Got a call from one of the producers of Sky Arts Portrait Competition congratulating me on being one of the 84 artists chosen from thousands of entries for their competition and forthcoming tv series. There will be regional heats, I will be at the Cardiff one in July. Only one artist from twenty one will go through to final against three others. The winner of that will receive a £10,000 commission from the National Portrait Gallery to paint author Hilary Mantell. I am just pleased to be included in the eighty four, and am looking forward to having a challenging and intense day painting portraits in Cardiff City Hall on July 7 ‘against’ twenty one other artists. My portrait “My Desolate Self” is what they judged me on. Like many artists these days, I work a lot from photos, but on the day of course it will all be from life and we’ll have much less time. But will simply do the best I can and enjoy it all.
I’m relatively new to the SAA, (been a member for nearly two years) but already I have had a spot on their Introducing…page in their magazine, then a two page article in the latest mag. I am a PA- Professional Associate, and in that capacity I was asked if I would like to do a short live demo with other PAs at one of their big events around the country. Even though it is my habit now to say yes to everything, I didn’t hesitate. It was a good day. I was first up in the slightly daunting and under-attended early 9.30-10am slot. I worked from a photo I took of the old bull on the crater rim in February’s art safari, prepping the canvas the day before and having a couple practice runs at it. The time zoomed by and I was reasonably pleased with the demo and how I did. Always room for improvement but important to enjoy it and be enthusiastic!
It was good to meet other PAs like Louise Bourgourd and Mike Skidmore. Also great to see popular wildlife artist Vic Bearcroft (who is always very encouraging) and meet Haidee-Jo Summers and Fraser Scarfe for the first time. Possible TV project work with the SAA in the near future….
“I was furiously sketching from life, scribbling shape and form and trying to make an elephant. I knew that at any moment she would move on with her baby, so I did my best to take a mental snapshot then draw in the position of the legs. One of them went askew and a perceptible wave of frustration filled my mind. A familiar feeling for an artist. But then a moment of self awareness. ‘So the leg’s a bit wrong, see the whole picture, don’t worry about details.’ Then that awareness spread and I took stock of my situation. Standing up in an open-top landcruiser, watching a herd of wild elephants in Tarangire National Park, the sun shining, excellent company, pencil in hand, drawing from life, oblivious to the rest of the world and its woes. “I’m drawing elephants in Africa,” I said to myself, then repeated it. Talk about an instant high! My next thought? To share it with others…”
All the planning and preparation paid off. What an amazing time we had on our ten day art holiday trip in Tanzania! Okay, so four of the five people due to be there had to pull out due to a medical situation, but we went ahead anyway, and I’m so glad we did! Until you actually experience a trip, living it day by day you can never be fully sure if everything will work. I was concerned that some unforeseen problem would arise and it would look to my client as if I hadn’t done enough homework. But this didn’t happen, largely thanks to my safari operators Nordic Travel who are old pros at this kind of thing!
Our driver guide Tumaini was just excellent too, and an integral part of our trip. Warm and friendly, great sense of humour, knowledgeable and reliable, he really became a friend during our ten days. My client was Carol Rome, a Canadian who lives part of the year in Mexico. It was her first time in Africa, and what a joy to see the ‘dust of Africa getting under her skin and into her heart.’ Carol has only been painting for a few years, but is improving at an amazing pace. Some of my favourite memories of this trip are of our time spent drawing and painting together. I had been wanting to share the joy of painting in Africa with another artist for so long!
We travelled through stunningly beautiful areas like Arusha National Park with its’ forests, fresh and salt water lakes inhabited by thousands of flamingo; Tarangire, with its massive baobab trees and so many elephants we needed two trips there before moving on to the Ngorongoro Crater. This is a massive volcanic caldera, the volcano long dead, where nature has created a kind of paradise full of all the species you’d want to see. We sketched and took photos of everything we could, and our memory cards are full of elephant, lion, giraffe, hippos, rhino, zebra, antelope and gazelle, wildebeest and buffalo, not to mention birds, monkeys, butterflies and gorgeous landscapes.
All our accommodation was excellent. Comfortable and welcoming, with great food on the whole trip. From quiet bush camp to crater-rim hotel, we slept well, tired but happy, waking to beautiful sunrises feeling refreshed and ready for another day of artistic happiness!
“Did anything go wrong?” asked a friend on my return, and while I wanted to tell some tale or other about a sticky situation or some close call…there wasn’t one! Just day after day of well organised bliss, looking for wildlife, finding it, sketching or photographing it and journeying on.
Carol was a joy to travel with, and said it was the most enjoyable trip she had ever been on.
Shirley Beth and I recently returned from 10 days in Tanzania. What a fantastic ten days it was. Shirley and I went out in advance of February’s Safari preparing, maintaining contacts, meeting new associates and running art workshops and demonstrations. We rarely rested! Jacqui, who heads Nordic travel, our safari operator in Tanzania, did an amazing job arranging venues and people to meet. Being Africa it wasn’t the usual venues such as art clubs, village halls and galleries…more polo clubs, sports bars, coffee lodges and a recycling business!
