Sunday, October 28, 2007

28th October 2007: Who's made a mark this week?

Draped Reclining Woman

Congratulations to......
  • Tom Christopher PSA of Iowa who according to the Pastel Talk Forum of Wet Canvas has apparently 'unofficially' won 4th place in the landscape section of the Pastel 100. Check out his very impressive pastel artwork here. Formal announcement of decisions will be notified to prizewinners by 31 January 2008 and all the pieces will be featured in the April edition of Pastel Journal. You can see more of his stunning pastel portrayals of the Iowa Greenbelt here. I do love artists who can do really convincing trees in all seasons.
The Big Drawing Book Review

My reviews of drawing books got disrupted this week however you can find more reviews of drawing books below. My latest acquisition (which will be reviewed in due course) is "The Tao of Sketching" - it's a complete guide to Chinese sketching techniques!
  • You can get a complete index to both the artists and subjects covered by various editions of the Pastel Journal in the last year if you visit their website. The index is available as a pdf document. I hope this really useful document gets developed into an interactive and online version at some stage.
Art Blogs
Bartlett Pear (sold)
6" x 6", oil on panel
copyright Abbey Ryan
  • The number of artists still participating in the daily painting movement seem to have dropped however, there's still both space and market share available to those with talent who are keen to pick up the baton (or maybe that should be 'brush'?).
  • Abbey Ryan tells me she is a long-time reader of this blog and that she has just started a new Daily Painting Blog called Ryan Studio. I took a peek at her work and although it's not yet developed a consistent Ryan perspective or motif for these new small works (in contrast to the strong direction evident in her studio work) it looks very promising to me and seems to be attracting interest on e-bay. You can see Abbey's larger studio work here.
  • Many of you will remember me talking about how Notan influenced Georgia O'Keefe's paintings. Linda Blondheim has been exploring the concept in her plein air painting of late and you can see the results on her Linda Blondheim Art Notes blog.
  • Vivien Blackburn (Painting Prints and Stuff) is creating collage cards of beaches for an art and craft fair using fabric and paint. I really like the 'night beach'.
Art business and marketing
  • Ed Terpening (Life Plein Air) is trying out new ways of marketing artwork. He explains how to feature your virtual studio sale in advertising online using Facebook Flyers. I think I can see how that might work extremely well for some people.
  • Karin Jurick (A Painting Today) is warning people about a scam artist who is asking people if they'd like to accept a Second Chance Offer. Do what Karin has done here and alert people if you think anything is bogus or untoward.
Art - education and development
  • Alyson Stanfield (ArtBizBlog) has an excellent post about 5 ways to be a better artist - in summary: Practice / Experiment / Listen to the critics / Read / Look at a lot of art. I totally endorse everything she says and wish I'd written that post!
Art exhibitions
  • Alyson Stanfield also has a very useful and practical post with recommendations about what to do about labels for an art exhibition - Labels for your art installation
  • Renaissance Siena - Art for a City opened at the National Gallery on Wednesday. Jonathan Jones of the Guardian is not enthusiastic. You can take the Siena Trail starting here.
  • I'd forgotten to mention the opening of Pop Art Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery earlier in the month. The website looks rather good.
Large Upright Internal/External Form
Bronze by Henry Moore
(#2 0n the sculpture trail at Kew Gardens)
  • The Henry Moore exhibition at Kew Gardens is outstanding and also has an excellent website. It makes me wonder why the Gardens haven't been used more for exhibitions of sculpture. I wonder if the work of someone like Andy Goldsworthy would fit into a more cultivated environment? I also saw something at Kew Gardens of great interest to botanical artists which I'll be writing about soon.
Art groups - Facebook
  • Ed Terpening (Life Plein Air) - who's into social media transactions - has set up a Plein Air Painters Group on Facebook. It looks interesting - and I've joined. In order to access the group you need to register with Facebook.
  • Which means I'm now on Facebook! Actually I had already dipped a toe in Facebook but I hadn't really explored it at all - but I now have a reason to go there and it's lovely to see so many other familiar faces who've all apparently had the same idea! I'm still sorting my way through how it all works - and got mightily distracted doing my map! I'm beginning to include upcoming events. However I think I'm going to be keeping the 'friends' bit just for people who I 'know' through interaction in forums/blogs/groups on Google and Yahoo (plus my other offline 'face to face' contacts) for the time being.
Art in Miniature
  • Following my visit to and post about the exhibition of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters,Sculpters and Gravers, at the mall Galleries in London, Gayle Mason (Fur in the Paint) has been inspired to start a miniature on ivorine. You can see progress to date and links to where she gets her supplies here. I went to see the exhibition again on Wednesday and it's still a story of record sales and a very successful exhibition. Nicole Caulfield (Art Journal) is also busy preparing some miniature art for an exhibition. Given the interest shown in miniature art I'm hoping to write more about it soon.
Art supplies
  • I had an opportunity to try an Optivisor at the UKCPS AGM when Ann Massey brought hers along to show us. This is an optical aid which is invaluable for people doing very fine detail and/or miniature art. However it looks a bit odd when on - see a demonstratation here. There are a variety of suppliers. Gayle Mason (see above) has just got one and I'm hoping she's going to be commenting on its use on her blog very soon!
  • I came across the Natural Pigments website on the Botanical Art Yahoo Group. I don't know anything about it and have never ordered from them but it certainly looks a very interesting website for those interested in making paint from pigments or artwork involving encaustic, casein, fresco, tempera, gilding, oils or watercolour. Plus it's the first website that I've seen with a Durer Grid for a long time! However - a warning - the navigation around the website has some scope for improvement in terms of the visibility of tabs and menus!
Finally, for anybody who missed the earlier message, I'd very much like to thank all those who offered their support earlier in the week which helped get me through a very worrying time. I'm going to be preoccupied visiting with my sister who's on a flying visit and 'the patient' for the next few days - so I'll see you all later in the week.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

BritArt in History - RA exhibits admirable collections of British drawings

The Friends' Room
11" x 16", pen and ink and coloured pencil

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Yesterday we visited two exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts - An American's passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy and Making History - Antiquaries in Britain 1701-2007. Both had excellent and unusual examples of drawings made by British artists, often of British places or British historical figures. It was BritArt of a completely different kind.

