Confessions of an Obsessive Compulsive Artist
I get asked all the time where I trained. I take it as a compliment, as the person asking is clearly under the impression my art is a high enough standard, which must only have been gained from a formal art education.
did go to Art College, for 1 year. What did I learn? NOTHING! I'm not dismissing art education from formal institutions completely. There are some amazing programs out there, but having had under graduates through my gallery door with
their portfolios in hand, I'm sorry to say, I'm not overly impressed with what I see. Very empty portfolios, the artists admitting that they didn't gain an awful lot from their degree course in terms of technique or guidance. An accomplished and
skilled artist a degree does NOT make.
So why get a fine art degree? One plus point is that, if you put the work in, you get to exhibit via your educational establishment, in some great places. It allows you to show your
work in places like London and can open doors into some major competitions. But that's about it. It doesn't mean longevity as an artist at all. That comes from continuous hard work and passion for the subject. It's my view that this
is why Art as a school subject is not highly rated any more.
In the time of Da Vinci and beyond, being at art school gave you status in society. Art school students and artists were considered to be highly accomplished individuals
and looked up to with awe. Sadly, particularly over the latter part of the 20th Century and even now, it's considered a drop out subject for the less bright students. BUT, if you get a Fine Art Degree, some people believe this can only be achieved
by the best.
In fact there are some very famous artists who achieved life long success and didn't have a fine art degree. Rousseau, Khalo, Van Gogh, Yoko Ono and our very own Gary Bunt.
How do I know
so much, if I dont have a degree? How did I learn? PRACTICE and PERSEVERANCE. I have studied art, artists, art mediums, method, materials, style since I was 15. I read books, I walk round galleries, I talk to other artists, i experiment,
I research. It's my job. Despite my fruitless art education, I'm self taught.
With or without a degree, you can be successful as an artist. What is success? Well it's probably a whole other blog post, but to
me, the title of success depends on what the artist is trying to achieve and then it's up to the people that look at their art. If you want to make a career out it, success can be measured in sales. If your art is selling and people want to buy
it. I consider myself successful because my work sells. I've still got a long way to go, but that's the nature of the job. The bottom line is the most important thing to prestigious galleries. You can be judged by a few 'experts' in
competitions, but if you want a career you must have what it takes to sell. You must have that special ability to speak to someone's soul so much that they just HAVE to have it!
So when you're faced with choosing an artist, be it for a commission, to learn from or to buy from, don't go by their CV, go by their work. If it speaks to you, it doesn't matter how or where they've trained, it doesn't matter where they've exhibited. What matters is if you rate their art.
'The principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke' - Kosinski
Someone said to me recently 'I guess to be a good artist, you have to have a wide variety of media and styles that you can do'. I immediately corrected her witb, 'it's quite the contrary actually. You must be recognisable. If your art was in a gallery with no name on it, the viewer must immediately know it's one of yours'. if you don't have a distinctive style, you won't have collectors and therefore you will, forever remain, an unsuccessful professional artist.
Think of all the greats, Rembrandt, Lowry, Picasso, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Carlo, Turner. They have one thing in common....they are all different. They
are unique. How did they get there?? They painted, and painted and painted, then they painted some more. Between them they produced thousands of artworks, not all of which, ended up on a gallery wall. Some were ridiculed and died
paupers, but their legacies live on.
So now, one of the most asked questions among creatives, 'how do you find a style? there is no magic formula to this. The simple answer is to keep painting, keep all your work and compare
only to your earlier self. Find a common theme that may run through and go with it. Push it further and see where you end up. Get up every day and paint and don't feel guilty about doing this. Just keep going, as though you were employed
It's been a long winter, not seeing friends and family, not having any set routine, cold, damp days. You've hammered Netflix and seen everything, you've done more daily exercise than ever. If you're anything like me, you may have led a horrendously
busy life pre-lockdown and, at one point, welcomed the forced slowdown to embrace new things.
Being an artist can be great in times like this. You can really dedicate large blocks of time to develop artistic skill and even set
a new course in your art, like a journey of self-discovery. The initial excitement of embracing a new age in your art is full of hope and you feel ready for the challenge, if anything, as a distraction from what's happening in the real world.
