Saturday, 31 July 2010

6 Tips for overcoming 'Artists' Block'

'Artists' Block' and what causes it?
I'm fortunate in that I rarely suffer from 'artists' block' but I do experience occasional lapses in confidence, which probably amounts to the same thing. And when it happens, it can be devastating! Fear of not being able to achieve the desired result probably underlies all such lapses or blocks and it is possibly the  root of what we perceive as 'lack of inspiration' as well. So here are a few tips that I've found handy for getting myself past such situations.

Turning off the part of your brain that judges and criticises.
Common to all the following suggestions is finding and using the antidote to that fear - fostering the thought or feeling that the end result is unimportant. It's the fun of the process that matters. Once you can get yourself into that way of thinking, the pressure is off and 'flow' replaces it. I find that listening to music or even (sort of!) watching television helps  me to silence those undermining thoughts about success or failure, that are not really at all relevant but which are keeping you stuck.

Some practical tips and wrinkles
Sometimes the worry about wasting expensive art materials can be an obstacle to experimenting so get around that by using cheap paper - I do all my initial sketches with an ordinary non-stop pencil on the backs of sheets of used typing paper! Children's crayons and powder paints - especially when mixed with washing up liquid! - are relatively cheap and effective in the following 'free-ing-up' exercise.

1. Doodle. Yes, most of us doodle at some point, while talking on the phone or in a boring meeting. Remember the covers of those exercise books you happily covered in doodles at school? Some of our doodles will be abstract shapes but some of them will take on a recognisable form. Doodle whilst watching television and once you notice that your doodle is turning into a 'something', develop it, simply for the fun of it!

Yes, I know this is far from 'perfect'; for a start, the objects on the table need to be moved around instead of standing in a row! And you can see that when I draw curled up comfortably on the sofa, everything has a tendency to be lopsided!  But it's how the 'characters' in my greeting card designs invariably start out!

2. Try a different medium, the further removed from what you normally use the better. It may just be that you have become so comfortable with your familiar medium that you've become stale. Experiment, remembering that it doesn't matter if your first attempts are disappointing - you can't expect to handle a completely different medium perfectly immediately. For the moment, it's all about exploration and discovery. And the bonus is that you'll probably find your usual medium so easy to handle when you return to it!

3. Explore a different subject matter. If you normally paint landscapes, try a portrait. If your work so far has been confined to meticulous plant drawings, experiment with wild seascapes from your imagination. Don't think about it as important, just do it for the fun of trying something new! You are not wasting any more time than you would be if you just continued in your 'stuckness'.

4. Practise your drawing - just for the sake of improving it, rather than for a specific project. If you're stuck for ideas of what to draw, just open up a magazine or newspaper and draw whatever you find
there! This one was from a magazine -

You can see from the lightness of my drawing how uncharacteristically nervous and tentative I was at the time!

5. Copy another artist's painting. This may sound like a very strange idea and it's something I always wondered about when I saw art students copying the masterpieces in Norwich Castle Museum Gallery - until I had a go myself! Artists have always done it and it's a great way to improve both your skills and your confidence.

6. Use the power of your imagination to trick your judging mind. If you have a project that you really must get on with, but are feeling 'stuck' with, it may help to tap into your imagination and pretend that you are doing it for someone who never fails to be enthusiastic and encouraging about your work. (I've realised with hindsight that, at school, I used this technique to surprise everyone with exam results that were far better than my classwork!)

Next week, I'll post some demonstrations of 'free-ing-up exercises' that I've found helpful. But the most important thing to remember is that you need to let go of 'destination consciousness', ie thinking and worrying about the end result, and 'just DO it'!

If anyone has other suggestions they'd like to share, please leave them in the comments box.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

The Old Folks' Home

Some artists draw animals and birds and others mostly draw children - or boats. Recently I seem to have developed a habit of drawing 'elderlies' - I suspect it's my way of coming to terms with my own advancing years!

