Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Six secrets of success - more butt-kicking advice from Maggie Stiefvater

I've written about Maggie Stiefvater a number of times on this blog. Maggie is an achiever. She's also a close friend and I 'speak' with her via email more or less every day so I have a little more insight than most into just how much she packs into her life - and how she gets what she wants.

One day very soon I'm going to get to write a post about Maggie which I'll be very proud to do as she's kind enough to regard me as one of the people who kicks her butt from time to time.......

Maggie's life is changing at the moment as the balancing scales of her working life load up with commitments on the author side and the balance switches from being a professional artist and painting to being a professional author and writing. However, even that is a gross simplification. For example I know that her high level summary of her life - below - leaves out some major activities of late.........
So here it goes. You all know what I do -- I have two toddlers, three editors working with me on four novels, a part-time art career, musical instruments I practice, meals to cook (I'm allergic to preservatives so everything has to be from scratch), blogs to write, etc. etc. I think I have a full, life, but I don't feel like I have an impossible life. It's a happy life doing what I love.
Six secrets of success

Last week Maggie shared her secrets of success in Virtual Sketching and Butt Kicking on her blog Greywaren Art (which is the one she writes when she's not writing Words on Words - her blog on writing, folklore and her first - soon to be published - novel.)
And here are the secrets to my success in this month's butt-kicking. Remember, butt-kickings are like hydrogen pyroxide -- if it stings it means it's working.
I'm just going to give you the headings - you need to go to her blog to read the rest.

1. Know What You Want

2. When You Say You Want it You Better Mean It

3. When You Really Want Something, You'll Get It

4. Know the Difference Between Can't and Won't

5. You are Your Own Best Friend

6. Who Are You?
It's a question of wanting it, people. It's why I like writing for teens. Do you remember being a teen? When you had dreams so big they actually hurt to think you wouldn't get them? You need to sweep away the years of cynicism and putting your dreams aside and really harness that wanting again. In the end, watching So You Think You Can Dance won't change your life. But finishing that drawing, writing that paragraph, planting that garden -- whatever your dream is -- that will.
Maggie has got it. She knows who she is, what she wants and how to get it - and she's knuckled down and put in the work....and Maggie has got it. Soon I'll be able to tell you what she got!

And if that's not enough, you can always read my previous posts about Maggie - see the links below. They contain lots of good advice and practical tips for all those people who really want to make their mark and live the life they dream of living.

Links to posts about Maggie Stiefvater on Making A Mark:

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Keiser Collectors - a new website community for collectors of work by Duane Keiser

Keiser Collectors

I'm a great believer in keeping a close eye on what Duane Keiser does. He's the man behind A Painting A Day who literally posted a painting each day from 10th December 2004 until 1st April 2006 and has continued to post a daily painting only slightly less frequently ever since. His work is now owned by a huge number of people - many of whom endeavour to collect it. They have rather a lot of competition - from each other and all would-be Keiser collectors!

Yesterday Duane announced the creation of Keiser Collectors, a new venture which creates a website community for collectors of Keiser original art.

But first, why should this be of interest to artists and collectors alike - apart from maybe answering that niggling question of what name is behind "Private Collection"?

3rd December 2004
(private collection)
copyright Duane Keiser

Here are a few things that Duane Keiser has started or helped to popularise
  • having an exhibition of small postcard sized paintings - which generated the idea for....
  • the daily painting blog
  • Duane has created new ways of making art more accessible to collectors by:
    • linking his art blog to 7 day auctions selling his daily paintings on eBay under the name duanekeiser
    • ensuring new artwork would be delivered to the inbox of a collector or would-be collector every day
    • linking his art blogs to Google Groups
    • selling giclee prints of small paintings from his website
  • Increased the collectible status of small paintings
    • through collectors bidding up the auction price of small original paintings for rather large sums on eBay (Although I think Duane might argue his collectors are responsible for this!)
  • which in turn led to a very big increase in the number of people describing themselves as daily painters.
  • and Duane sharing the process of painting and being an artist on blogs through:
    • his work in progress blog called Process and his thoughts about being a painter in his blog On Painting For example:
    • Duane shared his thoughts with all those wanting to know what it takes to do 'a painting a day' in a series of three posts in his blog On Painting tagged a painting a day
Some stray thoughts on what I’ve learned (or think I’ve learned) about painting and how the internet is changing the business of art.
Duane Keiser - On Painting strapline