I started to make notes and covered 3 pages but there was just so much that I think I really must go back again for another view (which is one of the joys of being a Friend of the RA - others being the sofas in the Friends Room - above - after being on my feet for a long time and also being able to take a friend of mine in for free!).

What I wasn't expecting was the large quantity of drawings in both exhibitions.

Nor was I expecting to find that both exhibitions are something approaching an indictment of the way in which national British institutions appear to have neglected to collect paintings and drawings in British Art over a long period of time. What can be seen in these exhibitions exists because of that neglect. I saw more drawings of and about Britain by British artists and artists working in Britain than I think I've ever seen before or maybe will ever be able to do again.
None of the other nations of Europe has so abject an inferiority complex about its own aesthetic capabilities as England.
Nikolaus Pevsner, 1956 (Mellon- State of Neglect)
Here are some of the highlights from the combined visit to both exhibitions:
  • Drawing of as a study of places: pen and ink and wash and/or watercolour drawings of landscapes or important buildings by Constable, Turner, Thomas Girtin William Blake, and Samuel Palmer
  • Drawing in sketchbooks: including examples of Turner's sketchbooks
  • Drawing as study: Constable oil sketch studies of clouds (just clouds - nothing else except for a few birds)
  • Drawing as botanical art: more herbals of early botanical illustration than I've seen in a long time
  • Drawing as engraving: copper engraving plates of medieval scenes along with the print pulled
  • Drawing of anatomy: drawings by Stubbs of various animals
  • Drawing of cartoon: Rowlandson cartoons by Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827)
Rowlandson’s designs were usually done in outline with the reed-pen, and delicately washed with colour. They were then etched by the artist on the copper, and afterwards aquatinted --usually by a professional engraver, the impressions being finally coloured by hand.
Wikipedia - ThomasRowlandson
  • drawing as mapping - all manner of maps of Great Britain - including those copied and derived from Ptolemy's Geographia produced in the first century after the birth of Christ.
  • drawing as an archeological record - drawings of important archeological finds were displayed alongside the artifact in question
  • drawing as genealogy - was well represented in a genealogical roll presented to Henry VI in 1455, tracing his descent from Adam and Eve via Noah - complete with illuminations and contained in a case some 20 odd feet long.
  • plus any number of drawings by artists I'm less familar with (such as Samuel Hieronymus Grimm!) but which were impressive nonetheless - I have a long list of names which need to plugged into my browser!
Contable, Turner, Girtin and Blake feature in both exhibitions and the Mellon Collection of Blake is world class. All are critical figures in the development of drawings in pen and ink and watercolour and the use of sketchbooks. Some were also employed as artists by the Society of Antiquaries.
Many members were competent draughtsmen, but it was recognised that the skill needed to record accurately the appearance of artefacts or buildings depended on professional training, and from the 1780s the Society employed suitably qualified artists.
Making History: Recording and illustrating
You can read more about the drawings on the website in:
You can find out more about the Society of Antiquaries, who are currently celebrating their tercentenary, on their website. This includes a sample of paintings they have collected. Unfortunately, although they have digitised their vast collection of drawings these appear to only be accessible to Fellows of the Society rather than the general public.
The Society possesses the UK's most important national collection of archaeological drawings , comprising over 5,000 drawings of archaeological finds, museum objects and antiquities from Britain and other countries.

In addition, the Library has one of the largest collections of topographical drawings in the country, consisting of around 20,000 drawings as well as a substantial number of prints.
Society of Antiquaries - Collections: Prints and Drawings
The exhibition of items from the collection of Paul Mellon (1907-1999) has been organised in conjunction with the Yale Centre for British Art (whose website is currently being repaired - you can read more about it here). I think I'll be paying a visit to New Haven, Connecticut the next time I'm visiting New England.
The collection of 20,000 drawings and watercolors, and 30,000 prints feature British sporting art and figure drawings. The collection includes works by Hogarth, Paul Sandby, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Rowlandson, William Blake, John Constable, Samuel Palmer, Richard Parkes Bonington, John Ruskin, J. M. W. Turner, Walter Sickert, Duncan Grant, Paul Nash, Edward Burra, Stanley Spencer, Augustus John, Gwen John, and the Pre-Raphaelites.
Wikipedia - Yale Centre for British Art
Sadly, all relevant websites are sadly deficient at present in terms of images of the drawings I saw. Which is why the image at the top of this post is my sketch of the Friends Room at the RA where we had the mandatory pot of tea after working our way round both exhibitions.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Art Journals in the USA and customer service

The demonstration
14" x 11", pencil and coloured pencil in Daler Rowney Sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I subscribe to four Art Journals with American publishers. Almost without exception I'm extremely impressed by the quality and content of all the Journals. However, I've also got a generally poor impression of the subscription and delivery services they employ.

Let me explain why I'm not enamoured - and I'll also indicate at the end what I think should be the standard of service which ought to be offered.

First some context. I'm an overseas customer which means
  • I pay more, through more limited options to get a journal which is always going to arrive a bit later than it will be delivered to subscribers in its home country. That's not ideal but it's a pretty standard way of operating for people taking a service from another country - so that's all taken as a 'given'.
  • the option of writing a cheque from my non-existent USA bank account is not possible.
  • I could charge the subscription to my credit card and put the details in the post. However in these days of identity phishing, I refuse to put my identity details and credit card details in the post if I can avoid it plus I then have visit a post office to check the stamps required for overseas postage, buy them and post the letter.
  • I want to pay through a secure facility which meets industry best practice standards for e-commerce and data security.
So what are the problems I experience?

