Sunday, March 30, 2008

Seascapes by Vivien Blackburn - the book! and the trip to London yesterday

Draft cover for the book, showing back and front covers and spine.

This is what I'm currently working on instead of painting. I decided a while back that I'd create a book of my seascapes - it's escalating! - when I've finished, I now feel like doing a series of others with my digital images, waterways project, landscapes, sketches and flowers in separate books - over time, not all at once of course! it's fairly time consuming. I would also like to do a story book for Sam and a book for his first birthday full of the best photos and sketches of him.

I've decided to use . I saw whilst arranging to meet up with Tina that she had just published 2 books and asked her which company she'd used and was she happy with the quality? she'd used blurb and was delighted with them. She offered to bring them to show us. Seeing them was so helpful, the quality is excellent, her paintings of course beautiful. check here and have a look, worth every penny - or cent :>).

I'd had a look at Lulu but the options available in setting up pages didn't compare. I really like the drag and drop type features of blurb. You download their programme to set up your book. Tina explained that blurb was editable later to do different versions which I also liked.

Another lovely book is Casey Klahn's at beautifully colourful and vivid.

And keep your eyes peeled for announcements from Katherine ;>)

London was great. The watercolour show was maybe a little heavy on the traditional work. I particularly liked the more contemporary work of Diane Bell, Peter Folkes, Leslie Goodwin, Cliff Howe, Penelope Lee, Michael Morgan, Norma Stephenson , Shirley Trevena. Deborah Walker and Geoffrey Wynne (a candidate for membership this year). I'm going to allow Katherine to do all the link chasing for the paintings as I struggled to find many and none to suitable works :>( I'm going to get on with the book instead!

Alison Watt's show, Phantom, at the National Gallery was well worth the visit and free as well :>)

She was influenced first by the fabric of the dress in the Ingres portrait of Madame Moitissier and then went on to look at the intricately folded and knotted cravats in other well known paintings in the collection. She then produced huge monochrome canvasses with beautifully modulated form and ambiguous spaces and holes based on these. Really lovely, particularly when seen en masse. The accompanying film was excellent and well worth watching.

Katherine, Glen, Tina and I did an awful lot of chatting over lattes and smoothies at the Mall and again at the National Gallery and I came away determined to a) buy Tina's book of her paintings and b) get mine done!

back to book production ...........

links: Casey Klahn Tina Mammoser Katherine Tyrrell lulu blurb


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Watercolours, oil sketches, huge paintings of fabric folds and meetng up in London with Katherine and Tina

Today I had a great time in London, going down with a friend, Glen, and meeting up with Katherine Tyrrell and Tina Mammoser and visiting the watercolour exhibition at the Mall galleries and 2 shows at the National Gallery, along with some old favourites.

I'm way too tired to write up the artists tonight but will find time tomorrow.

Another highlight of the day was that Tina had promised to bring her 2 books to show - they are both absolutely gorgeous and I highly recommend you zip over to her site and take a look and buy one, you won't regret it. Her work is lovely and the little book really does it justice.

It's an early night for me tonight.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Sketching from life with coloured pencils, an old tree stump

An old tree stump, A4 size sketch in coloured pencil. Vivien Blackburn

Another sketch done in between teaching - students are finishing off work and there are lulls where they need to feedback so I fetched this tree stump out of the art cupboard - it's about 12 inches high with multiple cut off branches and knobbly bits and a straight side where the saw cut through the major stem. Stem? trunk?? whatever!

I actually got the PIF's posted yesterday Karen, Lyndsay and Jeanette - I either got asked to work extra and couldn't get to the post office before closing time - or when I could I forgot! the attention span of a gnat I'm afraid :>( sorry it's been so long.

The book can't progress yet due to work and a trip to London to some good exhibitions this coming weekend. I'll report back on them later. I'm going down with a friend and meeting up with Katherine Tyrrell and Tina Mammoser which should be great :>) Tina has done 2 impressive looking books using Blurb - she's offered to bring them to show and I'm looking forward to seeing them.


Monday, March 24, 2008

creating a book

Ravelled Sleaves, hand made artists book, Vivien Blackburn

I've done artists books that are totally hand made before such as this one but, encouraged by Casey Klahn at the excellent , I'm going to do a self published book of my seascapes using

I have no idea of how good the colour reproduction will be so this is going to be a leap in the dark. Casey's book looked so good and it would be fun to do one of my own. If it works I'll be able to offer it online and at shows. I'm going to try out one small book to see how the quality is.

