Pastel Society Open Exhibition 2019

Woohooo! After many years of trying1, a couple of my pictures have finally snuck past submission and into the Mall Galleries Pastel Society Open Exhibition (2019).

As you can see, after receiving this exciting news I comported myself with great dignity.

With only a smidgeon of ulterior motive2, I would definitely recommend going to see this awesome exhibition, held in Mall Galleries in central London…

  • Exhibition opens: Tuesday 5 February, 10am to 5pm
  • Exhibition closes: Saturday 16 February, 3pm

(And of course further details are given on the Mall Galleries website here).


1As the diagram below illustrates, it is in fact not that many years, but it certainly *feels* long – aside from that one year I got the deadline wrong and missed it entirely…

pastelsoc entry timeline v3

2I wonder how many people I can now spam with invitations…?

Last Christmas Post

As winter daylight reaches its nadir, I never seem to get much work done. Of course, the same is true even when there is plenty of daylight, but I feel even less happy about it. So, lacking any exciting new work to talk about1, I shall uphold the Christmas custom of a good, Scroogey whinge about all my favourite bugbears.

img 1 finger

1.) Sharpening pencils
Oh, yes! There’s nothing like stopping in the middle of a delicate shading operation to slice off bits of finger – I mean pencil – for breaking one’s concentration. And the pencil lead. Maybe I should be following that handy Youtube tutorial more carefully…

2.) Painful postureimg 2b bonk rotated
Even when I’m not trying to use myself as a model – so standing there with one eye on the paper, one on the mirror, and one on the… oh wait. Anyway, even then, I’m sure to have contorted myself into some bizarre position by the end of the session. Often this takes the form of standing up hunched over my desk2 – probably because the desk is too high (at 5’1’’, everything’s too high) – and my chair isn’t adjustable. Mind you, I’ve never found a comfy adjustable chair either3.

And when I’m working from an easel, you can be sure I’ll have pinned all my hardcopy source images around the board4 in such a way as to make it impossible to adjust the height of the easel, so I still end up crouching / kneeling / dangling from the ceiling5.

3.) Brush (and other) maintenanceimg 3 a brush with...
Bluueergh. OK. Unlike issues 1) and 2) above, I’m usually quite assiduous in attending to my brush cleaning, as good brushes always trigger my ‘these are much too expensive for me to buy’ reflex6. So I feel the need to keep them viable for as long as possible.
I hate doing it. The cold water chaps my hands something chronic. And I can never bring myself to suck the brush into a point afterwards, no matter how thorough my cleaning has been. Ick, painty saliva7.

4.) Oil paint portion sizeimg 4 splurt
Without a doubt, I have the most miserly approach to doling out oil paint of anyone I’ve ever seen (all five of them). I was literally rubbing it onto the Thundercats sky with my fingers to eke the stuff out just a little further. Well, good quality lightfast oil paint is expensive.

Maybe I should just work smaller… but really, I’d prefer to find an oil paint medium I’m a bit happier with to thin down that pigment without gassing myself. Turpenoid Natural is good, but lacks the gloss of pongy, sticky Dammar varnish, among other issues8 – maybe just linseed oil on its own is the way to go, but I do wonder how many aeons that would take to dry…9

5.) Motivationimg 5 zzz
Ah, the final and biggest issue of them all10. Well… I couldn’t be bothered to write much for this section. ‘Nuff said, really11!

… perhaps my New Year’s resolution should be to invest more time and money into
working comfortably. And do less housework – I could live with that. Ah, a good thought on which to end the last Christmas post. Speaking of last Christmas posts, I hope those Prismacolour pencils I ordered turn up at some point; I could do with some new and exciting pencil leads to break.

1 Well, except for these visions of loveliness:

2 In order to view my work flat and escape skewing the image (well, that’s the theory…)

3 Personally I don’t believe they exist.

4 I should really get that Tablet.

5 I knew my climbing harness would come in handy…

6 It’s hard for me to justify buying them, since I mostly use pastels… though this creates a bit of a feedback loop since it’s also one of the reasons I prefer using pastels. I mean, good soft pastels aren’t cheap, but if you break one it doesn’t mean £30 down the drain. Also, it is definitely getting harder to a) find art shops in which you can actually handle your brush before purchase and b) within those few shops, find a good undamaged selection of brushes (probably due to all that brush-handling). Yeah, I’m looking at you, the (brushes aside) wonderful Berkhamsted Arts and Crafts.