Incessant paper-based subscription reminders

The main irritant are the incessant subscription reminders - which start arriving about 3 months after I take out a subscription. All the magazines I subscribe do this and it's very, very irritating. I've not timed it but my impression is that they arrive about every three months and then step up the pace nearer the renewal due date. I reckon I get somewhere between 3 and 4 (maybe 5?) reminders for each journal (and I subscribe to four) - all of which are posted to me overseas. This is neither cheap nor environmentally responsible. Think of all the trees which have to be cut down to generate the paper for all those reminders!

Interestingly the cumulative effect of all these unnecessary reminders is that I ignore them all. I simply stop opening the envelopes and wait for the one with the 'final warning' message on the outside!

I never renew until just before the expiry date because I want to be confident that there is no mix-up over how long my subscription period actually is. This view is of course dictated by the speed with which I get renewal reminders after renewing my subscription which only serves to undermine my confidence in the subscription service!

The solution

Let me contrast this experience with services I subscribe to in the UK. Over here I am a Friend of a number of national organisations and subscribe to some journals. I pay an annual subscription and I never ever have this sort of problem.
  • Invariably all my subscriptions are either set up as a direct debit from my bank account or are an automatic debit to the credit card details I supplied when I subscribed (very cost effective for all concerned).
  • I just get one reminder letter that "the direct debit is about to be exercised / I need to cancel now if I don't want to renew" and that's it. If for any reason the debit doesn't work (eg change of card used) then I get a reminder that the issue needs to be addressed.
Simple, straightforward and cost-effective in principle - and it also works in practice.

Inadequate information (reminder letters and websites)

On the American Artist website it's very difficult to locate where to go to renew a subscription although it's very easy to locate the place to take out a new one! Communication with overseas/online customers does not appear to be the rational end-product of a co-ordinated communications exercise between subscription people and relevant webmasters. Subscription services can't second guess how people will pay - but the reality is that more and more people are starting to pay for services online.

Every reminder letter therefore needs to interface clearly with the relevant applicable website and to identify the precise URL to be used to access the secure site for online subscription renewals.

Referral to a general website address
- as in the Early Bird reminder from American Artist - is unhelpful for those looking to pay online through a secure site. Especially if that general site also does not have a clear icon or a link for renewal of subscriptions and/or lacks helpful information for overseas/online customers on its Customer Service page.
How can I renew my subscription, pay a bill, or check my payment status?
Call our subscription center at 1-800-562-2706.
American Artist Customer Service Page
Having renewed my subscription to Drawing Magazine this morning, I reviewed my Early Bird renewal letter re my American Artist subscription and then the website and could not understand why it was impossible to work out how to renew my subscription. Exactly the same companies communicated in two completely different ways in relation to two magazines owned by the same people!

Which makes me think that quality control around customer service and systems is weak.

One solution which occurred to me in the course of writing this post is to ask somebody living in the USA to take out a subscription on my behalf and to post each edition to me via airmail for an agreed sum. I bet I'd get it faster and cheaper!

Over at The Artist's Magazine and The Pastel Journal, the websites are much more helpful in enabling overseas customers to pay online. Nice simple links to 'subscribe/renew/give a gift' are the first things you see. Renewal issues are also addressed in the customer service FAQ page of the website.

The Pastel Journal subscription renewal page (which is actually a page belonging to a third party) even provides a very helpful link to a page which explains which are the companies that are not authorised to pursue subscriptions through aggressive marketing campaigns that seek identity information and bank account and credit card numbers!!!. I wasn't aware of this until I began to write this article and it's nice to see F&W taking a strong stance on this issue. However I do wonder whether these services maybe grew up because of issues to do with how customer service works.

Delivery issues

Anne Hevener, Editor of The Pastel Journal recently participated in a thread in the Wet Canvas Pastel Talk Forum about UK and The Pastel Journal. UK based WC members together with members living elsewhere fed back to Anne and F&W Publications about some of the issues around delivery and subscriptions. That's a very helpful way to proceed. However it would also be good to see some feedback to the thread about the actions taken as a result.

For me, as I indicated in the thread - besides the subscription reminders - one of the major issues I have with F&W publications is the time that their publications take to reach me. 6 weeks to 2 months is not uncommon.

However I believe I can announce a new record for sloooooooooooooow delivery. In the WC thread Anne indicated that the October issue of The Pastel Journal shipped on August 14th. It was supposed to hit the newstands in the USA by September 4th and subscribers are supposed to get it ahead of people buying it from a newsagent. Mine arrived yesterday - on the 24th October some 10 weeks after it was supposed to have shipped!!!

Now I know we've just had a postal strike but my other post has taken no longer than a week more than usual.

The solution

What I want is to see is a guarantee from the publishers about the service standards which I can expect to receive for the subscription I pay over. I'd like to see such a guarantee cover:
  • stated standards on delivery times in normal postal conditions. The standard overseas subscription should provide for the journal to be delivered in the fastest way possible - via air-mail. If artwork shipped back and forth between the USA and UK can take 7-10 days then so can journals. A discount could be given for agreeing to receive the publication by surface mail rather than airmail. (Or do it the other way round and charge a premium for air-mail).
  • quality control will be exercised eg through easy online access to feedback processes which mean data can be easily aggregated so that trends can be spotted easily.
  • extension of the subscription period for one more edition if an edition takes more than the standard specified delivery time to arrive. That's what I get for UK subscriptions. It ensures people pay attention to the real time taken to deliver to the customer!
  • all customers opting to pay online should also get all reminders sent on-line. Eliminating the cost of paper-based reminders should enable publishers to increase the subscription discount and/or pay the costs associated with faster delivery.
What I need is prompt delivery and online reminder e-mails sent with two months , one month and one week to go prior to expiry of the subscription. Easy to automate, easy to maintain and greener plus it saves money - which could go to reducing my subscription.

