Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Flowers in Art: Van Gogh #2 - Sunflowers and the value of repetition

Study of Sunflowers
14" x 11", pen and ink and coloured pencil on Arches Hot Press

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I said I would do a study of sunflowers for Flowers in Art month and here they are - more about these later. When I was younger it took me an awful long time to realise just how many sunflower paintings Van Gogh painted. This post is about that and the value of repetition.

Van Gogh painted a series of sunflowers. Initially four in Arles - two of which he hung in Gauguin's bedroom in the Yellow House in Arles and then subsequently another three which were copies. He had originally planned to do a series of 12 but illness intervened. One is painted against blue and others against yellow which makes them almost monochrome paintings. This one can be seen in the National Gallery in London and this one - one of the copies - in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It has a zoom facility for cloer inspection. (If I find the others I'll update this post.)

I am hard at it, painting with the enthusiasm of a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse, which won't surprise you when you know that what I'm at is the painting of some big sunflowers.

I have three canvases going - 1st, three huge flowers in a green vase, with a light background, a size 15 canvas; 2nd, three flowers, one gone to seed, having lost its petals, and one a bud against a royal-blue background, size 25 canvas; 3rd, twelve flowers and buds in a yellow vase (size 30 canvas). The last one is therefore light on light, and I hope it will be the best. Probably I shall not stop at that. Now that I hope to live with Gauguin in a studio of our own, I want to make decorations for the studio. Nothing but big flowers.
Letter from Vincent to Theo Van Gogh 21st August 1888
If you click the link to the letter you can see small reproductions of the flowers to which he refers.

Gauguin was very impressed by the paintings hung in his bedroom. My Van Gogh book tells me that the only picture he managed to paint during his stay in the Yellow House was "Vincent painting sunflowers".

Van Gogh also drew sunflowers. In this previous post - as part of Van Gogh month in February this year - shows a drawing of a garden and a profusion of sunflowers. Read Van Gogh's letter in which he makes reference to this drawing.

Sunflowers became a symbol of Van Gogh but also of the way he enjoyed to work. He started working every day at dawn because the flowers wilted quickly and he had to try and do the paintings in one go.

I am now on the fourth picture of sunflowers. This fourth one is a bunch of 14 flowers, against a yellow background, like a still life of quinces and lemons that I did some time ago.

Only as it is much bigger, it gives a rather singular effect, and I think that this one is painted with more simplicity than the quinces and lemons.

Do you remember that one day we saw a very extraordinary Manet at the Hotel Drouot, some huge pink peonies with their green leaves against a light background? As free in the open air and as much a flower as anything could be, and yet painted in a perfectly solid impasto, and not the way Jeannin does it.

That was a very sound piece of work.

Van Gogh letter 27 August 1888

The colours of the sunflowers also represented the colour of the south - and the colour of the house he lived in. Interestingly he sees the house as a work of art and the sunflowers very definitely as decorative art - and a way of creating a place where painters would come to paint. it was all part of his initiative to try and weld life and art together - a concept he derived from his studies of Japanese art.
However, I want to have the other room just as elegant with a walnut bedstead and a blue coverlet. And all the rest, the dressing table as well as the cupboard, in dull walnut. In this very tiny room I want to put, in the Japanese manner, at least 6 very large canvases, particularly the enormous bouquets of sunflowers. You know that the Japanese instinctively look for contrasts and eat sweet peppers, salted candy, fried ices and iced fried things. So it follows, according to the same system, that in a large room there should only be very small pictures and in a very small room one should hang very large ones.
Note on Chrome Yellow: Van Gogh used to use a lot chrome yellow pigment. This pigment has developed a poor reputation because it tends to deteriorate. The Van Gogh Museum has an item on The detrioration of Chrome Yellow pigments.

Note on Study of Sunflowers: My study of sunflowers is not a still life study in the conventional sense in that the flowers are not arranged like this. As with the dahlias earlier, I had four stems of sunflowers and I just kept revolving them until I got a pattern I was happy with. Each found its 'natural' position (interm of what was interesting about that stem) and then found its place on the paper. I completed the drawing in pen and ink (using my new Edding 1800 profipen 0.3 which is lightfast and has pigment ink) and then decided that it might look better with some yellow. I used the new lightfast Prismacolor 'Canary Yellow'. I also used Rembrandt Polycolour 'Lemon' and 'Light Chrome'(!) and a Faber Castell Polychromos 'Light Ochre' pencils. I must find out what pigments Lyra Rembrandt actually use for the Chrome Yellow pencil!

Drawing the same subject repeatedly creates a knowledge and an ability to draw more quickly the next time, sometimes to know when it is possible to leave things out - and when to heighten certain aspects which are intrinsic to the 'being' of the object in question. Repetition is a very valuable exercise in creating art.

