Monday, 21 November 2011

Calm down Dear, it's only the weather!

I recently watched a TV program where magician and pseudo mind reader Derren Bown predicted the lottery numbers correctly…perhaps he should get a job working for BBC weather! Despite investing quadrillions in sophisticated computer systems that can sense a butterfly’s wing flapping in Outer Mongolia and having much more attractive presenters, forecasting seems to be getting worse!
My concern for inclement weather usually begins just after Patchings, though it was a little earlier this year with visitors being issued with lifejackets on the last day.
It is at this time of the year, I run painting breaks which involve working out of doors, so I start to worry about the weather, which usually justifies my worries by turning very black over Bill’s mothers.
My first ever painting holiday in Snowdonia was greeted with continuous Welsh rain, that horrible wet stuff that just seems to fall vertically and lifelessly from the sky. After a few days trapped in the studio, my students were starting to get cabin fever. “Come on!” I said “I’ll do a wet into wet demonstration at Cragennon lakes.” So we all climbed into our gumboots, galoshes and oilskins (I can’t afford the Northface stuff that all outdoor TV weather presenters seem to wear) and set off in the dense misty rain which epitomises the Welsh countryside in summer. Having found the carpark which was no mean achievement, we stumbled through the fog (it had got worse!) to the water’s edge. “I’m going to paint that mountain with the boathouse at the foot of it” I said confidently pointing into the grey, murky swirling mist. The students screwed their eyes up and cupped their hands to their foreheads trying to see the scene that I claimed I could see and wondering if I had some sort of magical Derren Brown type x-ray vision.
As the rain lashed against the paper, the paint ran onto the floor faster than I could load the brush. Resorting to watercolour pencils, magically, the colour started to stick, “Gosh” I thought, “I could even paint with these underwater!”
I did a half decent painting and we returned to the studio where upon seeing the painting, the studio owners agreed that it was a pretty good likeness, which elicited a round of applause from my amazed audience. This just shows, it’s a good idea to reconnoitre the venue in good weather beforehand!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Calm down dear, its only wind....

For the en plein air artist there can be many hazards that can impede the production of a successful painting. Despite carrying out a detailed reconnoitre the day before I was due to tutor a group at a seaside location, I still managed to get caught out by not observing the next day held the highest spring tide of the season for me!  My demonstration spot now lay 8’ under as we were met at the entrance to the car park by spotty youths in canoes, anyone got a snorkel? These days, experience has taught me that tide tables must be checked as well as that other enemy of the outdoor artist.. wind!
An artist’s easel makes the perfect sail and I’ve seen many a one doing cartwheels over a meadow, leaving behind a trail of expensive pastels to slowly dissolve in the long grass.
There are ways to make things a little more stable and one way is a Tesco’s carrier bag filled with water suspended on a string below the tripod.
So here’s my Beaufort Scale for artists to help you determine whether to fill that plastic carrier bag..

CALM - You feel energised and see painting subjects everywhere..

LIGHT AIR - Froth blows off that welcome cup of coffee out of the Thermos.

LIGHT BREEZE – You turn up the collar of your bargain Millets windproof coat as you find it’s not as windproof as you thought…

GENTLE BREEZE – Your Jackson’s brushroll blows away over the cliff…

MODERATE BREEZE – The easel is trying to tip over, you look around frantically for the tripod holes made by the previous artist…

FRESH BREEZE – a cat blows past……

STRONG BREEZE - difficulty opening the car door to get your lunch

MODERATE GALE – an artist blows past….

FRESH GALE – Paint refuses to leave the brush

STRONG GALE – You venture into mixed media as grit, leaves and seagulls start to adhere themselves to your canvas

STORM – The easel and your work turns into a Tardis, makes a similar noise, dematerialises and reappears in the middle of the next incoming wave…

HURRICANE – You suddenly find your viewpoint has inexplicably changed to 40’ higher!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Lord Rothermere has gone too far this time!!