Let me reiterate - I think the Art Journals produced by American publishers are all excellent - but I think their subscription and delivery arrangements for online and overseas customers need a big overhaul before they achieve minimum customer expectations in the 21st century.

What's your experience?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Great Big "Thank You"

Dahlia Study #1
8" x 8", coloured pencils on Arches HP

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I'd like to say a great big "Thank You" to all those who extended best wishes and prayers for the recovery of 'the patient'. I'm pleased to say 'the patient' is now home (where cups of tea arrive any time you feel like one!) and 'big panic' has been regraded to 'big wake-up call'.

There are still more tests to be done but it does appear that the treatment worked. However, as Cathy said, it's the 'not knowing' which is the worst part and unfortunately we still don't know exactly what happened although hopefully this will be worked out as yet more tests are done.

I do know that I very much appreciated all your messages - they were a great help at a difficult time and I'd like to reiterate my thanks for all your kindnesses.

This post was supposed to be published yesterday but I lost my broadband service in the morning (thank goodness it didn't happen earlier!!!) and I was also hit by that wall of tiredness that I think very often happens to people when the immediate emergency is over. 'He who must not be bored while I sketch' took me down to Kew Gardens for long walks and lots of fresh air (and a couple of sketches) yesterday afternoon which helped a lot - but I still feel rather like I've just had an encounter with a sledgehammer! Posting will continue to be a bit ad hoc for another week or so while things get back to normal.

SoCal is burning

Finally, can I ask for you to turn your positive thoughts and prayers to all those living under the threat of the fires which are raging in southern California. I know a number of bloggers living in that area and I sincerely hope you're all OK at what must be a very worrying time.

My particular concern right now is my very good friend Louise Sackett who I visited last summer. Louise lives in the El Cahon valley to the east of San Diego and currently has evacuation areas to the immediate north, south and east of her home (areas coloured yellow are mandatory evacuation areas and those coloured red are the fires). It's extremely worrying that KPBS News is now referring to it as the San Diego FireStorm. I certainly remember very clearly Louise explaining to me the implications of the brush on hills catching fire. I also know that communication is being affected by the emergency.

Louise - if by any remote chance you're reading this I very much hope both you and D and your daughter and family are all OK and in a safe place. Be careful and stay safe!


Monday, October 22, 2007

Normal service will resume.........

The little trees on the lake, Wisley
coloured pencil in Daler Rowney sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I'm not going to be posting for a little while except on an entirely ad hoc basis. A member of my close family has been admitted to hospital as an emergency and my priorities currently lie elsewhere. Normal posting will resume at some point - but I'm just not sure how soon.

You'll find an explanation for the picture here.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

21st October: Who's made a mark this week?

I've been a bit preoccupied this week so this week's review is rather odd (very artfair/exhibition/London oriented) as I've had little time for blog-hopping. Plus this is also prior notice that I'm planning to take a break for a week (I think) from next weekend.

Eton Mess at the National Dining Rooms
11" x 8", coloured pencil
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

However in the meantime I thought you might like to see the results of some delayed gratification this week.

Here's my sketch of "Eton Mess" - enjoyed
in the National Dining Rooms after my Drawing Lecture at the National Gallery on Wednesday this week.

You can see more of my sketches last week in
Travels with a Sketchbook:
The Big Drawing Book Review

October is the month of The Big Drawing Book Review. Below is a list of reviews done so far. The list is in date order and includes name of blogger (name of their blog + link) and then the title of the book being reviewed + link to blog post reviewing it and name of author - plus the 'pencils' rating given by the reviewer.
Art Fairs

London is supposed to be the new global art capital and one of the reasons is the number of major art fairs it hosts in October. So if you'd like to get an insight into the art fair market in London, here's a few articles about them. So far I've managed to remain immune to their entreaties and I've avoided doing a post solely devoted to it (see if you can work out why!) - but decided to give you a bit of a flavour of it all!

For those new to Art Fairs in London, 'Frieze' is the annual art fair targeted at the hyper-rich which in three years now ranks alongside the Venice Biennale (Frieze Art Fair website - these were the galleries exhibiting). Tens of millions of pounds change hands during the course of the Fair.

It's worth remembering that in reality Frieze is not about 'us' the general public in the way that exhibitions at galleries and museums are, but primarily about two things: convincing a very small group of wealthy collectors to part with their cash, and providing an invaluable profile-raising opportunity for galleries within an insular art world.
James Wignall - Frieze - a bewildered punter writes

You will notice I have not yet mentioned the art. This is because to comment on the merit or quality of what's on display at Frieze is irrelevant. Once, the direction of contemporary art was determined by lonely, radical geniuses with a vision and an atelier. Now it is determined by hedge-fund managers, or by Deutsche Bank (headline sponsor) redeeming itself in a maelstrom of (mostly) college-standard tat.........Contemporary art has become what money men call a new asset class. It has attracted a new type of collector.
Stephen Bayley - Frieze is an ideal venue for fools and their money