    • between November 2006 and July 2007 he developed a self-potrtrait which is captured in the video process, the movie 2
    • he also developed videos of himself painting which you can see on YouTube videos of Duane painting his daily paintings
    • and then in March this year switched to live studio cam sessions on filmed while Duane paints much larger paintings in his studio - such as the giant Oyster (I watched that one!)
    • and wrote a book
  • creating new iconic themes by painting doughnuts, PB&J sandwiches and broken eggs! I was never been quite sure as to whether these are particular favourites of Duane's or his collectors - although I rather suspected the answer might be both! Then in June 2007 he posted the egg painting to end all egg paintings - A dozen eggs and explained why he paints eggs.
A dozen eggs
10th June 2007

(private collection)
copyright Duane Keiser

Keiser Collectors - and what it all means

Duane's new venture Keiser Collectors is a site which limits its membership to owners of Duane's original artwork. It offers an opportunity for people to display their collections of Keiser originals and to discuss ownership in a forum. Duane sets out why he has set it up in a post On Collecting in his 'Keiser on painting' blog On Process.

I'll be doing a follow up post about this new site in due course. I've got some thoughts about what I think it might do - and why all those painters with serious followings (Julian Merrow Smith, Carol Marine and Karin Jurick are three such people who immediately spring to mind) might want to think about doing something similar - if they have the time and the inclination.

So - here's my speculation as to what this site will do:
  • allow people to see work displayed as a collection - and note the way in which the sum of the parts can sometimes be greater than the whole
  • allow collectors to actually find out who got which painting! (This I predict will be of major interest!)
  • allow people to discuss the story behind how or why they got the painting and why they collect Duane's work
  • compare notes on methods of framing small works
  • generate interest in securing work which will develop or complete a collection associated with a particular motif
  • possibly increase the value of new work coming to auction
  • develop a secondary market for the work - between the current collectors.
So - will that all come to pass? What do you think?

Let's see how it progresses during the remainder of 2008.............

(Note: If quoting this blog post please remember to provide appropriate accreditation. All images are copyright Duane Keiser. All text copyright Katherine Tyrrell - ask if you want to use beyond a small quote. You may not reproduce this post in full on another blog or website.)

Links to Duane Keiser websites
Links to posts about Duane Keiser on this blog:

Monday, July 28, 2008

Travels with a sketchbook - Great Dixter, East Sussex

"Not a lot of room for weeds"
The Long Border at Great Dixter

12" x 16", coloured pencils in sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I hope you like this plein air sketch of The Long Border at Great Dixter. Click the link to go to my Travels with a Sketchbook blog where you can find out more about this absolutely terrific herbaceous border and also see some photos of this incredibly long border and some of the planting including the absolutely amazing Verbascum Olympicum.

If you love looking at paintings of gardens or enjoy drawing or painting your own garden or gardens you visit then my 'resources for artists' information site Gardens in Art - Resources for Artists may well will interest you. It also looks at gardens as art and artwork in gardens. It shares links to information about:
  • looking at drawings and paintings of gardens
  • studying how different artists have responded to the motif of 'the garden' in order to understand more about different approaches to drawing and painting the garden
  • gardens which provide opportunities for drawing and painting

Sunday, July 27, 2008

27th July 2008 - Who's made a mark this week?

At some point today or tomorrow, the 300,000th visitor to this blog should arrive. I'd give whoever it is a prize if I could identify you but sadly that's not possible. Instead I'd like to say thank you to all those people who have visited my blog in the last two and half years and ask you all to participate with me in a mutual whoop for this blog making a mark on the blogging world! Whooooooooooooop!

I'd also like to shake you all by the hands as you're speeding up my stats! There's a very pronounced explonential curve to visitor numbers:
  • the first 100,000 arrived June 2007 - and took 18 months
  • the next 100,000 arrived by February 2008 - and took 9 months
  • and this last 100,000 has taken just 6 months!!!
When I unpack the cumulative total and look at the data on unique visitors for each quarter since 1 January 2006, you can see that the apparently smooth line actually has a few ups and downs along the way.