On one amazing day we spent time game watching and painting on location in the bush near Arusha, attended the Polo Club Annual Ball, and I received two portrait commissions! At Braeburn School I spent two days running workshops and talking to the students about their work. I painted demos for them with speed, energy and enthusiasm- remembering how I loved that sort of thing when a visiting artist came to my school. The response from students and staff was amazing. Shirley ran some drama and dance sessions too!
Our time at Shanga River Lodge was also great fun. I chatted to visitors, met a local artist called Emmanuel and ran a pencil and paint workshop with a group of disabled workers. This was really delightful, and we shared a lot of laughs together. During my well attended demo at The Players Bar Arusha, my 45 minute demo stretched to just over an hour as I found one part of the painting trickier than expected! I talked openly about the snag and Linda from the International School made a suggestion – it helped, and the picture was soon completed. Artists, leave your ego at the door!
Shirley and I were introduced to the world of polo – Africa style. What a fantastic opportunity for future paintings! Colour, energy, power, sunsets, dust and sweat, and of course the horses themselves. I have a bursting with great images and can’t wait to get stuck into some work with those. I may have to book a few extra days either side of February’s art safari as requests were made for more demos, commissions and a mural!
Painting in Africa is amazing, and I can’t wait to return for our first Art Safari in February.
Spent a great day on Saturday running a Portrait Workshop for Tiverton Art Society working with a live model, Lee Thomas. I started with a quick acrylic warm up colour study, then moved onto a more involved alla prima (Italian, meaning at first attempt) oil painting. Again this was short, about an hour. In that time frame I was more concerned with putting across my approach, tips and techniques, than a perfect likeness. I think I achieved this quite well!
After lunch the members got stuck in. What an amazing variation of skill and technique they had! I went around from member to member offering guidance and advice. I tried to encourage members to push beyond what felt comfortable, and to emphasize that you need to practice being more fearless. Many of us slow down and become more conscious as we progress through a painting, afraid to ruin what we have already laid down, which often isn’t the best thing we’ve ever done anyway, so why not be bold and push yourself? Very few people need ever see the painting anyway, so what have you got to lose?
Talked about the SAA, and gave out catalogues, magazines and leaflets. A few of those present are already members and one or two learnt about the day’s workshop through the SAA, saying, “That’s the reason we’re here!”
Artists & Illustrators magazine have short listed my Maasai pastel portrait Mister Thinker in their Artist of the Year competition. 4000 entries, 50 short listed, and just 14 in my category, then there’s a public vote element. It’s very encouraging that this has happened, especially as I continue my efforts to raise my profile. It really does feel like the law of attraction. As humans we are always looking for reasons why, we talk of fate, divine intervention, spiritual guidance and so on. Maybe its as simple as…keep going, put yourself out there…and stuff happens.
This is turning out to be one of the best years of my life.
Sharing my time, knowledge and enthusiasm for painting is what my Tutoring is all about. We are all learning, all the time. There are very few real ‘Masters’ in the world, and those that are bestowed that title rarely seem to comfortably accept it. When interviewed, they seem confident, assured, and talk of their experience but almost always it seems they make the point that they too are still learning, finding new challenges, looking up to the ‘Masters’ of the past.
So what’s my point here? Maybe I am reminding myself that one need not be a master, or even think of oneself as some kind of expert to show others who want to know what you do and how you do it. I have read online diatribes about spreading ‘dangerous practice’ in art, self-important ‘experts’ espousing their views on the poor state of the teaching of traditional technique. They have a good point. But if the feeling they produce around their views promotes that elitist art snobbery and disdain for anyone other than the ‘serious art student’ (the Academic approach, steeped in art history), then I want to stay as far from them as I can. Serious study, traditional practice, years of hard work and dedication -all good as far as I’m concerned. Puffed up, self- important, high and mighty art pricks- no thanks. You suck the joy out of painting and kick the confidence out of many who are just getting past the voice of their inner critic to find that their paintings do have merit. Their creative selves are waking up, and that they are freeing themselves from years of long-held mental obstacles often put there by thoughtless family, friends and terrible art teachers. If this sounds familiar to you – keep painting! You can’t help but improve.
Whether I am tutoring privately, in a workshop or demonstrating for an art group, I always bear in mind that showing someone how you do something is only one way of doing it, and my way may not suit them. I say, try it my way, see if it fits, helps you, provides a key that unlocks a recurring barrier in your work. The feeling I get when someone expresses their gratitude, explains how they have been inspired, and what they like about what I do, is wonderful. Especially rewarding is to see how their work improves following my time spent with them, and I’m pretty much floating above ground if it is clear that a method I showed them takes their subsequent paintings to a new level. They sometimes say, “Thanks to you,” but I always remind them that they painted it. I wasn’t there throughout the time spent painting it. I just helped show them the way.
In these examples, Gemma wanted to achieve a more acurate and realistic likeness. I like the character and expression of the first picture, but she asked for guidance to improve the transference of the image. In this case it is as simple as using a grid. I will see if I can get the finished picture from her.
Over the summer I suddenly took a lot of new commissioned work on. I’m certainly not complaining but it’s pretty challenging given everything else on the go, including the ongoing marketing for my art safaris in Africa. Many of the new commissions are portraits, which is great. Luckily my ‘benefactors’ are all understanding about time scale!
Here’s the step by step stages of a coastal scene for one of my clients in Africa…
A Saunter on the Sands, North Devon by Gregory Wellman
Click to enlarge