However there are also art fairs for those who aren't super-rich.
Art Exhibitions
  • An American's Passion for Art: Paul Mellon's Legacy opened at the Royal Academy yesterday. The exhibition runs until 27 january 2008. I've been really looking forward to this one due to the fact that this is a 'once only' type of exhibition and because it also focuses on some of the finest works of British art - when BritArt meant Reynolds, Gainsborough, Stubbs, Constable, Turner and Blake! The exhibition features more than 150 works, including prints, drawings, paintings, rare books and manuscripts. For those interested in miniatures it apparently also includes work by Nicholas Hilliard.
  • The Fine Art Society is presenting an exhibition of works by James McNeill Whistler: The Embroidered Curtain in the gallery at 148 New Bond Street, London W1 from 18 October to 8 November 2007. It includes a work which is considered to be one his finest - the rare Amsterdam 'The Embroidered Curtain' (1889). It shows the fa├žade of a house by a canal, rendered in an abstracted pattern.
    • You can download the pdf version of the catalogue from the website.
    • My posts from my Whistler project in May can be accessed via the Whistler category label in the right hand column.
  • People making their own personal marks through the medium of watercolour might like to take a look at selected works from shows at the Bankside Gallery by The Royal Watercolour Society
Members of the Royal Watercolour Society experiment with watercolour to its maximum effect from the figurative to abstraction. Fluidity, colour and the brilliance of the medium will be explored through themes of landscape, the figure and still life.
Bankside Gallery - synopsis of Autumn Show
    • The Autumn Show recently opened and runs until 11th November. Scroll down to see selected works in "Taking Risks". The Gallery is open daily between 11am – 6pm and admissions is free. Art events during the course of the exhibition are listed here.
    • You can also see selected works from the exhibition "10 days in Maharashtra" related to the trip which 10 members made to India last January.
  • The 155th Autumn Exhibition of the Royal West of England Acdemy in Bristol opens to day and runs until 12th December. I've never been to one of these shows but have heard that it's good - other views would be welcome so I can decide whether or not to make the trip! (Location is here) The members page on the website provides links to a mini CV and examples of members' work. This is an academy which includes many well known artists who are also members of other societies and this page provides an insight into the benchmark for admission.
  • "Gardens in Focus" is an excellent exhibition of photographic works in The Glasshouse Gallery at Wisley. It features the best of the RHS and Garden Photographers' Association annual photographic competitions, across a broad range of categories including plant portraits, garden views, and wildlife in the garden. (There appears to be a problem with the Garden Photographers' Association website at the moment).
  • According to the Guardian, late night culture vultures could be out in force this month for the temporary late night openings at a number of venues in London - Culture Venues join the dark side; I'm just wondering what the V&A by torchlight might be like.
Art Magazines and Journals
Worlswide Sketchcrawls
  • Just a reminder for those who you who do these (but who haven't signed up for a reminder!) that the next one - Worldwide Sketchcrawl #16 - is on Sunday November 4th. You can read more about what people are planning on the Sketchcrawl Forum.
Websites and blogging

Friday, October 19, 2007

Celebrating the sea with the Royal Society of Marine Artists

Front cover of the catalogue for the Annual Exhibition of the Royal Society of Marine Artists
Getting ready, Worthing yacht Club (oil) Lorraine Abraham RSMA
The aim of the Royal Society of Marine Artists (RSMA) is to represent and encourage the very best in contemporary marine painting, drawing, sculpture and print-making.

The RSMA is a member of the Federation of British Artists and its 62nd annual exhibition is currently on display at the home of the gallery home of the Federation - the Mall Galleries near Trafalgar Square in London until 28th October. I didn't spend as much time as I'd have liked in this exhibition as I also wanted to see the exhibition of Miniature Art (featured yesterday) so I'm going again after my lecture at the National Gallery next week. I'll be trying to make sure I'm there in time to see the demonstration by Paul Banning RSMA who will be painting in oils. I really like his work - you can see his marine work here. He has that happy talent like David Curtis (whose work I adore!) of making watercolours and oils look very similar. You can see a watercolour demonstration on his website.

There is a programme of demonstrations during the course of the exhibition - with artists demonstrating in different media - dates, artists and media used are as follows - 21st: John Lines - oil; 22nd: Stanley Andrews - watercolour; 23rd: Bruce Mulcahy - gouache and 25th: David Allen - pastel.

Although the Society doesn't have a virtual exhibition of You can also see more example of work by the members in the website gallery. Click on an image to get a larger view.

The membership of the Society is relatively small - you can see the names of the members here - but the exhibition certainly wasn't! It displayed 333 works in the main exhibition plus the work of the 10 finalists for the Young Marine Artists Shipwrights' Prize - which was won by Laura Rouse with a splendid 'fresh' gouache painting of beach huts.
This year sees the first award of the Young Marine artists prize, worth £700 in total, sponsored by the Workshipful Company of Shipwrights. Work has beel selected from young artists in the 16-25 age range, taking as their inspiration the sea itself, the coast and seaside, ships and sailing craft, beaches and wildlife, portrait and people, history or anything that goes with the maritim theme.
Exhibition catalogue
Prizewinners in the main exhibition are as follows:
  • The Pears Prize for the best painting by a non-Member - Ivan Lapper
  • The 'Classic Boat' Prize - Jenny Morgan
  • Conway 'Age of Sail' Prize - Ross Ryan (Belinda del Pesco will be interested to know that this was a large and rather splendid collograph)
  • St. Cuthbert's Watercolour Prize - Keith Noble ARSMA - an admirable demonstration of the qualities of the paper in relation to wet in wet watercolour and scratching out
Now - what are my overall impressions (bearing in mind I intend to go back and have another look)? There are an awful lot of boats in this exhibition (my note says LOTS AND LOTS OF BOATS and I only use caps when I want to emphasise something to myself!) . There are obviously many more artists out there who love painting boats of all types, ages, shapes and sizes than I realised! But I guess many of the people who like marine paintings are also people who are boat owners or love messing around in them.

Most of the work is representational erring towards realism but there were some elements of pushing towards abstraction. All media seem to be represented but there were lots and lots of watercolours but fewer print works than one might have expected. There's a distinct dominance of UK marine and tidal river scenes but overseas was also represented.