7 Other pet cleaning hates include (but are not limited to) anything which has had Dammar varnish on it, paint pots, my desk, my floor, my paint palettes, (OK, I mean the Ferrero Roche plastic box which I use as a paint palette, but it’s still annoying, although at least if means if I really do decide the palette has given up the ghost I can then go out and buy a huge tray of Ferrero Roche for my new palette. One must make sacrifices for one’s art).

8 For those who are interested, Turpenoid is more environmentally friendly, less smelly, and easier to deal with than traditional turpentine – I believe you can just wash it down your sink – but, it is really a solvent to make oil paint soluble in water, not a medium per se, so adding more than a touch to your oils (I think the maximum ratio of Turpenoid to oil paint is 1:3) may cause them not dry and even start removing pigment from your image when you apply the brush!

9 In fact, someone somewhere (the internet) suggested to me that, when you work on painting oils over a dry layer underneath, you should first thoroughly cover every nook and cranny of your board with linseed oil, and then (just as thoroughly) wipe off all but a hint of it with a makeup sponge. This is supposed to allow your brush to glide over your surface smoothly, while not causing beading of the paint due to excess linseed oil. Because beading is a right pain in the patella.

10 Honourable mentions also go to social media and the internet, for being… difficult.

11 I should really learn to work without a formal deadline…

Workshopping weekend

First things first… many thanks to all the people in the workshop who kindly let me use images of their artwork in the image banner above! (Including the couple actually from a completely different workshop, but I think would look really awesome done in this technique ^_o). There are a couple of images still pending which I hope to add in as they arrive…

Ahem. So. Recently1 I attended a workshop by Jan Munro – whose vibrant watercolour and pastel artwork I strongly recommend you look at – on painting urban scenes using gouache resist.  Now… urban scenes are not my favourite subject, ranking somewhere below cars and other machinery and just narrowly beating studies of plants with endless foliage.


I’m a huge fan of Jan’s workshops, and intrigued by water-resist techniques in general2, so I jumped in3.

The technique – which Jan had learned about from a book by Moira Huntly4 – involves very carefully planning a black-and-white image; transferring it to watercolour paper; painting white gouache over all the white areas and, when dry, coating the entire page with non-water-soluble coloured ink (usually acrylic or Indian). When the ink is dry, the picture is, nerve-rackingly, immersed in water and gently scrubbed to remove the ever-soluble gouache (and by extension all the ink on top of it5), revealing a dramatic monochrome print-like image… however, I will leave the full details of the technique to Moira Huntly6.

As ever in a workshop with lots of people, I was particularly taken with all the variations on this one technique everyone came up with. And – since my natural anal-retentive tendencies meant I finished three days after everyone else – I tried to incorporate some of their findings into my own painting…

FIN colour smallest - squared AND LABELLED

1By which I mean over a month ago. I’m suffering from severe postlag.

2I sense some pointed looks at the almost complete lack of water-resist images in my gallery. I’m intrigued… just bad at using them.

3Not literally. That would have made a real mess of the gouache.

4Entitled ‘Learn to Paint Mixed Media’… I think. Please correct me if wrong!

5Though while the gouache remains soluble, the ink becomes increasingly hard to remove over time, so leaving the ink layer to dry overnight is not advised.

… But I just couldn’t resist dumping a load of boring general tips at the end anyway:

  • Rough paper gives a ‘grainier’ effect.
  • The gouache consistency is usually somewhere between double and single cream (assuming you want mostly opaque white areas; it can be lightly thinned with water for less opacity).
  • You can in theory tint the white gouache (or use coloured gouache) to make it easier to see on the page, but isn’t advised since any tint or gouache containing any sort of staining pigment will mar the white areas. Instead, you can hold the picture up so that light shines through the paper to see where the white gouache has been applied – and how thickly.
  • Test the ink is totally insoluble – even if it says it’s insoluble – before you put it over the gouache. Oh my yes. Or – as one attendee found to their cost – the whole detailed image you’ve just spent ages on will lift off, rather than just the white bits >_<…
  • At the other extreme, leaving the ink on overnight makes it very hard to remove, gouache underneath or not, so not recommended.
  • Applying the ink must be done very gently with a large, soft brush, fully loaded with dilute ink (maybe a third to a half water vs. two-thirds to a half pure ink depending on ink pigment strength, to improve the coverage). One stroke only to cover the whole length of your image is best, since even the lightest brushing over the gouache with ink will start to remove it.
  • If you don’t have a big enough receptacle to immerse your paper in, holding it under a running tap and gently scrubbing with a standard washing up sponge scourer usually works to remove the gouache.

