February Update (part 2)

So, I asked my partner to look at my website and tell me what my posts needed. He looked. He pondered. He wracked his brains. And the answer was… clickable footnotes1. I should probably gen up on my html anyway, since I’ve apparently volunteered to take on Bricket Wood Art Club website. In addition to helping out with St Albans Art Society website and Treasurey stuff. Hmm. Well, I’m sure that was sensible and I will in no way end up overloaded.

Anyway, on with the update:

Pastel grounds.
In light of the expense of Pastelmat and other addictively velvety papers, which eat through pastels and money with equal gusto, a fellow artist from St Albans invited me to experiment with creating new and exciting DIY pastel grounds2. In between cups of coffee, we employed a washing-up sponge and some gimungous interior decoration paintbrushes to apply:

    • Roughly equal parts cheapo acrylic paint, white acrylic gesso and ground pumice to pale-coloured mountboard (no idea what grade the pumice it was but it looked very fine to me)3.
    • Liquitex clear gesso to black and red mountboard (memo to self: next time *don’t* slather it on by the bucketload; velvety surfaces are good for pastels; small mountains of paint, less so).

I’d like to give the DIY grounds a mark-out-of-ten, but… I haven’t actually started applying pastel to them yet. Give me another year and I may get round to it… Anyway, in addition to providing all the mountboard and Liquitex, my friend also loaned me a rather spiffy white seashell for my next still life, as shown below (mainly because it’s more interesting than posting images of blank mountboard):


Pretty in Pink (2019)
Pastel & coloured pencil
18 x 23cm

Card designs
The end of February (yes, OK, I know it’s mid-March already) signals the end of the usual slew of Christmas/New Year/why-is-everyone-born-between-November-and-February-birthday cards and, this year, some sadder things.


Keith Hornblower’s workshop
St Albans Art Society ran this workshop on 23rd February. I love Keith’s work, and so jumped on the bandwagon even though watercolour boat-themed landscapes are… quite far out of my comfort zone. However, despite a rocky beginning, and taking forever to complete my painting as usual, I very much enjoyed the workshop and (goodness!) am even moderately pleased with the result. Points of note:

    • A big thank you to the lady who kindly gave me her photo (shown below next to the final painting) to work from, without which I would have been a bit stuck. Next time I will bring my own reference material JUST IN CASE4.
    • Also grateful to Keith’s suggestion about moving the middle boat to improve the composition. And the fact that he never changes the water he washes his brushes in either. Hah! I feel so vindicated…
    • Of course, all of my watercolour tubes have dried up. Again. I don’t generally consider this a problem because watercolours remain soluble5. However, since I was using a very large paintbrush and tiny, dried-up pigment containers, I couldn’t get very strong darks – hence the lack of contrast in the painting below. Oops…

FIN Keith Workshop

Chris Christoforou’s talk on ‘How to Sell Your Work’
I’m glad I made it to this one… quite apart from being entertaining, there was a lot of advice I’d not heard before in the mix, particularly geared towards trying to arrange and physically show your work, and then make a living off it.

    • Firstly, he advised specialising your style and subjects to a few key areas – because if you’re too diverse you won’t easily become known as a go-to person for a certain type of work.
    • Conversely, the range of products you offer – framed work, small sketches, greetings cards, prints and paraphenalia such as T-shirts (good advertising) – should be as wide as you can make it to try and cater to as broad a range of wallets as possible.
    • He also commented that – if you’re aiming to live off your art – you ultimately have to price your work against for the total overhead of ‘time spent living at home’ until the picture is complete. Good point. I’ve been charging sub-minimum hourly wage for the time directly spent painting my pictures because… it’s hard enough getting that to sell. But how much does one spend over a 12-month period? For a painting that takes a month to complete, it needs to sell for over £1,000 for most artists just to break even6.
    • So, if you’re making a living on your art, tailoring your subjects to wealthy clients7 with oodles of disposable income is a good idea. Suggestions included birds of prey, dogs, koi carp; exotic big cats; potentially portraits, maybe even flowers… music to my ears. However, getting good source photos for some of these without violating copyright can be tricky.
    • The next step is finding an event – country fairs can be a good – that might both a) show your work and b) contain lots of wealthy clients.

One of Chris’s comments – after a couple of throwaway lines about nearly getting eaten by some of the big cats he paints in a few of the catalogue of exotic countries he’s exhibited in over the years – was that we should aim to sell ourselves as much as our artwork, because artists are never boring. And there I was, thinking to myself about how I can’t drive, never fly; how I spend half my time baking8 and watching DVDs, and the other half asleep.

Ah well, we can’t all be eaten by big cats…



May be less exciting than advertised.

In my role as experienced hypochondriac I actually went and looked up how hazardous pumice dust. Not very, apparently, although inhaling the dust is still a bad idea.

The tutor accidentally prepares for the wrong workshop and has no reference material to hand out. Not that this would ever happen, right?

Unlike my poor neglected tubs of student-grade acrylics which are slowly dying off one by one. Or perhaps that should read ‘drying off’.

Assuming roughly £12,000 yearly expenditure. And in my case, how much of that yearly expenditure is spent on desserts from the Pudding Stop? I shudder to think…

Apparently judging by one’s shoes is a good way to tell. Although – I’m not 100% sure I’d be able to identify a designer shoe, given my own choice of footware…


Mmmm… sticky toffee pudding…

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…