John Singer Sargent pulling on a fat corona
Apple’s latest offering, the iSlug, is great news for those of us who welcome Big tech and Pharma into our lives. The iSlug is a subdermal device which is painlessly inserted beneath the skin, whereupon its neural interface connects with every aspect of our material existence. Apart from the obvious benefits of giving large corporations direct access to our neuro-physiology, there are some exciting add-ons available too.
As an artist I was pleased to see the inclusion of a Singer Sargent Plug-in which, once installed, will guide the eye and the hand across a painting. Where proportion is poorly described, neural nudgebots will place the hand where it should be, where form is inadequately resolved a reassuringly stern tingling in the fingers will spur us on. When squeezing out paint an involuntary reflex will empty half a tube of vermillion onto your palette – for Sargent was notably lavish with his pigments. (This one is sponsored by Winsor and Newton)
Where value has been misjudged, a friendly stabbing pain behind the eyes encourages us to look again and muddy colours are rewarded with hair loss and momentary blindness. Economical mark making and elegant edge management will be remunerated with a release of endorphins and a warm sense of smugness.
On a matter of taste, any voluptuous engagement with the flesh will trigger a dizzying nausea, as blood is drained from areas of needless tumescence. Whilst this last one is not really a Sargent thing, it is attuned to the community guidelines of companies like Meta, you know, the ones that shadow ban you on Instagram for putting up a painting with a bit of side boob. So that’s ok.
I am hopeful that my painting will begin to include luscious sweeps of glistening oil paint and bravura brushwork without the tiresome effort of actually having to learn how to do it. Whilst the iSlug and plugins are presently not mandatory, the behavioural insights team are recommending them for all artists so who knows, before long we may all be painting like angels and in glorious lock-step.
There are one or two side effects to be aware of, some users may develop a luxuriant moustache and an inability to resist a fat Havana, but it’s all quite manageable.
As we celebrate our trans-humanist future we can be doubly grateful that with the help of ethical big tech we will not only be better, more sustainable citizens but better artists too. Hurrah!
nb. For those of us who would prefer not to paint like Sargent. Sorry.
Have a fab Jubilee
It’s half-term and the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee too
Tutored courses do not run this week and open studios will be closed from Wednesday afternoon until Monday the 6th June. For those of you unfamiliar with the Queen, she is the longest serving monarch since forever and this weekend is going to be a big one to celebrate her 70 years of service. There are lots of things to do – you can see some here
You may find our website looking a little different, we’re having it updated. If you spot anything odd or you have any feedback, do let us know.
Get a website, do Instagram, engage.
We all know what we should be doing to promote ourselves as artists. Assuming we’d like to sell the occasional painting we have to ‘make known in order to sell’.
Marketing ourselves can seem like a loathsome occupation, being a self-publicist can feel tawdry and misaligned with our values as artists but ‘making known in order to sell’ is just straight forward communication. There is nothing grubby about selling pictures – and letting people know that pictures are for sale is honest communication, particularly when it is done without hyperbole.
We just had an exhibition, no selling was done, pictures were shown and people liked them enough to buy them. The trick is the ‘making known’.
If people know who we are and what we do over a period of time, they are far more likely to take an interest in our work. Being known by other artists is not a waste of time either, someone may ask them about you. No one wants to be ‘sold’ art but people who love art do want to see it and know about those who create it.
So the task is being visible. For most of us that will mean occupying a slot on social media, as much as you can bear, interacting with people, going to private views, showing wherever you can, having a mailing list, entering open exhibitions and of course, having a website. Gallery representation can clearly be part of the mix.
As your reputation grows, your name alone will sell your work, until then it is more likely that your collectors will be those who know you more personally.
Stella Cardew Exhibition
Stella Cardew has an exhibition on this week. Stella is an excellent artist who has run a couple of workshops for us and is a bit of a local treasure. (Her shows usually sell out and she does precious little marketing, is not on Instagram and keeps a low profile – but she is known in the old fashioned way and has her fans.)
Jeannie Avent Gallery
14 North Cross Road
From midday Wednesday 25th May to midday Wednesday 1st June 2022
Open 11-5 daily, but you may like to phone first to confirm
Private view 5-7pm on Saturday 28th
Download a printable version here: PV OpenExhibition DAGAS 2022
Rain, Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway – Joseph Mallord William Turner
Have you noticed how things keep changing? I don’t mean the natural things like birth, death and the weather but all the things we have invented for ourselves like what it means to be a good person, what is true, when is it appropriate to lie and what should be the consequences? That sort of thing. Even what makes good art?
We seem to live in a time which has given up certainty itself, and is in the act of embracing a darker reality, that shifts and slithers, refusing to stay still; oh! brave new world.
In art, uncertainty can add an edge to the work, it can intrigue, it casts mystery or tension, it can cause the viewer to join up the dots for themselves and engage more deeply. It’s a handy device but for uncertainty to work it needs one or two points about which we can be sure.
Take a painting such as Rain, Steam and Speed by Turner, painted way before abstract expressionism: for the image to work it needs some identifiable notes, the smoke stack, the boat, the arches, these tethers allow us to enjoy the swirl of colours and textures. These days, freed from explicit narrative, abstract painters still tend to use specific shapes or colours to fix the image, even if just the edge of the canvas. Where nothing is certain, we are left with white noise.
The starting point for us humble observational painters has always been the simple act of looking. Of course, there is absolutely nothing simple about the act of looking but you catch my drift. Whilst looking we may draw and start transcribing some things that we see about which we can be certain. Shapes, colours, values, relationships. These certainties can be returned to and questioned but once they are broadly established they provide a permeable cage within which the freedoms may roam.
Whilst the world around us may spin and swirl like a demented Turner, these acts of observation provide the artist with the grounding anchors upon which to latch their whimsy. Like death and taxes these things are certain.
In wider life our need for certainty is so great that without it we suffer anxiety and lose judgement, panic buying any murky fix offered by the politicians of the day. They do know what they’re doing!
It has become obvious to anybody who has been observing recent events that we are being governed by invisible alien space lizards, hell bent on spoiling our fun and leading us to annihilation. If you have a more plausible explanation, do let me know.
They infest our government and our institutions and force us to live in a self-contradicting puzzle. They seek to divide us against ourselves so that they can bring about their nefarious space invasion whilst we are squabbling about which lavatory to use. It may feel as if resistance is futile but there is one twinkly chink in their scaly armour. They are alien space lizards and as such their blood runs cold. They have no humanity and are bewildered when they see the kindness, community, camaraderie, the selfless love and care that we lavish upon each other with no regard for personal profit.
What they find particularly scary is art.
Art is irrational, personal and can be profoundly affective upon the viewer. Good art is often provocative, not through any wilful contrarianism or childish desire to shock but because when an artist follows their enquiry it can take them to unexplored places where new things are seen. New things are always a challenge, not just to the comfortable and complacent but also to the space lizards. They know that we are more likely to sense their presence if we start making our own enquiries rather than do what is expected of us.
Artists are the exact antithesis of the species of bland globalisation sought by the space lizards. Artists are individual, particular, granular, interested in detail, nuance, subtlety – ‘this’, ‘this’, ‘this’ not ‘those’ or ‘them’. Whilst the lizards seek to use difference as a fuel for division, artists have the knack of seeing difference as the joyful play of one universal truth. This is infuriating to the lizards whose cosmos of lies serves them well and absolutely why we should keep on arting and save the planet.
First, in one sense, there are no rules. Then again, there are dozens. Just like in nature, there are natural laws such as don’t go poking a bear if you can’t run fast, don’t get your shirt off if you don’t want attention and don’t eat Jerusalem Artichokes before a social engagement.
Oil paint is the most powerful and flexible of painting mediums and like gravity, another natural law, it is your friend. Gravity keeps us on the ground which is an excellent thing but step off a tall building and you will curse it. Oil paint also has it’s ways, follow the rules (or natural laws, if you prefer) and it will be by your side like a faithful hound, break them and it will turn on you like a Pitbull from the North Peckham Estate.