A couple of my recent Senior Citizens have acquired names;  this jogger  was always 'Archie' in my mind -


And 'Hilda' took her name from this piece of flash fiction, 'Taking to the Stage', written by one of my friends from the walking group, Cath Barton - though if you read her story, you'll notice that I've taken a little bit of 'artistic licence' with the colours!

But I don't yet have names for these two new residents of the Retirement Home -

So what do you think? 



What names do YOU think would suit this lively bunch? I can't keep referring to them as 'red paint woman' or 'dancing man blue' - it's so bad mannered and they deserve a bit of respect at their time of life!

Please post your suggestions for suitable names in the Comments box. 


Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Twitter - More Questions than Answers!

I hope it's clear from my title that if you are looking for advice on how to use Twitter to maximum advantage, you probably won't find it here. What you will find are more questions than answers.

A few weeks ago I signed up to Twitter, something I'd instinctively resisted until I was advised that it was a sure-fire way to get sales for the products in my online stores. Opening an account was very quick and straightforward compared to my experience of other social networking sites but what followed was anything but 'straightforward'!

First there were the unfamiliar terminology and concepts - again! - such as 'retweet', 'lists' and 'trending' (what are we doing to our language!) and odd little conventions like the use of @ and #, FF and RT.  Add to that the speed of light with which everything happens, so that the 'tweets' I might have wanted to actually explore disappeared before my eyes as floods of new ones came pouring into my homepage, I felt confused and, before long, quite overwhelmed. But those are practicalities which I can adjust to, just as I've had to with facebook and blogging.

On reflection, I think what has most bothered me is that I'm not altogether clear in my mind about the purpose and function of Twitter. It calls itself a social networking site, one of the newer social media, so its purpose is clearly putting people in touch with one another quickly and easily. But is it? There are articles and blogs that I've read that claim that Twitter is really a search engine in disguise, not a social networking site at all, and what's more, it's the fastest growing search engine - though it still has a long way to go to catch up with Google.

So which is it - a Search Engine or a Social Networking Site? Is it possible for it to be either - or both! - according to what its users want from it? And more importantly, can it really help me with my Zazzle sales and if so, how can I make it work for me?

Seth Godin, the US entrepreneur behind Squidoo Lenses, doesn't seem any more enthusiastic about Twitter as a marketing tool than he is about it as a social networking opportunity.

I agree that it's rather a vain hope to build real relationships using messages limited to 140 characters. And one of the drawbacks of Twitter for short messages, as compared to other similar media, such as Messenger, facebook and even Skype, is that you can't see when the person you're chatting to goes offline (unless they make a point of saying that they're leaving!) This hardly makes for a natural ebb and flow of conversation!

The other drawback, that some may see as a benefit, I suppose, is that, by default, the 'tweets' are available for others to read. The reams of, to me, meaningless @soandso tweets that pour into my homepage are one of the things that makes the whole Twitter experience somewhat irritating and at times, bewildering, to me.

So why not just use email to build relationships? It's free, quick and easy - not as quick as a 'tweet' of course, but at least in an email, you get the chance to express yourself naturally and genuinely and in a way  appropriate to the recipient!

But then again, is it really necessary to 'build a relationship' with a potential customer in order to 'convert' or otherwise persuade that person to buy what we're trying to sell them? If you are selling cars or computers or any sort of major purchase, especially if after-sales service is part of the deal, I would say 'yes, it probably is'. It's always encouraging to sense that we can trust the person who is selling us an expensive item. One of the assistants in the office supplies shop that I frequent regularly, is very persistent in trying to sell me expensive equipment, such as printers, without even finding out first what my specific needs are. So I don't trust him and it's unlikely I'd buy any of the things he suggests that I need! But greeting cards? Or T-shirts, or mousepads - I don't think so! For the most part the only thing I know about the people who have bought my greeting cards and other products through my online stores, is where they come from, information supplied by the online stores. A couple of friends have bought my greeting cards to give me a start but on the whole, I wouldn't want to mix friendship with business. I'm pretty sure that in most cases, I'd lose friends that way, without gaining any sales!