I hope you enjoyed Flowers in Art Month. Tomorrow I start Gardens in Art month - and I'm now off to visit Sissinghurst!


Monday, July 30, 2007

Flowers in Art: Contemporary painters #2

White Lillies and Gerbera (2006) £12,500
oil on canvas, 34" x 45"
Chris Beetles Gallery, St James, London
copyright Geraldine Girvan

Following on from Flowers in Art: Contemporary Painters #1, this post highlights a number of female artists who paint flowers - Geraldine Girvan, Pamela Kay, Diana Armfield, Shirley Felts, Nel Whatmore, Kim Parker and Shirley Trevena. I'd very much like to emphasise that I'm well aware that there are a number of other excellent artists in this field - and that surfing the internet can uncover lots of wonderful work - not least among contemporary artists who blog!

The Terrace
oil on canvas, 28" x 34"
Chris Beetles Gallery
copyright Geraldine Girvan

Geraldine Girvan is a modern Scottish Colourist who paints in both oils and watercolours and who exhibits regularly at the Chris Beetles Gallery in St James, London. She trained at Edinburgh College of Art where one of her first tutors was Elizabeth Blackadder and like Blackadder she paints flowers and cats - although not in the same painting!

I particularly enjoy
her talent for painting complexity and the exuberance of her work. This works well whether she is painting using vibrant or more muted colours according to the season and context. As with Blackadder, her slightly quirky take on perspective at times only enhances her compositions. Do take a look at the gallery of 50 works which were exhibited at her show at the Chris Beetles Gallery in April this year to get some insight into the range of her work.

Two artists who paint flowers in what I always think of as a painterly and somewhat traditional English style are Diana Armfield and Pamela Kay.

Pamela Kay ARCA, RWS, NEAC, RBA is is a graduate of the Royal College of Art and is considered to be one of Britain’s foremost painters of flowers and still life. She exhibits regularly (eg NEAC, Richard Hagen - this one has good examples of her work) plus now has a prints site.

She works predominantly in gouache and watercolour but also paints in oils and no matter which medium she worls in, she achieves a wonderful combination of saturated colour combined with painterly brush strokes and excellent draughtsmanship. She is particularly expert at making gouache look like oils and for many years I yearned to be able to do the same! She has written "A Personal View: Gouache", published by David & Charles. This is the ONLY book I've ever come across which sets out how to make this medium work in expert hands.

Michael Spender has also written a book "The Art of Pamela Kay" (David and Charles) which highlights how her work was originally inspired by the still life paintings of the Dutch, French and Spanish masters (see Making A Mark - "What is a Still Life?"). It was certainly her paintings seen at exhibitions at the Bankside Gallery which made me go and look at the sources which stimulated the wish to develop a contemporary version. She also used to regularly win the prize for the painting most popular with the public. It would seem that the classic still life never ever goes out of favour - although artists can always bring a new interpretation with the the subjects and media of their choice.

Diana Armfield RA is now in her 80s but still exhibits regularly at the Royal Academy, the Pastel Society and New English Art Club. She paints in oils and less often in watercolour. She also does lovely pastel drawings (which is how I first came across her work) and etchings. You can see her art at a number of places on the internet (eg NEAC, )although she tackles various subjects besides flowers.

The Art of Diana Armfield was published in 1995 and includes many examples of her still life work.

An interesting way of looking at who is producing contemporary art which enjoys wide popularity is to take look at the commercial websites which publish fine art prints of flower paintings. Two best selling UK artists who have been very popular in this respect are Nel Whatmore and Shirley Felts.

Nel Whatmore has specialised in the large macro floral, initially painted in oil but subsequently licensed (to Washington Green) and now translated into all manner of decorative products. She has been very successful and her art suggests that the approach of painting large simple macro (as first exemplified by O'Keeffe) still draws the fans. You can read more about how she found success (and she exemplifies the sort of success which can be enjoyed by those offered support by the Princes' Trust) and how she approaches her painting here.
Each painting is a puzzle, British artist Nel Whatmore believes. "There are many ways you can try to fit the pieces together, but only one way they really look right." Nel Whatmore quoted on Ballard Designs
By way of contrast, Shirley Felts is best known for her exquisite watercolour paintings of large and complex floral still lifes. She has terrific control over her use of watercolour and, in my opinion, has a particular gift for being able to find a palette which complements one dominant colour in each painting. I've only ever seen an original in the home of a friend but I bought her prints when I was young and they enjoyed a place on my walls for many years until my own work took over!