Back cover of the catalogue for the Annual Exhibition of the Royal Society of Marine Artists
Low water at Beer (watercolour and bodycolour) Colin Allbrook RI, RSMA
This is an exhibition which obviously welcomes submissions by artists who are not members however the overall standard of the exhibition is high - as one would expect from a national society. Full Members also had up to six works exhibited - which suggests to me that this society which also appears to emphasise offering good value to its members.
Entries are welcome both from artists who have a marine interest, and from people involved with the sea - marine industry, youth organisations, or marine sports - who think they have artistic talent to offer. All art media are acceptable, including paint, drawing, printmaking, mixed media, and sculpture (gallery contraints do not admit installations or video). The maritime theme must be the inspiration. This can include the sea itself, the coast and seaside, ships and sailing craft, beaches and wildlife, portraits and people, history, or anything else that goes with the sea.
Society of Marine Artists page on Federation website
Now all I have to do is find out why a certain artist of my acquaintance who does marine art all the time isn't exhibiting at this exhibition! Mind you it always surprises me how many waterscapes I do and I think I might just have a go at getting my marine scenes from last year's travels with a sketchbook in the USA worked up in time for the deadline for submissions for next year's exhibition - under the theme of 'From sea to shining sea - California to Cape Cod"!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors & Gravers - Annual Exhibition

Certain art collectors love miniatures. So much so that they have purchased 160 miniature works of art in three days at the annual exhibition of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors & Gravers. Speaking personally this is the most sales by any art society at any gallery that I have ever seen in very many years of visiting the exhibitions of national art societies and is certainly proof of the popularity of miniature art. I gather the level of sales is unprecedented and I hesitate to guess how many they will have sold by the time this exhibition finishes on Sunday 28th October.

I visited the Society's exhibition at The Mall Galleries in London towards the end of yesterday afternoon and was extremely fortunate to be given a guided tour around the exhibition by it President Elizabeth Meek PRMS, PPSWA, HS, FRSA.

The Society was founded in 1895 and is the oldest and most prestigious Miniature Art Society in the world. It is the world's premier showcase for miniature art and naturally the Society sets very high standards for the work displayed. What I saw was excellent of the genre and reinforces the notion that miniature art continues to be a very serious art form for lovers of realism on a very small scale. It was certainly clear to me in writing this blog piece and looking at various websites that many of the artists have degrees in fine art and/or have been working as professional artists for many years. You can see some examples of art produced by society members on their website (click an image to see yet more work) plus you can see more in the links to their own or associated websites showing art by the award winners (where possible) listed below.

Work by (top) Alison Griffin - The Watering Can, acrylic on board and
(bottom) Gina Morton - Catterick Beagles, watercolor on ivorine
in the exhibition catalogue

Members, Associate members and other artists submitting work have been honoured with the following awards:
  • The RMS Gold Memorial Bowl - Alison Griffin RMS - This is the most prestigious award for miniature art in the world. I gather Alison Griffin's domestic scenes in the country in acrylic and watercolour are extremely popular and sell very fast!
  • President's Special Commendation - Miniature Work - Bill Mundy RMS one of the world's leading miniature portrait painters. You can read his blog here.
  • RMS Group Award - Debby Faulkner Stevens RMS, SWA - my personal favourite I think of the works on show yesterday. This is an interview with her.
  • The Mundy Sovereign Portrait Award - Mike Button ARMS
  • The Bidder and Borne Sculptors and Gravers Award - Matthew Simmonds
  • Llewellyn Alexander Subject Miniature Award - Joyce Rowsell RMS - an artist who works in oil on stretched silk
  • Peter Charles Booth Memorial Award - Jenny Brooks RMS - her pencil portraits were excellent
  • Anita Emmerich Presentation Award - Irina Kouznetsova
  • Daler Rowney Choice Award - Helen C Jones
  • Country Club UK Award - Peter Griffiths
  • Anthony J Lester Award - Iain Gardiner. I think this must be the same Iain Gardiner wo was a BP Portrait Award finalist in 2006.
All manner of subjects are represented - portraits of people and donestic animals and wildlife, landscapes, streetscapes, interiors, florals and nature art and still life.

Other artists whose work I particularly liked included the light filled landscapes of Rosalind Pierson RMS, HS, MAA. The portrayal of hunting scenes by Gina Morton RMS HS SLm - including 'Catterick Beagle' above - were brilliant. She's a previous winner of the Gold Memorial Bowl. People who like classic still life work should check out the miniature masterpieces by Diana Branscombe RMS. Joyce Rogerson's paintings of small birds were also delightful. When I got home I was also able to admire more work by the President including the miniature she has painted of the Prince of Wales who is Patron of the Society.

All the miniatures were displayed in cabinets with glass lids which were set around the walls of the North Gallery. This is a huge improvement on the display last year when most were placed in the centre of the large West Gallery. In my opinion, the North Gallery is the space which has benefited most from the recent renovations and demonstrated very effectively with this arrangement what a suitable space it is for societies with smaller numbers of works or displaying small works. The lighting was really impeccable and showed all the works to best effect. I cannot but think that the level of sales has in part been due to the huge improvement in presentation and display in relation to both space and lighting - although I'm sure the very helpful memebrs also played their part. In my opinion, it also serves as a reminder to all those involved in art societies about just how important exhibition presentation really is.

The exhibition is free and continues until 1pm on 28th October. Details of how to find the Mall Galleries can be found here. Members of the Society are apparently doing demonstrations every day throughout the exhibition which are proving to be very popular. I think I met Pauline Denyer-Baker yesterday who had been doing that day's demonstration. (My apologies if I got that wrong as I ended up with masses of names on a piece of paper!)

As with a number of other UK art societies, entries for the show come from all round the world and this year included work by Russian and Polish artists.

Associate Membership of the Society is only through inspection of work submitted by candidates to the annual exhibition. Those interested in being a candidate or wanting to submitting miniature work to the 2008 exhibition will want to note all the submission requirements. Artwork is delivered to the Administrative Offices of the Mall Galleries in late August 2008. Detailed dates will be posted on the website when available.