At the moment I've just spent hours sorting images, sizing and uploading and I'm a zombie who can't quite suss out how to get to the cover design and I have yet to work out the text. This may take some time .......


Friday, March 21, 2008

why mix media? why not stick to just one as in 'pure' watercolour?

detail of mixed media painting using watercolour, collage and oil pastel. Vivien Blackburn

During the talk I gave at the sketchclub on sketching and sketchbooks, we also talked about using mixed media. Some people beginning painting imagine that if they use for instance, watercolour, then they must use only watercolour - or at the most pen and wash. There is a perception that this is more 'pure'.

In actual fact using a mix of media can mean far more exciting paintings. There isn't any particular merit in keeping a painting purely to one medium - though there's also no rule against it :>D

I love the extra visual language possible by using another medium - the velvety texture of Unison pastels used with watercolour - the range of marks is so much more varied all those lovely things watercolour can do plus the direct bold marks of pastel :>)

mixed media - from Beacon Hill, plein air sketch in watercolour, charcoal pencil and pastel. Vivien Blackburn

This plein air sketch was done on a day of clouds and sunshine - a sudden flash of sun lit up that line of trees and a distant field and I was able to put the glowing colour in with pastels over the darker colour of the paint - a few minutes early they had been dark and gloomy.

detail from a large mixed media painting in oil paint on paper, charcoal and unison pastels. Vivien Blackburn

Not the first mixture you'd think of - but I really liked the way the pastels and charcoal related to the oil paint.

And of course there are the coloured pencil over charcoal experiments I did recently -

detail from recent paintings in the seascapes series with coloured pencil over charcoal

Below is an experiment with an underpainting of the beach at night done in a mix of ultramarine and raw umber acrylic paint with soft colour added with polychromos and Lyra coloured pencils, keeping the underlying blue/brown greys coming through.

detail above ................... and the finished painting below

below: Again sketching plein air on a drizzly, misty day - this one used watercolour, coloured pencil, ink, tippex, chinagraph pencil and oil pastel - and it's only about 6 inches square! I needed to work fast as I was with the family and this mix allowed me to get down what I wanted fast.

Charlestown, Cornwall, mixed media sketch - Vivien Blackburn

I've used coloured pencils along with watercolour for a very long time but only recently started experimenting with using it alongside so many other media - I've recently been discussing with Gayle the way she uses glazes of acrylic over coloured pencils - something I mean to try out soon :>) - do look at the beautiful results she achieves with this technique.

Do you find that talking about your work to others or on your blog triggers new ideas for paintings? That crop at the start of this post has made me want to do a series of abstracts :>D

links: recent work my website seascapes mixed media Local landscape landscape


Thursday, March 20, 2008

sketching a skull

a sketch of a goat (?) skull from the art room cupboard, coloured pencils on rough pale grey paper. Vivien Blackburn

Still teaching long hours at the moment and between that and family visits it's tough to find time to paint :>( Last night I'd been invited to talk to a sketchclub about using sketchbooks - after the recent posts here and by others that was easy! They are a nice group, I've talked to them before several times.

This is a sketch I did of a goat skull (I think it must be a goat) from the art cupboard at work, done in between helping students. Not one of my 'best' but good practice anyway.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

more paintings over Easter I hope but at the moment it's all work and family!

This is the reason for the lack of paintings just lately :>) - my lovely little grandson ........

I simply haven't had time to paint or sketch this week - We've been to visit my daughter and husband and Sam who is now 6 months :>) along with my younger daughter, so it was a lovely family get together.

I took a sketchbook but didn't manage to draw him at all - he's just too interactive at the moment! I never had my hands free! I took over 100 photos though.

we have plans to see family over Easter but I hope to do some painting as well.

I'm just waiting for the weather to warm up to get back to my waterways project and do some new work on that. There are loads of places I've got lined up to visit.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sketching from photos, experimenting with mixed media and working through ideas for a painting.

Clovelly Harbour, Devon, charcoal and coloured pencil on beige paper. Vivien Blackburn

I've said that I only occasionally work from photos - this is one time that I did.

The reason is that I would like to do some paintings of Clovelly and I hate painting directly from photographs. Sketching, simplifying and making colour decisions and then working from the sketch, changing things again, is how I tackle the problem. I'm not a photo realist so I don't want to reproduce the painting. The scanner hasn't picked up all the colours very well, there are blues in the stones of the wall at the front, reflecting the colours of the sea and cool misty blue of the sky.

The village is built of rocks from the seafront - huge rocks in the harbour walls and smaller rocks for the walls of the houses and gardens - and to stop you tumbling down the steep cliffside the village is built into. Even the road (too steep and bumpy for a car, so purely for pedestrians) is made of cobblestones taken from the beach.

Clovelly, Devon

The buildings are distorted and so I had to sort out the perspective. I 'lost' many of the boats and one of projections on the roof, simplifying the composition.

I took loads of photos when we were there and we walked all round the village and harbour. The moody misty day was wonderful for photographs and painting even if not good holiday weather :>D I wouldn't have tackled this from someone else's photo - the fact that I had been there and sat looking hard at the scenes means I remember the day - not as well as if I had sketched unfortunately but I do remember it pretty vividly.

I played with the charcoal and coloured pencil combination in a sketchbook with rather nice beige paper. It doesn't have a lot of tooth so didn't hold the initial charcoal very well but using coloured pencil over it and fixing it meant it didn't matter. The beige comes through the other colours, warming up what could have been a very cold grey scene.

It looks rather like a book illustration at the moment but it has loosened a little from the photo and will loosen up further in the final painting.

............ and still working too many hours :>( and not enough painting time ...... and family at the weekend, which is lovely but still no painting!


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sketchbooks: sketching bits and pieces, everyday objects, simply for practice of observation, doodling and mark making or trying out new media mixes

I've been working horribly long hours again so the canvasses are on hold :>( - but I'm mulling over ideas on where to go next with them.

So, I thought I'd carry on talking about sketchbooks, this time about using them simply to record interesting things, practice hand eye coordination and mark making, trying out new materials and mixes of media - the equivalent of practising scales on the piano and improvising in jazz all jumbled up together :>D

This first one is just doodling but even so is practice at getting soft colour changes.

I've shown these before, the sketches were done during teaching - the gourd is in the still life store, the jar we keep the erasers and sharpener in. Not objects of be
auty - but they were in front of me on the desk and posed interesting problems with ellipses and reflections, inside/outside and objects half seen or nobbly brittle skin. The lid of the jar was actually bright yellow but I decided to use the Lyra skin tones set and simply draw it tonally but using warm and cool variations in the browns of the set, taking it into another domain from a simply tonal version.

Looking hard, trying to get shapes, tone, texture and perspective, it's all good practice for working plein air or doing life drawing,

When the dreaded mental block strikes or you simply can't face the challenge of 'finished' works - go back to the sketchbook and play. No pressure, just looking at objects or people or animals or scenery around you. It could be a simple pencil sharpener - objects of no importance, just a challenge.

It's in my sketchbook that I can experiment with mixing media, such as the charcoal with coloured pencil recent work, a mixture that I found I loved. It has the beautiful soft painterliness of the charcoal creating a distinct mood - the coloured pencils just add accents of colour.

None of these were done as research for paintings or part of an ongoing series of work. They were simply done in spare moments to practice drawing, simply because they interested me at the time. They'll stay in the sketchbooks.
I'm seeing my daughters and grandson at the weekend - a family get together, so there won't be much painting happening for a few days - maybe some sketching though. I'll take sketchbook and pencils with me.
You can see more sketches on some seriously researching for paintings, some of objects like these, cats, people, landscape, trees .........
and paintbrushes :>D


Saturday, March 08, 2008

the usefulness of sketchbooks and sketching, plein air and in the studio - they can be a source of information for years to come

sketches of birch tree bark, done plein air. Vivien Blackburn

How do I use sketchbooks?

Using sketchbooks to work out ideas and sketching plein air are very important to me. The plein air sketches are done simply to study scenes or weather or texture or light ....... whatever has grabbed my interest. They aren't intended to be finished pieces for framing, though sometimes they do become finished and are framed. In that case I scan them and keep a print in the sketchbook, part of a series of linked sketches and ideas. The time spent looking intently and studying colour, form, line and light fixes the subject in your memory.

These sketches were of the bark on some birch trees that fascinated me with the multiple 'eyes' in the bark pattern. I had no thoughts at all as to what I would do with the information in the future. When I was sketching it was pure research.

Developing ideas from sketchbooks

Sketches of Trees

At home I looked at the sketches and the idea of some long thin canvasses and abstracted paintings evolved and I made notes about the ideas I had. You can see the finished work that evolved from these and more work on trees here:
here: ,
and here:

details of bark on birch tree, done with Caran d'Ache Neocolour II, Vivien Blackburn

So, my way of working is to gather lots of research material on a subject that interests me and then work out the possibilities and ideas these spark, rather than have an idea for a painting and look for subjects as photorealists do.

more sketches of trees:

Sketches of the Beach

a very very quick sketch, done at the beach as the sun set, with watersoluble Tombo pen and wash (dipping my finger in water to create washes, as my brushes were packed up ready to leave), Vivien Blackburn

The sketch above was a very fast one, done at the end of a day painting with friends. The sun was setting and there wasn't enough light to carry on painting. I just had time for a quick reminder to myself of the light at that moment.

