson more Scottish abstract landscapes

Fred Schley a new artist to me, I'll be interested to see these in real life.

if anyone is near the Cotswolds this exhibition looks well worth a visit - I'm planning to meet up with Katherine there for a day of galleries :) - nearby small towns have some good galleries worth a visit and it's a lovely area. The old houses are built of local stone, which is a lovely soft honey colour and new builds have to blend in.

Meanwhile I'm busy designing a rag book and a printed book for my shiny brand new grandson for Christmas - so with cover at work continuing there isn't much painting time here. I have got ideas bubbling away though :)


Sunday, November 18, 2007


Well the art and craft fair was exhausting! loading and unloading the car - in the rain >:>(
Sue, who works there was incredibly helpful and made it an awful lot easier :>) helping me unload and load up at the end and providing a welcome cup of tea as we finished setting up - thank you again Sue, you were a treasure. Valerie who had set it up had organised it really well and everything ran like clockwork from knowing where you should be to parking and checking on us frequently - thank you to Valerie too.

There was some lovely unusual work - photoetched silver jewellery, fabric bead necklaces, fantastic scarves, art work in light boxes (an interesting concept and one I've often wanted to have a go at), hand made leather/mixed fabric bags, farm foods, felted wool 'paintings' - these were really unusual and lovely, basket making, Christmas decorations and more .... and us 3 painters.

I'd known before we went that paintings were probably going to be too expensive for peoples expectations but the cards went really well and there were lots of compliments, which is nice :>) There were a lot of cat lovers out today, so the cards featuring my cats were popular! it's funny as they were drawn purely for myself really and I just thought I'd do a few 'in case' they appealed to anyone.

Joanna the A level student came, had a chat and took photos and is a really nice girl, starting a foundation course for an arts degree this summer.

So it was a good day and the event was a success despite the lousy non-stop rainy day


Saturday, November 17, 2007

questions answered

I was contacted again by an A level student who wanted to interview me about my work and I thought I'd post her questions and my answers here, I'm sure she won't mind and I thought they were good questions.

Joanna: Thank you for your reply, my Art teacher had warned me about the hectic schedules of artists! Here, I have put together a few questions that interest me relating to your work. I know it's quite a long list so don't feel pressured to answer them all!Thank you for your time. I can see from observing your artwork that you experiment with a wide range of mediums; how long does it take for you to complete small or large scale pieces?

me: that one is like 'how long is a piece of string' :>)

small plein air seascapes are often about 11 inches square and usually take about an hour or just over - they can't take any longer because the light and the tide and the colours change so fast! I tend to work with a knife a lot plein air as it's so easy to clean and keep colours from muddying. Tiny paintings may take only 10 minutes.

These then lead into larger studio works that evolve from the studies and aren't a copy of any. These can take weeks as, unlike the plein air, I don't have a rigid idea of where they are going, they are subject to change as the painting starts to 'talk' back to me. I work on quite a few at once usually. They are layered, with scumbling and glazing and broken paint surfaces that show the colours beneath and a lot of this needs the painting to dry before I can continue. These tend to be in series on a subject - for instance the seascapes/landscapes/flowers/waterways series. I like to work around a subject.

After my degree I decided no more 7ft plus paintings until I could afford carriers all the time! I limit paintings to the largest size of 5ft by 3ft 6in as that fits in my car :>) - having had a canvas sail off the roof rack I get paranoid about carrying them that way!

Joanna: What (or who) influences your work?

me: mmm lots of influences! past ones are Degas - particularly for his unconventional compositions, Toulouse Lautrec, Schiele, Rodin (his drawings), for their fluid lively and telling use of line, the Expressionists for their use of colour, Monet and Turner for their obsession with light, Rembrandt's work I love for his marks, which are really abstract and free when seen close up in real life but coalesce into intricate lace or flesh as you step back.