There are some pronounced seasonal changes to blogging visitors and for anybody wondering where everybody has gone - we're in the middle of one of the holiday dips right now!

I think I've often commented on how I really only start to take a new blog seriously after it is 3 months old. Blogging on a regular basis and getting to 3 months old is a really major feat. I've never sat down to investigate the numbers but I think 70-80% (if not more fall by the wayside in those first 3 months) and quite a lot more only manage to post to their blogs on a very sporadic basis. It's a big change in life style and way of doing things and I was very definitely hooked in that first 3 months.

Getting to 300,000 visitors or 3 years old are a couple of other major benchmarks in a blogger's world. I reach 3 years of blogging in December this year but I'd like at this point to congratulate all of you who were already blogging before I turned up - and who are still blogging on a regular basis. You were my inspiration when I started and provided the impetus for me to keep going.

For everybody who'd like to know the secret of getting from 3 months old to 3 years old I've included a tip in my 'and finally......' section today.

Art Blogs
i haven't actually seen my dad in about six months. and so, like no time has passed, we pick up where we left off, fighting for air time on the only three subjects: art, painting, writing. once in a while we drift over to dogs and vegetables.
Sarah Genn
Carluccio's, 12 West Smithfield
12" x 16", coloured pencils in sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

  • This is an interview with Henry Moore's only child Mary Moore about The Moore legacy. It's an interesting comment on the problems of an artist becoming wealthy in their own lifetime. There will be a new exhibition in the Autumn of previously unseen work 'Henry Moore: Ideas for Sculpture', Hauser & Wirth, 15 Old Bond Street, London W1, 15 Oct-14 November. Meanwhile Moore in America can be seen at the The New York Botanical Garden until October - and images of the exhibition can be seen by clicking the link.
  • Jonathan Jones (The Guardian - Jonathan Jones) wrote yesterday about the art collectors who are defying critics in 'I know what I like' - which includes comments on Jack Vettriano, Beryl Cook and Rolf Harris.
  • The Washington Post has an interesting article last week about a Master Swindler - who produced Vermeeers
Art Business & Marketing
My new test involves Facebook’s “Fan” pages. Just as you can “friend” an individual, you can “fan” a brand or person you like
Ed Terpening
Art Competitions
Art Education and Workshops
Art Exhibitions
Art Materials and Supplies

Swimming against the tide
8" x 10", coloured pencils on Saunders waterford HP
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
Book reviews
  • My post on Friday was about Alfred Heaton Cooper and The English Lakes and my review of the book which contains 75 paintings by Alfred Heaton Cooper. Several of use were diverted into a small rapture about the Heaton Cooper Art Gallery and shop in Grasmere! For those who love the Lakes do take a look at the prints of paintings by Alfred and his son William - links are in the post. Much better than photos or postcards!
Websites & blogging
  • I apologise for the haphazaed service this week to all of you who receive this blog each morning via a Feedburner email subscription. For some reason, Feedburner has chosen to drop all the Feedburner e-mail subscriptions from the total (top right) TWICE plus has sent new posts out late. I think Feedburner needs to buck its ideas up! The curse of google acquisition strikes again.............
  • Can I recommend subscribing to your own blog using the subscription facilities you offer. That way you can spot when something goes wrong.
and finally.......

The secret of remaining a blogger once you've become a blogger is to remember you need to take a break every once in a while! If you don't the result is blogging burnout - not a pleasant sight or experience!

I try to schedule a week off every once in a while. However this summer I'm going to try something a little bit different. For the next 5 weeks (until the beginning of September) I'm officially putting myself on a "go slow" so I can do other things including getting out and about a bit more now that the weather has improved.

That means I'll still be blogging......but not so often. It'll be more like every other day or every 3 days. It's like having a fortnight's holiday - but spread out. However I suspect I might end up with a great big long list of draft posts............

Some of the posts might just refer you to a blog on my Travel Sketchbook blog where I'll be recording days out - starting today with another trip to Great Dixter which we did on Friday. I'm pleased to say that walking around gardens is just right for those of use who need to exercise dodgy feet.

