Thursday, 22 December 2011

Time or Not

As Christmas draws closer, I am racing to finish some work before a few days of non-painting causes my oils to dry. I remember my student days, when time was a distant concern and I could devote all my waking hours to my paintings. A false sense of time stretched out indefinitely. As I tweaked some paintings yesterday, I debated whether a lack of time seriously damages or invalidates one's work. For most artists, 5 days a week in a studio is a goal yet to be attained, so painting is slotted between daily duties. I know artists who work full-time and paint at night, or spend all their weekends painting. I would dearly love the chance to paint full-time, as I believe that it promotes a flow and rhythm I can't have when I work in irregular hours, snatched here and there. (Though I probably have more time to paint than friends who have children.)

But all the part-time artists I know haven't suffered any loss of integrity or substance in their work. So it made me wonder if perhaps a lack of time can force you to focus very intensely and make some deeply considered and quite definite decisions. I wondered if perhaps it could be turned to an advantage? Most artists are painting even when the brush is not in their hand, and it's possible to sit in front of my canvas and find that the stored hours of visual adjustments and possibilities, played with internally during daily routines, suddenly flood into the painting. Many a painting has been finished in the final half hour, when pressure forced unexpected resolutions.

('Terrain.' Oil and acrylic on board, 31cm x 61cm)

Friday, 25 November 2011

Interpretation versus taste

Taste and prejudice are the enemies of creativity. As a painter I can't afford to 'hate' any colour or my options are limited. Through the act of painting, new horizons open and we follow where they lead, without self editing. The worst thing is when someone says 'I prefer it when you paint trees,' or 'Your flower paintings were so good.' Other people's interpretation of what you do grows from many sources, some relevant, some not, but how crushing it is when someone blocks the flow with a random remark. I've known painters who couldn't paint for days.

Recently an art agent collected 11 canvases for a show. I thought a lot afterwards about how others look at my work once it has (hopefully) become a separate world. Always there is the fear of how one's work will be interpreted - and of course, maybe I am deluded and in a creative cul-de-sac without realising it! (The fact that it is not an exact science leads me to many wobbly moments.) What amazed me was that she selected what I considered to be one of my worst paintings ever. ('Puddles in the Park.') I wondered what she had seen in it that I was unable to connect with, because of the tangle of aesthetic and technical questions in my mind.

I had deliberately used shapes and colours that challenged my visual comfort zone, and had been unable to unify them. I let the painting go for exhibition as perhaps when it re-enters the studio, it will need just a tweak here and there.

One of the exciting and eternally challenging aspects of painting is that there is no set viewpoint, no one way or fixed interpretation. But artists tread a fine line between listening, and closing our ears to unproductive interpretations when working.

Then there are the demands and evaluations of the market, but that's another post!

('Puddles in the Park,' oil on canvas 50cm by 70cm. 'Coastal Landscape,' oil on board 12ins by 24ins)

Monday, 14 November 2011

Square versus Rectangle

Recently I have been exploring differently shaped canvases to challenge my increasingly pre-set response to landscape composition. It occurred to me how the dynamics change according to the shape you choose. When it comes to painting in situ, I tend to automatically use a rectangular shape of watercolour paper, yet I don't want 'automatic' responses in my work!

I stretched up a selection of squares and rectangles, and found myself totally out of my comfort zone. Squares seem to demand that you 'break' their calmness and symmetry, and this in itself gives clues as to how to build the composition. I found it literally opened new horizons for me. Rectangles were a bit more familiar, so I tried some longer ones, and then of course you have to make sure your painterly elements link along the entire dynamic. New questions appear, which in turn expand your perception and approach.

In writing this, I'm aware that it may come across as being quite technical and devoid of the emotional aspects of painting. I believe that as a painter, you need to keep evaluating technical and aesthetic issues, in order to find the best expression for your evolving emotional responses to both paint and external factors. The shape of your 'arena' seems to be a huge factor in the presentation of your passion and ideas, and a very exciting one.

(Paintings: 'Autumn Rythms,' oil and acrylic on canvas, 90cm x 50cm. 'Breezy Spring Day,' oil and acrylic, 60cm x 27cm. 'The Hill,' 30cm x 30cm, Oil and acrylic on canvas)

Monday, 19 September 2011

I Never Imagined.....

When I made this drawing 25 years ago, I was teaching English at the Americanos College in Nicosia, and this was the view from my second floor classroom. The large window framed the main square, and the Nicosia Town Hall. It was an image I loved, and on my days off I drew from the flat roof above my classroom. It was a magical time, and I'll never forget drawing above the piercing sound of traffic, as the flickering sunlight cast green fire into the foliage below. As the heat burned my back, I delighted in the sense of being in my own secret world. Possibilities fanned out all around me, and on my paper.

I never imagined that one day, many years later, and after a life tapestry heavily textured with grief and light, I would be married in that same Town Hall. I often wonder if there's a time-line that with some insight I could have looked down, and seen that future self stepping into that muted pink building, with its lovely columns, on a day when I was truly, incredibly happy.
I married on August 5th, at 11.30am, to a wonderful man I have known for 9 years, and had a long distance relationship with for five years. Everything just fell into place, in a way that's rare in life. We booked our marriage 48 hours before the event. My pace slowed as we walked along the cool corridor to the Registrar's office, because I recognised paintings by Cypriot artists I knew well. Suddenly I stopped in front of a huge oil painting of Nicosia. 'It's my painting!' I shouted so loudly that a woman came running out of a nearby room. But she began smiling when I explained that this was the painting I'd donated to the Mayor of Nicosia in 1988! I hadn't seen it since 1990, when it was hanging in the conference room, and I'd assumed it was in a dusty cupboard somewhere! I felt as if the past had reached into the future, and seeped into the committment I was about to make.

They allowed us to take photos in front of the painting, a few minutes before the marriage. For a split second I remembered Tom, who died 13 years earlier, and who had embodied Nicosia for me back then. As I took my vows, I felt that a huge circle had closed.

(Photos: Me in front of the Town Hall: Me with my Marriage Certificate: In front of my Nicosia painting, just before we married: my charcoal drawing of the Town Hall.)

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Waves of Life

It came as a surprise to see how long it is since I wrote my Blog. It was entirely unintentional, as life's waves engulfed me and I lost all sense of time! I've been taking part in exhibitions, entering work for other Open Submission shows, and trying to arrange my wedding in Cyprus. The loveliest months of the summer have just slipped by. And as this is also being written against the clock, I'm just going to add a couple of new paintings. (Inscape 1 & 2, oil on canvas, 30cms by 40cms)

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Ups and Downs

I'm used to delivering work personally to a gallery so it was a new experience on Tuesday to be packing 8 canvases for a show in Bristol. Though the canvases were small, (40cms by 30cms) it took at least an hour to bubblewrap them, and make sure they were sufficiently protected for the long journey. My work was selected for a 'Small Artworks' exhibition at the Nails Gallery, which is on for 3 weeks in June. For peace of mind, I insured my large package, which to my relief actually arrived intact.

Yesterday I delivered 2 paintings to the Llewellyn Alexander gallery, in London, for the NOT THE ROYAL ACADEMY exhibition. My work was selected from photos, though the gallery also takes works rejected by the selection committee for the Royal Academy Summer Show. I had entered a work for the Royal Academy Summer Show, and to my disappointment was turned down, but as it's known to be a lottery (with preference given to names, Academicians, established artists), I consoled myself with the acceptance to the other shows, and the very positive feedback I'm getting on Facebook for my paintings from internationally established artists. It's a hard route, strewn with rejections and criticism, and at moments like this your artist friends keep your spirits up. And of course, the sirens endlessly calling you to your personal artistic journey.......

(Blue painting: 'Paths.' 30cms by 40cms, Oil on canvas. Pink painting, 'Homage to Spring.' 40cms by 30cms, Oil on canvas.)

Friday, 1 April 2011

Second Day

Yesterday morning I took this painting up to the Royal Academy for yet another attempt at the Summer Show. How many of us try hopefully each year, knowing that the odds are not favourable? I hurried through the Burlington Arcade, with its gleaming shop windows and neat little boxes of sparkling jewellery, pastel knitwear, expensive shoes in a variety of striking colours, and an aura of hushed exclusivity. I wondered where the other artists were, why no one was struggling with large paintings through the narrow walkway filled with shoppers.

It was the Second Day. I realised with a shot of panic that possibly most people deliver their work on the first delivery date. Do people believe that you have more chance if your painting passes along in the line of thousands on that First Day, while the selectors' eyes are still fresh and open to excitement? It's something I've always believed, but this year I was forced into the Second Day. As I reached the end of the arcade, and turned towards the Royal Academy back entrance, I noted the empty street. First Day delivery ensures a long wait in an ever-growing queue which frequently disappears out of view. Each foot of forward motion is wedged between interminable bands of non-movement. A sense of triumph follows the handing over of your work, and a quick exit passes the still-growing queue.

Yesterday I breezed down the long, narrow entrance to the Royal Academy, and unwrapped my small painting. Television cameras were there, filming an artist who was unwrapping a large canvas of purple flowers. As I left, small groups of artists were arriving, but the atmosphere was very different to First Day. The long queues seemed to emanate a sense of urgency and energy.

