IT’S ALL ABOUT ART!

I have been teaching both adults and children for over 15 years. I currently teach one-one from aged 8, to mentoring fellow artists. I have an adult class at the Guildford Institute and I do various guest lectures. I have just completed my first recording of an online course, which will be sold in China. I decided I would start a blog about art-related wisdom to compliment my tuition and for all to read, ponder, implement or totally disagree with – I shall leave that part up to you!

 

What Should I Paint???  - The Creative Process and Developing Ideas…

The question of “What should I paint” is something that I am frequently asked.  Both artists and students are challenged with the continuous question of what they should draw and paint, but, thankfully, I haven’t had with this problem myself since childhood.  Below, you will find my creative process; each artist differs in their approach, but hopefully, it will give you an idea on how to combat creative block.

1. Creating a Happy Work Area

Many would describe my studio as messy, and sadly this is even after I have tidied it up!  This working environment is a very personal space, but it should be designed in a way that inspires you, it doesn’t have to be messy (if you are a tidy person, unlike me), but it does need to be inspirational.  My studio looks out over my garden and fields, so I can watch the wildlife from my window.  I have put cork floor tiles on every available wall space, which I use as pin boards for anything that I like or which inspires me.  This ranges from images in old calendars, to my photos, drawings and nature guides for various insects.  To the untrained eye, this appears chaotic, but it means that I am surrounded by images all day long.  Once a year, I will take time to remove everything and rearrange it, so I can pin different and images that are relevant to my current work.  Whilst many artists may not have the luxury of a dedicated studio space, you can still collate images in a folder or scrapbook which you can browse through in a happy place and use for inspiration.

2. Work on More than one Idea at a Time

If you do have a workspace, then I would recommend that you have more than one painting, artwork or idea in progress at the same time.  I generally have 5 or 6 ideas that I am working on at the same time.  One reason for this is because I’m an oil painter and tend to be waiting for paint to dry on a piece of art, so I can paint the next layer!  I also like to work in this method when I do watercolour, for the same reason that you need to wait for each layer to dry.  The only time when this is not the case, is when I finally have to finish everything for an exhibition. 

It is helpful on a Monday morning that you are not confronted with a blank white canvas, but instead a half-finished painting that you know exactly what needs to be done to continue or finish it.  This will help to remove the worry about what the next idea might be, instead allowing you to simply get on with your working day.  I think this is one of the very most important areas of keeping the ideas flowing, especially if you are a full time artist.  You need to work every day, whether you feel inspired or not, and sometimes it is more important to work when you don’t feel “inspired”, because it means that you keep generating work and follow a work ethic. 

3. Research and Document

Each person’s creative process will be different; for me it is observing the natural world and documenting what I see.  This may take the form of a walk, or watching the world through my windows and photographing the rural drama unfolding before me.  I then (try) to file the photographs in some logical order which I can refer to like a library.  Once I have observed, I then research my subject and write notes, this takes various forms from reading books, articles, visiting museums and listening to lectures on a variety of topics that all link with my overall interest of the relationship of patterns and organisms within the natural world.  I write notes on anything that interests me, which may not be included in my work for many years, but I find the influence is often there.  I have recently finished watching a series of lectures on Chaos theory by a physicist, in addition to reading a book about the shape of a snowflake written by a mathematician.

4. Keep Drawing and Experimenting

I draw everything that I have collected from the natural world, both from life and from my photographs.  I do microscopic research on the things I find in the natural world, so that I can see the patterns within nature on many different scales.  This process is never-ending, and it is this that keeps my ideas flowing because I am constantly re-examining my primary research.  I create an observational drawing at least once a week, as well as an afternoon in the studio for experimenting with ideas and techniques.  I feel this is one of the most important things that both the artist and amateur can do.  Give yourself the freedom to have fun and experiment; there is always a risk that this will not work out as originally intended, but take that risk and it will allow you to push your comfort zone and boundaries.  Without experimentation you won’t have the opportunity to create something wonderful, new and interesting; we are only truly creating and moving forward when we are outside of our comfort zone.

5. Keep a sketchbook

I have always been a sketchbook artist - all ideas, lists of things I want to research, experiments (both good and bad), observational drawings, colour ways and plans for paintings ALL go in my sketchbook.  These are then kept safely so I can refer to them and revisit and rework ideas.  I often find that if I don’t like my first resolution to an idea, I will revisit the idea again and again over many years until I’m happy with the outcome.

The nature of this creative process keeps the ideas forming.  I have the luxury of a studio and being an artist full-time, but even if you don’t, keep a folder, scrapbook or sketchbook of ideas.  Always go back and study from your primary research whatever it may be, and work in your sketchbook on a regular basis.  Enjoy your subject and read around it.  Art is more than a job to me, I adore my subject and am just as interested in growing seeds and plants in my garden, as I am in drawing and painting them.  Without that I probably wouldn’t paint the plants and insects that I do.  I hope this blog helps you find your subject so that you can have many ideas and you can share your passion with others.
If you would like further help and advice on this subject don’t hesitate to contact me about mentoring by contacting me here: art@claire-harrison.co.uk

Please find examples below of my primary research for my latest painting Sunflowers also shown below,

sunflower charcoal drawing sunflowers in sepia sunflower drawing pen and watercolour

Charcoal Sunflower available to buy here,

sunflowers oil painitng

Sunflowers, oil painting available to buy here.

