Saturday 22 December 2012

Christmas blessings

Holy Family II
Teresa Newham 2012

It's almost Christmas, and amidst the chaos of our working and domestic lives we Catholics are called to take time out and reflect on its true meaning: God made man and born of a Virgin to be our Saviour.  The Virgin Mary has been on my mind a lot during Advent; a girl no older than thirteen or fourteen, from a humble background;  chosen by God before she is born to be his own sinless mother when he takes human form.  She doesn't know this of course; and when the Angel Gabriel announces that she has been chosen to bear Jesus she could still say 'no'.  But she doesn't; she accepts God's will even though it is made clear to her that hers will not be an easy path.  Joseph, too, when he realises his betrothed is expecting a child, has to take a leap of faith, and trust in God.

We are also called to follow God's plan for us.  It's easy to say and can be incredibly difficult to do, even in the mundane circumstances of our own lives.  But if Mary and Joseph can say 'yes', can't we?

Wishing all readers of this blog blessings and peace at Christmas, and always xxx

Friday 7 December 2012

more sketches from Kerry

During our recent stay in Kerry we spent a lot of time chilling out at our friends' house; eating, drinking, watching TV and enjoying the splendid light in their conservatory.  It was ideal for sketching, and as their home is full of interesting bits and pieces it wasn't long before these two concertinas caught my eye:

concertinas at Kilkeaveragh

 I had to try them out, of course, even though I'd never played one before.  They are intriguing instruments requiring you to use each hand in a different way.  This brought back grim memories of trying (and failing) to learn to play both hands at once on the piano.  I soon abandoned the idea of making a tune and did a little pencil sketch of them instead.

two concertinas

I enjoyed doing this so much that I cast round for something else on which to practice my drawing skills.    Amongst all the tempting items I spotted this stack of lidded baskets:

Another very happy hour soon passed.  It's not often I get the time to concentrate exclusively on drawing something like this;  unless you're in something like a life class there will always be interruptions or distractions.  It did me good to study the baskets and I produced a better drawing than I had managed with the concertinas.

baskets, Kilkeaveragh

It was a very pleasant afternoon sketching;  I must develop the discipline to do more drawing at home.  Practice, as they say, makes perfect - and you can tell I haven't been practising as much as I should!

Saturday 24 November 2012

An Unexpected Bonus

visitors enjoying the Harpenden Arts Club Open Exhibition
Coming as it does at one of the busiest times of the year, the Harpenden Arts Club Annual Exhibition always seems to take me by surprise.   As usual, the entry form was done in a hurry while I was in the middle of sorting out something else; when I came to prepare my entries for handing-in, I was surprised to find that I was going to show two watercolours and a monoprint, with half a dozen works going into the unframed section.

Painting the Boat alongide some other seaside-themed exhibits
 I haven't managed to get along to a club meeting for some time, so as a contribution to this most local of local exhibitions, I usually put my name down for a couple of hours' stewarding on the Saturday.  The exhibition, which ran from the Friday through to the Sunday, was enjoying some success:  the sales had clearly been good already, and we had a steady stream of visitors voting for their favourite piece and dropping by the stewards' table for a chat!

Two Hand Reel amidst a selection of works featuring figures
What's more, the exhibition had been hung really well.  For example, Painting the Boat had been placed with a number of seascapes and beach-related pieces;  they looked far better grouped together than they would have done dotted about here and there.  Two Hand Reel was hanging with some other paintings of figures;  it all made sense, somehow - our visitors certainly thought so.

view of the exhibition looking towards the stewards' table
The club kindly allows stewards to sell greetings cards during their stint, so I had a basket of mine with me;  yet again I spent the entire two hours convinced that nobody would buy one and for the third year running I sold a couple just as I was about to leave.  The bonus, however, came on Sunday afternoon when I went to pick everything up;  one of my Winter Birds two-colour unframed monoprints had sold.  Winter Birds is now one of my most successful series of prints!  The ash tree on which the birds were originally photographed has had to come down - a victim of ash die-back disease.  So the prints will have to be its memorial . . .