Having your work appreciated by others to the extent that it gets copied or even stolen I think is the secret wish of many an artist. I can remember the mild disappointment of being burgled for my chattels but having my paintings ignored! A fellow artist (who’s work sells for much more than mine) has had instances of his superb paintings being left behind and the frames stolen! The same goes for copying, I’m secretly quite pleased when I visit an art exhibition and see work that bears a resemblance to things I’ve produced.
However, finally, I think I’ve hit the big time! Arriving home after running a mixed media workshop a while back, I picked up the Daily Mail and on the front page is a copy of my Leisure Painter Patchings advert! This advert depicted myself , Bill Cockburn and Tony Slater as the three wise monkeys. The idea being that any visitor to Patchings who could identify us got a free art  prize. Oviously, the Mail had cleverly changed our faces for Harriet Harmen's, Tony Blair's and Gordon Brown's, but even so, I felt that this was taking plagiarism and liberties too far! I had intended to give away free art materials at Patchings to anyone who can identify the three artists in my ad. Now people are going to think I’m called Gordon Fisher!! Goodness knows what they’re going to call Tony! Should I sue?

Friday, 19 August 2011

Giant erection seen in Ilfracombe

So Ilfracome now has the verity statue, a fine work of art to compete with the Angel of the North. I think it's meant to represent all the single mums down there, I understand the locals have already christened it The Slut of the South. So what is it with councils and their desire to mar our beautiful country with giant works of 'art'? As I write this I feel a little confused…It all started a few evenings ago when fed up with watching the X Files, I looked around for something a little more cerebrally challenging. Then I spotted it, an old recording of a series called Big Art. Now ever since Alwyn went off the air, apart from the occasional appearance by Rolf, decent art programs are about as common as hen’s teeth.
The program opened with the presenter having his Gee Wiz car remodelled by a famous artist/sculptor (never heard of him). By some piece of convoluted logic the presenter then deduced that his car was now a work of art. I wonder if the artist had cooked him breakfast, he would have eaten it or framed it! My understanding of what makes a work of art is something that has no practical purpose other than to elicit an emotional response from the viewer. So I suppose wind turbines would fall into this category and hence why they allow them to be built!
The idea of the show was to follow a community in its efforts to erect a large work of art. The residents were interviewed and one said how nice it would be to have a large monument somewhere (cut to Angel of the North). Monument? I thought that was a memorial! Somewhere along the line a potential contributing artist was mentioned and quoted as being someone who’s art was so radical he didn’t get a degree (must remember that excuse…I wonder if he was doing representational stuff!).
The residents were whisked off to Germany to view a depressing piece of ‘big art’. It wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Stanley Kubrick oddessy with monkeys throwing bones at it. Some local monkeys had tried to brighten it up by spraying their ‘tags’ all over the base which had improved it somewhat. Though I couldn't see Robbo's or Banksey's tag...
 By now I was bored and switched back to the X-Files…
I’m not sure about big art, I like Anthony Gormley’s work, though I think Crosby beach was a better place without his cast iron contribution there. I just worry that communities and councils are jumping on a giant Angel of the North bandwagon and despoiling our beautiful countryside with these arrogant erections. Not all art produced by artists is good. If you want to sell a larger piece of work to hang over the mantelpiece instead of a small one in the toilet, the choice of subject and the content of the painting has to be carefully considered. I just wonder if some of the big art accepted by communities is toilet rather than mantelpiece work. And don’t get me started on safety, what with the problems of inflatable versions blowing away and rusting spiky things giving a Damoclesian threat to passers by.
So I say let’s not put up another big white horse or chalk maiden in the countryside and just enjoy nature’s natural beauty.

Friday, 29 July 2011

D’oh! where’s the art gran slang?

It was interesting to read the gulf between grandparents and teenager’s uttered slang words. So much so that the jargon of yoof and grups have been combined by creating an on-line slang dictionary.
Imagine how disappointed I was, looking through the terms that there were no art related terms. Perhaps I could volunteer a few ideas for entry;

Synlapse [sin-laps] the involuntary action of the drawing instrument to move in a totally different direction to that the brain intended.
Wibble [we-bull] side to side whilst traversing motion or unusual use of a brush or rubber tipped pencil.
Surficon [serf-icon] bargain watercolour paper purchased at an art show that doesn’t perform as promised.
Osnosmith [Oh-no-smiths] well meaning paint set gift from relative.
Dlipse [dip-lapse] the action of accidentally dipping the brush in a beverage
Frange [F-anne-g] an area of unglued paper tape where water collects and backruns emanate from.
Iconeaze [icon-ease] the way the demonstrating artist makes it look easy
Eazimud [easy-mud] a watercolour mixture made up of many colours.
Moltner [molt-nur] a natural hair brush with a tendency to shed hair - especially in the spring.