Contemporary influences are Kurt Jackson and David Prentice - 2 artists I absolutely love. They capture the light, changing weather and seasons and a sense of time, Their mark making and observation are fantastic whilst being free and lively. Then there's David Blackburn who does amazing abstracts, Lucian Freud for powerful dynamic drawings, David Tress, Ross Loveday, Kyffin Williams and a host of others.

If you look at my blog ( I got talked into doing this by a friend who is very good at using the internet to further her art career), you'll find others I've written about if you look at the links in the right hand column and the tag 'exhibtions' - and links to them.

Joanna: Do you tend to work from primary or secondary sources?

me: primary initially and then I take off from the research material a little like jazz musicians do with music.

Joanna: Is there a place that you regularly exhibit your work, or do you move around?

me: I move around, showing with friends - I'm in several local art groups including the Leicester Society of Artists and the Association of Leicestershire Artists, The Leicester Pastel Society and for a long time I was a member of the Print Workshop. All of these have exhibitions and I normally take part.

I regularly show with the Neptune Gallery in Old Hunstanton and then show with other galleries up and down the country on an irregular basis, group and solo shows.

Joanna: And finally....
Where do you see yourself in the future?

me: mmmm I don't do planning very well! but getting into better and better galleries, London would be nice and is a possibility that is bubbling on the back burner.

I teach as well so don't rely on my paintings to keep me, which means I can paint what I want and then show in the gallery that fits rather than keep a gallery happy with more of the same, which might become boring (to me).

Next week I'll hopefully be able to get back to painting as I'm working fewer hours and this art fair will be yesterday's news :>) - first I need to sleep and sleep and sleep.


Friday, November 16, 2007

getting ready for the art and craft fair

There's no painting going on at the moment because I've had to cover for a sick colleague and I'm busy getting organised (hmmmm .... not my natural state) for the art and craft fair on Sunday.

I've needed to prioritise and I have paintings to take so don't really need to rush to do new ones. What I did was to redesign my business cards, design some new fliers and make some price labels for work, oh and an informal, illustrated cv.

Then there's the planning what to take.

Our space is upstairs :( but there is a lift :). The three of us are sharing a large room with someone else, who does embroidered pictures - that will be interesting. I don't know her and haven't seen any of her work.

I hate, hate, hate the setting up and taking down! All those heavy paintings, portfolios, browser and stuff to lug from car to room :( - it's a great feeling when it's done though :) and I enjoy the actual setting up - I just want to be able to transport the stuff from home to allocated space by magic carpet instantaneously :)

So I have to carry up paintings +++ , browser stand that my husband made for me - it's heavy but really useful. I designed it to be like a plinth with V's cut out of 2 opposite sides to hold an open folio of work and painted it matte black. It looks really smart and holds all the bubble wrap and bags and my lunch tidily :) out of sight, then the folio stuffed with unframed work, a smaller folio of digital work, the cards in their boxes (2 drawers from an Ikea mini chest of drawers removed for the occasion and ideal!), the fliers and business cards, pens, labels, sticky tape, string, bubble wrap, sheet to cover the table, laptop to run powerpoint slide show, cv, lunch and drinks, camera - phew! I feel tired already.

I'm sure there's more to add to this list. If you spot anything I've forgotten please tell me :)

Monday, November 12, 2007

more cards for art and craft fair at Belgrave Hall

cards, copyright Vivien Blackburn

The art and craft fair looks as though it will be fantastic. I've had details of exhibitors and they include Glass creations - fused glass jewellery,dishes and stuff, other jewellery, Chutney and preserves, willow weaving, Farm foods, Garden Sculpture, embroidery, ceramics, textile art, felt work, photography, bags and scarves and the three of us with paintings and cards.

so ..... anyone who will be anywhere near Leicester on Sunday (18th November) do pop in and take a look. It's at Belgrave Hall on Loughborough Road, a lovely Georgian House museum with walled gardens, it's free and is open 11-4

We've been down to see my daughter and gorgeous grandson - so blame him for my absence over the last few days. :) 11 weeks old and loving all the fuss and attention :)


Thursday, November 08, 2007

paying it forward

I'm really happy as I'll be receiving a piece of work from Tina Mammoser in the new year :) as part of a paying-it-forward /good karma ongoing scheme . I'm really looking forward to owning a piece as I've read her blog and loved her work for a long time now.