Dark to light
If you start your painting with darker colours you’ll find that the lighter colours sit on top of them quite happily. The reverse seems not to be true, but do try it out for yourself. We usually find that the last things we tend to paint are the highlights. If you paint high key it’s tricky to lower the tone whereas if your painting is a bit subdued it’s easy to bring in the light.
Thick over thin
Keep the paint thin at the beginning. If you are using turps or Zest-it to thin, then when you paint over previous layers, make sure that you use less or no turps, otherwise the preceding layer will lift. Thin layers of earth colours set up quickly so that if you are careful you can paint over them in one session. As you continue painting you can build up the paint to achieve depth and intensity. Painting into thick impasto is a nasty business.
Transparent to opaque
Transparent colours tend to fall back into the picture space whereas opaque colours come forward. In the same way that dark colours painted on top of a light colour corrupt easily, transparent over opaque requires a very light touch. Common transparent colours include, Ultramarine, Alizarin, the Phthalos and the umbers. You’ll notice that lots of artists will do their preliminaries using raw or burnt umber. They are dark and transparent and when painted thinly do not interfere too much with what goes on top.
If you are an alla prima painter, that is you tend to complete your painting in one session like the Impressionists, you don’t have to worry about the technicalities of glazing and layering paint. Artists colourmen worry about painters using their products in the wrong way, leading to the paint film cracking and so labour the point that each successive layer should be thicker and or contain more medium than the last one, the Lean to Fat rule. If you just put the right colour in the right place in one go you’ll be fine.
Some other rules which you can choose to ignore, plenty do:
Don’t muddle the paint – if you place your paint with a single stroke it is less likely to mix and muddy with the colours around it. Besides, your marks are beautiful, why try and mask them or blend them out of existence?
Use the biggest brush you can – little brushes lead to fiddliness whilst big brushes cover the ground quickly and where there are visible brush marks they are proportionate to the scale of the thing being described.
Keep your brushes clean, tiny shifts in colour verity can make or break a painting, with a clean brush the colour you mix is the colour you place.
Don’t use mediums unless you have to. Paint straight out of the tube is designed to have ideal handling properties, there are times when you may wish to slacken it off with a little solvent but use mediums sparingly and with caution, I’ve had some rather good paintings weeping beads of linseed oil because I was over lavish at the time of painting.
Use the best quality paint you can afford, at least then you’ll know whose fault it is if the colours die on the canvas….
Do you Fancy getting naked on telly?
I don’t have a television and programmes like the one above don’t persuade me to change my mind. The production company are looking for some people who don’t mind being dumped stark naked (except for a stout pair of shoes by the look of it) in the middle of the country and having to get back home by hook or by crook. If you’d like to be one of the naked people you can apply here
Clare Haward – Still Life, Winter
Panter and Hall are having a show of work by NEAC members – including some you’ll know
30th March-14th April
Amongst the paintings you’ll find some fine work by Clare Haward and Benjamin Hope who you may have come across in our studio at some point. The standard of painting at the NEAC is first class, worth going along to to see how it’s done if nothing else. Website is here
George Butler in Ukraine
George Butler Outside a Kyiv supermarket
Whilst most of us are showing our support for the plucky Ukrainians by splashing blue and yellow around our social media, George Butler thought he might pop over to Kiev for a spot of reportage artistry and support them by showing the human side of their plight. Brave fellow indeed. You can see his drawings here and read all about his experiences.
If I worked for Clinton’s Cards I might wish you all a Happy Nude Year. Fortunately for Clinton’s and me, that is not the case, although the sentiment is sincerely felt. I genuinely hope that we all have a year to come where we get to go where we choose and do what we will, without the shadow of doom hanging over us and Big Brother watching. Where we get to see each other’s faces and have zero curiosity about each other’s medical status, safe in the knowledge that a hug can only transmit the warmth of friendship rather than the heat of an infectious fever.
We can dream.