The Rother Valley from Dixter
8" x 10", pencil and coloured pencils in Moleskine sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Selling art - online art websites, tracking marketing data and a new survey for artists!

This week I've had approaches from three brand new online gallery sites, who have all seen my work, have all been impressed and who all want to host and sell it for me! What did I do? Run around and jump for joy? No, I looked at the sites, marked all the e-mails as spam and binned every one of them - which is why apart from the latest one this morning I don't have the names and URLs of the individual websites to hand.

Why did I bin them? Let me explain - and bear with me, it's a longish post but you will find out about what I know about
  • the simple economics of an online art gallery business (the sort that sends me spam e-mails)
  • what you need to know to asses the value of a site you give money to
At the end you'll find an announcement about a new survey of artists - which will hopefully provide an additional perspective on the value on online art galleries (and some of the other ways in which artists try to sell art).

How some online gallery sites make money

I want to start by emphasising that not all online galleries make money according to the business model I'm going to describe - but a lot do or try to. These are the sort of sites which will take your money and not offer very much by way of return.

The main purpose of some online gallery sites is NOT about selling art, it's about making money for their owners. Their business goal is very simple - sign up as many people as possible to the site for a fee while expending the least amount of effort or money. They make money by taking annual subscription fees off individual artists looking for a way of getting their art online. All you need is a rather nice looking website.............

Here's how some online art gallery websites will typically seek to make money:
  • take annual registration fees from artists (for giving them an individual page and an internet 'profile'). For example - multiply $59 (the fee for registering with this morning's latest gallery) and multiply that by (say) a 1,000 artists and you've made $59,000.
  • spend very little on administration and marketing
  • seek to gain website credibility through the number of artists which link to them
  • hopefully sell the site/business to another business for an enormous sum of money at some point in the future due to the number of accumulated links and value of the domain name.
An online gallery which behaves like this is no better than the bricks and mortar gallery which rents wall space to you and then sits back and waits for passing trade. Any gallery - B&M or online - which wants to partner with successful and potentially successful artists must do a great deal more than this.

Any online gallery which says it's up to you to do the marketing is only renting you "wall space" like any of the vanity galleries. So long as you are clear about this it's a valid business model. The question is whether you could spend your money more wisely.............

Publications and Advertising - the standard industry dataset

One of the things I'm always very surprised about is how online galleries can get away with 'selling' a service for a fee without providing any data about their effectiveness in reaching the sort of people you want to see your art. I've come to the conclusion that this might well happen because artists aren't aware of how other media sites sell their advertising space and marketing services in other spheres of business.

For example, and by way of contrast, if a business wants to raise its profile by advertising its products/services in any respectable paper-based journal this is what is the industry standard for the data they can provide to you. I'm using as examples the Guardian (the paper I read) and F&W publications who produce art journals that I read.
  • data about the coverage and impact of the publication: a lot of details and statistics about the audience for their publication (in other words what sort of audience do they reach) - expressed in standard profile terms
    • circulation and readership - how many people buy it; how many people read it; what proportion of the overall market is accounted for by this publication (eg see the circulation and readership summary page for The Guardian - a daily broadsheet newspaper in the UK)
    • demographic profile - the age, income, marital status, employment, location etc of readers - providing relevant data for designing advertisements
    • reader profile - what sort of people read it (data tends to come from surveys).
    • Download the 2008 Media Kit for people who want to advertise in the fine art publications from F&W Publications (this includes The Artist's Magazine; Pastel Journal). You can then find the typical reader and demographic profiles for the readers of each individual magazine - from data derived from a 2006 Reader Survey. Specifically these comment on the level of reader commitment to their art and how much they typically spend on art-related products in a year. See The Artists Magazine (pages 4 and 5); Watercolor (pages 9 and 10); Pastel Journal (pages 14 and 15)
    • Another example (from a non-art publication) is this user profile provided by the Guardian. It provides details of what they like doing, what they spend money on and how much money they tend to spend online.
  • details of advertising rates differentiated by size, type and placements plus discounts for frequency (ie one price does not fit all - there is always a menu to choose from)
Those paper-based publications which have an active internet site are now also providing additional information. Take a look at the Guardian Online. This has experienced rapid growth since 1999 and is the most popular online newspaper according to Neilsen - it now also provides
  • website traffic data - independently audited and certificated. They provide an ABCe verified breakout for UK and overseas traffic, undertake ABC Electronic audits every month and provide access to their latest ABCe audited certificate the ABCe website.
  • monthly analysis - The analysis includes a record of how many visitors Arts Guardian Online had (1.83 million in May) and how many times an arts page on the Guardian was called up (7.15 million in May)
ABCe is the industry owned, tri-partite, not-for-profit organisation that works with and for media owners, advertisers and media buyers to help them better understand and gain confidence in the data they use.
Now - I'm not advocating advertising your art via paper publications over internet sites. However I do think that internet sites wanting to sell their services to artists need to provide good quality data about their status and their ability to target relevant marketplaces if they want to extract cash from people wishing to market their art. Sites which understand that it takes a while to build business also understand they need to attract users and traffic by offering incentives. Sites which want to make a quick buck spam people like me and want to charge you money right from the off.