A big thank you to the organisers of the HAC exhibition!

Saturday 10 November 2012

sketches from Kerry

Portmagee Harbour from the window of my room at The Moorings
I recently returned from a wonderful week in Co. Kerry, staying as usual in the fishing village of Portmagee, at The Moorings B&B/restaurant/bar.  It was two years since my last visit, so it was lovely to spend time with friends in the area and to catch up with all their news.  From the seafront rooms at The Moorings you can look right across the harbour, and because I was staying for a week I was able to make a pen & wash sketch of some of the boats - the main disadvantage being that because they are working boats they kept going off fishing!

Portmagee harbour - pen & wash sketch
The weather was extremely kind; only one rainy day (when we were recovering from a Halloween party the night before anyway), which meant that we were able to visit our favourite places, such as the areas from which you can see the Skelligs.  Every time we caught sight of them, they seemed different; bathed in sunlight, bathed in mist; looking close enough to touch (they are an hour's boat ride away) or remote and mysterious.

the Skelligs seen from Valentia Island
One day two of us parked the car at a viewpoint and I got out my watercolours to make the little sketch below;  I'm hoping to use it as  an aide memoire to work up a proper painting eventually (although the last Kerry paintings I did took two years to come to fruition . . .).  I'm not a fan of "plein air" painting - I always end up with mud or sand or rain on my efforts - but this was cheating a bit because we were sitting cosily in the car!

watercolour sketch of the Skelligs
My husband joined us halfway through the week and on the drive back from the airport  we stopped off at another favourite place of mine: Rossbeigh beach, near the little town of Glenbeigh.  Over the years I've done a couple of paintings based on photos taken here and I was keen to make a sketch with a view perhaps of doing a third painting (some time - see caveat above!).

Rossbeigh Beach
This time I did get out of the car to produce the rough ink sketch below.  I'm starting to get over the idea that sketches like this have to "look good".  The marks in some artists' sketchbooks are almost illegible (Turner, for example, used to use his thumbs) - they are notes for future use, and it's great to have the freedom to be as scruffy or as scribbly as I like.   I added the colour from memory later, back at The Moorings - sitting on those wonderful pebbles had eventually made me so stiff I could barely stand up.  Does that count as suffering for your art?

ink sketch of Rossbeigh Beach (colour added later)

Friday 19 October 2012

more about shells

two shells (photograph)

Regular readers of this blog may recall that I spent my Saturday afternoons during Herts Open Studios drawing or painting a couple of seashells in different media.  For the last session I decided to produce a reduction linocut, and duly set to cutting my printing plate ready for the first pull. 

linocut printing plate

 For practical reasons, the inking and the remainder of the cutting had to be done at home.  One of the shells had a gold-coloured lining, so I decided to keep that in, hoping that the first layer of gold metallic ink would lend a warm feel to the finished print.   The second layer of ink was problematic - I wasted quite a lot of ink trying to produce the pearly pink I wanted - I eventually managed to achieve it using a mixture of Titanium White, metallic copper and some Schminke Pearliser.

the first two layers - gold and pearly pink

For the third and final layer I mixed some cyan and Titanium White, to represent the sea.  It was great fun to make some reduction linocuts, as I haven't done any reductions for a while, and I was pleased with the result - the registration is probably the neatest I've ever done!

sea shells - the finished print

So now that really is Open Studios finished for another year.  Many thanks to everyone who came to see us - we had a wonderful response to our exhibition and really enjoyed meeting you all.  Here's to 2013!

Saturday 6 October 2012

Another chance to see . . .

While I was sorting out my artwork over the Summer, I took the opportunity to re-frame a couple of older paintings which I exhibited at Open Studios two or three years ago and which haven't seen the light of day since.   Both paintings were inspired by my frequent trips to Portmagee in County Kerry - Skellig Sunset is an interpretive view of the Skelligs as seen from Valentia Island, while Pato's Wish used to be moored at the quayside in Portmagee.

Skellig Sunset
© Teresa Newham 2012
Reframing a painting makes you look at it with fresh eyes;  I got so enthusiastic about these two that I despatched them to the Letchworth Arts Centre Open Exhibition, where they will hang until 25th October.  It was about time more people got to see them!