We’ve made another movie

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Twelve Trials of Herculese

Recently it was my misfortune to be called up on jury service yet again! My problems started on the first day, trying to convince the court official (despite having a letter from my accountant) that an artist does earn money and that I was entitled to compensatory expenses. I think it would have been easier to complete the twelve trials of Herculese!! After a long cross examination with many quzzical questions the official eventually summonded a superior officer who grudingly approved said claims after implying that I could have brought my easel and set it up in the Jurors waiting room! What was especially galling was that another juror was the wife of a builder who admitted to me that she was only down as an employee for tax avoidance purposes. She was waived through without even a raised eyebrow!
Being locked in a room with dozens of other bewildered members of the public felt like something out of Big Brother. However in this instance, we were all waiting hopefully for eviction. It didn’t help to observe all the Anti Flu packets lying around on tables and this being the time when swine flu was reaching pandemic proportions in Leicestershire. Living an isolated life, I usually manage to stay clear of coughs and sniffles.
You may have heard recently in the news that judges want more protection for witnesses on trials, and the problems of jurors illegally using the internet to sleuth on-line. So imagine my dismay when being called to jury that my name was clearly read out in front of the accused as I entered court! As my name comes up first on Google and this guy was a potential throat slitter, this didn't feel a good start!
Revealing that you’re an artist to fellow jurors at break times is also a mistake. Someone had a laptop and was soon distracted from sluthing the case and instead started  looking up my website Next, people were asking me to 'prove' my ability by drawing things for them in the Jurors room between cases. I doubt if I had been a sewerage worker that I would have been required to demonstrate my craft! I related this story on the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2 by sending in an email. somehow, either by mistake or for sensationalism, Jeremy implied that rather than focussing on the case, I was drawing pictures for the other jurors during the trial!!
When it came to summing up time, guess who was volunteered to do all the drawing on the flipchart!!
Halfway through, I was struck down with what I thought was just a mild cough, which gradually turned into something much worse. Aching and shivering, I was pleased to be released a couple of days early as there were no more cases.
Come the new year, I was still suffering from Swine flu just as we are plunged into one of the worst winters since Peter Breugel and the last ice age. Feeling low, and not wanting to paint, I decided to embark on producing a series of instructional DVD’s. I am now plunged into a incomprehensible world of incompatible file formats, tape v digital, wide screen v 16:8. Trevor Lingard, who incidentally has recently written a brilliant article in the Leisure Painter has kindly given me some useful tips in postioning the camera so that you see the work and not the back of my head! and so my efforts start. Painters On-Line now offer a section where videos can be posted, so to cut my teeth and get used to all the stuff, I have decided to make some short films. Please have a look at my efforts and let me know what you think;
ps My apologies for the Swine Flu sniffs on this otherwise exciting watercolour demonstration!!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Dennis the Menace's Paradoxical Hair