Some people might say that it's not possible to provide that sort of marketing data. Wrong. It's possible to provide an awful lot of data. More importantly it's also possible to provide independently validated data. Check out the ABCe website and JICWEBs website if you want to know more about media metrics online. This is what is industry standard data - or at least it is in the UK!
Global Metrics for Measuring Electronic Media

If you would like a list of the global metrics for measuring electronic media, or want to know how they are developed, visit the website of the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS) or click here for a list of the latest metrics.

The Express Guide to the Industry Agreed Metrics:

1. How busy - the 'volume' metric = Page Impressions
2. How many - the 'audience reach' metric = Unique User/Browsers
3. How often - the 'frequency' metric = Visits
4. What see - the 'opportunity to see' metric = Ad Impressions
5. What do - the 'response' metric = Ad Clicks

For a full list of industry agreed metrics and definitions click here
Some might say websites are never going to provide that sort of data - for commercial reasons. First, this is a nonsense as it's perfectly possible to get an estimate of site traffic (see Case Study - Etsy). Second, it's advantageous to any commercial operation to be able to provide independently audited data about their scope and coverage.

My experience of business and performance information over the last 30+ years in the UK suggests the following is typical behaviour at either end of the range:
  • Keep it under wraps - Businesses which don't know what they're doing tend to struggle to provide data, don't want anybody looking at it and use 'commercial confidentiality' every time anybody asks about performance.
  • Shout it from the rooftops - Businesses which are successful believe in the importance of data, work hard at getting accurate data, can always provide performance data promptly, routinely subject it to independent audit to substantiate their claims and frequently make some or all of it available. Plus those that are very successful tend to boast about their data and its independent validation!
A checklist of things to do before you pay that money over.....

Before you sign up and pay your money to any gallery here's a suggested checklist of things to think about and/or do:
  • Keyword Search - Do a search on keywords for the sort of art you sell and look to see where the gallery in question appears in Google or your search engine of choice. If you can't find it why should your potential customers?
  • Impact online: check how many results you get if you put their precise business name into a search engine (bear in mind that some choose frequently used phrases which will have a good rating for reasons which have nothing to do with that particular website)
  • Marketing Spend - Check how many times you see a website's advertisements cropping up on sites which do have a large audience (for example the Wet Canvas Forums or Squidoo). Ask specific questions about their marketing, how they advertise their site and where.
  • Existing artists - Check out how many people are already on the site. (By which I mean active members rather than the number who are registered but have been inactive for more than 3 months). There's a reason why places like eBay, CafePress and the like create business for their members - and that's because they have MILLIONS of people who use them and MILLIONS of monthly visitors and visits. Only a small percentage of people buy - so you need an awful lot of visitors. You want to be with a site which is building traffic even if has started small
  • Performance data check. Check out what they say about performance data. If they say nothing (and even if they do say something) try checking out the numbers by plugging the website's URL into the site analytics part of This provides analytical data for different websites - and is very illuminating - particularly if you start comparing sites. I don't think anybody is claiming the data is completely accurate but it gives you a sense of scale and comparability.
  • Check for certified traffic data - this is not something which is especially prevalent at the moment except amongst industry leaders and in the UK - but is likely to become increasingly so amongst those that follow on behind. Especially those that value their customers.
Please feel free to comment on the above or add your own suggestions.


