Saturday, 16 March 2019

An Guide to Acrylic Paint and some Acrylic Paintings in Progress

Some of the brands I use
As mentioned last time, I'm going to write about the acrylic paint I use and why I favour certain types. 

I often alternate between acrylic and oil paint and for speed I'll start with acrylic to get some ideas and textures onto canvas as the seed of an idea. I actually prefer oil paint, for the sheer physicality of the material, but recently I've used acrylic paint more because I've been able to explore fluidity, layering and the kind of approach I've been using in my ink on rice paper series. The thing I like best about acrylic paint is that it dries really fast so I can keep working on a painting all day. Oil paint can take days to dry before I can continue, depending on how thickly the paint has been applied.

So far I've used five brands. I started with Liquitex which is a good paint - I prefer the 'heavy body' because I can use a painting knife with it and also it can be thinned with water or acrylic mediums - and gives good intensity of colour. However, sometimes it can feel a bit 'plastic.' I also use certain earth colours from the Windsor and Newton 'Galeria' range because generally earth colours are fairly permanent and this is a cheaper range. However, the consistency is not the best and I would only recommend it to extend your stock of paint and not for sole use. Most recently, I have begun to use a paint I bought in Nicosia (available in the UK too) which is Daler Rowney Cryla heavy body acrylic. It is a professional quality and it has a great intensity of colour, you can use it with a knife and also thinned like watercolour. If you paint with it on watercolour paper, you can keep layering over and over and simply erase inadequate areas with white - I posted a few small works on paper recently which used this acrylic on paper. Here is one which was worked with thick and thin acrylic paint, with erasures as part of the image.

'Night Roads,' acrylic on rough watercolour paper
Two other brands I have tried are the Vallejo  and Sennelier. Vallejo so far has been satisfactory though I have only tried one quite transparent colour so I would need to try more colours to get a fair idea. I think perhaps the best acrylic I have tried so far has been the Sennelier range though they are quite expensive. I've always found that with paint you get what you pay for and this range is the nearest to oil paint I have found; non-plastic in feel, and really rich colour-wise. Sennelier brings back memories of Paris last December when during my participation in the Salon des Beaux Arts exhibition (Louvre) I found by chance the Sennelier shop not far from the Louvre! The range of materials in the shop was incredible and I have posted photos in my Paris Louvre post, December 2018.

Another acrylic paint brand I have yet to try but friends constantly recommend is the Golden heavy body acrylic paint. I know artists who only use this and certainly if you have allergies to oil paint and turpentine this would be a good substitute.

Generally, there are 'heavy body' acrylics which are stiffer and more like oil paint and 'flow' acrylics which can be used for watercolour effects.

'Black Road', acrylic on canvas, 60 x 50 cm

So now on to some examples being worked with acrylic. The two canvases I am posting were begun yesterday. I began both by painting a wash of colour on to each canvas. This one had a layer of varied, golden-lime. I wanted to be able to play with calligraphy on top of this, like using the off-white of rice paper with ink drawing on top, while keeping areas of flat space. With much of my work it's a case of putting things down and seeing what happens. I want to explore abstract elements of colour and mark making and pattern yet also allude to my love of moving through landscape.  This one is being considered with the usual doubts and dis-satisfactions because I'm not happy with the area on the right (upper part) and I wanted the flat, yellow-lime to have more texture. Also, one of the things I love about ink on rice paper is the way you can create particular areas of darks and lights and I feel this needs more. My husband, of course, tells me to leave it alone, but most times I follow my instinct. It just seems to need more 'weight' though what that is has yet to be discovered. 

'Sun Fan and Sea,' acrylic on canvas, 60 x 50 cm

This second painting was painted over a pale turquoise colour with some variations of soft brown. I like to set a 'trap' for my image, and a visual memory of recently taking off from Cyprus in the dark and seeing just a few ripples of the sea between the clouds was part of the inspiration. At the same time, an image of the sun as a fan kept popping in to my mind! I have no idea how this one will proceed but I'm not happy with the composition because, for me, it is just too predictable, and also the paint does not have the layering and contrast of dark and light that I am seeking. I like to push beyond whatever seductive qualities an early version might have.

It may be in the end that I work both of these with oil paint, or eradicate them quite severely - but in the meantime I will make some small sketches to see if I can work out further elements. Since sorting paintings on to shelving in my studio-in-progress, I have found older work to finish, and work I thought needed finishing but is in fact ok. It takes time for one's vision to truly 'see' the work which is why I don't mind going back to old work, and I never feel that a painting can not be retrieved. Doubt and Revision are an artist's companions.

 I'm also starting some new, vertical 'waterfall' series canvases which will be worked with oil paint once I get in to my studio which is half-way ready. Next time I will write about my favourite oil paints and how this medium influences my painting approach.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

The Importance of a Studio for Artists to Paint

'Safe Passage,' Work in Progress, 93 x 78 cm, acrylic on canvas
There have been times in my life (notably during my 14 years in Cyprus) when I had a studio, and times when, as recently, I've been working in my large living room-kitchen area. While I was still able to get work done, even large scale canvases, it is simply not the same as having your art reference around you and a space where you can leave things set up permanently and can walk straight in to a particular 'mind set.'

'Night Roads,' acrylic on rough watercolour paper, small
 At the moment I'm totally re-organising my flat and making my mother's bedroom into a studio. Some great shelving units are helping me to archive and organise canvases, and freeing up floor space. The process of going through older work and evaluating newer work has been extremely positive because I can see work that really needs tweaking and can set these aside to repaint. It's always good to see that you can spot inadequacies that you couldn't see at the time! I've also found that being able to put my personal art references on the wall - these could be anything; newspaper cuttings, photos, postcards of work I admire, drawings, paintings on paper, rough biro drawings on scrap paper - is very useful because it keeps ideas flowing and relevant.

'Early Light,' acrylic on watercolour paper, small
Setting up my studio has also helped me see ways forward because while stacking paintings on shelves, certain elements shout out as relevant and certain elements appear to be 'red herrings' or simply a mess and unfocused. Artistically, it really allows an over-view of the work in general. When I was in my studio in China during my Fellowship (2016 - please check my website for details), I found that being able to lay my ink paintings all around me on the floor and put my canvases across the walls allowed for a great cross-pollination of ideas. Mainly this is because a lot of my work is 'process driven' and I like to play with different elements to weld an image together.

'Landscape,' acrylic on rough watercolour paper
My studio is not large, compared to some studios, but I think it is the whole psychological idea of being able to close a door and get in to The Zone that is the best part of it!

Posted this time; a work in progress (from my waterfalls theme), and some of many recent small works on paper. Some may form the basis of new themes.

Next time I will be posting photos of my studio, and also writing a 'Personal Guide to Painting Materials,' with descriptions about why I prefer certain paints. 

Future posts will include Part Two of my working process with examples of how my ideas emerge from different sources and from the materials. 

Friday, 15 February 2019

Love and Loss

''Fiona Drifting Down the River,' acrylic on canvas, 80 x 40 cm
A theme running through my paintings for the last 14 months has been that of loss, both in a personal way and of possessions lost through moves and events. Daily there are layers of loss which we constantly have to make adjustments for.  The 1st anniversary of my mother's passing is tomorrow, and last Wednesday my mother-in-law Stella passed away. I was fortunate to be in Cyprus with Stella for the first week of February and I feel blessed that I spent some time with her and also during the summer. She was the best mother-in-law anyone could wish for.

The painting posted above is a recent one which references my ideas of loss and movement through life and through unfamiliar territory. It was unplanned - most of my work evolves through processes of applying paint and allowing elements to emerge - but boats and a river appeared and it matched how I was feeling at the time. Certainly my past year has seen many changes and naturally this impacts on your thoughts about your paintings and how you want to translate your life experience and feelings. While my core interests continue, new thoughts start to tweak and adjust those interests.

Stella loved colour and so did my mother. I painted this canvas last year as a tribute to my mother but I am posting it also for Stella. I painted Daffodils because they herald Spring and my mother loved them and filled the kitchen at this time of year. 

'Daffodil Poem: Tribute to My Mother,' acrylic and oil on canvas, 90 x 45 cm

Due to various obligations I have not been able to do as much painting as I wished to in these first weeks of 2019 but I hope to get back to it soon. Here is another recent painting about the loss of much of my patio garden. It is still being considered for further work but I wanted to paint something about the traces left by plant pots, leaves that fell, shadows and marks on the walls, and the shadowy traces of stems and masses of disappearing foliage.
'The Remains of Things Gone,' acrylic and ink on canvas, 87 x 76 cm

Finally, I made a few paintings on paper while I was in Cyprus 10 days ago. The change of light filtered in to my colours. This is one of the paintings.

'A Land Far Away,' acrylic on 300 gsm paper, 21 x 29 cm
While I was in Cyprus I bought some acrylic paint and a certain kind of canvas I can not find in the UK. For my next post I will be writing about my favourite art materials and explaining why they work for me.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

How I start a Blank Canvas: My Approach to a Theme (Part One)

First Stage - canvas, 89 x 79 cm

I stretched my canvas on Thursday, applied two coats of Gesso and let it dry overnight. If I was working with oil paint I would leave the Gesso for a week or more to be sure it was dry but I have never had any problems working with a water based paint such as acrylic the day after priming a canvas.

The photo above shows the first stage of my painting when I brushed in large areas of colours freely. The theme is one of loss; something everyone can relate to anywhere in the world, whether it is a small loss or something life changing. I took as a starting point some plants on my patio and the title of the painting is 'Vestiges of Things that have Gone.' As I cover the canvas I allow forms to emerge through the textures and layers of fluid paint. I wanted this theme to include the process of forms being erased or worked over. I have used calligraphy brushes, house painting brushes and acrylic brushes.

Stage 2
This second stage is where things became really complex very fast as I let my hand move to its own rhythm inserting shapes that felt relevant. I work fairly fast and the problem is that the image can become too complicated but I don't allow myself to worry about this ; it is better to have too much so you can tweak and erase parts than to have too little. Most times my work is a case of trial and error and finally getting into a real mess - and then things start to come together. This can take a few days or sometimes months! I find it very productive to work on two or three paintings of the same theme to allow ideas to bounce between them and this is what I may do.

Since taking this photo I made a few changes to the painting and will post more photos soon. Generally my work can pass through many stages and sometimes I realise afterwards that an earlier stage was better but this is all part of the learning process. My feeling at this point is that I will definitely make another two paintings on this theme which may help me to bring some simplification into this canvas (or not), and to extend the theme and paint ideas. 

To be continued.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

How I Begin a Painting: Some Tips and Ideas

'Chinese Landscape,' acrylic and ink on canvas, 80 x 40 cm

How do you begin a painting? As an artist I'm always curious to know how other artists approach a blank canvas; do they have a specific idea of the composition and image they want to paint or is the theme and approach flexible? It seems to me that this doorway into a painting is something that many artists find through trial and error though some have a clear path from college as to the kind of painting they feel an affinity with. Some of my art college friends like to work from sketches made in the landscape or from photos, or directly from the figure, and with a clear, figurative approach. Some other friends start from the paint and the idea or image evolves through their relationship with colours and shapes as they emerge. Some need to make numerous sketches to plan out a composition in advance and then draw in the elements before they begin to paint. Others may start from a line in a poem or memory, or work out abstract compositions in drawings before touching a paint brush. 

One thing is for sure; you never stop learning! I follow artists whose approach varied throughout their life as their need for particular elements broadened and changed or more questions about the nature of painting appeared along their journey. I think this is true of all artists though especially with abstract artists there is a need to follow a path to discover the language and poetry of paint. The more you paint, the more its potential speaks to you.

The posted painting shows one of my approaches. This was painted to commission so the brief was fairly specific but still allowed me room to improvise, which is one of the aspects of painting that I enjoy. The client said: it must fit with my Chinese cabinet (which was quite ornate); it should feature Chinese elements; animals and houses would be nice. Then we agreed on mountains and waterfalls. The great thing with digital technology and smart phones in particular is that you can send photos of the painting as you progress, and she was happy with all stages from the start. 

Though I was working to a brief I began the painting as I begin most of my work, with thin layers of colour and fluid paint in order to find shadowy forms that could then take life. I like to let the paint suggest imagery though I don't always work that way; sometimes I have a specific memory I want to translate  - painting, for me, is always my translation of the world around me - and I may have an idea of the kind of composition I need. Over time, certain elements (shape, colour, brush strokes) may take priority and this influences how the painting looks.

I love those early washes and marks but often they have to disappear under stronger more meaningful elements for the image to have clarity. I worked this painting in the same way I work with ink on rice paper; it had to have a certain spontaneity while also suggesting a sense of moving upwards (and downwards) and I liked the idea of a yellow sky - yellow in China conveys the idea of royalty or something special - and the tree on the top peak was painted as a feature to stop the viewer's eye.

In my next post I will be adding photos of a new work in progress to give an idea of how I begin a new painting. This will be painted from the title 'Vestiges of Things That Have Gone.' I don't often start from a title (most times I title the painting once it is finished though there may be a particular theme), but I have a pressing reason for this painting which I will write about next time.

There's no right or wrong, your approach is whatever allows you to convey your idea. Any artists reading this, feel free to leave comments on how you face a blank canvas.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Unfortunately Sometimes Other Things Get in the Way of Creativity!

'Landscape Poem,' acrylic and oil on canvas, 65 x 55 cm

I chose this painting to start my first post of 2019 because it relates to my delay in starting painting this year due to do other commitments. This painting is partly inspired by my small patio garden and also seems suggest a spilling over into landscape as an idea of the connectivity of all things. It is from a few years ago but has elements which I may take forward to themes I wish to explore this year.

Since the beginning of 2019 I have had to reduce the number of plants on my patio, partly due to certain plants becoming too big and needing to be put into the ground and partly due to not having so much time to maintain the garden (I plan to make more large paintings this year). I have been able to relocate some; my brother took some and the local park will take the large plants such as the Hydrangeas and Rose of Sharon and plants that need more root space. It's another kind of loss which has suggested a painting in my mind.

I have also done no painting this year because I have had to reorganize the entire flat due to paintings taking up a lot of floor space. On top of that, for some months I had put off the emotional job of clearing my late mother's bedroom. I felt totally unable to touch a single item in there; I would look in the door and become tearful. But I began by moving a few things before Christmas and yesterday I felt ready to tackle larger items. I know she would have been cheering me on because she would have liked the idea of her room being my studio.

'Fiona's World,' acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30 cm
My mother lived with us for 16 years so her presence is missed but suddenly I felt able to start to break the 'structures' her bedroom represented and to throw things. I have moved some shelving into her room and will be buying some large shelving units to store my canvases on. The positive aspect of this is that it will allow me to archive, label and assess work, and also organise the work I want to be ready for exhibitions. Shelving will also make better use of space! I will post photos of my new studio soon.

My new stretchers arrived yesterday while I was shifting furniture in Mum's bedroom. New work will be started next week and will be posted soon. 

View of my patio garden, summer 2016

I loved my garden with its wild abundance and random structures but hopefully I can keep the same vibe and dazzling colour with less work and my favourite flowering plants will be in bloom this summer. My Clematis especially are much loved and belonged to my late father.

Wishing you all a great New Year!

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Excited Exhibitor at the SALON DES BEAUX ARTS, LOUVRE 2018!

Last week I was in Paris for the Private View of the Salon des Beaux Arts which was held at the Caroussel du Louvre. I was so happy to fly over to France to see my painting, 'Autumnal Seascape' (blue painting to my right) in this highly prestigious annual exhibition. As I flew down across pretty fields and houses, I kept thinking of my mother who lived in Paris for a year while studying the piano at the Paris music school. She loved living in Paris but sadly did not live to see my painting selected for this exhibition - she died in February. I felt rather sad that she did not know that currently I had work both in Paris and China.

My painting is the blue one, second row down, fourth canvas along from left

A crowded Private View
I was selected by an international curator, Lena Kelekian, for her collective exhibition within the Salon exhibition and we had a large wall for 48 paintings by artists from 37 countries. The exhibition was from 13th to 16th December and was held in the lovely area below the pyramid and next to the beautiful underground shopping area.

One of the entrances to the Louvre

I arrived early in Paris on the 13th December, having flown to Charles de Gaulle airport and taken the train to Chatelet Les Halles. I had thoroughly researched the journey in the preceding days and it was not especially simple but for the future I will know what to do! Most difficult was finding my way up from the station below the shopping mall at Chatelet Les Halles and out onto the correct street! Then it was a short walk to my hotel, shorter than the map conveyed.  My little hotel was less than 5 minutes walk from the huge buildings of the Louvre, and surrounded by many gorgeous cafes and restaurants. 


For this post I am going to attach just a few photos of the event and of Paris. The Private View was a case of bumper to bumper elbows and there was a grand piano in the centre of the largest room (where my painting was) with a changing pianist all evening. There were many artworks and I'm going to write a review of the exhibition which was incredibly varied in style and theme. Personally, The sculptures impressed me the most with such innovation and creativity though I spoke with several painters and there were many paintings to admire.

The above photo shows the two catalogues my painting was reproduced in. On the left is the catalogue of my collective, Meadows, with my artist page, and on the right is the official Salon catalogue. 

Selfie with the pyramid behind
It was a long time since I had been to Paris and I simply loved being there! I would have liked to stay longer than 2 days but commitments meant I could not. I spent time on the second day back in the exhibition meeting artists and taking photos, and also had a chance to walk around a little in the surrounding area. I was lucky in that the weather was sunny both days but it was also icy!

The Eiffel Tower in the distance at dusk

Under the pyramid!

The shopping area near the exhibition rooms