Pato's Wish
© Teresa Newham 2012

We are off to Portmagee soon after a break of two years; so I'm hoping to get inspiration for some more paintings while I'm there. Even if it rains all the time.  I can always practice life drawing in the Bridge Bar over a glass of Guinness . . . !

Thursday 27 September 2012

shell sketches

Open Studios is nearly finished for another year, and it's been a lot of fun.  And I've learned a lot; principally by demonstrating a number of techniques, some of which I hadn't used for some time!

shells - colour photo

I took as my subject for the demos two shells which sit, along with many others, on my bathroom windowsill.  I'd had a vague idea that I could do something arty with them for some time; and when I was casting around for something small and portable to take to Artscape, I realised they were ideal.  I started with photography (see above), but when it came to sketching and painting them I was careful to stick to the original still life.

shells - pencil

My first big discovery was that although I hadn't drawn anything for ages, I still had the knack;  my second was that I didn't dislike drawing in pencil as much as I thought I did.  This prejudice dates back to my life drawing classes;  it was always much easier to render the subject in charcoal.  For small items like the shells, however, pencil was fine;  better than charcoal in fact, as you can see from my next attempt below:

shells - charcoal

For my third drawing I'd dug out some chalk pastel pencils I bought for some course or other and never used.  I surprised myself with the result;  I'm not comfortable with pastels but still managed to produce a decent depiction of the shells.  Both the charcoal and the pastel sketches had to be fixed of course, and I hadn't done any of that for a while; I used enough fixative for a whole A2 drawing on each of my little A5 sketches, which resulted in me standing in the Artscape car park for some time, folornly waving two pieces of paper around (never, ever use fixative indoors if you can avoid doing so; and if you have to, make sure you're in a well ventilated room. At Central St Martins we used to use the staircase!).

shells - chalk pastel pencils

Three reasonable sketches in one afternoon did wonders for my confidence; for my second session I brought along my trusty ink pens.  This next drawing was quite a struggle, as I normally only draw outlines in ink;  but I managed to make them look reasonably solid by adding a shadow underneath, thanks to some constructive feedback from one of my fellow artists!

shells - pen

The second half of that afternoon saw me back in my comfort zone with a pen and watercolour wash of the shells.  You would have thought I was used to drawing them by now, but no;  I was cautious enough to do a pencil outline first before committing the ink to paper.  It took a while to get the paint right, too, but eventually I was happy enough with the result:

shells - pen and watercolour wash

For the third session I took along a watercolour block and my set of sketching hard pan watercolours. This time I drew straight on to the paper with my brush, and blended the colours on the paper.  Again and again, actually; I was lucky that the paper I chose will take multiple washes as I tried several times before I got the colours right!

shells - watercolour

I wasn't the only artist doing demonstrations, of course:  Sue has been painting some animal watercolours.  I'm fascinated by her palette, which apparently contains colour mixes of some antiquity!

Sue's palette

Hillary's been adding a high tech element to our exhibition by demonstrating graphic art on a small HP laptop.  Our visitors have been really interested in the resulting cityscapes and we're all fascinated by our fellow-exhibitors approaches to their work!

Hillary's high tech graphic art

Helen has been showing how she prepares drawings and cuts them into lino to make her prints - unfortunately I don't have any photos to share on this blog, but she explains a little of the process here on her website.

my shells  in various media

So, after three afternoons' work I was able to show seven treatments of my little shells, and I'd thoroughly enjoyed doing each one.  The fourth session will give me the chance to try one more medium; but I may not be able to share the results for a while.  We'll see!!

Sunday 16 September 2012

Arting at Artscape

Artscape from the upstairs gallery
For the fourth year running a group of us have been taking part in Herts Open Studios, exhibiting as Artscape Arts, upstairs in our local art shop, Artscape.  It's an Aladdin's cave of art materials, stationery, greetings cards and frames; Gurmeet and his team will frame items for you, too.  He gave the room upstairs a revamp this year; there's more natural light and more space, both for hanging and to move around in.  When we set up a couple of weeks ago, we were thrilled!

Pauline's ceramic restoration display with some of Helen's prints and Hillary's cards
This year's Artscape Arts exhibitors includes Pauline Ashley, who works with ceramics - creating her own pieces and also restoring broken pottery and glass for other people.  She has chosen to focus on the restoration side of her work for this exhibition.  It's Pauline's first time at Artscape but she has been a member of HVA and an enthusiastic supporter of Herts Open Studios for many years; Pauline gave me my first taste of Open Studios by allowing me to share the gallery she set up in her garden workshop for Open Studios 2008, and a lot of fun we had, too.

Helen's prints & browser in the alcove . . .

. . .  and in the main room
I was also delighted that Helen Brooks was able to join us again this year, having last exhibited at Artscape in 2010; I was bowled over by her skillful linocuts then, and I still am.  She designs and cuts her printing plates at home and prints them up using the University of Hertfordshire presses.  This year she's hung several colour pieces as well as her classic black-and-white prints.

Sue's paintings with our card displays
Once again, Sue Wookey has put on a wonderful display of watercolours and photographs, ranging from the spiritual to the quirky; and during our Open Studios sessions (Friday & Saturday afternoons throughout September) she's been demonstrating some lovely small animal paintings.  Pretty impressive, considering that she's also in the throes of preparing for her first London exhibition at St Martins in the Fields!

Sue & Hillary's photo exhibits 
Hillary's acrylic photo prints and her other wall display
The fourth member of this year's group is Hillary Taylor, who is showing photographs, mixed media and computer graphics, many influenced by her time in Japan and Australia.  I don't know how she does it:  over the Summer Hillary has managed to do all our Artscape publicity again, set up a local artists' group, organise the refreshments at the recent HVA exhibition at Harpenden Public Halls and set up her own part of the Artscape exhibition.  And that's just her art life: she runs a home, a family and a job too!

my own corner of the exhibition
As usual, I'm the mongrel of the group;  or in art-speak, I'm showing an eclectic mix of watercolours, photographs and linocut prints.  The three paintings on show represent my entire output of watercolours for 2012, while many of the photos were taken in my garden; that is, apart from Buxton Quartet, based on my experiments with Photoshop Elements earlier this year as discussed here on this blog.  It hasn't come out too bad:

Buxton Quartet
But my biggest success was a last-minute addition to the display;  a double linocut Birds In Winter, taken from a couple of photos of birds in the trees at the end of my garden.  As regular readers of this blog will know, I completed one of the elements a few weeks ago;  it was only when we set up at Artscape that I got my act together enough to cut and print the second design.  It spent a few days drying, and I framed both pieces up on the Friday of our Open Evening.  By 8pm it had been sold!

'Birds in Winter' - sold at the Open Evening!
In fact,  we've all been very lucky as far as sales have been concerned; but of course that's not the main point of Open Studios, welcome as sales are.  It's interacting with the public and explaining the processes involved in creating our artworks which gives us the most satisfaction.  I'm finding it easier to chat to people than I used to; but just in case I get tongue-tied I've created a workbook out of the bits and pieces I use when working out a painting or a print:

my workbook showing preparations for 'Two Hand Reel'
my workbook pages about 'Signs'
It's really good to see some of this stuff out on display and people have been very interested.  I've also been doing a little project of my own during our Open Studios afternoons (Saturdays only in my case, as I've been at work on Fridays).   It's highly portable, great fun and has taught me a lot already; and we're only half way through!  you'll have to wait for my next blog to find out what it is.

If you're in Harpenden do pop into Artscape to see our exhibition - it's open when the shop is, unless there's a class going on.  And we're there in person on Friday and saturday from 1pm to 5pm.  Hope to see you!

Monday 27 August 2012

keep calm and carry on . . .

Preparations for Herts Open Studios 2012 are in full swing: the August Bank Holiday Farmers' Market crept up on me almost without warning, despite having been in the diary for months.  Saturday's thunder and lightning had luckily given way to dry, cool weather; the Harpenden Artists' usual stall promoting Open Studios in the town generated a lot of interest, including the Acer Leaf print I'd hastily shoved in the car as my own contribution.

Harpenden Artists' stall at the Farmers' Market
Next weekend the HVAF is putting on an exhibition at Harpenden Public Halls just before Open Studios gets going;  artists from all over the county are taking part, some of whom are unable to participate in Open Studios this year - a great opportunity to include them, and promote Open Studios at the same time.  So there have been exhibits to sort out for that, and for the taster exhibition which runs alongside Open Studios at the Methodist Church in the High Street; and for the Open Studios promotion in the window of the Harpenden Building Society!

Open Studios brochures and envelopes awaiting distribution

There's also been a mailing to do for our own Artscape Arts exhibition, which runs alongside Herts Open Studios;  paintings, prints and photos to be mounted, labelled and wrapped;   wall labels & signage to print and laminate; browser items chosen; and a whole variety of greetings cards to sort out, some of which I've only just got round to printing!

last-minute card-making . . .
One of the items I'd hoped to show at Open Studios isn't close to being finished - at this rate it will become a demonstration piece during the event - and with a busy and potentially stressfull week at work coming up ahead of next Saturday's hanging at Artscape I'm just having to go with the flow, do what I can when I can, and give it up to God.  It's only art, after all . . . !!

 . . . other cards bagged up and ready to go!

More information about Herts Open Studios is available here on the HVA website; and you can see the brochure online here.

Monday 13 August 2012

false start - an Olympian struggle

birdwatch photo
It won't have escaped your notice that for the last two weeks London has been hosting the biggest sporting event on earth.  The London 2012 Olympics pretty much took over our lives; at home we were glued to the TV, at work we had even the most obscure events up on our computer screens.  After the first weekend (who knew that Her Majesty was such an accomplished sky diver?) I realised pretty quickly that I was going to have to take steps to avoid getting square eyeballs.

blank base colours hanging in the studio
I was Doing My Bit for the Olympics by working from home for a few days, so decided to use the time I would have spent commuting for creating some linocut prints, based on some photos I'd taken during the January  RSPB Birdwatch .  I'd already prepared some blank red and blue base colours, and the lino was ready, so I got straight down to printing -  gold, silver and copper metallics on the red and blue;  and just for fun some black prints on a couple of watercolour backgrounds I'd prepared.  I even had time to print up some black and white cards - and all before I started work at 9.30am!

printed metallics
Before long, the study was festooned with drying prints, and I went upstairs to log into work, highly pleased with my output.  It was only when I came down again for a mid-morning cuppa that I realised, with a sinking heart:  there was no contrast, no depth, no light in the dozen red and blue prints I'd made.  I couldn't use them.

bird cards
The cards showed more light, life and contrast than the original prints.  Even the experimental prints with the watercolour backgrounds - where the ink had run slightly because I hadn't dried the lino off properly before printing with a new colour - showed more depth.

experimental watercolour prints
The best thing would be to print black on top of metallic, I decided;  and perhaps I could add depth by leaving part of the background white.  So when work was over for the day, I cut a square template, and a circular mask (think moon, rather than Olympic rings), and printed up my backgrounds from those. A little hint: never, ever change techniques half way through something.  Could I get those templates to fit the bird linocut?  An hour and a half and several wasted sheets of Hosho paper later, I had to admit I couldn't.  Next morning, convinced I'd solved the problem, I started again but still the fit wasn't quite right.  Eventually I abandoned all idea of achieving proper registration and printed them by eye, which has given them what one could politely call a 'lively' appearance.

finally - bird prints!
As for the Olympics, they've been wonderful - successful beyond our wildest dreams.  I wasn't enthusiastic at first;  no events were taking place close by, and I hadn't expected to see much Olympic activity in the area of London I work in.  But from the moment I ran down to the Thames from my office - along with half my team - to see the Olympic torch pass the Globe Theatre, I realised we were in for something special.  And I was right:

Olympic Torch passingThe Globe Theatre
Olympic Mascot near The Tate Modern
flags of all nations along the Thames
Olympic rings in the Thames