Thursday, 31 March 2011

Techniques and Skills for Artists?

What do you think it takes to be an artist? More precisely. do you think of an artist as someone who has mastered a set of artistic techniques and skills?

At one time I would have answered ‘yes’ to that second question and, since I was very aware that there was a whole bunch of skills that I hadn’t learnt, I didn’t count myself as an artist. To me a true artist was someone who knew all the ‘how-to’s, the techniques , the right and the wrong ways of doing things. I didn’t have a formal art education so I was very aware that, in my ignorance of techniques, I just fumbled my way along, hoping for the best. If one of my paintings seemed to have succeeded, it was probably just a ‘happy accident’.

More recently I’ve come to think of specific techniques and artistic skills in a very different, less central light. I now see the acquisition of technical skills as sometimes helpful, sometimes desirable, but certainly not always essential to creating worthwhile art.

I think the internet has had a lot to do with my change of mind. You don’t have to look far to see wonderful work by artists who have never had a formal art lesson in their lives. On the other hand, possessing the skills and technical knowledge are no guarantee of 'success', however you may define it. There’s a whole lot more to painting than following the rules.

In fact, I question whether ‘rules’ can be applied to art at all. Is there actually a right and wrong way to create something – I doubt it! If your art ‘connects’ with others, then it has succeeded, even if it’s just one single person who makes the connection.

But nevertheless I do think that possessing the skills and knowing the techniques can be helpful and sometimes desirable. That’s because I look at them as useful tools that sometimes enable us to communicate, through our art, what’s in our hearts and minds in a more effective way.

And the internet again plays a part. There have always been plenty of art books around to tell us how to do this, that and the other in our paintings. ‘How to paint children’, ‘How to paint in watercolours’ and so on. But the internet has taken this one step further with an abundances of video demonstrations, especially on YouTube!  Some of these may provide us with an answer to something ‘technical’ that was holding us back. Others may give us the impetus to try a new medium. All of these things help us to expand and develop as artists.

But for me they are like the stabilisers on a child’s bicycle; essential in the beginning while we’re ‘getting the knack’ but not something we should come to depend on or follow slavishly. Their role is to help us to spread our wings and fly, not to keep us earthbound, however much we may want to cling to that ‘safety’!

I haven’t yet reached the stage of dripping household paint onto a canvas and then riding a bicycle over it, as it is claimed that Jackson Pollock* did -  but who knows, I’m keeping an open mind!

How about you? Do your 'skills and techniques' - or lack of! - play a positive or negative role in creating your artwork?

*Apparently that's a myth.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Tree paintings #21 - Eardisland and Monmouth

And finally....

 ....a clump of trees beside the River Arrow at Eardisland, one of the very picturesque 'Black and White Villages' of Herefordshire.

And look! - the tree trunks are brown!

The same goes for these trees on the bank of the River Monnow near Monmouth - some look greyish but mostly definitely brown! Could it be something to do with trees that grow close to water perhaps?

Well, that's it for my pastel paintings of trees. 

I hope you have enjoyed them and many thanks to all who have commented. You've given me some useful insights into what I've been getting up to when I get out my soft pastels!

Thank you!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Tree paintings #20 - Herefordshire and The Peak District

People have commented on the sunlight and shadow in my paintings and I'd never really noticed it. But one thing that I have been consciously attracted to - for as long as I can remember! - is the 'colour scheme' of pine trees when the sun catches their bark. I painted a watercolour of a wooded hillside near my school that, at the time, I was convinced would bring me fame and fortune and the main focus was a pine tree with pink/orange bark and dark blue-green foliage. I've even based colour-schemes for my house on that combination, along with a lot of bright white!

The painting above didn't really work but I've posted it because it's probably the best example I have of that 'colour-scheme'. 

Unfortunately, these wonderful clumps of trees often seem to grow just by the side of a busy road and  rarely in a place where it's easy to stop and photograph them! At least the ones above were in the depths of the country, near Cwmyoy, in the Black Mountains, with Skirrid in the background, so it was relatively safe to park up and take photos.

And this one (above) is from a photo taken on a walking holiday in Derbyshire's 'Peak District' so no problem with busy roads! 

But the trees below were on a particularly dangerous bend of the road from Hereford to Hampton Bishop in Herefordshire: just sometimes I've been known to risk life and limb to get the photo I want!