Back to the nudes… and you’ll know that we believe life drawing to be a truly life enhancing activity, not just for artists who use it as part of their practice but for anyone with a visual bone in their body.
Drawing, by itself, connects us with the quiet reflective side of our nature, a perfect counterpoint to the excitement of city life. Balance is good, not just for our mental health but by extension our physical health too.
Observational drawing is demanding and also profoundly engaging, using mental muscles that once summoned for use, become available in other dimensions of our lives. Observational drawing and painting of an undraped model in a studio, filled with other artists, connects us with the pulse of our creativity and our very humanity. People leave our studio with smiles on their faces and work tucked under their arm that they are proud of.
If you find yourself wondering what you could do this year that would usefully add value to your life, reaffirming your creativity by regularly drawing and painting might be a good place to start.
Last week we put up our prospectus for tutored groups, if you missed it you can see it here. We have plenty of opportunities to develop your skills with our fantastic tutors, all working artists happy to share their insights.
This week our term starts again and you can come and paint with us most days of the week, just book online and we’ll see you there, either in the flesh in our studio or on Zoom.
As I wistfully pack away the pullovers and wet wear from my summer wardrobe, my mind turns to the exciting prospects that Autumn brings us. Yes mists, yes mellow fruitfulness but more the intense sense of purpose that comes from idling away the summer months watching the raindrops running down the window and popping another log on the fire.
My plums are hard and my tomatoes may be green, but I am super keen to get back to my art: sweet fat tubes of oil paint await me and the open white pastures of oil primed linen call to my heart, eager to be sullied with my big rough brushes. I hope you find yourself similarly disposed and ready for action because, unless our government is gaslighting us, it looks like we might have a relatively normal Autumn term coming up. Artists are visiting the studio in increasing numbers and as we’ve found that the injections offer rather less immunity than we’d hoped for, we’re keeping the Covid screens up for the while, so breathe easy.
We’ll be keeping the booking system online, everyone likes the fact that you know where you’ll be and the cool sense of order that ensues.
Wednesday morning life drawing and painting will come back from the 8th September and we have a six week long pose starting on Saturday afternoons from the 11th September. Just imagine what you could achieve with six weeks to push your paint around. The last time we had a six week pose was a very long time ago but some splendid paintings came out of it.
Tuesday afternoons will also return in due course.
There will be art and there will be artists but there will be no sunshine.
One artist who is always a ray of sunshine is Rob Macgillivray who has his exhibition starting on the 2nd September at the Jeannie Avent Gallery private view on Friday the 3rd September, email him to RSVP
Capitoline Hercules, 4th century BC – photo by Mary Harrsch
When we do events for organisations we are sometimes asked for a draped model, the organisers fear that some member of their group will be offended. We always prefer working from the nude, drapes break the line of the figure and make it harder to understand what the morphology is doing, essential when you are learning to draw; that is our main concern. But then when you have spent decades squinting at the naked human form you forget the impact that nudity can have on the unaccustomed eye.
We know that in some countries nudity is kind of, ‘whatever’ and in others it’s seen as an abomination. All the indications point to the problem, when it arises, being sex.
Greek art was positively writhing with heroic nudity and when the Renaissance exploded in Europe, the nude, often inspired by the great works of the classical period, had a central place. Whilst you could argue that the divine is expressed through the perfection of human form it also has to be accepted that amongst the piety and aesthetics of beauty there is an element of “Phwoar!”
We are complex beings are we not? We may aspire to purity but comingled with the higher thought are the procreative urges, alas!
But one of the things that is so brilliant about what remains of our civilisation is the way that we have the freedom to choose. Confronted with the naked human form we respond at many levels, in our experience, artists do not generally choose the path of prurience. They choose to discover the naked humanity of their model and engage wordlessly with it. They want to gaze, explore, understand and describe. The study of the nude is an enquiry and celebration not only of the model but of the artist too.
The awakened artist will be aware that whilst we may have the weakness of flesh, what sets us apart from the beasts is our ability to choose to be more than bestial. The ability to integrate the full sweep of our humanity is what can make us divine.