Monthly people count for - site analytics

Etsy has increased the number of people visiting its site each month by 286% in one year. It now boasts a whisker short of 2 million visitors a month. You can see this chart by following this link to

Etsy is an excellent example of a site which has become successful because it has partnered with its members in delivering their success. All Etsy shops are free and it costs just 20 cents to list each item of art. If you sell it they take 3.5% of the sale price. Finally, just note the Etsy Press Page - now that's what I call shouting! Plus the sign of a good site which continually gets good press among ordinary bloggers - which is the case with a lot of Etsy users.

Compare Etsy selling costs to the $59 wanted by the site which spammed me this morning before there's any sales. I won't embarass it by naming it (which means they don't get a link either!) but let's just say that this website doesn't even register on when plugged in for a site analytics profile.

CASE STUDY - Empty easel survey

Dan at Empty Easel did a survey about where artists sell their art. His survey had more than 300 respondents and it's worth taking a look at his follow up article Where Artists Sell Art: A Web Survey of Nearly 300 Artists. This indicates that
  • more artists sell art than not
  • more artists sell art offline than online
  • more artists use their own website to sell art
ANNOUNCEMENT - a new survey

I was greatly interested in Dan's results and so I decided to try a survey on this blog - my very first! It's in the right hand column. [Update - Vivien has suggested I be a bit more specific about where the poll is! It's just below the 'How do people rate this blog ( widget) and just above the 'About Me' module in the right hand column]

My new survey asks the question "What's the main way you sell your art?"

It focuses on the debate about whether online or offline venues are better for sales and narrows Dan's options down to types of vehicles used for sales - and isn't specific about actual sites. It does however seek to differentiate the relative success of personal blogs versus personal websites.

I'm running it for just over a month until 30th August and will announce the result in "31st August 2008 - Who's made a mark this week" (or a post at the very beginning of September). In the meantime you can watch its progress by checking the results to date - shown here - when you all start voting!

At which point I might try another one!

A warning to online gallery sites

I'm getting very fed up with the spam e-mails. Stop harvesting email addresses from artists' websites for your own commercial purposes. The next online gallery which sends me a spam e-mail will have their website reported to Google for spamming. Plus, I start naming names and the response you provide to a standard set of questions...........


Friday, July 25, 2008

Alfred Heaton Cooper and The English Lakes

I bought a book recently "The English Lakes" because it contained 75 paintings by Alfred Heaton Cooper (1863-1929). When they were young, my parents used to walk a lot and enjoyed visiting the Lake District to walk on the Fells. At home and we used to have small reproductions of paintings by the Heaton Coopers (Alfred and William) hanging on the walls when I was little.

Alfred Heaton Cooper never made much money as an artist. He walked the fells, found scenes and painted them - and then tried to sell them. What these paintings record is the Lakes at the beginning of the twentieth century.

He also used to produce paintings as illustrations for the A&C Black Guidebooks. The particular book I bought has very much been inspired by the pioneering 1906 A&C Black book "The English Lakes". It offers a unique way of looking at the landscape and social history of a region which is extremely popular with many people in the UK.

The original guidebook was an affordable way which people could have a record of Alfred's paintings without having to pay full price. At the same time they got the sort of information they needed to be able to tour the Lakes - at a time when transportation was becoming a more accessible to greater numbers.
Every painting from the original book has been rescanned and enlarged, presenting them as they have not been seen for a hundred years. Opposite each painting is a page containing full-colour images relating to the painting, from period maps and postcards to paintings and railway tickets, together with a text placing the painting in its contemporary context.
Book synopsis
As some of you may have realised from reading my Travels with a Sketchbook blog, I'm always really interested to find out more about the history and environment of the places that I visit. Consequently I find a book like this to be utterly delightful - the combination of paintings, details about locations and associate social history is, for me, an unbeatable combination.