 

 

Originality and Creating Art - March 2018

I realise that this title may lead some to think that I will be discussing Post Modernism and Contemporary art, discussing the well-worn argument that “everything has been done before” therefore there can be no originality. However, this idea probably needs a 10,000-word essay or book, which many art historians and critics have done before me. This blog is about finding your own source material and inspiration to ensure that your creativity is original (in this sense) rather than plagiarising others.

I always ask my students to bring inspiration to my classes to work or copy from; this can either be a photograph or object. As a student, they often turn to the internet and find either photographs or other artists work to work from and then worry about breaking copyright. As a student, they are working from these images for educational purposes and won’t be selling or attempting to sell their work, therefore they haven’t “stolen” plagiarised or broken any copyright laws (in the UK), as they are not trying to pass it off as their own or benefit financially from it. Instead they are learning, which I feel is invaluable for a student because by trying to replicate a masterpiece, they start to have a fundamental understanding on how the artist created the art work. For example, Constable would have painted the trees over the sky background rather than trying to fill in the background around the branches and leaves. Going to galleries and copying the Masters has been a conventional learning tool for centuries for the art student.

Sadly, during the last few years I have noticed some artists selling work in galleries that they have copied from a photograph that is not their own. I know this because they have not changed the riginal photo sufficiently, and I recognise the photo in which they have copied it from! Now there are two issues here; if artists change the original image enough, they can sell it as their own (this is important for collage artists). However, I don’t believe the artists I have seen have changed it enough to comply with copyright law, because I have recognised the photo in which they have copied it from. Secondly, photographers need to be paid for their efforts and artists should not simply copy for financial gain. For those who are reading this and have an understanding of art history, you are bound to point out that artists have been copying images from the media for years, and yes that is true. For example, Andy Warhol comes to mind, but, he was making a statement about pop culture. The artists I am referring to, are not doing this, they are merely copying a pretty picture which they think will sell. This makes me sad, not only for the photographer who has often sat in the cold and wet to capture their perfect image, but also for the artist who is doing the copying.

What is the point in simply copying a photo and then selling it? No creativity has gone into this. Technique, in how to use the materials, yes, and a demonstration of observational skills on capturing the composition and drawing the detail. Worse, if they have gridded up (split the photo into small squares and then draw the image a square at a time), or used a projector then they are not even demonstrating observational skills. I do believe artists should have a concept and share their passion/ideas/philosophy with the world. For me, art is communication, there is something not quite tangible about my passion for the natural world, that cannot be described with words and therefore I paint.

buddha lotus

I was asked to do a commission of a Buddha and a lotus, so I spent a whole day with my model, sketching and dressing him in Buddha poses. When I drew the human form in a Buddha pose, I needed to know where and how the muscles tightened. It was also important to see how the limbs were foreshortened and the foot twisted at the ankle. To me this is essential research, not only to make the final artwork my own creation, but also to be accurate in my representation of the human form. Artists that get one photo and copy it directly are not experiencing this.

For the past 4 months, I have been researching birds. I’m not sure when and if they will appear in one of my paintings in the future, but I am currently fascinated by them. It is not simply I record their behaviour with my camera, but I sit and watch their interactions, watch them ruffle their feathers when they have a wash and aggressively chirrup at each other when fighting over the peanuts. I want to capture their characteristics, and I am guilty of anthropomorphising them, as I watch them I imagine their little personalities and what they may say to one another if they had words – silly I know! (My current research has successfully documented blue tits, great tits, but the robin, evades the shutters of my camera at every turn! The robin is a fond friend, and a daily visitor to our garden during the Autumn and Winter months, he is also fairly tame as most gardeners will attest to as they hop around your digging to capture the odd unearthed worm. BUT! Even though my robin is fairly tame, he is extremely camera shy and I have been debating for many years to put a small camera trap in our garden to capture the wildlife, but sadly I haven’t got around to this yet. Each time I reach for the camera the robin either hops away or seductively turns his head across his back which of course is turned towards the camera! Now this little game has been going on for months, I have finally got a nice side shot this weekend of him, but for so long I have only had the rear view…

robin pen and ink

I have found the cat and mouse game with this robin, quite frustrating but I have also enjoyed the “tete-a-tete” and even as I write this he is teasing me through my office window. To me, it is this process that adds to my work. It isn’t just about capturing the fleeting bird as it leaves the garden, but it is observing it and enjoying watching the robin’s behaviour. To me it is this research that adds to my art work. I have a fairly long process before primary research reaches my final paintings, which I will be discussing in my blog in April. It is this research and experience that I hope gives an extra dimension to art work, which sadly those artists who simply copy the photo published in the newspaper or on the internet are not adding to their work. For both themselves and their own integrity I urge them to spend some time experiencing the world and documenting their own primary research.