Harpenden Arts Club Exhibition

Well, I was midway through drafting a post on a very interesting gouache resist workshop (I’m still working on it… only three weeks late so far), but instead of I will say…

… YIPPEE ~^^~!

One of the pictures I entered into the Harpenden Arts Club exhibition won the most popular vote-from-the-general-public. It was another Cedar-the-eagle-owl pastel (I honestly do draw things other than owls occasionally), and since I thought the standard of work in the exhibition was very good, I was most flattered ^^.

Also to my great joy I managed to sell two of the three works that I entered, which is a relief to the walls of my house against which all the leftovers are stacking up. It was probably even more a relief to the kind friends who first visited the exhibition and then lugged my single remaining (but enormous) picture home in their car1.

Anyway, since I completely failed to take any photos of my pictures after I got them framed, I have pasted a lovely eframe mockup at the top of this post instead which is why all the images have little close symbols in the top left corner. NB mockup may be less lovely than claimed.

1 I should also take this moment to thank the fellow artists and artist-affiliates who helped me transport all my pictures to the exhibition in the face of extremely heavy traffic, and even heavier queues @___@.

You’ve been framed

Harpenden Arts Club is holding its annual exhibition next week1 and – for the first time – I have enough spare artwork floating around to participate.

You know what this means?

A framing nightmare.

Firstly, I have to remember to order the frames. This time, for a change, I remembered to order them but almost forgot to pick them up, culminating in a mad dash into town (followed by a very slow stagger back to the station). I’m sure each frame doesn’t actually weigh several tonnes, but somehow their awkward height – necessitating lifting to around ear level when walking – and their tendency to catch the breeze and passing pedestrians seem to make it so.

Once home and after sensation has returned to my hands, the framing starts.

Are the mounts the right size? Invariably no.

Some contrive to be too small, entailing brutal pruning of the artwork; occasionally more brutal than intended due to poor motor control and a pair of blunt scissors.

Almost worse, of course, is when the mount is just slightly too large, at which point vast quantities of card and tape are employed to try and disguise the fact. This never works, particularly at first.

… @____@…

Time to remove the backboard again, sore fingers quailing at each metal tag2, undo all the tape, redo part of the tape while lying on my back squinting up at two centimetres of mount projecting over the edge of the desk, realise I don’t have enough tape, dash out to buy some more tape, somehow get the new tape stuck on the wrong side of the artwork and spend several fraught minutes peeling it off and whimpering every time the delicate pastel threatens to fall off the desk onto my face, put everything back together again, realise the mount is in places now somehow at a lower level than the picture surface, take off the backboard again and break out the PVA glue…

In short, it ends up like an escapade of Uncle Podger’s in Jerome K Jerome’s ‘Three Men in a Boat’3.

  • Lesson i) Always leave a sizeable border between your actual image and the edge of the paper, because mounts hate everyone.
  • Lesson ii) Also always leave a good length of time – at least 2 weeks – between collecting the frames and having to hand them in for exhibiting, to allow for re-ordering anything (by which I mean mounts) that have gone wrong. Because they will have.
  • Lesson iii) Avoid framing stuff whenever humanly possible.

1Ooh, and one of my owls is in prime position on the slideshow advertising the exhibition ~^^~ #shamelessplug.

2If anyone knows of a painless way to bend back the metal tags holding the backboard in the frame (which does not result in a broken palette knife) please let me know…

3Well, perhaps not quite that entertaining:

But should I call it Brexit?

In early October I visited a small informal group of artists, hosted and instructed by Brigid Marlin, in which I have been progressing my most ridiculously slow painting yet.