You may wonder what the objects on the beach are - they aren't large rocks but huge steel mesh cages of flint rocks - each rock about a foot or so long and hundreds of them in a cages about 5-6 feet long - that are used as sea defences to protect the dunes

This was one of the memories drawn on to do the studio pieces below amongst others, I didn't want to reproduce the sketch but to combine it with other impressions and produce something new:

Nightfall at the beach, oil on canvas, 12 ins square. Vivien Blackburn

Nightfall at the Beach, Stormy Day, collagraph, Vivien Blackburn

This was one of a series of collagraphs based on this sketch, each one differently inked. oil sketches done plein air, the beach in a variety of weathers and seasons.

more sketches of the coast: and

As I've written before, the ideas for the long thin seascapes I do came from the edges I'd cut off when framing these square oil and watercolour sketches done plein air. I stuck them in my sketchbooks because they had the colours of that particular day at that particular time and I liked the sense of time passing that they showed. I don't think that idea would have developed in this way without my sketchbooks. For me they are a really essential part of the way I work and develop ideas.

I can understand how some authors - like Dorothy Dunnett, one of my favourites - say that they enjoy the research phase of writing even more than writing the novel itself. I really like the no-pressure, pure curiosity phase of sketching and working round ideas.

Do you use your sketchbooks this way? how do you use them? do you use them at all?


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Painting from photographs - good or bad? should they be your own photographs?

Orang utan mother and baby, a charcoal sketch done from life, at the zoo. Vivien Blackburn

Working from life and from photographs - mine, other people's and critiques with friends

I don't enjoy working from photographs but on the occasions that I do I like them to be my own - that way it's my own vision, concept and composition. It also needs to be something that I have seen in real life, have maybe sketched but have looked at frequently and know more about than that flat 2D image can show.

The orang utans above and below are a couple of drawings I did at a local zoo on very cold February the one above is about 14-15 ins tall. The orang utans were in a warm indoor enclosure behind glass but the mother was wrapping herself in a sheet like a sari - or a little refugee. The baby rampaged about playing and returned to her shoulder from time to time. During the time I was sketching her she was fascinated by what I was doing and I frequently stopped to show her - it seemed only polite :>D - I had to work fast, getting an impression of the fur and her bulk, the spiky scruffiness of the baby, her liquid eyes in an intelligent face. I personally don't get all that from a photo - I can do an accurate copy but not the bit that matters to me. I'm not a photo realist so getting every detail isn't what I want - I want attitude and character and the feel of the rough hair - the naughtiness of the baby clambering about over his mother and her quiet dignity - without being there I wouldn't have seen all that.

Orang utan, sifting peanuts from food on the floor, done very quickly, from life. Vivien Blackburn

Working from someone else's photo I'd know even less - I'd just have that flat 2D image and a very limited amount of information to work with - and for me, too much irrelevant detail. The concept is theirs, not mine, the lighting, the moment in time and it isn't totally my work.

Some artists work very successfully from their own photogaphs - Gayle and Nicole both take their own photographs and produce beautiful realist paintings of animals and still life. Both also have interesting posts today on the issue of using other peoples photos as reference. Some old masters - Canaletto for one - used the camera obscura, a device that projected an image of the scene onto a wall in a darkened room. Canaletto then traced the outlines of buildings and could then continue from life.

Lenses cause distortion of course and David Hockney wrote a very interesting book where he discussed where these distortions showed evidence of the use of lenses which I'm sure you know.

A telephoto camera lens has the effect of closing up distances, a wider angle lens will distort faces and buildings. Sarah Graham, a young artist on my degree course (we shared a studio space) produced wonderful 6ft plus canvasses of close ups of her friends faces that filled the canvas - every soft focus area, flashes of light on the lens etc was reproduced and enhanced and the images were amazing - the knowledge of the friends in real life filtered through to make the painting so much more than the photographs. They lived.

This is what Sarah says about her work: Superficially I appear to copy the photograph, but I make numerous adjustments, fine-tuning the work to exaggerate depth of field or enhance colour. I paint using oil on canvas, usually on a much larger scale to create an impact.
My painting method remains constant and always challenging; manipulating focus and blur to create the illusion of three-dimensionality.
It is important to me that the viewer finds my work positive and uplifting, a great deal of energy goes into each piece, and I hope this translates to the painting. - her website

Refugees. Image done developing the sketches done plein air. Vivien Blackburn

There is quite a debate at the moment on a rule change in an organisation I don't belong to but several friends are members.