There is a long tradition of an artistic treatment of flowers in the design of textiles and decorative products for the home. Kim Parker appears to me to be an American version of Nel Whatmore with TV! Her art features in very popular textile designs and home products. She's a huge fan of the Arts and Crafts movement and has also apparently been referred to as a modern William Morris (see Making A Mark: William Morris - herbals, flowers and making patterns)

Finally, back to a contemporary watercolourist. Shirley Trevena is a member of the Royal Institute of Watercolourists and is renowned for painting flowers in watercolour. Scroll down this page of exhibitions at the Orange Street Gallery to see the works included in a solo exhibition of her work earlier this summer.

She has a fascinating website (despite a somewhat odd design and some unfriendly background colours for text) - make sure you explore it fully. A website for her new book Vibrant Watercolours will be of great interest to more than just the watercolour painter as it contains an insight into some of the topics in the book and some great tips. (A broadband connection is needed to see the films - which are quite slow even on my connection)
Flowers are a wonderful source of information & many of my paintings will have begun by choosing flowers that are strong in colour & dramatic in shape to give me the information I might need to complete a vibrant piece of work.
Shirley Trevena
A thought occurred to me as I developed this very quick and highly partial review of contemporary female artists who paint flowers. Although artists may be stimulated by the work of others through study or tuition, those who are successful are very often those who are able to interpret and create their own unique way of seeing and painting style in their own work.

I also know I'm much less familiar than I'd like to be with contemporary female artists in the rest of the world who have achieved success in painting flowers. Maybe readers can suggest names of artists with similar reputations?

Links to "Making a Mark" posts for "Flowers in Art" month:

Sunday, July 29, 2007

29th July 2007: Who's made a mark this week?

UK Summer
oil on panel, 5" x 7"
copyright Rob Ibjema, Painting Wales Diary

It's gray and raining outside as I write this, as it has been for more days than I care to remember this summer. In fact the weather is emphatically 'making a mark'! For plein air painters like Rob Ibjema, the change in the jet stream and its impact on the UK weather this "summer" has meant many fewer plein air painting trips. So Rob has devised a solution - painting in the car.

Above you can see what a summer's day is tending to look like at the moment - and how Rob created a set-up for painting from the car. In the past, I've drawn from my car on a few occasions (eg during Mistral-like wind in France) but I've never ever painted from a car. Rob doesn't say in his post on his blog, Painting Wales Diary, whether or not the windscreen wipers were an essential part of the set-up kit or not!

In the UK we are now officially experiencing the wettest summer on record. The Met Office issued a report last week about record-breaking rainfall figures. See more pictures and information here.

The Met Office today can reveal the three months from May to July 2007 have broken records for this period, even before July is over. Provisional figures from the Met Office show that 387.6 mm of rain have already fallen across England and Wales, making it the wettest May to July since the England and Wales Precipitation record began in 1766. These figures will come as no surprise to many across England and Wales who have suffered flooding from the exceptionally heavy rainfall experienced in June and July.
Met Office News Release 26th July 2007

Have any other UK painters devised solutions for our 'wash-out' summer?

Artists: John Ward CBE, RP, NEAC 1917 - 2007

I only realised this week that John Ward CBE, RP, NEAC died aged 89 on 14th June - planning an exhibition for his 90th birthday. This is what The Independent had to say in its obituary.
John Ward was a painter and draughtsman of exceptional ability, whose work has an enduring appeal for anyone interested in the poetry of the everyday. He is perhaps best known as a portrait painter. The National Portrait Gallery holds 15 examples of his work, including a poignant watercolour of Walter de la Mare from 1956, and a beautiful and sensitive oil of the Princess Royal (1987-88). Between portraits he travelled and painted landscape and architecture in watercolour.
The Independent 16 June (my links)
Do read what John Doyle MBE PPRWS had to say about how he was taught to paint by John Ward in an equally informative obituary in The Guardian.

John Ward's work emphasised drawing and he did quite a bit of work in pastel. I always really enjoyed seeing his work in a show and would always make a point of locating it early so I could also come back to it again at the end. In fact, I drew the wall on which his work hung at the recent exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.

John Ward meets Boris Johnson at the Mall Galleries
8" x 10", pen and sepia ink and coloured pencils in moleskine sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Art Blogs: Trumpetvine Travels

Martha has been in Washington and New York - check out her wonderful posts and sketches, which will all be listed shortly in the blogroll of my Travels with a Sketchbook blog.
Art Education: Tips and Techniques - oil painting

Some posts about oil painting - which I continue to study as one day I MAY just pick up a brush:

Websites and blogging - keyword analysis

I've writing some new text for my website recently. If you want your website or blog highlighted in browser searches, it helps to write text which incorporates keywords. I've found it very helpful to understand a bit more about the relative importance of different keywords associated with art and my particular interests.

The following are some useful key word tools which I've been revisiting recently - plus one new one.
  • The Keyword Selector - Overture Tool is the the one I've always used in the past when checking and editing the text for my website. It also helped me learn about keywords associated with my particular interests which helps with writing blog posts too. I sometimes look at the searches which people do before arriving at my site and they're virtually 100% relevant - which I regard as a major achievement!
  • I use Google Alerts for particularly significant words or work combinations which I'm interested in. I've been very diligent about reading these after they alerted me to the major scraping of my blog by spam blohs which occurred earlier this year. It also helps me to know when somebody references my blog so I can go and say 'thank you'!
Google Alerts are emails automatically sent to you when there are new Google results for your search terms. We currently offer alerts with results from News, Web, Blogs, and Groups.
  • I discovered that the Google Adwords Keyword Tool had been moved to an external site. Ostensibly it's about writing text in relation to Adwords and therefore of no particular interest EXCEPT it's also very informative identifying volume in relation to key words relevant to your own websites and your own areas of interest.
    • Use the "site related keywords" tab to check out key words associated with different URLs - check your website and blog! It can tell you about the keyword search volume for each keyword it finds and the level of competition from advertisers.
    • with the keyword variations tab you can see whether any phrase associated with you (eg blog title)has any sort of search volume and what variations might be used.
I'd love to hear from anybody who has any other useful tools for keyword analysis.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Radio 4 and the artist

Tulips in sepia
pen and sepia ink in sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I discovered while googling the names of members of the Royal Watercolour Society that at least two of them (Annie Williams and Alison Musker) were featured in "Radio and the Artist" a Radio 4 website about how artists work with the radio on.

Apparently the Bankside Gallery had an exhibition called "The Artist and Radio 4" in 2005. The BBC website lets you listen to Norman Ackroyd, Raymond Briggs, Kaffe Fassett, Zandra Rhodes and others explaining what radio means to them.

I used to be a big Radio 4 listener but now have a variety of background noises that I like when I'm working - including complete silence

Do you work to music, the radio or muse in peace?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Flowers in Art: Contemporary Artists #1

Plums with Anemones
copyright Paul Riley (Riley Arts)

Earlier in July, for my Flowers in Art month, I looked at some of the people who painted flowers in the past (see links at the end) and particular artists whose work has always interested me. Today is my first post about some more of today's contemporary artists who paint flowers and interest me and/or have influenced my own approach to art. Today it's the turn of three men - and I'll be posting about some more women who paint flowers tomorrow!

I didn't realise until I started these blog posts about contemporary artists just how many of them work in watercolour or goache........which I'm sure says far more about me than the range of artists painting flowers today. However, I'm very happy to have suggestions (via the comments box) as to other contemporary painters of flowers who others have found stimulating.

Contemporary artists

Joseph Raffael has a unique approach to the painting of flowers in watercolour. You can see his work on his website - I recommend the archives for a more full appreciation of his work with flowers - which are very large, complex, colourful and apparently both saturated and transparent at the same time. His processes are fascinating and are explained in the book about his work - Reflections of Nature - and also in his online autobiography here.

If you want to see the work in progress progressions or watch the videos you need to have Quicktime installed.

Raffael got his BFA from Yale School of Arts and studied colour and chromatic interactions with Josef Albers. It's maybe not so surprising that the use of colour is such a strong focus of his work.

Charles Reid is a very popular watercolour artists and tutor who has written a number of very successful books for students of watercolour painting including Painting Flowers in Watercolour.

His approach to watercolour is very fresh and spontaneous. I remember vividly the first time I saw a painting of his in a book which has drips! His subjects very much lean towards the 'found' school of composition. Which is not to say they are - he also has an excellent book on composition (Painting What You Want to See) - but they looks like they are!

His website suggests that he's now rather more interested in landscapes and doesn't have too many paintings of flowers however this one - Pintail - provides an excellent indication of his style. You can find details of his workshops here.

I first met Paul Riley on a painting holiday in Bali in 1992, learned a lot and had fun doing so and subsequently signed up for courses with Riley Arts at Coombe Farm in Devon where his studio and the family gallery are both based.

I've watched him paint flowers in the studio and 'en plein air' in the past in an almost calligraphic approach. He tends to work on whole sheets, uses oriental brushes a lot and often completes his paintings very quickly - which is and will be a complete revelation to anybody who is hung up on detail using a sable brush with a small point!

His books Flower Painting and Watercolour Workshop are great for all those who like a contemporary approach to watercolour and love their brushes and want to find out different ways of using them for the purposes of painting flowers. They provide excellent staged approaches to work in progress for those wanting to develop their skills. If you ever go on a course in the UK or abroad you'll find yourself mixing with students who keep coming back for more!

So who's your favourite contempory male artist who draws or paints flowers?

Links to "Making a Mark" posts for "Flowers in Art" month:

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Pescheria, chiaroscuro - and 100,000 visits

The Pescheria
30cm x 20cm,
pen and lightfast pigment ink and coloured pencil on Arches Hot Press
available as a print on Imagekind - click here to see a larger image

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Pescheria means 'fish market' in Italian. This drawing is of the very famous Pescheria near the Rialto in Venice. Fish has been sold from this site for the last 600 years. It's a great favourite with artists because of its very large banner like red curtains which keep the market cool on a hot day. (You can see the fish if you click on this link to my travel sketchbook blog).

I very much enjoyed doing the drawing after Whistler in my post on Whistler's Venice recently and wanted to do something similar - and add in one colour only - and this is the result.

Chiaroscuro is the theme of the 85th Annual Exhibition of the Society of Graphic Fine Art at the Menier Gallery in Southwark 11-22nd September. This is one of my interpretations of 'chiaroscuro' which I'm submitting to the exhibition.

Chiaroscuro according to my online Chambers dictionary means
chiaroscuro noun (chiaroscuros) 1 art the management of light and shade in a picture. 2 a monochrome painting.
ETYMOLOGY: 17c: Italian, meaning 'light-dark'.
However originally it had a much tighter definition and was a type of drawing on coloured paper which used white to define form.

I thought it would be interesting to track down some of the other online sources of information. By which I mean I did this some time ago - but forgot to write a post about it at the time!

Samson and Delilah, 1506
Made by Albrecht Altdorfer (German, Regensburg ca. 1480 - 1538 Regensburg)
Pen and dark brown ink heightened with white, on brown prepared paper; 6 11/16 x 4 3/4 in. (17.0 x 12.0 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1906 (06.1051.2)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

So - on the right is what is regarded as a fine early example of chiaroscuro drawing - and below you will find some other definitions of chiaroscuro.
Chiaroscuro drawing: A manner of drawing by which the usual drawing method of applying dark strokes over light colored paper is reversed. Instead, the composition is defined by light values, such as white gouache, over a dark ground. The etymology of the word is the combination of the two Italian words chiaro, meaning light, and scuro, the word for dark. (Unidentified German artist, 16th century, Martyrdom of St. Barbara, 1957.4).
The Glossary of the Harvard Art Museums - chiaroscuro
Chiaroscuro Woodcuts

The earliest colored woodcuts were intended to imitate the appearance of a type of drawing on colored paper known as chiaroscuro, much sought after by collectors. In these drawings, the colored paper served as the middle tone, and the artist worked toward the light (chiaro) by adding highlights with white gouache, and toward the dark (scuro) by adding crosshatching in pen or a dark wash with a brush. The chiaroscuro woodcut, invented in Germany by Hans Burgkmair around 1509, was created by printing a line block—which carried the contours and crosshatching, and could sometimes stand alone as a black and white woodcut—together with one or more tone blocks. If there were only one tone block, it would print a mid-tone that would function in the same way as the colored paper did in the drawings. Where more than one tone block was used, it was possible to suggest levels of shading, as in a wash drawing. Where the blocks had been cut away, the paper would remain unprinted, and these white areas would serve as the highlights.
Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Printed Image in the West - Woodcut
Chiaroscuro is a method for applying value to a two-dimensional piece of artwork to create the illusion of a three-dimensional solid form. This way of working was devised during the Italian Renaissance and was used by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael. In this system, if light is coming in from one predetermined direction, then light and shadow will conform to a set of rules......(consult the entry to read the remainder

Art Studio Chalkboard
Chiaroscuro - A word borrowed from Italian ("light and shade" or "dark") referring to the modeling of volume by depicting light and shade by contrasting them boldly. This is one means of strengthening an illusion of depth on a two-dimensional surface, and was an important topic among artists of the Renaissance.(pr. kee-ahr'oh-scyoo"roh)
(see the original ArtLex entry for examples)
Without chiaroscuro, digital is just a bunch of squares, non-linear is non existent and HD might as well be DV. Now more than ever, chiaroscuro plays an important part in any production.
Walter Graff
Finally, yesterday this blog topped the 100,000 visits mark!!!

I'd like to thank all the regular readers of this blog for making a very significant contribution to passing that threshold - and also to say "Hello" to all the visitors who found this blog on the front page of their browser search. I hope you'll be back!


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Artist and Gallery: the risk/reward equation

Dahlias #1
9" x 12", pen and pigment black ink on Arches Hot Press

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Robert Genn recently wrote about the use of 'rent a wall' galleries and the Agora Gallery in New York in particular. He discussed the option of being hung in a standard gallery which takes work on consignment and has no up front fees as opposed to one in which you rent the wall space and/or do pay an up front fee - in galleries like the Agora. His Painters Keys site has the clickback which presents (1) his original letter and (2) readers responses. It makes interesting reading.

Jackie Simmonds is one of those who commented. She highlighted one aspect of the nature of the financial equation between gallery and artist.
I recently spoke to an artist who had a successful show. He told me he had sold approximately $100,000 worth of paintings. Terrific, I said, you must have filled the coffers a little. He laughed. He said that in fact, he earned less than 50% (because there is also VAT tax to pay here). Then, he had a massive framing bill. He had to pay a large sum towards the cost of the invitations. He had to offset the cost of the trips he took to gather reference material for the paintings. In the end, his net profit was in the region of about $25,000 - and it had taken him a year to paint those works. The gallery earned $50,000 FOR ONE WEEK'S WORK.
(Jackie Simmonds, Robert Genn "Throw it in water")
Here's the other side of the fence and another (long run) perspective - an art dealer who sets out how a reputable and hard-working galleries invest their time and money. Thanks to Marion at painting.com for alerting me to The Logic behind the 50/50 split on Edward Winkelman's blog. It's a long read (and I recommend reading the comments as well) but it certainly sets down some markers for why a gallery might be justified in expecting the risk/reward equation to remunerate them in an adequate way.

Now I'm no expert on the risk/reward equation for both artists and galleries. However I find it's always interesting to look at selling art in the context of commodity retail sales generally - which mostly seem to divide into one of two categories - with characteristics broadly as set out below:

High volume/low price (eg food) sale between manufacturer and end-user transacted by third party - the shop
  • stock: dealer buys in all stock at their own risk; decisions related to purchasing and pricing wholesale stock are critical to the profit margin realised (eg turnover/stock price paid/stock price sold); no returns;
  • pricing: influenced by
    • dealer bears all the costs of trading base and factors this this into sale prices
    • risk - dealer has to discount and/or dispose of all unsold stock at or above cost price or bear a loss.
    • reward - all profits go to the dealer.
  • trader 'mark-up' and profit margin influenced by:
    • very low margins on staple goods where competition exists; higher margins only where supply or competition is more limited.
    • dealer tends to gets repeat buys and builds custom by offering people what they want (or aspire to) at a price they can afford - hence knowing what the customer wants (or might want) is critical
    • Profitability can also be influenced by the general state of the economy. Staple goods tend to have fewer fluctuations in demand compared to those which are only purchased when buyers are feeling 'well off'.
Low volume/high price (eg houses) sale between owner and buyer transacted with aid of a third party - the dealer/auction house
  • stock: owner places commodity with a dealer service (eg estate agent; auction houses) who is typically remunerated for achieving a sale by way of fee (as a percentage of the sale value) - no sale/no fee or commission. Dealer at no stage owns the commodity
  • owner's selling costs:
    • agreed dealer fee / commission
    • plus owner may reimburse dealer for upfront and one-off costs particular to sale processes (eg advertising) irrespective of whether a sale if achieved;
  • owner's sale price:
    • set by owner - advised by dealer
    • may be open to negotiation or subject to auction;
    • cash from sale price agreed - less fees - goes to seller
  • Trader 'mark-up' and profit margin: exact percentage fee based on value dictated by
    • what sort of commodity/market the seller is operating in (eg is there a prevailing fixed fee percentage?)
    • and/or how much competition there is to provide a dealer/auction service
    • and/or how hard the dealer works to sell the commodity
    • and/or how good the reputation of the dealer is for being able to achieve a sale
    • hence dealer profts tend to be realised by increasing sales or reducing costs (and dealers are vulnerable to lack of sales)
  • Dealer's profitability influenced by:
    • word of mouth - can influence the extent of repeat business (ie did the dealer get the seller the sale price they wanted at the time they wanted?)
    • macro-economic conditions - both nationally and locally )ie factors which are very difficult for dealers to influence or change)
Artists and Art Galleries

Contrast the above with the situation for artists in relation to different kinds of art galleries.

Standard galleries: The sale between artist and buyer is transacted with the help of gallery acting as a third party. T
he gallery's customer is the buyer - but the gallery also recognises the importance of keeping artists who sell well happy
  • stock:
    • gallery takes stock on consignment ie "sale or return" basis, no money exchanges hands between artist and gallery
    • in areas of low sales, a gallery may reduce risk/increase reward by mixing art with other types of stock (eg frameshop / prints / antiques / gifts)
  • price of art:
    • artist can set an "artist's price" (ie gallery can determine actual marked sale price but must pay artist the artist's price)
    • gallery may advise on sale price
  • gallery mark-up/profit margin:
    • typically gallery charges around 50% commission on all sales plus any costs associated with marketing and sale may also be borne by the artist (varies between galleries) and pays balance to the artist;
    • failure to sell means no income to offset a gallery's fixed costs
  • dealer's profitability influenced by:
    • prevailing macro-sconomic conditions (art is NOT a staple good!)
    • the ratio of fixed and variable costs to turnover (ie how vulnerable is a gallery to a drop in sales or an artist whose work doesn't sell straight away)
    • product mix (eg if they sell more than just art)
    • decisions (ie which artists to show) are critical to generating sales
    • galleries like artists who can help a gallery generate good sales/income due to:
      • a good track record of previous sales (value)
      • an extensive mailing list - which the gallery can use for private views etc
      • resources to put into effective marketing on their own account
Galleries for rent: The sale between artist and buyer transacted with the aid of a third party providing wall space or acting as a representative - for an upfront fee. It can be very unclear where the gallery's real customer base actually lies.
  • stock:
    • artist's works is not taken on consignment
    • stock could be viewed as the number of artists on the books as it is their upfront fee which helps pay the rent!
  • price of art: determined by the artist
  • gallery profitability: determined by
    • price paid to rent wall space or up-front payment for representation
    • no. of people who want representation/wall space
    • (optional) percentage commission taken on sales
    • the ratio of fixed costs (eg building) and variable costs (eg marketing) relative to income derived from artists' fees
  • such galleries like artists who want an exhibition and are willing to pay.
Logic suggests that a gallery will always want artists with a dedicated following to justify upfront investment in marketing and make a good contribution towards their overheads. Artists need galleries with good reputations to get in front of audiences who are used to investing in art. Profitable galleries can afford to 'take a punt' on new artists but will tend to cut their losses and limit their imvestment quickly if no sales emerge.

So - is the situation black and white if you are an artist (or a gallery) - or are there lots of shades of grey? Do galleries really earn their commission - or is it far too high? In a commercial situation, who can afford to ignore what sells and where the real profit lies?


Note "Dahlias #1": My drawing of Dahlias was done using the Blackadder technique of deciding where to place a flower on the page one at a time. I discovered that the best way of doing this was to have a dahlia stem inserted into a wine bottle which was placed just next to my drawing block of Arches HP and below - so that the flower was at about the same eye level as the drawing block. I could then twizzle it around to get different profiles. The interesting part then came in choosing placements and working out overlaps - and the fact that you can draw the same flower or bud from different angles. There is no particular focal point - it's just a pattern of lines in pen and ink which resolve into dahlia blooms and buds.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Flowers in Art: William Morris - herbals, flowers and making patterns

Don't copy any style at all, but make your own; yet you must study the history of our art...
William Morris
William Morris (1834-1896) has had a significant influence on decorative art in the UK. His designs are based on natural forms - many of which are flowers. Of the nearly 600 designs which are attrubuted to him there are very few which do not feature flowers, leaves, trees or plants.

Wallpaper, William Morris
Late 19th century

Victoria and Albert Museum
Museum no. E.504-1919

Along with people like Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Morris was also one of the most prominent practitioners within the Arts and Crafts Movement an aesthetic movement that was prominent in the UK and USA between 1880 and 1910. He influenced a number of other important designers such as Charles F.A. Voysey (1857-1927).

William Morris, as a writer, designer and socialist had a vast range of interests (see Wikipedia entry for a quick overview) but I'm interested in how William Morris developed his flower designs and this post will focus on that - and also include other interesting tidbits.

Sources I'm using for this post and of further information include:
  • "The Flowers of William Morris" by Derek Baker published for the centennial of Morris's death in 1896. This comments at some length on the sixteenth-century herbals (books) favoured by Morris
  • The Victoria and Albert Museum. The V&A is an especially interesting place in relation to Morris. It now includes his work in its archives (eg wallpaper) but it also houses some of the works of art which Morris himself used to stimulate his own designs - such as the 'herbals', which contained descriptions and illustrations of herbs, flowers, fruit and other plants.
The first pattern to be issued, in 1864, was 'Daisy', a simple design of naively drawn meadow flowers. The source was a wallhanging illustrated in a 15th-century version of Froissart's Chronicles', but similar flower forms can be seen in late medieval 'mille-fleurs' tapestries and in early printed herbals.