The technique being used is the mische technique – and for full details I again direct you to Brigid’s comprehensive website – which interleaves layers of white egg tempera (or a suitable and less capricious substitute) with transparent oil glazes of red, then yellow, then blue. On top of the blue layer, once dry, oils are painted directly but thinly… followed by yet more layers of white egg tempera (or substitute) and oil paint glazes which are used to unify some elements of the painting, pull bits forward and push others back. All rather more subtle and difficult to get the hang of than my usual method of bung-the-pastels-on.

Suffice it to say, it transforms the already time-consuming process of oil painting into something that takes me aeons to complete (I think I started it in January 2018). Given the time-to-achievement ratio, it’s probably not going to be a technique I specialise in – but I am really enjoying seeing this painting emerge…

Closed Studios

While a little off the beaten track, several visitors nonetheless managed to find my Open Studio and offer fresh insight into my work. Feedback ranged from the format and type of artwork that would be best to focus on, to which events and art societies I might participate in – a lot of thoughts to digest!

Belying my office-job roots, to help me sort out all the feedback I have resorted to that most mediocre of organisational tools, the homemade Powerpoint presentation – NB mediocrity was introduced by the creator, not the software:

181009 Herts Open Studios feedback img

Notably, little feedback was given on pricing, although I asked; people are unsurprisingly shy about this (it’s always a little awkward telling the artist to their face that their work is overpriced…)

Although several visitors were people I knew, some were completely new to me and making the rounds of many Open Studios, and one turned out to be a local artist only a few minutes’ walk from my house. Most heartening of all, a couple of commissions have come my way as a result.

I hope to take part next year as well, although I’m undecided about whether to opt for a more centrally-located group, or to try and enlist a few more local artists to create more of a draw to visitors in this area.

I might not bake quite so much next time though; only a few people availed themselves of the edible goods, so I had to demolish three tins of homemade shortbread, two tins of flapjacks and three loaves of focaccia bread* almost by myself… but I managed.

*ah wait no, I actually baked another loaf for a belated visitor today… and they ate some!

Open Studios

Well, Open Studios is more than halfway through, so time to share some initial impressions…

I haven’t had many visitors. I wasn’t expecting many… but three out of the six groups of people who have turned up were either fellow artists I arm-twisted into coming, or were turning up anyway to pick up some artwork. I suspect some of the lack of footfall is down to:

  • My ongoing inability to handle social media in any form…
  • My house being a bit out-of-the-way for getting pass-by trips (though one musician called in who was on the lookout for an audio version of Open Studios – a thought for another year, perhaps!)

So, maybe next time I’ll try to participate as one of a more centrally-located group. Obviously this means I won’t be able to do any demos in my studio, but it also means I won’t have to do any special baking or house-cleaning (always a plus to one as lazy as I).

Also… yes I know, I know… I should get an Instagram account. Perforce, also a tablet / iPad of some sort.

From the visitors who have visited, I’ve had some interesting feedback – both for specific pieces of work and in general (leading to the rough-draft print pricing here).

Although I’ve been in my studio (nominally) producing artwork during most of Open Studios, I’ve managed to visit a few of the other artists participating in St Albans, with a couple more scheduled. So – lovely work on view at:

  • Marks & Tilt (artists Jonathan Emmerson, Jane Bottery and Gail Robins)
  • Angela Mellen’s printwork and beautifully decorated house
  • Trestle Arts Base cafe (artists Flea Cooke, Jo Stapleton and Linda Brown, plus more specific info on their Open Studios exhibition ‘Glimpses’ here)
  • and Hatty De Barnard’s gorgeous Nude Tin Can gallery (artists Dorienne Carmel, Liz Rogers, Emma Boote, Matthew McLeish, Stephanie Littlechild and Hatty herself).

Looking forward to seeing more of the OS artists next week!

Spot the difference…

The final owl commission, subtly different from the previous three owl commissions, and finished just in time for Herts Open Studios.

Also completed just in time were several shortbread biscuits (plain and lemon & white chocolate), flapjacks and some rather tasty focaccia bread ^^. I may even spend some time doing artwork tomorrow rather than baking…

[Edit: *smacks own wrist* also here is the credit for the owl source image: