Archive | April, 2014

How long did you take to paint that?

Broadstairs Sunrise

Sunrise over Broadstairs, Kent in Watercolour

The people who usually ask this question, often have little or no concept of studying in order to learn a craft skill or a profession. It’s a discipline they have never endured or understood. They think that artists are born with magical powers, a gift of God! Of course in reality, we’ve had to learn our craft over many many hours. I used to know a musician who told me it takes approx 4000 hours of learning and practice, to reach a standard, sufficient to play with a local orchestra. Likewise an athlete will spend years, training for an event that could take as little as 10 seconds, in the case of a 100 metre sprint. Who would wish to visit a Doctor who hadn’t spent much of his life learning about medicine? So why are artists assumed to be born with their gifts already in place? Even the masters like JMW Turner, or John Constable, spent many years studying the works of their predecessors, and learning their craft.

Chichester Canal by JMW Turner

Chichester Canal 1828 by JMW Turner, Oil on Canvas

There is unfortunately no quick fix, no way of speeding up the learning process. Just hard graft. At the end of each year, I go through my work and assess if I’m making progress, usually it seems miniscule, but when viewed over a number of years, then real progress can be seen more clearly. I learned early on that it’s no good painting only once a week, to make real progress, I have to sketch or paint as often as possible. Luckily, I enjoy creating art so it’s a real pleasure for me.

Shown here is my interpretation of a spectacular sunrise over the jetty and harbour at Broadstairs. If you click on the photo, It will give you full details and more photos. Then we have Chichester Canal by JMW Turner, painted in oils on canvas in 1828 and currently at the Tate Modern, London. A master work of light and reflection, I think you’ll agree.

So when people ask me “How long did you take to paint that” I usually reply, “about thirty years of practice and one hour of painting”. It’s a shame we can’t charge for the 30 years of practice, like some other professions, but I suppose that’s another story.


How do I choose a subject? I Don’t – The subject chooses me!

Suitable subjects are anywhere and everywhere! When they find me, I know what to do!

A local food Fair

A local Food Fair! This could be an idea worth following up?

This is an excellent question which I have occasionally been asked! Many years ago, I found myself driving through the country lanes of west Kent – looking for a view to paint! I spent hours and used a tank of petrol, and still never found what I was looking for! I arrived back home, hungry and tired, never having found that ideal spot to paint. All that beautiful scenery, but not presented as I wished. What’s wrong, I thought, nature is supposed to be so wonderful! Why is it not good enough for me! A couple of days later, when the anger had vanished, I had a chuckle and turned the question around: Maybe the subject should choose me? I had been looking for that perfect ‘chocolate box’ setting, and not found it.

Muddy Waters, singer of the blues.

Muddy Waters – Singer of the Blues!

So from then on, I have allowed subjects to choose me! I learned a good lesson that day. Since then, I’ve been content with seeing a subject, wherever I am. I’ve not only saved a load of petrol, I’ve discovered many fabulous subjects to paint. Views across farm fields, an old gate, a conservatory, allotments, a rusting tractor in the corner of a field, a church interior, an industrial works, redundant cooling towers, to name a few. plus of course, many beaches and coastal scenes, because I’m lucky enough to live nearby. Even at home, interior sketches can test perspective skills, and bowls of fruit can test drawing and painting skills. In fact I’ll bet that I can find an interesting subject within 100 yards of anywhere! Another benefit of allowing subjects to choose me, is the variety of wacky ideas I get at odd moments of the day or night, by ensuring my mind is open to those ideas, however mad, I can explore them, make some sketches, write some notes, and return to them whenever convenient. Listening to the radio one day, on came Muddy Waters singing ‘I’ve got my Mojo working’ – Later, I trawled through lots of old black and white photos to get ideas, then sketched out composition ideas on some builders ‘sterling’ board, used to make shed roofs, and board up broken shop windows, it has lovely textures, so I had a go, see picture above. For more details of this painting, click here

How I plan a Painting – from the Start – (Part 1)

Here is an explanation of how I approach a painting – Part 1.

1) Planning or Preparation – 5 Minutes Max

Steam train on the Ffestiniog Railway Snowdonia.

Steam on the Ffestiniog Railway, Snowdonia.

Choose a subject – If I’m in my ‘great big studio under the sun’ ie it’s a ‘plein air’ day I’ll spend a minute or two thinking what it is I like about this view, if I’m indoors, I’ll choose a subject for which I already have some quick sketches and perhaps some photographs, from an earlier visit. So I’m thinking about what drew me to this view, was it the way the light ‘caught’ the subject, was it just a ‘pretty picture’ or a view I’ve seen in another painting, or photograph? Once I know why I want to paint this subject, I have to consider other factors that may change the subject’s appearance as I work. So the time of day is important, How will the sun’s movement affect what I’m doing for the next hour or two, which direction is it travelling, what will happen to the colour and intensity of the light and the position of the cast shadows. What about clouds, are there any and how might they develop, its harder to predict this in advance, but I need to think where my lightest lights will be and my darkest darks, and I need to pick a point in time when I decide to fix these in my work. It’s a big mistake to try and follow the sun and the shadows as they move on their way. Am I next to a tidal river or the sea? Is the tide coming in or out? On more than one occasion I’ve found the water lapping at my feet and had to move fast, or the river has turned to mud or vice versa. If I’m in the studio I need to be sure not to just copy the photographs, because the tonal values will lead to a dull uninteresting painting and the colours likewise will be unexciting.

2)  Decide on composition  – 5 minutes max

Tonal or Value Sketches

Tonal or Value Sketches

I sit down, make myself comfortable, and look for the strong shapes – these are important. The bow of a boat, the shape of a building the curve of a road or pathway. What will be the focal point and what can I leave out? Many a good painting has been ruined by having too much ‘clutter’. I know its there, but that is no reason for me to include it in my work. This is where I pull out my artists licence, metaphorically speaking, My most interesting shape, may be a curved footpath, which leads my eye in towards my chosen focal point. Looking around, I also notice an ugly old building, dominating another part of the scene, which is in conflict with my focal point. If it doesn’t add interest to my subject, then I can decide to leave it out. There may be a tree right in the centre of my view, so what’s stopping me moving it to one side, where it could be used to good effect to frame the painting and to prevent the viewers eye from wandering off, out of the picture. My aim is to create a route along which the viewers eye will travel, across and up and down the painting, until they rest at the focal point. The longer I can hold their interest, the more successful it will be.

3)  Tonal and initial sketches  – 5 Minutes Max.

In my sketchbook, I draw a rectangle about 3″ x 2″ and quickly put in the big dark shapes, then the mid tones, and leave the highlights blank, (see above). For the most powerful effect, brightest lights go against darkest darks and vice versa, by squinting, I can determine what goes where. If my plan doesn’t work, I can do another, and darken a highlight or lighten a dark, remember that artistic licence! This is the time to make changes, before water meets the paper. When happy with this sketch, I’ll lightly draw the big shapes in position on my watercolour paper. I’m now ready to paint and its only taken me 15 minutes Max.

Reading in Battersea Park, London

Reading in Battersea Park, London

Because of this preparation, I know exactly how and what I’m going to do, and furthermore, when the finished painting is eventually exhibited, the viewer will see the full range of tonal values, and their eye will be led unknowingly but deliberately, into the painting, and around it on a journey, until it settles on the focal point. They may or may not understand why, but my hope is that they will know that this painting works, it has some attraction, even better if it has made an ’emotional connection’.

That is important to an artist.



Being a Cultural Ambassador – What does it mean?

Turner Contemporary Gallery Margate

(c) Turner Contemporary Gallery

About two years before the opening of the new Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate, I decided to ‘get on board’ and see what I could do to help welcome them into our community and to ease their way over the very rocky road of negative local criticism and much anger.

I was convinced that any organisation that was willing to invest a huge sum of money into Margate, should be welcomed and encouraged and I joined in their pre-opening projects including one which we named ‘Blank Canvas’. This was an inter-generational group of fellow art enthusiasts and creative people, both young and older whose views were similar to my own. When at last the opening day arrived in 2011, we were delighted to be invited to the various preview events and talks and knew that we had in a small way, helped the gallery to become established.

As the visitor numbers increased and soon outstripped the initial targets, we knew that it had been a roaring success and gradually much of the local opposition waned.

At about this time, I applied to join a course which was run jointly by the Turner Contemporary and the University of Creative Arts (UCA) Canterbury. This was the Cultural Ambassadors Course. Over 60 applied and about 25 people were chosen for this ten week part-time intensive practical art course. It was to be a taster for the UCA’s Diploma and Degree courses, which some people went on to complete. I recall really enjoying the course and the camaraderie and watching everyone achieve beyond their expectations. The end result was an exhibition in the Gallery’s ‘Clore learning studio’ and a certificate.

Turner Contemporary Gallery Margate

Turner Contemporary Gallery, Margate. Acrylic on Canvas

So what exactly is a Cultural Ambassador? Many of us on the course weren’t exactly sure either. I think now, looking back, we were chosen for our positive outlook and our willingness to open our creative minds and to help spread the positive benefits that the new gallery was bringing to Margate. Contemporary art isn’t for everyone, but for Margate it has brought a world class art gallery and many more visitors than before, giving our local economy a real kick up the back side. Pretty good value! Don’t you think!

Here is my painting of the new Turner Contemporary Gallery and the old Droit House at Margate in a sunset. Margate is rather good at sunset’s, hence the reason for JMW Turner’s visits here.

To visit my own Gallery and shop click on the photo above.

To visit the Turner Contemporary Website, Click here.