In my house, that initial excitement is there almost every morning. I wake up before the crack of dawn (it's currently 5am as I write this!), with a million ideas whizzing round in my head. It's like a burst of mental energy, itching
to get out. In an ideal world, I'd be up, paint brush in hand, and I'd paint until I could paint no more. In reality, the fact that I share the house with a husband and two kids, limits this activity somewhat. Not able to use my studio, I'm
holed up in the kitchen at my easel most days. Thoughts of having to get everything out, then put away again before breakfast, home schooling, housework, dampens the artistic flow, just a little. Pre lockdown, I'd drop the kids at school and spend
the day in my studio working. Now, more than ever, the lines of work and home are blurred and I'm torn between the guilt of not giving the kids my full attention and those little artists in my head, screaming to be set free. This makes for a very
The feeling of demotivation is a killer, which can lead to depression and all sorts of other health conditions. You start to give up everything, even getting out of bed, and even though art is a therapeutic
experience and the Bob Ross fans out there will have been left on cloud 9, thinking what a wonderful job, being an artist must be, let me tell you, it can also be a demon. Artists have creativity running through their veins. Their very existence
is to create. It's as important to them as breathing. If an artist can't do their thing, they fall hard mentally. This, in turn, can lead to what is called 'artists block'.
You may have heard of writers block, well
visual artists get this too. Where they feel like everything they do is rubbish, they've lost their skill, they can't make good art anymore. I've seen countless posts on art Facebook pages lately, where artists are asking how to get out of this
rut they find themselves in. Some even talk of giving up art completely. I've experienced this in the past and it's horrible. You're in a black hole that you can't climb out of. So, how do we stay motivated and avoid, or climb out of,
The answer is, you claw your way out! Those little artists screaming in your head can be silenced by giving them what they want. Grab a sketchbook and draw anything. DRAW ANYTHING!! An apple, a cup, your fingernail, ANYTHING. Then, scroll through google, or find a tour of one of the galleries. Look at other art, draw inspiration from other art. Cherry pick the things you like about it and explore those things. Do some finger painting, face painting, get out the palette knives and plaster a camvas with nonsensical colour. All this will trigger your creativity again. And, if, like me, you struggle with creating or family, get the family to do it with you! They may produce something that inspires your next masterpiece. Make a dedicated time to art. Block in a whole afternoon of creativity. Force yourself to be bold, push your own boundarie and see what happens. Most importantly of all, take each day at a time and be kind to yourself.
Yes, you read that right. Those that have visited my website, commission price list lately may have noticed the absence of any prices for colour pencil commissions. This is because I have taken the decision to 'take a break' from the medium.
I don't know how long that break will be, could be months or years, I don't know. There are a number of reasons why I've made this decision however.
1. Cost - I'm not going to lie, even for an experienced artist,
colour pencil takes an extremely long time. Hours upon hours of work to make the image look realistic, which is the style every customer who commissions me, expects. That, coupled with the stigma that colour pencils are a fairly new medium in the
grand scale of things and therefore don't command the same price expectations for customers as, say, oil paintings, means the artist ends up paying themselves less than minimum wage, or sometimes even makes a loss, if you factor in all the time spent discussing
the commission with the customer too. This is not ideal when they, like everyone else, has to pay the bills and put food on the table. it's not good business sense and a professional artist is running a business, just like everyone else. The bottom
line counts, just as it does for any retail business.
2. Developing as an artist - Artists go through 'phases' or 'terms' in their career. Monet is a great example of this. In his earlier work, it's very detailed,
realistic, classical. Later on in life, you see his paintings loosen up to the point where his work can be distinguished from everyone else's. The constant demand for realistic pet portraits in colour pencil means that's all I end up doing all
day, every day. It harnesses thoughts and feelings of being stunted in developing, the feeling of being restricted. As someone who is constantly wishing to develop and learn and find my own path, style or message in my art, this is rather a passion
killer, which, in turn, leads to me not producing my best work.
3. Physical health - Due to the long hours sitting at a drawing table clutching a pencil, this has begun to affect my back, hand and shoulder muscles. Painting
is a lot freer, I tend to stand up when I paint also, projecting more energy into the painting and therefore creating a much truer representation of me as an artist and how I see the subject. After all, art is subjective.
4. A Flooded Market - Since Covid, more and more people have wanted to follow the dream of being an artist. Pet portraits artists are now at an all time high and in the world of colour pencil, it's hard to distinguish one artist from another.
They all strive for the same look of realism, meaning no one has a recognisable style and identity, thus making them less collectible as an artist or body of work and the value of the work suffers accordingly. This brings us back full circle to
point number 1 above, cost.
5. Expansion and Exploration - I have a studio/shop/gallery in Rotherfield, East Sussex. when I'm open I do everything for my day job there. I do commissions, I teach, I sell paintings
and art equipment. There are rather a lot of facets to my job and my business and I struggle to fit it all in. This then means, I'm so busy doing art that I've been directed to do, in a medium that is hurting me physically, as well as from a career
point of view, and in the pocket, I end up doing the other things less well. Since lockdown has massively reduced my teaching time, I've had time to paint the things I want to paint, in the style I want to paint it and that has led to record sales of
my original artwork in one month. I've been able to earn more in this lockdown than when I've been at my busiest with colour pencil commissions over several months. I am my own worst critic and I don't like a lot of the art I produce, but those
sales have given me a little boost to perhaps expand outside of Rotherfield a bit and start pursuing a bigger audience. Knowing I have time to do that, gives me more confidence to go forward with this. it's even led to me setting up my own YouTube
So, there are my reasons. And as I take this break from this particular medium, I have also reduced the number of commissions I am willing to take on and be more fussy about what I agree to be commissioned for. Many, if not all, pet portrait artists will know the constant battle for good, clear references. This is not a new thing. When I can, I try to meet the animal in person, to determine it's proper colour and characteristics, however, this is not always possible, especially at the moment. So a clear and accurate photo reference is essential to produce a good piece of work. When I say accurate, I mean, taken in natural daylight, with a flat lense, so it doesn't distort the proportions. I've had commission requests to draw from photos where the dogs are off in the distance somewhere, where you can't even identify the breed, I've had photos where the dog has the biggest cheesiest grin and I've had to restructure the entire face to not make it look cartoonish and achieve the clients expectations of realism. These are all examples of huge headaches for commissioned artists and leads to hours more time spent on the piece than can be charged for, forcing the artist to make a loss and in some cases, not giving the client the result they'd hoped for (this has only happened once to me, in my nearly 30 years of doing commissions). So, only commissions where the reference is clear an accurate will now be taken on.
Ive realised, whilst
writing this, it's started to sound like a bit of a moan, but it's not. I love meeting peoples animals and creating an everlasting physical memory of them. I will continue to paint animals and will never stop. However, this blog has also
given me somewhat of a release, a therapeutic cutting of ties which I have longed for for the last year. And I hope, this means my work quality grows as a result. My feel my customers deserve honesty and the best work I can produce and going forward,
that is what they will get.
White paint, not much to say, you may think, but, with all the different types of white out there, are you sure you're using the right one?
I had an epiphany this week. Finally taking one week out of the endless colour
pencil pet portrait schedule to get my own portfolio work done and develop my own creative skill and technique, I was running out of my supply of my trusted Titanium white.
A while ago I went to buy some more titanium white, when
stocks were running low before and my supplier had completely run out, but they did have zinc white. Not knowing any better at the time, I thought, hell, why not, can't be much different. It's still white oil paint, right? Wrong! When
I started using zinc white, the texture wasn't creamy and silky like titanium, it was thick, dryish and sticky. It spread like thick tar than butter. It wouldn't lighten my colours at all it just disappeared into them. All in all, a very
frustrating paint to work with.
So, this week, with my titanium stash looking very depleted and no sign of the postman with my fresh supply, I decided to give zinc another chance, but this time, I decided not to use it in place of
titaniu, but to embrace its qualities (if I could unlock them!).
When I paint for myself, I like to paint loose, with texture. Zinc white, I've found, gives great texture. Its thick and tends to hold its form when applied
generously. When I used it before, I became very frustrated with the fact that it doesn't lighten colour, barely at all. When you mix it, it only slightly varies the colour tone, but no where near as strong as titanium white. However,
with my flower paintings this week, that very slight colour tonal change was perfect to capture the delicate tones of a flowers petals, so that's what I used it for, subtlety. It worked! I got that and texture.
as opposed to Titanium white, is very transparent, which means when mixed with colour the pigment isn't strong enough to overpower the colour pigment, resulting in only a slight difference. Titanium white holds its own and is highly opaqu. When
mixing with colour, it lightens instantly, but is of a smoother consistency so it's harder to get texture, without mixing in some moulding paste or a thickening agent of some kind. So having been rather harshly against using zinc white, I've discovered
it's place in my art and taken it out of self isolation 😄.
This is why it's so important for an artist, no matter how experienced, to take time out of the usual schedule of work, to experiment. I've done some of my best work
this week and feel more accomplished for it.
So, don't just go for the one trusted white you've always used, get a different one and see what you can do with it.