Alfred's best work is not found in the guidebooks as inevitably these were constrained by the location of illustrations required and the printing process for books. You can look at fine prints of some of Alfred Heaton Cooper's paintings on the Heaton Cooper Art Gallery. Bear in mind he first had to get to the spot where he painted from with all his painting gear - which is quite some feat given the nature of the inclines of the fells!

Alfred had a son William Heaton Cooper (1903-1995) who also painted and who moved the family gallery business to Grasmere in 1935. He had a different style to his father and you can see some of his original works in watercolour and a larger number of reproductions here. William was one of the earliest artists to appreciate the security of income that might be achieved through sales of art via reproduction prints - and the gallery has focused on sales of reproductions of prints, as well as original paintings, thus spreading the appreciation of the work of the Heaton Coopers.

I've always been in complete awe of the paintings produced by the Heaton Coopers given the challenges associated with the painting in the Lakes. The Heaton Cooper Art Shop and Gallery in Grasmere is well worth a visit if you're ever in the area - and is still owned and run by Heaton Coopers! This business has a website where you can find:
Book details: "The English Lakes" Paintings by Alfred Heaton Cooper, Introduction by Bill Birkett and Jane Renouf, Text by Colin Inman and Rosemary Anderson. Hardcover. Worth Press Ltd (13 Nov 2006) ISBN-10: 1903025443 ISBN-13: 978-1903025444

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Symbolic Colour

Colour has meaning. Colour is symbolic. Colours remind us of things. Local colour is the colour which we see, while symbolic colour is the colour we need to interpret. This post provides an overview of some of the meanings of different colours - and the origins of some of those meanings.

Colour is often thought of as being a universal language but it's important to realise that the symbolic meaning of colour varies from culture to culture. An important and memorable example of this is the colour associated with death - black in the west and white in the east. Plus the Inuit people have seventeen different words for white!

Colour in frequency rank in terms of names in different languages
  • black and white - all languages
  • red
  • yellow or green
  • (the other one) yellow or green
  • blue
  • grey, orange, pink and purple
I used a variety of sources for the following information (listed at the end) - and marvelled at the extent of the discrepancies I found existed. So it needs to be emphasised that this is in one respect exactly the same as those you'll find in many books and website - ie one view rather than any sort of definitive analysis!

What I found interesting as I progressed through the various sources was to see a colour described in one way in one book and then to have that ascribed meaning in another.

Madonna del parto 1467
Piero della Francesca
206cm x 203cm
Fresco detachd from Santa Maria di Momentana
Museo della Madonna del Parto in Monterchi, Via Reglia, 1 Monterchi (AR)

The colour blue: For example, so far as I am aware, most pictures of the Virgin Mary have her clothed in a blue robe - but this is not universal. This is partly because in the Renaissance, the colour blue was highly prized as lapis lazuli was rare, difficult to work with and expensive - and it was the main constituent of a rich blue colour. It was therefore reserved and used only for those people who were the most important. Notions of nobility (blue blood) and divinity might have arisen from this association. On the one hand it's interesting to think that the meaning of a colour might have arisen from the way in which it was made. At the same time, it's also interesting to note just how many other religions across the world have adopted blue as having religious meaning.

I'm using the example of the Piero della Francesca's Madonna del Parto because I went to see it a few years ago. Monterchi in Tuscany is surrounded by towns with yet more Piero della Francesca frescos in churches - although fortunately most of those are still on the walls.

Whiteelemental - ice

emotional - cold, without emotion

gender - none specific

symbolic (positive) - good, purity (Judaism), innocence (bridal and baptisimal gowns), happiness
western traditions

symbolic (negative) - death and mourningChina, Japan,
some African nations

seasonal - cold, snow, winter

used in a painting - provides highlights

Redelemental - fire, heat, blood

emotional - passion, excitement, speed, anger,

gender - masculine, virility, powerful"red-blooded"

symbolic (positive) - auspicious(1) Chinese bridal colour
(1) China

symbolic (negative) - war, the devil, debt, communism, prostitution,
soldiers /devil often dressd in red; Soviet/Chinese flags; red light districts

seasonal - Christmas; Passion ceremony re death of Jesus
western tradition

used in a painting - always attracts the eye; a small amount can go a long way

Blueelemental - water, sky, air, distance,

emotional - calm, harmony, tranquil, serene
AND depression, sadness, despondency, despair