Over the years I’ve seen a constant consistency of approach amongst people who wish to improve their painting ability. A consistency that is not always conducive to improvement. I always try to send out a recommended list of materials to give people an idea of what to bring along to my workshops. I try to keep the recommendations broad so that people do not feel compelled to go out and buy that particular ‘special colour’.
After these preparations, I still sometimes turn up to see the organiser distributing lengths of decorator's  lining paper for members to paint on and some desperately trying to borrow watercolour and pastels from others because they hadn't been told by the organiser what to bring despite having my list!!.
So often I see people working on the cheapest paper available, saying “its only a tuition day…I’m not using the good stuff..”
It’s strange how paradoxical learning art can be. If I’d brought along a roll of Izal (wonderful for working coloured pencil onto by the way..American readers may wish to look this one up..) and distributed it as the painting surface, I would get some very strange looks, especially if I told them that as they improved, they could then move on to Andrex and then blotting paper!
The paradox here is that when you’re just starting your painting journey, you should work on the best papers possible(even for practise!). As you improve and become an expert, then you can work on the cheaper stuff because your skills have improved sufficiently to cope with all the problems that inferior materials give you. This is why when you go to an art show, a demonstrating artist can use their skill to make any product look easy to use.
Brushes are another issue, you only need a couple of decent brushes, yet most people bring a brush holder that rolls out two yards long and contains all the brush bargains from the last ten years of art shows, each one with bristles like Dennis the Menace’s hair!!
Finally, paint..I ask people how many colours a professional artist uses, “Umm, three? Six?, eight?”, Another paradox! How come the visiting tutor is assumed to work with only a few colours, yet each student will probably have two Walmart or Fine Fare carrier bags packed to the gunnels with tubes!
Part of the problem here, I think lays squarely at the feet of people who sell to students. The baited tubes that offer the promise of success, such as ‘Mist over the moors Grey’ and ‘Hawaiian sunset Pink’. Also the manufacturer’s who rename colours, so that you end up with several tubes of the same paint under different guises.
So my advice, use a good quality paper, get a couple of good brushes and limit your palette to just a few artist quality single pigment colours, three bright primaries and two earth colours should do for starters. It may seem expensive buying artist quality materials, but you’ll benefit in the long run and your grandchildren will be really pleased with the gift of paints brushes and paper that you eventually no longer need!

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Where did the RAF Harriers go?

Nice to see in these days of austerity that the Tate Modern artists can still exhibit massive installations that must cost the taxpayer thousands.(Why is it that every time I say the word installation I see a figure doing the inverted comma finger sign?)
The recent contribution was from Fiona Banner who has exhibited two RAF fighters. A Harrier is hung by its tail having been covered by feather motifs. It is meant to represent a huge game bird hanging in the larder. Unfortunately, when you follow the thought process through a Harrier is only marginally more edible than its duralumin partner. Unfortunately for poor Ms Banner the RAF would never countenance buying a Boeing Partridge or an Avro Pheasant (though I think there was a Snipe once). Our cat enjoys eating tiger moths though I think the Shuttleworth collection may have some objections there. Interestingly, when Jeremy Clarkson put an English Electric Lightning in his front garden, it was removed by the local authorities as an eyesore…. so beauty must be in the eye of the beholder.
When I was a member of the Guild of Aviation Artists, they would often go through terrible angst as to what type of aeroplane painting represents 'real art' perhaps Ms Banner could show them the way. I would nominate her for membership though I fear she would be rejected because her work is too representative, anyway, the Guild would have to get an exhibition venue bigger than the Mall Galleries...
Footnote; A professional artist colleague recently visited the Tate modern and was seriously unimpressed with the show until he happened to stumble into a side room which had on display an interesting collection of modern tools, a set of steps and a workbench. After commenting to a curator that this was the best exhibit he’d seen he was taken aside and informed that the room was closed and was currently being decorated in preparation for a new exhibit!
His comments as he left over the millennium bridge was that he wished the ‘E’ would fall off of the word Tate!
Tims Top Tip for cooking birds of prey
(1) Take one oven ready Harrier and a brick. Place both in oven at gas mark 5.
(2) Keep checking brick
(3) When brick is tender, eat Harrier

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Top Tips on How to Become a Rich and Successful Artist

At some stage in their career, most artist’s hope that their work will move beyond art and  become commodities. This is the juncture when the investment community takes an interest in your output not because they like what you do but because it rises in value each year. At this point the artist no longer struggles to sell their work but can rely on a steady stream of sales right to the end and beyond of their working lives. Sadly some never make it. I’ve seen very accomplished artists pass away and their widows are left trying to make a few quid out of the legacy of unsold artwork. There is nothing wrong with the art, but the artist never bothered to raise their profile, therefore passing away relatively unknown. George Soper a case in part, was unheard of during his life until his wonderful watercolours of working horses were stumbled upon after his death and made public in a book by Paul Heiney. Hercules Brabazon Brabazon was also unknown but for different reasons, his personal wealth made it unnecessary for him to publish his work. Some artists teach on cruises and unfortunately end up marrying rich widows, which overnight takes away the drive to be a great artist.
For those that do make it, great wealth and fame awaits as can be seen by the likes of Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin. This change in status can also lead to dishonesty and the ridiculous. Artists with low skill bases like Lowrey and Pollock are ripe for forgers as their style are easy to reproduce. Many museums around the world contain more examples of art than some artists could possibly have produced in their lifetime. Dali, known amongst his friends as Aviva Dollars is alleged to have sold blank sheets of paper with just his signature on to dealers. So there you have it, at the end of the day, provided that you don’t stray too far from what your customers expect from you, it’s only your signature that is worth anything. This is why I always tell my students to concentrate on getting their signature right way before they concentrate on their painting skills. There’s nothing worse than being a few years down the road displaying accomplished work supported by the signature of a five year old or worse still, initials! Artists who choose this path never see their work becoming commodities.
Depressingly, most artists are told by friends that once they’re dead their work will be worth oodles of money. People like Van Gogh are gleefully pointed out as examples of artists who never made it in life but were successful in death.
One way some artists find around this problem is to become very old or develop some sort of lingering life threatening illness. Once word of this gets about, exhibitions become overnight successes and sell outs. A classic example is Jim Cox. After a lifelong career as a coxswain, he took up painting in retirement. Most of his work is in a heavy, turgid oil painting style, yet he has slowly built up quite a following. Nowadays, whenever he develops a heavy cold, the phone never stops ringing with customers trying to buy his artwork. He’s still alive today and must be well into his nineties and his art prices are still going up and up and up….

Thursday, 12 May 2011

The Seeds of Change at the Tate Gallery

So the Tate Modern’s sunflower installation falls foul of the Health and Safety Stasi. Is nothing sacred!! I’d been quite fascinated with the news that Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei had had 100million porcelain sunflower seeds manufactured to fill the grand turbine hall of the Tate Modern. I suppose they had to sweep up the droppings from the previous installation of military aircraft strung up like game birds…
As with any artwork that is mundane and boring, a bit of colourful language can give it a lift, A bit like dropping some bright primary colour into an otherwise dull grey, muddy watercolour. Hence we have a good cover story to convince the audience who have wobbled over the Millennium bridge that it really is art.
We’ve already all been fed the cover story about the tenuous link with regards to Chairman Mao’s disciples all being likened to sunflowers, basking in the sunlight of his omnipotence.
I just wonder what an art critic would have made of it had he not known the background story. Let’s ask the opinion of Mr Chumley Boden-Boden who’s only normally used to giving critiques to Birstall Art Society. “Ahh yes” He would say, (they always start with this phrase, it gives them a little thinking time) “From a distance this reminds me of the grey featureless landscape of the Fens. As we peer closer, we see that this landscape is comprised of hundreds of seeds which the artist obviously intends to reflect the fertility of the fens. By cleverly using porcelain seeds the artist demonstrates that man’s over farming of this area will eventually lead to a grey and featureless landscape. The use of cheap Chinese labour to manufacture this artwork, not only shows that the artist represents the proletariat, above any physical input to their labours, but also the cheap, exploited eastern European labourers who currently toil the field to pick up brightly coloured pumpkins that will never be eaten, but who’s nourishing contents are thrown away to make a ghoulish mask.
A bit tongue in cheek but I think a far better story than the original, I’ll bet Ai Wei Wei wished he’d thought of it first. I think this nicely demonstrates Fisher’s Inverse Law of Art Installations, The duller the artwork, the grander the cover story!!
This sort of thing reminds me of reading tealeaves, ask eight different people and you’ll get eight different opinions….
Maybe the organisers at the Tate should consider removing the 'e' from the title to reflect the gallerie's true contents!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