There's another somewhat similar group on the road from Abergavenny to Pontypool - and one day, I will find a stopping place and photograph them, if only to stop them taunting me as I whizz past!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Traditionally Painted Easter Cards from Greeting Card Universe

Once again it's time to show off the work of Greeting Card Universe artists who use traditional methods of painting and drawing. 

Here are some lovely Easter Cards - Easter Bunnies and Easter Flowers predominate but I'm sure there's something here to suit everyone!  The card images are rather small so you will need to click on them to appreciate their beautiful work in full.

Watercolour and Coloured Pencils (the gingham is computer generated)

Acrylics and Oil Pastels





Coloured Pencils (computer generated frames)


Carole Barkett







Ink and Watercolour


Watercolour on board





Acrylics with digital borders


Susan Alison


Cindy A Teresa 


Judy Adamson  

Ink and Watercolour


The link to the artists' GCU stores are below their names and I'm sure you'll find a visit to their stores very worthwhile!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Tree paintings #19 - near Bath

I'm afraid I don't remember for sure where the woodland above is - the scan is just labeled 'forest'! But I suspect it's in the Black Mountains, somewhere in the area of the 'Where's my Teddy?' Woods..

On the other hand, it looks a bit similar to the painting below, which I know for sure is a patch of woodland in the grounds of the American Museum in Bath. The gardens there are beautiful, as is the building and, being an 'on-and-off' quilter, I spent a quite blissful afternoon amongst the stupendous collection of quilts there. 

But, naturally, it was just an unpretentious little patch of trees that caught my eye....and of course, once again,  the patterns made by the sunlight and the shadows!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Tree Paintings #18 - back to Norfolk!

Back 'home' to Norfolk - I still miss it in some ways! - and in Foxley Woods, a reminder of what may not be too far off! I already have tulips and wallflowers joining the daffodils in my garden and this lovely Spring weather seems set to continue for a while at least!

And this one, the North Norfolk Coast at Wells-next-the-Sea, reminds me of what I love most about the Norfolk landscape- its wide open spaces and huge skies. And not a single mountain in sight to block the view!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Tree paintings #17 - Burgundy again

Even without the catalogue of mishaps, the canal holiday was disappointing.

We were living in Norwich at the time and Norfolk is well known for its 'Broads', a network of waterways resulting from the digging out peat for fuel in times past. The Norfolk Broads are alive with wildlife - and people; trippers on 'day boats', visitors to the area on guided tour boats, and people who are spending a week afloat, as we were in Burgundy. There are plenty of welcoming pubs along the banks, so there's no need to go off in search of a supermarket, as we had to in Burgundy. And a jolly good time can be had by all!


By comparison, the Burgundy Canal seemed totally dead! Beautiful scenery, row upon row of trees, but very few signs of life. Hardly any other boats and we scarcely saw a duck all week!

We only once found somewhere to eat by the canalbank and I think we must have been the first visitors in a long time as they seemed totally unprepared for us. When the meal finally arrived it was, of course, well worth waiting for and it was during the wait that I took more photos, this one of a pot of geraniums in the evening sun -

This painting, too, surprised me by being accepted for the Bath Summer Exhibition, so I managed to salvage something positive from an otherwise very stressful experience! 

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Tree paintings #16 - Burgundy Canal

The canal holiday I mentioned yesterday was a complete nightmare, mostly due to the fact that the boat we hired was too sophisticated for us to manage.

We left the 'bassin' in the early evening, after just half an hour of instruction by a young Frenchman, in rapid, technical French, rounded the first bend in the canal....and ran aground! But while we waited for help, I was able to take photos and the one above turned into one of my better paintings, I think, as the Bath Society of Artists accepted it for their Summer Exhibition!

We seemed to have some such calamity on each of the six days we were afloat; we ran out of water one day, another day the bilge pump overheated; we lost one of our fenders in a lock and discovered on the final day that our 'reverse' hadn't been working all week, which is possibly why we kept bumping into things, as we were effectively without brakes!

We also got stuck in the lock below for hours in the midday sun - not our fault! - so I had plenty of time for more photos and I even got out my little sketch book and pastel pencils. Eventually a man rolled up in an old Renault 4 and, after a long and loud discussion with the lock-keeper, involving much arm-waving and shoulder-shrugging, took some string out of his pocket and used it to somehow get the lock gates working again. And we were on our way!