If you would like to know more about mentoring and creating ideas and keeping ideas flowing please contact me on art@claire-harrison.co.uk For regular updates on my art work, tuition, special offers and other arty info please sign up to my newsletter by clicking here.

 


Attending Art Classes – Being an Art Student - February 2018

If you have ever attended one of my classes or one-one sessions and then asked to describe me and my teaching technique (and you wanted to be polite), you would describe it as a ‘different’ experience. For the majority, it is a positive experience, however, my radical technique is not for all, as I never tell a student what to do… This blog will explain what I mean by that statement, but it is also a blog for everyone, whether you are in mainstream education or not. I hope my advice will help your approach to your creative career, both amateur and professional.

I endeavour to teach a technique, idea or theory and then the student has the option on whether they wish to use that information in their own work or not. This helps students create their own style, technique and way of working. I want to empower the student to be independent in their creativity and give them the confidence to create what they want, how to correct mistakes and be brave enough to challenge themselves and create their own artworks rather than copying from others. This is not a technique I use just for adults, but children too; you are never too young to learn the fundamentals.

I am distinctly different in this way of teaching, as I do not dictate but show and encourage. This is therefore not ideal for those students who simply want to be told what to do and how to do it. I will demonstrate a technique, but it is up to the student on what they want to draw or paint. I want my students to take a playful approach to their work and experiment with the technique I have shown them. There is no right or wrong. Many art classes show how to create a drawing or painting from start to finish and deviation from the technique is not encouraged. This is not a bad thing, but it won’t help to develop a student’s creativity, they will learn how to draw/paint a specific subject using one technique in a specific material. If you are a complete beginner this can be useful because you need to collect techniques; the more the merrier. It is not that I don’t teach techniques, I do, but I teach them the traditional way and I cover how various artists make and break the rules, and deviate from the technique that I am teaching. If artists did not break the rules art would never progress, and new quirky ideas wouldn’t be found (to the extent in which they can be). I refrain from discussing post-modernist theory here, as that is a whole separate blog!
My advice to the art student is absorb, but don’t follow religiously. Each and every art lesson you attend is a benefit to you. You are collecting ideas, viewpoints and techniques for your art technique arsenal. Same with “how to” books, they are all great for the same reason. BUT! All this information you accumulate, none of it is gospel, it is merely a demonstration of an idea, technique or theory. Artists (can be) a little opinionated and of course we need to be. We have developed our own style, we know what we like, and dislike and we have essentially created a body of artwork like a brand, and we need to stand by our brand to sell it, that is the way of the world. Artists tend to be very passionate about their opinions and what they believe in, which can make them very persuasive. So, the eager student is in danger of turning up to a lesson and believing everything and going along with everything the tutor says, and ultimately they shouldn’t, they should question, and realise that this is just one viewpoint in a multitude of many. For example, when I teach pen and ink, I only teach one technique at a time, this is mainly due to time constraints and giving each session a focus, however as you will see from all the images below (these examples are not exhaustive of all the pen and ink techniques), the pictures are vastly different because they are using many different techniques.


bumble bee pen and ink landscape dragonfly

woodpecker peony scabious

I tend to use the pen only technique the most, as shown in the Bumble Bee picture, but this is for ease because I tend to draw from life once a week. This allows me to explore the form and the detail within the subject, with a view to developing it into a painting. I find a 0.25mm Rotring pen is fine enough for me to include detail, which is not so easily achieved with pencil or a fibre tip pen. I love working with just my Rotring pen, but this is my preference and part of my creative process which I go through to create art works. As part of my creative process, I like to spend half a day a week in the studio experimenting (not always possible due to time pressures), as I believe it is important for every artist, whether professional or amateur to have the freedom to play. Now, using the term ‘play’ I do not mean that it isn’t work and has no benefit, because I believe it is crucial to the creative process. The idea is that you go and make for making sake. Don’t worry about the next exhibition or the next assignments deadline where you have to do specific things to reach your target. Give yourself the freedom to experiment, take a technique you have recently learnt and mix it with another, try it in a slightly different way and have some fun. On these half days, sometimes I create utter rubbish which the bin is too good for, and on other days I strike creative gold. Importantly, I let myself take the risk, because without this, I wouldn’t create anything new, or move forward. As an artist, if you are not experimenting outside your comfort zone, you are static and not moving forward. If you are not moving forward, you are potentially boring yourself and your audience.

In summary, be brave, don’t take everything you learn as gospel, it is only one way to do something not THE way. Experiment, have fun and remember, being out of your comfort zone is progressing! Most of all, love what you do, if you don’t love and enjoy it, you won’t achieve anything at all and remember a tutor’s viewpoint is only one point of view, if you don’t like it, find another! Happy creating!

If you would like to know more about my tuition please contact me on art@claire-harrison.co.uk For regular updates on my art work, tuition, special offers and other arty info please sign up to my newsletter by clicking here.