The issue is whether work is entirely your own if you have used someone else's photos, had crit on a forum that made you make changes for the better and whether that makes it a collaborative work. There is also of course the issue of copyright if images used as reference weren't copyright free. That can land you in court!

I have to say that personally I would feel that if I'd copied someone else's photo I wouldn't feel morally able to put that work into a competition or juried show as mine for the reasons already stated.

On the feedback issue I think that peer comment, family feedback is simply a part of life and really can't be policed. Forum crit could be said to be in the same category - it would depend on the degree of alteration made in response I suppose - a really difficult problem to decide on.

I meet up once a month with a group of 8 friends - we all have BA (Hons) Fine Art with a couple of MA's - we crit each other's work as we did at uni and all find it very valuable - we often disagree but those different viewpoints are great for clarifying your own opinion! Does that make it a collaborative work if I then make changes in response?

As a for instance - one friend commented that a landscape I wasn't happy with, but wasn't sure why, was too purple. I took it home and looked again and thought no, it's not too purple but there is too much yellow in it - which is making the purple more emphatic, I toned that down, showed it to her again and she said it was much better now it wasn't so purple ;>)

Katherine has written further on this and Tina Mammoser has left a very interesting and to the point comment do read that too

what do you think?

do you work from photographs? life? both?

Some people argue that they can't travel to Africa to photograph or sketch lions for instance - but you can go to the zoo - and if it's something you've never seen in real life, the painting won't have the depth that one of something you know will. As in Sarah's work, your knowledge filters through and informs the painting.


sketch of Clovelly, Devon, down the cobbled street to the harbour

Pencil and coloured pencil sketch, Clovelly, going down the steep cobbled street to the harbour, North Devon, Vivien Blackburn

Working in coloured pencil and graphite, planning a future painting.

I don't normally like working from photos but I've wanted to do some paintings of Clovelly for some time. I took lots of photos when we were there on a misty day - it was very moody and atmospheric and it really suited the village which is built with rocks from the beach, the incredibly steep streets cobbled with smaller rocks.

I liked the composition in which the stone walls frame the view of the harbour and its curving harbour wall made of more of the rocks - huge ones, wrapping around and framing the sand, sea and boats. You can see some photographs here

Normally I wouldn't go for this 'every stone' approach but the stones are so chunky and so important to the image that I thought I would.

Charcoal with coloured pencil for another, better version, much larger? - the underlying grey would be really suitable. Or a canvas? again I could do a grisaille before adding subtle touches of colour?

I'd like to do another of the misty harbour. Too many things to do and not enough painting time :>( (photo of this in the link)


Monday, March 03, 2008

Artist Frank Bowling

painting by Frank Bowling
I was reminded of the work of Frank Bowling when I came across a catalogue I'd bought a few years ago at an exhibition. His canvasses were huge, full of light, colour and texture - utterly beautiful.
you can see more of his work on his website: - Casey I'm sure you 'll like his work. :>)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

header and background colours and font - what colours are easiest on the eye? easiest to read? show paintings best?

What colours are easiest to read? which show off my paintings the best? - so it's not just a general preference but related to the work of mine that I'm showing.

Some people find it difficult to read text on a dark background - I find the glare of white tiring - I've been playing with the different templates and though none are quite right, this one still seems to be the best for my work. The white background looked ok but dazzling. The blues killed some of the paintings and the beige and browns didn't work either. A charcoal grey might be nice but I don't know quite how to do it!

What do you think?


pencil sketch of baby Sam

Sketch: Baby Sam in his wetsuit, ready for swimming, mechanical pencil in moleskine, Vivien Blackburn

A sketch of Sam from a photo my daughter emailed. She had bought this little wetsuit so he can go swimming, he was trying it on and he looked so delighted with it.

Those chubby, bendy little legs were funny to draw :>D

The computer problems are hopefully solved - it took the online analyst (who was lovely) 3 hours though! lets hope the protection it gives is worth it. It's currently backing up my files for me and is taking forever - but I do have a zillion image files.

I've just changed the banner - what do you think?


Saturday, March 01, 2008

computer problems :(

Norton's name is mud at the moment as it is really messing up my computer - supposedly uninstalling the old version but just hanging and doing ZILCH! I hate it >:>( . If it doesn't sort itself out it's going back for a refund. Updates when I can get online again safely.