These two designs, and the next pattern Fruit (also known as Pomegranate), share a medieval character that links Morris's early work in the decorative arts with the Pre-Raphaelite painters, and with Ruskin. However, they are also influenced by Morris's abiding interest in naturalism in ornament.

Lecturing on pattern in 1881, he claimed, 'any decoration is futile ... when it does not remind you of something beyond itself'. His sources were plants themselves, observed in his gardens or on country walks, and also images of plants in 16th-century woodcuts (he owned copies of several 16th- and 17th-century herbals, including Gerard's famous Herball), illuminated manuscripts, tapes-tries and other textiles incorporating floral imagery. His designs were not to be literal transcriptions of natural forms but subtle stylised evocations.
Victoria and Albert Museum - William Morris - wallpaper design
Design for Windrush printed fabric by William Morris. (Identification from Linda Parry, ed.: William Morris, Abrams, 1996, ISBN 0-8109-4282-8, p. 265)

His designs were used for wallpapers, textiles, tiles, stained glass, ordinary glass ware - in other words all manner of things which were used in a decorative way and were produced or commissioned by his company, Morris and Company.
The wallpapers, textiles, carpets, tapestries, and furniture designed by the Firm were intended to create an integrated artistic interior and, in so doing, to transform domestic life into a deeply aesthetic experience. Morris wished "to revive a sense of beauty in home life, to restore the dignity of art to the ordinary household decoration."Huntington Exhibition 2004
Arthur Sanderson & Sons Ltd were first commissioned to produce wallpapers for Morris & Co. in 1930. This page of the William Morris website provides some fascinating archives of images relating to the applied use of flower designs done in pear wood blocks.

I've tried to summarise some of the features of the floral design work of William Morris below:

Context and influences:

He was much influenced by John Ruskin who was an observer of nature and an artist who enjoyed drawing flowers and who collected herbals. He emphasised in his book 'Elements of Drawing' the importance of close observation. He was also a member of a Pre-Raphaelite circle that included Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones.

Morris was also of the view that it was desirable to surround ourselves with decoration, lesser art not fine art, originating from natural sources rather than scientific representation.

'The Great Herbal',
book with woodcut illustrations, printed by Peter Treveris, 1526.
Victoria and Albert Museum no. L.1059-1901


Morris collected and used herbals to suggest designs incorporating specific flowers or plants. Herbals were books about plants which contained illustrations which were woodcuts or engavings of high quality and were first printed around the sixteenth century.

He also visited South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) to study designs from Turkey and Persia and the Islamic influences on flowers; incorporated wild tulips (a near eastern flower) into his garden at Kelmscott. (Note: At the time of writing Kelmscott Manor, former home of William Morris, is flooded due to the extensive rain and flooding in central and western England.). Given my own endeavours in this respect (see Plant Motifs and Art #2 at the V&A), I am persuaded that it's worthwhile to pursue this line of study some more.


His knowledge of flowers was considerable but his designs were rarely botanically correct - however he also had a practical perspective on this
Of course you understand that it is impossible to imitate nature literally; the utmost realism of the most realistic painter falls a long way short of it.
William Morris ' Making the best of it'
Morris himself summarised the key qualities for a designer when he said you must fully understand nature and study it closely, know your history and then develop and use your imagination.
The Flowers of William Morris
Kennet indigo-discharge printed textile designed by William Morris.
(Identification from Linda Parry: William Morris Textiles, New York, Viking Press, 1983, ISBN 0-670-77074-4, p. 155)

Ornamental pattern work...must contain three qualities: beauty, imagination and order.
William Morris ' Making the best of it'
For those designing pattern
Above all, avoid vagueness...definite form bounded by firm outline is a necessity for all ornament...do not be afraid of your design or try to muddle it up so that people can scarcely see it; it if it is arranged on good lines and its details are beautiful you need not fear it looking hard so long as it covers the ground wel and is not wrong in colour.
William Morris ' Making the best of it'
In choosing natural forms be rather shy of certain very obvious decorative ones, eg bindweed, passion-flower and the poorer forms of ivy, used without the natural copiousness. I should call these trouble savers and warn you of them....we have had them used so cheaply this long while we are sick of them
William Morris ' Making the best of it'

He liked to develop medievalism within his gardens - first at The Red House and then at Kelmscott Manor both in terms of design and the plants.

This post has barely scraped the surface of the wealth of information that exists about William Morris - so do explore the links if you'd like to know more.

Note (and an aside): Jane Morris, William Morris's wife, is the model for Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting Proserpine 1877 (Tate Gallery). This is a photograph of her posed by Rossetti from the William Morris Gallery. It's one of the earliest examples of pre-raphelite photography.