So if Twitter isn't really about building relationships, and if some kinds of sales don't necessitate much of a relationship between buyer and seller, maybe its usefulness lies mostly in the fact that Google picks up the tweets and makes them widely available?. Maybe that's why some Twitterers are simply tweeting their 'products' en masse, not caring whether their followers even bother to click on the links to them, as long as they get them 'out there' as fodder for the search engines? In that case it makes sense to acquire as huge a 'following' as possible but that has nothing to do with 'relationships', social or otherwise!

Having mercilessly picked Twitter to pieces, I should just add that I have found an upside! For me it's been a good source of interesting articles and blogs, mostly, but not entirely, on the subject of Search Engine Optimisation. If only they were easier to find amidst the stream of irrelevant other stuff'!

I'm wondering as I write this, is there a collective noun for 'tweets' to replace the expressions, 'flood of tweets', or 'stream of tweets' that I've used? A 'barrage of tweets' or a 'spate of  tweets' come to mind but my best suggestion would probably be, 'a babble of tweets', from the 15th Century meaning, 'to repeat oneself incoherently, speak foolishly' - maybe you can come up with something even more appropriate!

Or maybe I should 'tweet' that question to the Twitterworld? It's probably no less interesting than tweeting about the weather and my progress on cleaning my house!

'Twittering' chicadees courtesy of Country Mouse Studio's Greeting Card Universe Store. Click on the images to see the greeting cards in greater detail and from there you can browse Carole's many other lovely wildlife paintings as greeting cards.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

A Smile on Sunday

I'm not always a great fan of Monty Python and my own 'smile of the week' was receiving the biggest order yet for my Kitchen Table Cards (from Portsmouth Cathedral Enterprises for sale in their gift shop).

But for all of you who are Monty Python fans, here's their Art Gallery sketch:


Don't forget to let me know if you come across any art-related, smile-worthy video clips or even just quotes that you'd like to share.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Boats Paintings 1954 - 1960

It's surprising what you can find when you're looking for something else!

I was hunting in my big 'Art' cupboard to see if I'd kept the original grubby little sketch of Knowle Park (above, dated April 1971), the one that I was working on when the deer all but ate my paints, when I came across a whole folder full of paintings that I did at school! I didn't even know that I'd kept them, and, if it weren't for the fact that I clearly remember many of the details in the paintings, and my name is neatly printed on the top, I wouldn't even have been sure that they were mine at all!

I was pleased to find that there was a preponderance of boats and coastal scenes as it bears out what I thought I remembered about having been fairly obsessed with sketching boats as a child. Most of the paintings are rather crumpled at the edges but I've managed to photograph them so that at least most of the picture is visible. What amazes me is that these were all painted at boarding school, on 'the mainland' between the ages of 11 and 16 and yet I filled them with so much accurate detail of the places that were so dear to me at home on the Isle of Wight!

My figure drawing at this stage was, frankly, awful enough to be quite funny - look at the length of the woman's arms as she stretches out with the shrimping net! And as for the flat little figure in the foreground, sunbathing on a towel - she could be Flat Stanley's sister! But even that far back - probably at least 55 years ago - I seemed to have begun to notice and somehow retain images of people and their little idiosyncrasies, such as the man paddling at the water's edge with his rolled up trousers!

The coast in the background is obviously Portsmouth but I was very fond of Sandown beach with its white cliffs so there's obviously some 'artistic licence' going on here!

I loved living by the sea in winter, when the 'visitors' had all disappeared whence they came and we would all go down to 'the Front' after a storm to inspect the damage to the sea wall - though this one looks more like the end of Ryde Pier -

Does anyone remember my description, a while ago, of the Scouts' boathouse that my parents and their friends helped build during one of those long, hot summers of childhood, while I had such fun, messing about in boats and pretending to discover a Treasure Island just round the corner in the next bay?

Well here it is, in pastels!

It looks rather spooky and it's hard to believe that I wanted to spend the night there - alone! - at the age of ten!