Afterwards I reasoned with myself that if one's chances are so small anyway, First or Second Day probably makes almost zero difference!

('One Among Many,' oil and acrylic on canvas, 41cm x 51cm )

Monday, 21 March 2011

March 19th, First real day of Spring

After 4 months of not being able to paint in situ, I was finally able to go out on Saturday. It was the first clear blue sky, the first truly warm air of the year. As I walked up the long drive into the grounds at Burrswood, I could hardly wait to open my watercolour book. The bright sunlight etched skeletal branches with gold, and deep shadows flooded the emerald grass. I usually paint outdoors in January and February, as I like to experience the minute changes to the colours as the seasons progress, but this winter has been too cold, wet, or snow-bound.

Painting outdoors is important to me because through this experience I can re-evaluate elements that are relevant to my studio-based (and more imaginative-based) paintings. I love painting in front of nature, I also love re-assembling the experiences on canvas away from nature. Everything feeds into everything else. Something seen months earlier suddenly pops up as a shape or colour on my canvas.
('March 19th,' watercolour, 16ins x 12ins, painted in situ/ 'The Best May Blossom Ever,' Acrylic on board, 61cm x 91cm, studio painting)

Monday, 7 March 2011

Emotional Cords

There comes a point when you have to detach from a painting. I have a natural tendency to obsess over my work so I'm quite grateful when I reach a state of detachment through outside forces. Often a friend or family member will say, 'That looks finished to me,' and I step back, drink a coffee, and try to view the painting as if I hadn't painted it. How many times has a friendly remark prevented me from over-working a picture! Sometimes turning it to the wall for a week has the same advantages.
As I prepared to deliver my latest commission, I realised with some relief that it was finished after all. Up until that moment of cutting the emotional umbilical cord, I can't enjoy the painting. Once it stands separately from me, it can go off into the world hopefully with the meaning that was intended. My 'Nicosia Balconies at Night,' held exactly the sense of place I'd wanted to convey.
Then the process begins all over again; the same searching, the same self-doubt that is the Artist's life. I'm working on 5 more canvases, of differing sizes, and the first rays of sunlight brought with them an invitation to put two painting in the Not The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition at the Llewellyn Alexander Gallery in London.
(Photos: Fiona with a large Turkish Baths canvas/A selection of recently completed works, and works in progress.)

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Admin versus Creativity

After much painting, erasing, and contemplation, and numerous cups of coffee, my commission is finished. I could have gone on longer, but felt that it had reached the stage where it conveyed the buzz of night life and multi-layered conversations that were the original impetus. It's a theme I love, as each brushstroke takes me back to my many night-time walks around Nicosia, and colours start to carry the essence of those memories.
The painting will be delivered on Saturday, but during the painting process my client was kept updated by the means of photos of the progress of the painting attached in emails. Modern technology can be so helpful for an artist and saves so much time.
Much of my painting day tends to be taken up with what friends refer to as 'Admin Time.' Perhaps there was a Golden Era when galleries sought out artists and opportunities dropped in through the letterbox each day. Now we have to be on constant alert for exhibition opportunities and the chance to showcase our work. This means signing up to gallery newsletters online, joining artists' databases, and constant networking (often on the internet) and putting your work on as many websites as you can find! It is time consuming and can be expensive, and of course there are thousands all doing the same thing. But what I love about the internet is how easy it is to enter other artists' worlds and make connections. My own practice has been greatly extended by sites such as Facebook, which allows me daily discussions with artists around the world.
('Nicosia Balconies at Night,' 120cm by 60cm, Oil and Acrylic on canvas.)

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


As 2010 ticked into 2011, I was standing watching the fireworks in Nicosia, Cyprus, with my partner. As the fireworks exploded, and cascades of fiery stars fell through the darkness, I cheered loudly with the crowds. Faces shone with the universal hope a New Year always brings.
A few days later, after numerous walks through sunlit parks glowing with the artificial greens that unfold at that time of year, I was yearning to paint. I wrote this in my diary:
'Images are struggling to get out, beating against closed eyelids: when I close my eyes they flit across my inner vision, they seep into dreams, they burst out from behind and between leaves and concrete as I walk, they float up from the sweet earth and sing from the trickling river. I smell them as I pass rainbow flowers, and hear them bubbling behind apocalyptic clouds strewn with grey streamers. Vision and experience cross over into one another, they mutate into something new and bright. I sense the life forces between things, and feel the energies. The problem is to find the right form of expression and this takes time, focus and integrity. I don't want to follow trends or adapt my work for commercial reasons. It has to be pure, at the 'risk' of never making it in the 'real' world.'
('Out of the Loop,' watercolour, 16ins x 12ins, painted in Nicosia.)