So .... now I get to pay it forward or spread good karma :) the first 3 artists to leave comments asking, will receive a piece of work - like Tina, it may be after Christmas as I'm currently up to my eyes but they will receive something. Then I hope they will reciprocate by paying forward to others.

I'm juggling too many things at the moment and dead on my feet, so not a longer post today I'm afraid.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

colours of autumn, small quick watercolour sketch

Autumn colours

A small quick sketch in watercolour - the autumn fields are looking lovely, some have been freshly ploughed and the hawthorn, blackthorn and beech hedges are gorgeous colours. Well they have been gorgeous colours - it's been windy today so as I travel to work tomorrow I may find all the leaves have blown away, they are on their last fling and just a little wind will mean goodbye to all that gorgeous colour and those lovely golden carpets of leaves will fade.

I love the long shadows at this time of year as I travel to work in the early mornings through the countryside and autumn skies are wonderful and dramatic. Seeing the vivid golden leaves against a threatening purple sky is so beautiful :)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

cards from watercolour sketches

towards the headland, watercolour, Vivien Blackburn

I have lots of small quick paintings that were done as demo's of techniques for classes, usually added to over several sessions as I explained how to use use coloured pencils over a previous watercolour that 'didn't quite work' or showed how to use oil pastel as a resist with watercolour or splatter paint, wet in wet ..... a zillion bits of the 'language' of painting. I'd often continue working on a fragment done another week. I never do a complete painting as the students are there to paint themselves, not watch me, but I do show them how things work in small quick examples.

So .... I had quite a few of these sketches doing nothing. They are only small, sometimes just a couple of inches square, sometimes 6-8 inches. I decided to make use of them by cutting them up to make some more cards for the Art Fair. I like the abstract minimalism of them.

Three more cards ready to go :)

.... and another 3 ...

.... and yet another 3 ....

... and there's more! these are a bit bigger

.... and even more - these are the autumn/winter ones

I'll do some more printed ones as well.

I ought to use watercolour more often as I really enjoy it when I'm doing these demos for students. In the one-day class yesterday they had all chosen to use watercolours so I'm still in watercolour mode :) . I'd called it a Painting and Drawing Workshop so the medium and subject were totally flexible. It was hard work but a rewarding one :)

What do you think? will the public go for these? I hope so


Friday, November 02, 2007

Autumn in Bradgate Park

It was such a gorgeous day today that I decided to have a day off :) I took off for a walk in Bradgate Park - the light was wonderful so I'd taken the camera - 126 photographs later ..... Bradgate Park is where Lady Jane Grey lived - these photos show the ruins of her house in the lovely changing light as clouds passed by and made these lovely flashes of light and dark. The house is surrounded by rocky hills with ancient oak trees and a herd of deer. The park was left to the city last century and is a really popular place for walkers. You can walk miles from here through the large park and local woods and footpaths across fields. - a link to more information on Lady J, beheaded after trying to claim the crown, pushed by an ambitious family.

The family owned the land for miles around.

I love the long shadows of this time of year - these are from trees just out of the picture.

There are rocky outcrops - nearby are ancient quarries and old local houses are built in this Swithland Stone.

Hawthorn berries.

Some of the oldest trees had to be cut back and the stumps sit like ghosts - some are regenerating.

A little stream goes through the park - the River Lyn. It tumbles over rocks and weirs and there are resident ducks - and today a flock of seagulls as well.

Ducks, deer and seaguls :)

No swimming !

Now I have to finish getting organised as I'm teaching a one day course tomorrow - the fresh air and sun was great though and I feel so much better for going :) November 2nd and it was warm enough to wear a long sleeved shirt with no coat and sit outside at a cafe sipping hot chocolate in the sun :)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Really busy :(

sorry for the lack of updates but I'm covering extra classes at the moment and exhausted - I'll catch up as soon as I can :)