Saturday, December 29, 2007

New Year Resolutions

Casey, Charcoal sketch. Vivien Blackburn

Other bloggers are starting to make New Year Resolutions, something I normally give a miss! this year I thought maybe I ought to, so that I have targets set. I'll be covering a colleague on maternity leave and my time needs to be a bit more organised so that I get time to paint and have work ready for upcoming shows.

I'm definitely organisationally dyslexic so this is tough!

I'll continue to work in series

  • The waterways series: looking at local rivers, streams. ponds and reservoirs - one for when the weather is a little kinder to my arthritis, though I do have sketches to work from now.
  • The coast series - I have lots of sketches and research to work from
  • Local landscape series - ongoing
  • to do more work in the flowers series doing more research and more large canvasses
  • sketches of new grandson Sam as he grows :>)
  • sketches of the cats - simply because I like sketching them
  • a new series of totally abstract paintings, incorporating collage in some
  • maybe to look at the possibilities of still life - something I haven't done much in years
  • to continue using my sketchbooks as a way of thinking through ideas, gathering information, remembering artists work or quotes, experimenting etc etc etc

Then I plan to

  • organise my studio space better - uggghhhh a huge task!
  • sort out the junk in there and cut it down to size another huge task :(
  • improve my website
  • create another website with available work for sale
  • get work out to more galleries
  • have work ready in time for local shows of groups I belong to (I missed a couple last year simply because I was so busy :>( )
  • Keep on top of the organisation by using my diary properly to give me adequate warning instead of suddenly realising that ooooops I need 3 new pieces for next week .....
  • do an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of work - ugggghhhh another huge task :>(

any organisational advice will be gratefully received - I'm not joking about my appalling organisational skills - or lack of them. Simple systems for idiots needed!

Next resolution is to get to more exhibitons - the Contemporary Art Fair at the end of January (? not sure of the date yet) and the David Prentice exhibition in Moreton in Marsh (his paintings of London this time) are the only ones in the diary at the moment but I'm planning more.

I want to get out sketching plein air with friends and alone more - last summer forgot to arrive so I didn't do as much as I would usually have done. Often it was really cold :>(.

My younger daughter has moved into a house with a spare room and it's only 40 miles from the coast - so hopefully I'll be able to combine visiting, taking her to the beach and painting which would be great.

There's probably lots more I should add but I can't think of them just now.

Do go and look at the great post on a great artist, Joan Eardley, by Gesa JE worked in a way not unlike Kurt Jackson and I loved her work long before I'd heard of him.

The sketch at the top of this post is of a past and much loved cat, done in charcoal. She was empty headed and not too bright but with the sweetest disposition and longest fur. Like all our cats she was a stray that we had taken in.

A totally different target for this year is to get the sewing machine out and do some sewing and maybe some textile art. I see such beautiful work on some of your blogs that it makes me long to have a go.

OK - now I have to try to achieve these!

How about you?


Friday, December 28, 2007

Abstract painting and Abstraction

Swithland Woods by Vivien Blackburn. Watercolour and mixed media
approx 12 ins sq

Tina Mammoser has written a really good blog post today on abstraction at - do go and read it. It gives a good insight into the way she thinks and the preparatory sketching that goes into her lovely abstracts of the English coast.

I like working on the edge between abstract and representational, sometimes slipping into total abstraction and sometimes working more representationally. The work evolves from observation and sketches, which are essential to me to understand the subject matter, the colours, form, composition I want to work with, perspective and tone.

Sketching plein air in the local woods led to the first painting shown here - a watercolour/mixed media done from memories of different days working there over a long time.

Sometimes I find I work best this way - lots of studies done over time but then putting them away and relying on visual memory. Degas believed in this approach. He talked of an art academy on (I think) 6 floors with the model on the top floor. New students would work from the model on the top floor but as they gained in experience they would move down a floor - running up to look at the model and then back down the stairs to draw on their paper/canvas. Experienced students would have the 6 flights of stairs to climb each time. He said that only essential elements would be retained and the unessential filtered out. In effect, abstracting.