'blues' music

gender - masculine (but appeals to both genders)

symbolic (positive) - nobility, truth,
divinity, spirituality, (many cultures) immortality (China), holiness (Judaism) Krishna and other gods (Hinduism)

symbolic (negative) - obscenity
western cultures

seasonal - summer

clothing - authority (dark blue)

used in a painting -calms and cools
Virgin Mary and other very important figures in renaissance paintings;
reserved use of ultramarine (lapis lazuli)
Greenelemental - earth

emotional - harmony, calm, stable
AND envy, jealousy,
AND immature, gullible,
"green room" in a theatre
"green with envy"
'green wood'

gender - non-specific, youth

symbolic (positive) - fresh, rebirth, renewal, fertility, eternal life, balance, baptism;
Islam (respect/ veneration);
conservation and the environment
"Green Man"
European traditions;
Green movement

symbolic (negative) - illness; bad spirits;
disgrace (China); corruption (North Africa)

seasonal - spring, leaves, grass

used in a painting -

Yellowelemental -gold (wealth)

emotional - joy, happiness, optimism, hope;

gender - feminine;

symbolic (positive) - wisdom(1), intuition (2); intelligence
(1) Islam; (2) Jungian philosophy

symbolic (negative) -
poison and death(1) and
mourning (2)
hazards and hazard signs (3)
deceit; cowardice (4),
sickness (5)
(1) Middle Ages;
(2) Egypt;
(3) black on yellow has the highest level of recognition ie safest
(4) 'yellow streak'
(5) jaundice

seasonal - summer, sunlight, autumn

clothing - Taoist robes

used in a painting - a colour of duality and ambiguity (good versus evil)

Orangeelemental -

emotional - warmth, bright, cheerful,

gender - non-specific

symbolic (positive) - fruitfulness

symbolic (negative) - brashness, danger
highlights dangerous areas

seasonal - Autumn

clothing - Budhist monks' robes

used in a painting - not often!

Purpleelemental - non-specific

emotional - passion, rage, pomposity creativity, overwrought

gender - non-specific

symbolic (positive) - priests, royalty, nobility, bravery,
'the royal purple'
cloth originally died from a rare Mediterranean snail!

symbolic (negative) - death and mourning,

seasonal - dusk

used in a painting - both a red and a blue; often used for atmospheric effects eg shadows. distant landscape, sunsets

Pinkelemental - non specific

emotional - 'paler' version of red emotions
good health, pretty, sweet,
in the pink

gender - multiple interpretations
masculine (Japan - represents Samurai)
western cultures: became specific to women in the 20s;
Gay - used for symbols by the Nazis in the 30s/40s

symbolic - babyish
left wing - but not extreme

'not quite red'

seasonal - non-specific

used in a painting - calms (if not lurid)

Brownelemental - earth, wood

emotional - melancholy, comfort, security

gender - masculine

symbolic (positive) - organic, natural, wholesome,

symbolic (negative) - gloom

seasonal - Autumn, Thanksgiving

used in a painting -

Grayelemental - non-specific (dust?), the moon

emotional - boring, dull, pessimisim
balance, equivocation
men in grey suits
shades of grey

gender - non-specific; old age

symbolic - neither positive nor negative = confusion
no colour; urban
the 'colour' of Lent (ie no colour)

seasonal - winter
grey days

used in a painting - coloured greys are used as neutral to allow other colours to shine

Blackelemental - underworld / absence of light

emotional - anger, sadness, unhappiness, remorse, depression, rebellion, silence, anonymity

gender - none specific (androgenous?)

symbolic (positive) - life, growth, well-being, rebirth
Egypt (colour of the Nile alluvial soil)

symbolic (negative) - death and mourning (1), evil, purge, doom and foreboding, bad luck, anarchism (2)
(1)western tradition
(2) blackshirts

seasonal - night

clothing - clergy, mourning,
black cowboy hat = evil,
AND formal, elegant, sophisticated
western cultures

used in a painting - provides contrast

How about you? Do you think about the symbolism and meaning of the colours you use when painting?