Links: Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors & Gravers

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Drawing with Imagination - strategies for creativity

Bert Dodson's second book explores what it means to draw from your imagination, for those who want to learn how to be more creative in the way they draw.
Imagining is what you do in your head. Creating is what you do on paper
Bert Dodson
His first book Keys To Drawing is the best selling art title from North Light Books; one of my favourite drawing books of all time and is one of only two that I recommend to those starting to learn to draw. Earlier this year his second book Keys to Drawing with Imagination was finally published. This book is not about learning to draw as such. It's aimed much more at the intermediate artist who wants to focus on ways of becoming more creative.
Creativity occurs in action
Bert Dodson
I saw the book at the proof stage in Bert's studio in Vermont (see below and Bert Dodson and 'Keys to Drawing with Imagination'). You can have a sample read inside the book - sample pages include the introduction, doodling, noodling ideas for shading, add-on drawings, macro drawing, mirror imaging, interpreting nature, describing form with line and the contents and index pages which give an indication on the rest of the book.

Bert Dodson in his Vermont studio - with the page proofs
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Now I was supposed to be reviewing the book but something went wrong with the despatch and in the end my copy took forever to arrive, then Bert sent me a signed copy and eventually I ended up with two. But the moment was very much past in terms of coinciding with publication - so I decided to wait until I did my review of drawing books planned for later in the year - so here we finally are - all on the same page! However the mishap with delivery does mean that I can make the second unsigned copy an award as part of the end of year Making A Mark Awards!

The subtitle of Keys to Drawing with Imagination says it's about strategies and exercises for gaining confidence and enhancing your creativity. Now I have to confess I don't think of myself as a creative drawer except in terms of treatment of a subject. My squiggles and doodles have always been fairly geometric and abstract and never ever evolved into anything. Which results in me not thinking of myself as particularly creative and this book would not have been the first one I'd reach for if I was presented with a shelf of new drawing books. Indeed I might not even have looked at it unless I'd visited Bert and then had copies sent to me.
Creativity emerges in experimentation, manipulation and exploration
Bert Dodson
However, I was always a very creative thinker when it came to graphic reviews of problems or representing problems in terms of solutions in a previous life as a consultant. In fact one of my ex-boss's favourite strategies used to be to get me in front of the white board to draw the problem and then see what I came up with in terms of how that could be reworked in order to extract the solution. Give me a white board and I'll cover it! So, I'm not quite sure why I should be so amazed when I began to read the book and study the exercises. So much of what Bert recommends as strategies for enhancing creativity are about how to be creative period.

The book is project based structured around a number of different notions: doodling and noodling; drawing a new reality; stretching the truth; visualising ideas; storytelling; exploring pattern; mining culture and exploring themes. He introduces each theme and identifies the principles eg of doodling, annotates the images which illustrate it and then identifies an exercise to complete for each different strategy.

I found a lot of the things he had to say are ideas which can be used by any artist wanting to stretch themselves and their ideas about what their art should look like. What I liked was the book gave technical terms to things which I just 'do' without quite knowing why - and helped me understand better how to use them. I also realised it helped me to understand better the strategies employed by other artists in developing their work.

One particularly good aspect of this book is Bert's choice of a wide range of different artists and illustrators to demonstrate how they exemplify one of the creative directions identified by the book or just demonstratin how they develop a theme. They include R Crumb, Maya Lin, Alan E Cober, Steven Guarnaccia and Stephen Huneck. As I've mentioned before in these book reviews, just seeing what other people do sparks creative thought processes.

I think the two sections I enjoyed the most were a couple towards the end on mining culture and exploring themes - maybe because they helped me to understand what I could do to expand what I've already been doing - seeing other ways of seeing.

The book is heavy on images and economical with words. Which is not to say it's not informative but rather that the words are well chosen, the book is well written and the images are very informative and stimulating. It's produced using very good quality paper and the printing is excellent. It has a covered spiral binding which is so sensible for art instruction books as it means the book can lie flat next to you while you try out exercises. I can't think why more art publishers don't adopt this method of presentation for their instruction books.

Pencils rating: As with the other other books I've been reviewing I think this book deserves a two-part rating.
  • Five pencils: for all those who would like to enhance their creativity and work more from their imagination.
  • Four pencils: for those who prefer realism but want to look for more creativity in the way they describe objects.
I would note at this stage I got a lot feedback on this blog and elsewhere after I wrote my book review of Keys to Drawing indicating that it was very highly rated by people who were interested in drawing and/or expanding their drawing skills. If you believe that what people have produced is a good indicator of what is to follow I suggest you give this book a try on Bert's track record alone.

Overall, this book made me realise that I'm a lot more creative than I was giving myself credit for and that taking time out to study and do exercises to stimulate creativity might be more rewarding than I was expecting.

Finally, I'd also like to recommend this book for the purely personal reason that having got to know him a little I now appreciate that Bert knows a huge amount about drawing as a practitioner, is one of the nicest people I've ever met in the art world, plus he introduced me to Gladwell's 'The Tipping Point' and helped me to understand my maven potential!

What other reviewers think

Here are some other other reviews of Keys to Drawing with Imagination.
  • a review by Charley Parker at Lines and Colors. Charley got his review book on time and did a very thorough review of it just after publication - which is particularly useful for all those with a creative bent because besides being a blogger Charley is also a webcomics artist, cartoonist and illustrator.
  • Customer reviews of this book on - the consensus is very much in favour of the book
  • Helen South at has a very brief review of it here
Keys to Drawing

This is my review of Keys to Drawing - Bert Dodson's first book and one of the books that I always recommend to people wanting to learn how to draw. This definitely deserves a 5 pencils rating.

[Note - the post has been updated to correct an error and include links to identified artists]


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

So you want to learn how to draw.......

When Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain was first published in 1979, it hit the New York Times bestseller list within two weeks and stayed there for more than a year. In 1989, when Dr. Betty Edwards revised the book, it went straight to the Time list again.
Google Books
I have two books which I recommend time and time again to people who want to learn how to draw.