Of Flowers, pastel /watercoloour painting by Vivien Blackburn

approx 12 ins sq

Of Flowers is a watercolour and pastel (Unison pastels) painting done after I'd done a series of studies of pansies and irises and contains elements of both without being a direct painting of either.

oil on canvas approx 54 ins square. Vivien Blackburn

The last one is a large oil on canvas that evolved from some small sketches done sitting on the banks or the river Dordogne in France. I sat under the shade of some trees and the water surface was a complex ever changing mix of light reflecting off the water, reflections of the trees, wave and current creating patterns and ripples and the weeds and rocks partially seen through the water. I didn't want a representational 'frozen moment' but to create the confusion of elements and movement as it was when I was sitting there watching.

I'm tied up with visiting family and friends at the moment so though I'm thinking and planning the next paintings, there isn't any serious painting happening . It has been a very grim grey dark day today and I find that the light is really important to me - I hate painting in gloomy light like this and don't like working under artificial light. I think I need to work out a lighting solution.

Christmas was lovely with visits to both daughters - lots of mileage, some in freezing fog which wasn't fun! and young Sam's first Christmas :) ...... but back on track soon.

I hope you all had a great Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

No snow PLEASE!

This was last January - I do hope we don't get snow this year - it may be beautiful but it makes the journey to and from work a nightmare.

We had freezing fog this week - beautiful as it coats the trees in white and turns the world into a misty fairyland - but so COLD. It kept freezing on the windscreen until the car really warmed up which was fun

... not.

I'm now into the last of the Christmas food shopping, presents all organised and it will be a relief when the shops shut and whatever is forgotten ... it's too late.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Nicola Bayley, illustrator and favourite books for children

The Patchwork Cat written by William Mayne and illustrated by Nicola Bayley

Nicola Bayley did the beautiful illustrations for the Mousehole Cat, talked about in an earlier post. I did a search to see what else she had illustrated and ordered this one, The Patchwork Cat. The illustrations are every bit as gorgeous.

It tells the tale of Tabby, a 'patchwork' cat who loves her patchwork blanket. When it's thrown away because it's old and dirty she inadvertently lands in the rubbish cart (because she'd crawled in to the bin to sleep on her blanket) and has to try to find her way home - carrying the blanket.

Just look how well NB has caught the fear in the face below - she's like Beatrix Potter in being able to show the feelings of an animal whilst still being true to life and not Disney-like.

All, luckily, ends happily as , lost and very tired as she drags her blanket, she comes across the milkman who takes her and her patchwork blanket home. Look at that blissful face :>) (for those of you in the US, we have milk delivered daily to our door by the 'milkman')

She is SO much like my little madame, who lies just like that in my arms when she's in the mood. I would imagine her face had that same scared expression when she was lost for almost a week earlier in the year :>(

I will definitely buy more of NB's books to add to the bookshelves of my little grandson - ready for when he's a little older.

Aren't the illustrations gorgeous?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

quick mixed media winter scene

Birches in the Snow - Vivien Blackburn - mixed media
8 -12 ins approx

It's cold and though it isn't snowy like this it feels cold enough to be!

Mixed media - watercolour, oil pastel, coloured pencil, conte pencil and tippex.

Travelling to and from work through the countryside the best views are always where it's impossible to stop :( so I look hard and try to remember the light. We did have a dusting of snow one day - which was worrying as we never normally get snow until January. I hope we don't have a hard winter.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

digital images, artists books, fine art degree and telling a story

Ravelled Sleaves: artists book copyright Vivien Blackburn

There isn't any painting going on at the moment. I have to get on and finish Sam's Christmas present book and I've been busy present buying as I've been totally disorganised this year

.... ok ... disorganised as usual.

I'm nearly there :) thanks in part to Amazon and Ebay!

I thought I'd show you some old digital work - an artists book I made during my degree . I'd chosen a module called Integrated Imaging, which was about photography, video (I gave that a miss) and digital imagery - not that the tutors had a clue about digital imagery or photoshop! they were a painter/photographer and a film maker. I had already started using photoshop and playing with digital imagery and saw it as an ideal opportunity to explore it further. The rest of the group worked in photography or video.