How to Sell Paintings to Eskimos

For a lot of artists who also teach, this time of year means that thought has to be given to outdoor painting holidays. These are mainly fraught with a concern for the forthcoming weather conditions. One option is to listen to forcaster Michael Fish and then do the opposite. Over the years, I’ve become quite an expert on rain but I’m surprised we don’t have more words for it just as the Eskimos have a huge vocabulary for snow. I’ve worked in Wales and there is definitely Welsh rain, a particular type that falls in a continuous, half bored, vertical fashion for days. Northumberland rain always seems to fall at thirty degrees in a heavy blatter, Derbyshire rain, is a horrible, misty, curling thing that messes up your glasses no matter how big a peak on your hat. Now winds is another thing, many an easel I’ve seen sailing over the horizon, leaving its bomb load of pastels to dissolve in the soft grass. Working near water, it’s especially important to make a note of wind direction. I’ve been to Rutland water on a bright day in the summer but the northerly winds have made it almost impossible to open the car doors to get out on the south shore! This week sees me preparing for my my painting holiday which takes place at the wonderfully atmospheric smugglers inn, The Lifeboat, Thornham. The first time I visited, I arrived the day before to find subjects to paint. (It’s also important to have toilets and refreshments nearby) Burnham Overy Staithe is a great coastal location and I duly found a great spot to do a demonstration to my troops. On arrival the next day, we were met at the carpark entrance by children in canoes! I’d forgotten to check the tide tables and my demonstration spot was eight feet underwater, send for the snorkel someone!!
This year we’ve learned to do a number of things to avoid difficulties. One is to lock Rosie to cat in the studio whilst we pack. In previous years I’ve had to drive all the way back from Norfolk when our neighbour, tasked with looking after Rosie has found her staring out of the lounge window, locked in the house after she sneaked back in and hid!
Anyway, this year we are going to have a great time with a super painting group whatever the weather! The variable weather last year meant that we were able to visit one inland location (Bircham Mill) for a super day of outdoor painting followed an indoor session the next day. Roll on next year with new locations and new visitors!!
To find out more about this painting holiday and others I run, visit my website ;

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Onus Probandi

Art has been quite prominent in the news recently, going right back to the dawn of time, an eminent Italian archaeologist has concluded from bone scrapings that cavemen would take time out from their busy schedule of staying alive and adorn themselves artistically with feathers. Academics often seem to take facts and bend them to their own theories. Obviously the feathers were not used for fletching then!
As we come forwards in time, mysterious symbols have been discovered by an eminent Italian archaeologist (wonder if it’s the same one?) under the paint of the Mona Lisa. He has concluded that these allude to the fact that the Mona Lisa is not only a man but one of Leonardo’s favourite students and lover. Again the possibility that Leonardo was working on an early Reeves paint by numbers has been dismissed out of hand.
Nearer in time still and gallery owners worry that Van Gogh’s yellow flowers are turning brown. Scientists have confidently stated that oxidation reduction is affecting the lead white that he mixed into the yellow flower petals. This is strange as academics have always professed that he used Chrome yellow which has a reputation to deteriorate over time and turn a dullish brown. My own theory is that (a) Van Gogh was poor. (b) His paintings contain an awful lot of yellow, therefore he used a cheap affordable bright yellow, so maybe he used one made from animal bile, gall stones or even lizard droppings. A good yellow could be obtained from Mango leaf fed cow’s urine. Mercury, egg yolk and arsenic could also be added to offer a little je ne sais quoi. Maybe it was licking his brush that caused him to cut his ear off.
And so we come to the present day, Graham Nash is carving trees with wonderfully expensive Sthil chainsaws whilst learned men ignore what his trees are really saying and artistically bend their charts to fit their own theories.
Fortunately, it will be some time before learned men discuss what I was really thinking as I worked. Like Van Gogh, I’m also working on flowers for my new book How to Paint Flowers in Acrylic for Search Press, but I’m fortunate these days that technology has advanced enough for me to feel confident when I mix my arylide yellow into my titanium white.
I've just finished travelling back down the dreaded M25 for the final three day photographic session. In early March I've got to tackle the dreaded tarmac again in May when I’m running a Leisure Painter acrylics workshop at the Weald of Kent craft show. My biggest worry here is that it’s Wills and Kate’s wedding on the 29th April and they’re encouraging street parties everywhere, so I’ll probably be zig-zagging through tables and drunken revellers as I travel along what is normally the largest car park in the world and will now be the longest street party in the world!
If you would like to join me on Monday May 2nd, there are still a few spaces left on my day which excitingly combines lovely loose acrylic ink washes over which heavy body acrylics are applied.
Check out the details in this month’s Leisure Painter or this Painters-online website