04 July, 2018

A Busman's holiday

The lines between work and play, my life and my life as an artist, are very blurred. This is pointed out quite regularly to me by my long suffering family . They understand that my job is not like a normal job and everyday stuff feeds into it ...which is why, half-way through making dinner, I dash off to the studio to jot something down or make an adjustment on something I have been working on. This also explains why I am a master at getting burnt stuff off the bottom of pots.

a busman's holiday
phrase of busman
  1. 1. 
    a holiday or form of recreation that involves doing the same thing that one does at work.
    "a fire crew's Christmas outing turned into a busman's holiday when their coach caught fire"

Going on this trip to Ireland and the UK was definitely about work, developing some skills, affirming some knowledge and keeping myself abreast of trends and influences but it was by no means onerous. I LOVE this kind of professional development and if going to a gallery or a museum to see a carefully curated show is work, BRING IT ON!!!

I am not going to go into detail about what was learned in Ireland because I am still working that out myself. Suffice to say, it involved a lot of drawing. I thought I did not draw because I rarely sketch things out with pencil and paper before I paint,  but it turns out I do. .... albeit with paint! My technique for painting is remarkable similar to what the instruction revolved around and that affirmation was a good boost for my faith in intuition regarding my development.
I regularly drew a good drawing and pushed  and pushed it...until it was past redemption but I generally knew when it was done and did not mind destroying it because thats the function of this kind of exercise. I brought almost nothing home, preferring to go back to my notes that I scribbled each night ( before the Guinness!!) as us three housemates digested the days learning. Michelle, Anne and I shared our take-away learning and were  grateful to Anne who wrote down a whole lot of notes in her trusty notebook and allowed us to riff off those notes. I also took a gazillion ( true and accurate  number) process shots and they are invaluable.

Here are some photos,

The Irish sea is the oddest colour. Alex Kanefsky describes it as a mixture of Prussian blue and Van Dyk Brown. He may be right.


a significant road 

an unpronounceable fishing village

day-glo seaweed stuff on the slip

gritty but accurate

money can't buy that colour roof

Dunfeeny stone. its over 5000 years old.

Dunfeeny stone in a cemetery. The grass was waist high and I kept stepping in holes

Peat drying in stacks, awaiting bagging


chaos and confusion

chaos, confusion and Andrew(who was the cause of most of it)

I run a tidy ship

ruler and scalpel were my best friends

towards Downpatrick head. This view never got stale.

03 July, 2018

My first pint of Guinness and other stories

A few years ago I identified a painter whose work I admired and who was painting in a way I found compelling. I wanted to find out a little more about him and discovered he was a professor at a university in Minnesota BUT he did teach workshop in Ireland over the summer break.  The Ballinglen Arts foundation in Ballycastle, Co.Mayo, Ireland, was founded some 26 years ago by two american gallerists who established the foundation to bring artists of recognised ability from both Ireland and abroad to live and work in Ballycastle. Their residencies are famous and the list of Fellows is a bit of a who's who of contemporary painters . Andrew Wykes is a fellow and has had several residencies there and now teaches some workshops. The workshops are a fairly new arrangement and suit the likes of myself who can only pop over for a few weeks, not a few months.

Because I am not one to go on adventures alone( it's boring! Who will I talk to?!) and every Han Solo needs a Wookie, I asked Michelle Ives to join me and what an excellent decision that was. We all know Chewbacca is the reliable one.  Michelle lives in Glasgow, and so the plan was for me to to fly to Glasgow and recover from jet lag( more on that later) for a few days , then fly to Dublin together and drive cross country to Ballycastle and return 9 days later, better artists.

So we did just that.

We arrived late on the first evening, the last of the group of 10 and were welcomed to a late meal around a table that would become a regular fixture of good food and fun figures. Understandably, there were a good few american artists ( Ireland being only a hop skip and a jump for many) and two from Italy and one Brit. Michelle grew up in South Africa, like me, lived for 14 years in Wales and has lived in Scotland for 6 years. Who knows how we classify her!!!
Introductions were made, wine was drunk, we hit the sack and slept like babies, ready for day one.

Day One

We hit the ground running and headed to Downpatrick head to draw . Draw rocks.  It was hot! Who forgot to tell Ireland I had packed for DISMAL weather!I had woolen trousers, waterproof shoes, fleeces, beanies and raincoats.  I almost went swimming.I would have drowned in the wool, though.