I was working part time, doing the degree part time and my daughters were at senior school so life was really hectic. The family were fairly understanding but sometimes there didn't seem to be enough hours in the day and I needed 6 pairs of hands to cope :( - it was always time to rush here or there, meet a deadline for an assignment, change mindset from student to employee to mum to wife.

I took photographs of clocks at work and at home, scanned my hands and ID documents from work and uni, photographed the surroundings and then played in photoshop. Hands juggling and time were the key elements in my life it seemed.

I used acetate for some pages, to layer lists of words and images so that images changed as you turned the pages, starting with 3 or 4 layers of printed acetate over a paper page, giving multiple versions as you move through the book.

The title Ravelled Sleaves is from Shakespeares Macbeth - there's a line about Time which Knits up the Ravelled Sleave of Care - Shakespeares spelling :) it came to mind and just felt right. Then the poem Not Waving but Drowning by Stevie Smith - I often felt I was drowning.

a sequence using acetate

The actate shows lists of things to remember or do or buy - things I was juggling in my mind, trying to keep up with all of them.

The hands and clock get steadily more and more frantic as you go through the book.

The following are about the boredom of work, how slowly time went, the stillness and the wish to be elsewhere ........... painting :) and feeling caged, the windowblinds like prison bars with the looming tower block nearby blocking the sky :(

So altogether very 'poor me'! :D

you can see the whole book here

It was my first attempt at making a book. I used copper wire, twisting the ends into spirals, ravelling them :) my tutors really liked the book but weren't keen on that - it came 'perilously close to Women's Institute' they said but I 'just got away with it' they decided !

The whole thing was worked out as I went along. The images and 'story' came first and the idea of making a book from them later. For marking I displayed the images on the wall alongside the finished book. The method of binding evolved as I went along too - I decided to use string to bind it, simply punching holes with a file punch - that let the pages slew about too much so the idea of the wire came about and then there was a need to decide how to finish the wire off and at least partially cover the spine so the overlapping shapes evolved.

The whole project was done from photographs, scans and printed words with hand made paper, pastel paper and acetate - and of course the copper wire but no drawing or painting at all. It lives in a box now, only coming out once in a blue moon.

I enjoyed using text and poetry with this project. I often enjoy the use of text by artists where it enhances the image such as the work of Kurt Jackson or Bridgette Guerzon Mills at maybe I should experiment with it more as I did here .

Do you use text in your work sometimes?


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Christmas Card design for this year

The Christmas card design for this year - digital image from mixed media sources
Vivien Blackburn

You can't see it very well here - but that is a star shining through the trees.

I decided I'd better get a move on with the Christmas cards as I've hardly even thought about Christmas yet apart from a few presents bought online ....... and a few things bought for me while I was searching! oooops - I was supposed to be searching for presents for others

I'm still doing horribly long hours - yesterday involved leaving home at 7.30am and getting home at 10pm - teaching morning, afternoon and evening. :( and I'd rather be painting.

Do you make your own cards? for everyone? just for family and close friends? originals or prints of your own designs/work?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Visiting galleries with a critical eye, sketching and David Prentice

David Prentice a watercolour of the Malvern Hills

Yesterday I had a wonderful day in the Cotswolds at the opening of the new John Davies gallery in Moreton in Marsh. I travelled down 60+ miles from the midlands and Katherine travelled 80 miles up from London and we met for a coffee and a day of galleries, lunch and art-talk :>D the first image is from the Cowleigh Gallery in Malvern, where DP lives. It's a lovely friendly little gallery with some great work if anyone is in the area with a knowledgeable, friendly owner.

David Prentice English Air - Black Cap Pastel

a link to the gallery

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows how much I like the work of David Prentice! He's also a very genuine person, generous with information and insights into his work when you chat to him. (His wife is also a talented artist, working with textiles

For me, his work was head and shoulders above the other (very good) work in the gallery so I'm going to concentrate on his work here.