When I'm out sketching I often get people who stand next to me and watch me draw for a bit. About half then say "I wish I could draw". When they do, I ask them if they really want to learn because if they do I know of a couple of books which they will find helpful. To those that say 'Yes' I then recommend that they try and find one and preferably both of the following books.
I reviewed Keys to Drawing in May last year - you can find that review here. I suggest you take a peek as it's excellent and is North Light Books' best selling art book. Tomorrow I'll be reviewing Bert Dodson's latest book "Keys to Drawing with Imagination".

The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

Back to Betty's book. Who's it for?
The exercises and instructions in this book have been designed specifically for people who cannot draw at all, who may feel they have little or no talent for drawing and who may be doubtful that they could ever learn to draw - but who think they might like to learn.
Betty Edwards
In my opinion, it's an excellent book for adults who haven't picked up a pencil to have a go at drawing in years. It's also very helpful for self-improvers who have already started to draw again but are finding they continue to have problems in drawing the object they see in front of them.

Children may also find it interesting as it takes an entirely different approach to teaching people how to draw - but almost certainly will find some of the chapters a bit too advanced. (Adults have also advised that they found it easier to use if they skipped the 'bits about how the brain works'!).

For those people who have developed skills in drawing, it's a book which might provide tips and help in finding ways to tackle any areas where weaknesses still exist.

This books helps people how to see in order that they can then draw. The emphasis in terms of drawing skills is on rendering accurately rather than drawing in conceptual ways.

The approach adopted by the book is that drawing is a teachable and learnable skill. It applies the 'folk' brain theory that verbal analytical thinking is mainly located in the left hemisphere of the brain and that visual perceptual thinking is mainly located in the right hemisphere. Thus the task is how to access the right side of the brain in order to see and draw more clearly. Whether or not the theory about how the brain works is correct or not, I think the gallery which contains the the 'before' and 'after' portraits side by side to be an impressive testimonial of the impact of the approach.
Drawing is a global or 'whole' skill requiring only a limited set of basic components
Betty Edwards - Introduction to The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
The revised edition incorporates a new concept - that drawing requires five skills which are not about drawing as such and that drawing as a whole skill can become automatic with practice (rather like learning to walk or to drive). The five skills required relate to the perception of: edges (contours), spaces (negative shapes), relationships (perception and proportion), lights and shadows (volume and values), and the whole (or gestalt). In other words they are skills in 'seeing'. She suggests that imaginative or expressive drawing require two additional skills - of drawing from memory and drawing from imagination. The new book expands on the third and fourth skills and makes them simpler to follow. Betty's view is that those starting to develop artistic skills should progress in an order - from line (edges, spaces, relationships) to value (light and shadows) to colour to painting.

The book starts with some basic recommendations as to drawing materials and tools to help with the exercises. Exercises in the book are geared towards expanding powers of peception. They start with the completion of pre-instruction drawings - to set a baseline for measuring improvement. This is followed by her explanation about theory relating to left and right brains and left and right modes of thinking and doing.

Exercises then follow which test the two sides of the brain and how they can clash and how potential can be released. It involve learning how to draw an image which is upside down (this is where I learned that trick!).

The book then reviews art produced during childhood and its component parts, scribbling, symbols, stories, complexity and then realism. It considers how memories of stored symbols can interfere with the ability to draw what is actually seen to such an extent that people draw what they think they see ( ie they draw the symbol ) rather than what they actually see.

Strategies for avoiding the drawing of symbols are then explained eg
  • pure contour drawing - which helps with the perception of edges;
  • drawing with a picture plane - which helps with perception and proportion;
  • negative space drawing (of a chair) - which helps to understand the relationship between forms and shape of the spaces between objects and/or the shape of what is 'not there' - and also how important negative space is to an overall composition and for explaining objects
  • learning how to 'sight' size propostions and angles in order to do a perspective drawing
  • drawing a portrait employs all the skills identified as necessary to being able to draw and helps to integrate them and develop the fifth skill - the ability to see the whole. Difficulties which students of drawing often encounter when drawing heads and strategies for dealing with these are identified and explained.
  • the technical aspects of light logic which produces light and shadows and tonal values are identified. The way in which these then contribute to depth and transform a media with two dimensions into apparently representing three dimensions is explained. It also explains about hatching as a technique and the general proportions of the head.
  • a section on colour was added with the 1989 revision and focuses on using colour in drawing as a precursor to painting - but she has since gone on to write a whole book about colour.
The book includes examples of classical drawings which are used to explain points being made.

Some of the things I like about this book are the extracts and quotations included in the margins. I've always found them distracting, fascinating and very stimulating! Plus I've always liked this book because it is one of the few books about drawing which focuses on the way drawing can make you feel.

If you've ever wondered what a term meant, a glossary of term is included at the end of the book which could be helpful for all those people who don't like to ask what a word means in case they reveal their ignorance! However explanations of some of the terms (eg line quality) are in the margins with images rather than in the glossary!
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is the world's most widely used drawing book. claim on the back cover
Betty Edward's book is a phenomenon. Published in 1979 it has sold some 2.5 million copies, spent a year on the New York Times best seller list, and generated a website and a set of associated workbooks and workshops (see links below). The sequence of exercises in the book is based on a five day workshop which the author used to teach but is now taught by Brian Bomeisler, the author's son.

Other reviews of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
  • Charley Parker on Line and Colors has an extensive review of the book and her approach
  • Helen South on - has a lengthy review of this book Marion Boddy Evans of has a rather shorter review.
  • Readers on both sides of the Atlantic provide reviews on both and
Pencils rating: I award this book a pencils rating of 5.

'Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain' has a unique approach which is accessible (for the most part), memorable and gets good results. It doesn't teach everything about drawing but it has got a lot of people a long way towards being better able to see and better able to draw. And as I said at the beginning it's also one of the only two books I recommend to adults who want to learn how to draw from the beginning.