I can't identify this place (below) but there are plenty of details, such as the wooden groins and the seaweed clinging to the wall at the tideline, that I obviously drew from my experience of living by the sea -

This one is clearly Cowes - a scene that I witnessed at Cowes Week and stored up in my memory to take back to school with me. By now I must have been coming up to 'O' level age (just 16) as my figure drawing had vastly improved. And I do remember the fashion for huge baggy sweaters over tight-fitting, three-quarter length jeans. It was the uniform of the 'The Great Unwashed', the 'Beatniks', who apparently overran the Art Colleges, and, as I understood it, the reason I was not allowed to mingle with them! .

At this point I gave up art, having been thoroughly discouraged by getting my second lowest 'O' level mark in the subject; all those balls of string and Vim tins to draw were enough to put anyone off, not to mention the wilting philadelphus on a hot summer's afternoon!

But I did continue to sketch a bit. I also found some pen and wash sketches that I must have done on my first visit to Germany a few months after 'O' Levels. Most of them are people, but I remember spotting this barge on the Thames, possibly on the way to catching the Student Train to Germany -

Which goes to show that I was always fascinated by the shapes of all boats, not just the graceful sailing boats, something that remains true today.

I think boats are often quite difficult to draw accurately. I've struggled with some more recently. But I wonder whether I've improved at all? I've gathered together prints of some of my recent pastel paintings of boats in this post on my other blog.

 What's your verdict?

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Nothing to do with Art or Design

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while may have noticed that I'm one of those people who tends to treat machines as if they were people - I'm told it's called 'anthropomorphosising'. If I'm not careful I say 'thank you' to automatic doors when they open for me and to cash machines as I pocket the notes they spew out, In the privacy of my home, my language is often less than ladylike when addressing my computer that persists in throwing up alarming or completely untrue statements on the screen, such as 'the scanner is not switched on', when it's plain for all to see that it is. And it goes without saying that my car is called Guinevere and I worry about her when she goes off for her service and MOT as if she were going for a hospital check-up.

I think it's partly the forgetfulness of old age and partly a rebellion against the way our lives are increasingly being taken over by machines, the workings of which I often find difficult to understand. Not that I'd be willing, for one moment, to give up the convenience of being able to transfer money from one bank account to another at the click of a button, without leaving my chair. I've even started using the self-scanning machines at the supermarket to save time when the queues for the cashiers are long!

But a couple of weeks ago I came back from a quick flit around Tesco feeling quite fraught and all because of the woman who lives inside the self-scanning machine. While I was trying to concentrate on pressing the correct buttons and searching for the bar codes on odd-shaped things like plastic bags of grapes, a loud and apparently disembodied voice was issuing from a nearby, completely deserted scanning machine.'Unexpected item in bagging area. Please remove before continuing.' I looked around, expecting to see that some poor novice had broken the rules and allowed an unwieldy bag of potatoes to fall down into the 'bagging area' but there was nobody there. On and on went the voice, 'Unexpected item in bagging area...' completely distracting me. Somehow I managed to press the right buttons to record how many of my own bags I'd used and even remembered to take my receipt as it shot forth out of its slot. But then a deafening booming noise almost, but not quite, drowned out the 'Unexpected items...' mantra - someone had obviously tried to leave the shop with something they hadn't paid for. Or maybe, more likely, the automatic sensor had sprung a fault?

Either way my trip into town for some fresh air and a few necessary supplies had been anything but therapeutic, a far cry from when my mother used to sit on a bentwood chair in the Co-op reading out her shopping list while the brown-overalled shopkeeper scurried about fetching her sugar and eggs and margarine, piling it on the counter to be delivered by push-bike later and writing it all down in a little book, my mother chatting about this and that all the while and me watching, fascinated, as an old woman mopped the tiled floor with a filthy mop and even filthier water!

But my nostalgia gave way to an attack of Anthropomorphosising Syndrome and I started to feel sorry for the woman inside the scanning machine. It was a very hot day and she must be desperately uncomfortable inside there! No wonder she gets a little irritated when people don't follow the instructions to the letter and allow 'unexpected items' to stray into the forbidden 'bagging area'! Obviously I am aware that it's perfectly ridiculous to attribute personality to a machine  - but on the other hand, we always refer to ships and boats as 'she' and give them female names and the builders who worked on my Herefordshire house, surprised me by referring to their tools, and some of their supplies, as 'he' or 'him'!   

On Monday I was in Tesco again with my little basket of shopping and sizing up whether to head for a queue or a scanning machine when a nice young man in a smart Tesco uniform offered to put my goods through the machine for me. Well, I'm perfectly capable of doing it myself now and quite proud of the fact; but he looked a bit underemployed so I gave in and let him do it for me. Standing behind him, I didn't see what offence he committed but he obviously upset the woman inside the machine and she started with her, 'Unexpected item in bagging area..' routine. The young assistant looked a quite flustered so, to ease the situation, I suggested that the owner of the voice must feel pretty cramped, cooped up inside the machine all day. Feeling utterly stupid, senile even, as the words left my mouth, I fervently prayed that, in the general hubbub, he hadn't heard me!

It appeared that he hadn't as he concentrated on swiping something with a special little card that was chained to his pocket, cutting off The Voice in mid-sentence, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Then he turned to me, grinned and said, 'You wouldn't believe how many times I've tried to divorce her!'

Monday, 19 July 2010

'Coastal or Seaside' themed Greeting Cards and Products created by GCU and Zazzle Artists

Here's this month's selection of greeting cards, gifts, clothing and household items from Zazzle and Greeting Card Universe artists who paint using traditional methods.

These paintings really need to be seen in a larger size so I strongly recommend that you click on the images which will take you to a size large enough for their work to be properly appreciated.

Greeting Cards from Greeting Card Universe

Marion Hedger          Barbara Schreiber                 Judith Cheng

Oil Pastels                     Watercolour                     Watercolour

A Variety of Products from Zazzle

Washington Coast print
Washington Coast by packratgraphics
View more artwork available on zazzle
Oil on masonite


'Beach Huts, Southwold' fine art print print
'Beach Huts, Southwold' fine art print by michelewebber
Browse all the artwork available at zazzle

More Greeting Cards from Greeting Card Universe

Valerie May Cuan               Carole Barkett                  Susan Alison
   Watercolour                     Watercolour                    Watercolour, 
                                                                                  pencil and ink

More products available through Zazzle



Greeting Card Universe again
Ernestine Grindal         Judy Adamson             Rod Hillen
Watercolour              Collage                   Watercolour

Zazzle again...

Soft Pastels

Soft Pastel

A 'late entry' from GCU artist, Pris, done on matboard in coloured pencils.

That's it for this month. If you have any requests for future themes for my monthly round-up of handpainted work, please leave a message in the 'Comments' box.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Sunday Smile Spot

First of all, I'd like to thank all who have helped to make this blog 'come alive' with your comments and also to welcome all new 'followers'. I hope you'll find plenty to interest you or maybe inspire you here, or at least something to make you smile. 

Here are half a dozen quotes about art that made me smile -

1. 'Painting: the art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and exposing them to the critic.'  
    Harold Rosenberg..

2. 'Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere.'
    G. K. Chesterton

3. 'Bad artists always admire each other's work.'
    Oscar Wilde

4. 'Good art is in the wallet of the beholder.'
    Kathy Lett

5. 'Abstract art? A product of the untalented, sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered.
    Al Capp

6. 'Very few people possess true artistic ability. It is therefore both unseemly and unproductive to irritate the    situation by making an effort. If you have a burning, restless urge to write or paint, simply eat something    sweet and the feeling will pass.'

Do you have any funny or light-hearted Art quotes or jokes to share? If so, please add them in the 'Comments' box.

Friday, 16 July 2010

What does your art say about you?

I tend to store up the pleasure of reading other people's blog updates until last thing at night, before I go to bed so that I can enjoy them rather than rushing through them during the day, with all the pressing things on my ToDo list at the back of my mind. That way I can take the time savour them almost as a reward for having ploughed through a whole lot of often tedious and freqently challenging computer-related tasks.

A few evenings ago, one of the blog posts I read was written by an illustrator who was in the same habit of catching up with other illustrators' blogs at the end of the day. But he wrote that it was a habit he wanted to break because seeing other artists' work that he thought was better than his own, worried him and his anxiety stopped him sleeping. I don't seem to have that difficulty and it started me wondering how other people react to seeing work that is 'better' than their own.

For example, how did Ruth Steinfatt's wonderful watercolour paintings that I posted recently affect you?

 My own response was to wonder whether I could ever learn to paint like she does, capturing the light so beautifully. It seems that, for me, the work of other artists is usually inspiring rather than depressing. And a few days later, I did 'have a go' at some watercolour flower painting! Needless to say, I didn't produce anything remotely resembling Ruth's delightfully glowing flowers, even though I watched a couple of video clips on how to paint watercolour flowers before I started.

Maybe I'm just a slow learner, or an awkward  pupil when it comes to learning something new. But I think there are a couple of other reasons why I didn't succeed. The first one is purely practical. I am much more used to using soft pastels, working from dark to light and once I got going, I completely forgot that I needed to be working the opposite way round! Maybe I could eventually train myself to work differently but I rather doubt it because I actually like working from dark to light. It seems to me to be much easier to change one's mind in the middle of the painting, working that way. And that is something I need to be able to do as the painting takes shape and tells me what it needs. I also work instinctively all over the surface of the painting - something that's almost impossible with watercolours because of the drying time! To me, that 'waiting for something to dry' just doesn't fit into the way I work! (It doesn't really bother me with my pen and wash designs because the 'creative' part goes into the drawing and the painting is just a kind of optional extra.)

The second reason is more speculative. The teacher of the Art and Design Class I gained so much from in Norwich was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about The Bauhaus and would often base the 'instruction' part of our lessons on its teachings. One day, when we had all done the same exercise - playing with circles, triangles and squares, as far as I remember - she commented on how different our finished exercises were from one another. And she attributed this to the differences in our physical appearances! She used one of her Bauhaus books to show us a drawing by a student who had wispy, flyaway blonde hair that tended to curl. Her drawings were similarly 'wispy', carried out with light pressure and with plenty of 'curls'. On the other hand an artist with much stronger, darker features had drawn the same object in thick, heavy black lines!

I suspect that this also applies to perhaps an even greater extent to the personality differences between artists. For instance, I'm sure I'd be right in assuming that to paint watercolours like Ruth's would take a degree of patience and peacefulness, something I'm not known for! My pastel painting is very physically energetic work and if isn't virtually finished in 45 mins, I lose interest!

So my attempt to paint like another artist was a failure but not one that depressed me in any way. I learnt from it, which is always important and I was actually quite happy with what did emerge from the attempt.


My nasturtiums entirely lack that delicate, translucent quality of the best watercolour paintings but I feel that they are definitely 'me' - and I think they make a nice bold statement on a T-shirt!

Nasturtium Ladies T-shirt shirt
Nasturtium Ladies T-shirt by helikettle
Many t-shirt designs available at zazzle

Maybe this is telling me that, hidden beneath my tentative musings, is a person of 'bold statements' trying to get out!

What does your art say about YOU?

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Any bird experts out there?

It's blowing a gale here today with intermitten bursts of sunshine and heavy showers. And when I came into my dining room to update my other blog, I noticed a bit of a commotion going on high up amongst the dead heads of my Albertine Rose.

Two birds were sitting up there, one large and one small, silhouetted against the bright sky. From time to time, the larger one would fly away and then I could see that it was a male blackbird. When it came back it would feed the smaller one and occasionally a female blackbird came with food instead. Once or twice the male blackbird would seem to be pecking the smaller one vigorously on the back of it's neck!

Every now and then, the little one chirps a bit when it's left on its own and soon one of the bigger birds appears. It was really difficult to get close enough to take a photo without frightening it and of course, it's in a tricky position regarding the light. But these are the best I could manage -

It seems as if it's stuck and afraid to fly away but I'm not sure that I can help in any way - if only because it's about 10 ft from the ground and amongst the branches of the climbing rose.

Anyone know what's going on - or whether there's anything I could be doing?