   Back in the workshop space we popped our drawings (there were several) onto the walls and discovered that drawing pins were useless when trying to get those puppies up on the wooden walls. We had to wear shoes because the floor was littered with bent drawing pins and the ashes of the expletives that followed a session of pinning.
NOTE TO SELF: line a workspace with stuff you can pin work into easily and save yourself some drama.

The library at Ballinglen arts foundation is a treasure of art books. I camped out here a lot. 

The workshop was 7 full days of tuition, 9 till 5, with an hour for lunch. We rarely took the full hour and only once did I slink off and doze under a tree in the garden .....but that was early days and I blame it on the jet lag and excitement.

We drew every day, over and over again, outside if the weather was good, inside from references drawn outside if weather was bad. We drew small, we drew big, we made mess, we raged and roared a little and at the end of each day, after dinner, we retired to the pub and drank a few pints( or half pints) of Guinness and got to know each other a little better. The publican was a man called Patrick but it was pronounces Porrig, had an accent so thick I thought I was having a stroke each time he spoke to me . I knew what he was saying but didn't, all at the same time. (Or maybe that was the Guinness. ) I know I said" May I please have 3 half pints of Guinness" and he said" brrr good dggggroooode aaaaagh euro"  I knew he was asking for money because Euro sounds like Euro in any accent. And thats how ALL my interactions with him went. Eventually, I felt we might descend into charades. I was prepared to go there. No one should have to work that hard for a drink.

Anyway, so the days flew by. The longer we spent time in Mayo, the more dire the weather became.  I went out painting with my little pochade box every morning at 6 am because the light was gorgeous and I was awake.(thank you jet lag) I dragged Michelle with me and housemate Anne, who had never panted plein air and got into the swing of things. Michelle was invaluable as a insects attractor whilst I  avoided being bitten by the legendary irish Midgies. She was devoured and sprouted red bumps like a measeled child, poor girl. The sun rose just after 5 and only set after 10. It was crazy beautiful.

I fell in love with the lady next doors washing line. 

And that was day one and a story about the pub. More will follow.

22 May, 2018

Have passport, will travel. Scotland, Ireland and Tasmania

I am one week away from flying off  to Scotland to collect my lovely friend, Michelle Ives and then travel on to Ireland ato take a workshop at Ballinglen Arts Foundation. Michelle is not facilitating the workshop, but accompanying me as fellow painter and gin-swigger whilst we learn all we can from English painter, Andrew Wykes. 

We have been planning this workshop since November last year and I had earmarked Andrew as a "one to watch" for workshops long time ago. Andrew has this wonderful style and he uses planes and allusions to draughting lines in his work that make s it so fresh and appealing...well, to me, that is. Michelle does not need to go on a workshop because she is just so damned good at anything she does anyway, but I like her company and she is the calmest person I have ever met, which put a nice brake on my frenetic style of being. Also, I begged her to come, so she said yes. Also, she drinks gin. Are you sensing a theme?

Whilst this is a workshop based on DRAWING the landscape, we are both taking our plein air pochades with us because i sense there may be opportunity to knock out a plein air painting every now and then. How could we not?!!

So this was me in Tasmania, painting amongst the snakes, wallabies and other feral and highly toxic beasties. Agreed, I saw none of the above but I sensed their beady little eyes watching me, looking for a gap to sink their fangs, claws and appendages into my butt as I sat trying to be in the zone and paint plein air . Trust me, I wielded that palettes knife in a knowing way and they left me alone but I look forward to Ireland's "No Fecking Snakes" policy, let me tell you. Not sure if Scotland has the same policy , but hopefully the only thing biting me in the butt will be a hangover.

Ok, all talk of carousing aside, I have high hopes for some good learning whilst I am away. I like drawing , I just don't do enough of it because I like paint better. Having said that, drawing underpins painting so maybe it means I am going to expand my horizons and really get into it. It's an 8 day workshop...I had BETTER get into it!

I promise to post photos on Instagram but I won't be blogging because I am not taking all my iPads etc with me...just my phone and blogging on the phone sucks harder than salt cured lemons on a snails arse ( yes, I made that up.)

Did y'all know I am on Instagram? I am. It's sort of my favourite social media platform at the moment. FB is a bit naff( those algorithms did us no favours) and this blog platform..well, I almost forgot about it myself so you know how that is going.

Back to Tasmania.

Tasmania is brilliant. The Tasmanians refer to the island as the " Mainland" and to Australia the continent as "The North Island" . That says it all. Tasmania and the nicest Australians I have met...laid back, friendly and sharing. Hobart is charming, the place is riddled with history and culture, a focus on good lifestyle and outdoor adventure and appreciation. The Museum of Old and New Art is one of the most amazing art galleries I have ever been to. Mad,mad,mad and quite wonderful.Go.

We spent 4 days in Hobart and then started to navigate our way up the east coast till we arrived at Cradle mountain and had to zoom back down the middle to catch a flight 8 days later. I painted whenever I could and brought home quite a few paintings wrapped in a stack, cork discs in the corners to keep them seperate as they dried(I had to search out wine that still used corks! The sacrifices I made!), bound with athletic strapping tape to ensure they did not move. Imagine seeing that Jenga-like construction my luggage  on the X-ray machine at the airport!

Some photos and a painting of Tasmania

Anyway, here I am , off again, passport at the ready, more panels primed and packed, athletic tape at the ready...and this time I am also taking some new sketching tools. See you in July, darlings.

If you miss me, come say hi on Instagram

First person to spot me with a gin in hand gets a prize.

04 February, 2018

Creating history

This is a little technical , kinda, sorta post.

My favourite paintings are ones that have history on them. Not Ye Olde History, or images of battle scenes , biblical etc because I am a historical philistine.
I mean layers and layers of physical history: Paint, wax and tooth.

(although, I have to interject here with a story:  as a child, my friend's parents had a historical oil painting on the wall that was described as " The charge of the Light Brigade" and it was fascinating, gruesome and my first point of call in my education about the wars in the Crimea. It held a place in my nightmares for many years)

Right. Back to history.

I have painted alla prima( wet on wet, all at one, immediate painting.Google it) for years . Mostly, I believe, because I am impatient. My studio process has changed and had to develop as I have wanted more and more from the work. I work slower, in layers, utilising many different tools and techniques( some traditional and some not. I have been banned from "helping myself" to any more of the tools from Charles's toolbox . It seems they are returned in less than ideal state if they are returned at all. I hear you and I apologise. )
I work on multiple painting at the same time, allowing what I learn or discover in one painting to be transferred to the next etc and it keeps all the work interesting. Also, oils take time to dry and did I mention I am impatient?!! Those layers of paint and wax and struggle etc etc all make for a base that is SO interesting to work on, colours sing through unexpectedly and lumps and bumps add to the form and generally, it just all seems to be better with history.

Plein air feeds that need for immediacy and my impatience with waiting for paint to dry( cue eyeroll) and I am grateful for that  extension of my practise, but even now I find I am extending that by working glazes into the plein air pieces when they dry to "further" the work. I tell you, I am still impatient but I am learning that getting better means I also have to go slower. I am a fast slow painter. Yeh, quote me on that one.

So, THIS painting has been in the studio for a YEAR. Yeah, I know, I should charge it rent.
Anyways, I did not like the original iteration. It was tame, it was so tame you could pat it and rub it's tummy  BUT some people loved it and said nice things about it ( which is the kiss of death for me if I am at all ambivalent about a work) so, I went at it again. And I went at it hard and I tell you, I like this one. It has a something.

So, for now, it lurks against the walls as I go gesso more boards and think about history and slowing down and my impatience and the all my other faults. But I am happy with this. For today. Building on history.

31 January, 2018

I took a little break

I took a little break and went on holiday with my family.

I took the painting kit.......yeah, not THAT much of a break!

We started from Dunedin in a big-ass van called Betty (sorry, cuzzies, my boys named her!) that hauled SIX of us( my long-suffering parents joined us) , our luggage AND 3 mountain bikes around Otago. A big thanks to my ceramicist friend Kylie Matheson, who met us at the airport to help transition some of our bulky bike boxes into storage and then back to us at the airport so we could transport the bikes in safety. What a mate!

We travelled to Clyde via Milton, Lawrence, Roxburgh and Alexandra. On these trips, I sit front and centre with camera and take photos and make mental notes. This is where I become inspired and make connections. Anyway, suffice to say I did not move out of this spot the whole trip!

In the hamlet of Clyde we stayed in a gorgeous stone house built in 1884 by the Naylor family and is still owned by a scion of that dynasty. It was a great place to start. Walls were 2 feet thick which is so unusual when all the other houses I know of in New Zealand  are made to withstand earthquakes and are built of balsa wood and paper.

Next was Wanaka and we dissolved into holiday state once there. Biggest surprise of the trip was the route home( with guidance from a lovely lady in the Art Deco museum in Ranfurly who urged us to go via Middlemarch. Bless you!)

Kylie met us at the airport with the bike boxes( again, to our rescue!) and we made it home. All very happy

Here are a few photos that chronicle this trip. The paintings will follow in another blog.

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