Katherine and I were discussing what first appeals to us in a painting - I react emotionally first. Some paintings just reach out and grab you :>) The first reaction is just WOW! the colour, the marks, the mood, the light, the sense of place all working together. Then the intellectual side clicks in - why am I reacting so strongly to this one? how is he/she using the these marks to create the effect ? How is the colour being used to create this ? the composition - how the eye moves around the painting. How are those marks and colours layered? what did he/she use to put them down? look at the translucency of that bit or the subtle glazes against the bold marks put down and left there ..... etc etc etc

For me a painting must be sustaining - something that I would never tire of, with a depth of painterly qualities and content. Some paintings I look at are good but don't have that quality. I look, see, 'get it' and that's it - I don't particularly want to see it again, nothing to make me look again and again and again, seeing new qualities in different lights or at different times.

I love the sheer range of DP's work - his early abstract grids don't interest me but current work varies from the beautiful observational and fairly traditional watercolours as above, to lovely loose drawings in sepia ink and a reed pen, sometimes with watercolour washes and sometimes without. (Katherine particularly likes these and plans to experiment - she bought the ink yesterday :>) so watch her blog! I love reed and bamboo pens to draw with. I like the variation of marks possible, bold lines with a heavily loaded pen and the drier softer marks as it runs out of ink). And back to DP - I especially love the bold pastel and oil studio paintings as below. He introduces the element of time, with weather systems passing, walkers moving up the hills and usually he changes the perspective, taking an aerial view as though floating in the air above the scene - again something I sometimes use as I long to get a higher viewpoint when I'm sketching.

For those who feel you need to have a 'style' and stick to it he's a great example of why this isn't so! You should be true to yourself and your 'style' is then there intact whatever medium you use or however you experiment. His work constantly evolves. He experiments. He keeps himself intererested and curious, working through ideas and not turning out the same thing repeatedly.

There will be a series of his paintings of the city of London at the John Davies gallery in March and we're planning to meet up again for that. These will be huge panoramas of London done from the tops of the highest buildings and the ones I've seen previously are fantastic, I saw some of the early ones at a previous show - a totally different subject from the quiet rural Malvern Hills. .

DP sketches daily while walking the Malvern Hills. He knows them intimately in all lights and weathers and this comes through in all his work from the plein air sketches to the huge studio pieces. Sketching, working around a subject, working in a series developing ideas and getting to really know a subject is so important. It leads to work with much more depth, the knowledge of place and subject comes through. Sketching from life allows deliberate distortions, moving elements a little to improve a composition (Constable for instance did this all the time - it frequently isn't physically possible to get the view that he paints) to change the viewpoint as in DP's aerial views, to see the subtle colours a camera doesn't; to translate the actual wind or sun and feel of day into the work - things that can't be done except by a very experienced painter, very familiar with a place, from a photo.

The other work on show is all well worth a look. Some disappointed me IRL. some just what I'd expected but do visit if you can or at least check out the website.

We also took a look at the Astley House Gallery where there was an exhibition of the work of Charles Neal, a modern day Impressionist with a distinct influence of Sisley. Atmospheric and worth a look.

The route I take to the Cotswolds is down an old Roman road, the Fosse Way. It's a lovely rural route. The Romans didn't build their towns on the main roads but off to either side so there are very very few villages to go through and no towns. It's a narrow 'B' road for most of the way, crossing the A roads and motorways, going up and down through patchwork fields and woods - very very 'English' countryside and absolutely beautiful with the long long shadows of early winter morning sunshine. I longed to stop and paint each time I reached the top of a hill - but there was nowhere to stop safely, even for a photo >:>( Most trees were bare but some - possibly beeches? - glowed in the sunlight.

We spent a LOT of time in the The Marshmallow, a lovely little Olde Tea Shoppe cafe with luscious cakes :>D - morning coffee, gallery, lunch, gallery and art shop - where of course we both bought supplies - and a quick drink and cake before the journey home! Out of the rain we lingered talking forever! Katherine even sketched the cake display so do check it out! I took my sketchbook but was idle :>)

incidentally, despite the recession there is still money about - apart from the contemporary paintings sold, a painting called Breton Shrimpers by Robert McGregor who died in 1922, had sold for £60,000 - double that for $$$$$ You can see it on the John Davies website.

what pulls you to certain paintings? the quality that 'gets' you?