Monday, 29 November 2010

Greeting Card Universe - one year on!

I can hardly believe it but this week it will be exactly a year since I joined Greeting Card Universe. So I’ve, inevitably, been looking back over the year and comparing what I expected to happen with what actually did!

The thing that stands out for me is that it’s involved a lot more work than I envisaged but that the gains have been greater too – though I’m not entirely convinced, as yet, that the financial rewards have equalled the amount of effort I’ve put in. Maybe it’ll all pay off later - jam tomorrow?

It’s been a year when I seem to have been constantly required to learn new things and sometimes my brain has felt as if it just couldn’t take in any more. But somehow it did and some of the things that seemed far too complicated for me a year ago, now seem dead simple!

There have been a string of computer-related things to find out about and ‘master’, some of them technical – like how to get the images in the right place in blogger! – many of them related to social networking and even more of them  pertaining to that all-important Search Engine Optimisation. I have a strong suspicion that I have still a great deal to learn and that next year will amount to ‘more of the same’. But one thing I’ve learnt this year is that most of the technical difficulties aren’t actually beyond me as long as I don’t panic and that there’s plenty of free information available to help with almost anything we might need to learn – as long as we are careful to distinguish between information and opinion!

But whereas all these things were of the ‘how-to’ type of learning, I realise that there has been another, less effortful type of learning going on since I took the plunge on Nov 30th 2009! In a sense a whole new world opened up to me, a huge and important new world but one that I was totally unaware of!

  • I’ve learnt that there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people all over the world making art! This has surprised me because in my ‘offline’ life, I know very few artists. At one time I lived for years in a place where I didn’t know a single artist and felt like the proverbial round peg in a square hole. I’ve also learnt that the online community of artists is generally a warmly generous and helpful body of people, even in situations where we are competing with one another for sales, as we are at Greeting Card Universe.

  • I’ve learnt that digital art has grown hugely important while I wasn’t paying attention and that far more greeting cards are created digitally than by traditional methods.

  • I’ve learnt that some of my card designs are regarded  as ‘vintage’ by younger people – that came as a shock!!! – but that I have several ‘styles’ and that customers have been willing to buy cards in each of my styles. 

  • I’ve learnt that my ‘pen and wash’ style sells best through Greeting Card Universe and my Fine Art cards not at all; that nearly a quarter of the cards I’ve sold this year have been birthday cards, many of them for older people or children. With Christmas cards so far only accounting for about one-sixth of my sales, I’ve learnt that it makes sense for me to focus on creating more birthday cards in the future, in particular age-specific ones. 

  • And I've learnt that I'd probably sell more greeting cards if I could bring myself to put a verse inside as that seems to be important for the US market.

  • I’ve also learnt that ‘there’s no accounting for taste’ when customers have bought cards that I nearly didn’t offer for sale and I’ve heard other Greeting Card Universe artists say the same thing.

  • I’ve learnt that I’m not at all good at ‘selling’ and that patience and persistence are required to sell online where the competition is unimaginably vast and promoting one’s ‘store’ is vital! 
But, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised to find that, in spite of the competition, people have actually chosen to buy greeting cards that I have designed. This still comes as a bit of a shock to me! Of course there have been other influencing factors, such as Zazzle, which I signed up to a bit later, but it is without a shadow of doubt, Greeting Card Universe that has restored my slightly battered confidence and made me feel that I am at last on the way to achieving my long-held ambition to be a Greeting Card Designer!

As I write, someone just tweeted this quotation: 

'In the business world, everyone is paid in 2 coins: cash and experience. Take the experience first; the cash will come later'. Harold Geneen

I really hope Harold Geneen is right!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

5 Simple Steps to Painting in Pastels


I love having fun creating greeting card designs in collage, pen and wash, watercolours and even oil pastels but when I think of my ‘proper’ paintings, there’s only one medium for me – soft pastels.

The paintings that I’ve exhibited and sold have all been in soft pastels and such is my addiction to the medium that, if I’m particularly busy, I daren’t begin a soft pastel painting. A few years ago, one Thursday, I decided to have a ‘painting day’ – and when I finally stopped at the end of the following Monday, I’d completed seventeen paintings!

People have often told me that they wish they could use pastels like I do and I’ve been asked to teach classes or give demonstrations in soft pastel painting. But I’ve always ignored such requests because all I could think of to teach was, ‘get a set of pastels and some pastel paper, pick up a pastel and do it!’ Hardly likely to fill even an hour’s lesson, let alone a course of lessons!

I really do think it’s that simple and it’s precisely because it’s so simple that it’s the medium that allows me to get into ‘flow’ very easily. There’s nothing to interrupt the 'flow' - no mixing washes, no stopping to dip the brush in the paint, not to mention the washing the brush out and waiting for paint to dry! You can simply create in one continuous stream and if you set out your pastels so that you can remember more or less where each colour is without looking, you don’t even need to take your eyes off your painting!

I’m very doubtful that much art can actually be taught but I don’t want to give the impression that I’m withholding ‘trade secrets’ so I’m wondering whether it might be useful to simply describe how I came to start using soft pastels. It would be wonderful if, as a result, even just one person felt inspired enough to have a go and discovered the unique qualities  of the medium for themselves!

I began to use soft pastels in a Life Drawing class and the following series of photos – old non-digital ones I’m afraid! – illustrates the path that lead me to them:

1. I’ve always loved using charcoal; the feel of it on the paper, the variety of marks you can make with it. And it seemed like the obvious choice for the often rapid sketches we were asked to make in the Life Class. A twenty minute time limit was quite common, reducing to 2 minute sketches and even sketching a model dancing! So a large pad of cheap layout paper and charcoal in a variety of thicknesses was ideal for these exercises!

(Yes, I know, the anatomy looks decidely weird but it's the only pure charcoal Life Drawing I could find!)

2. Then, as my confidence grew, I moved on to grey sugar paper and added white chalk for the highlights.

3. From there it was an easy and logical step to add a little more colour – the windows in the studio that looked out directly onto the River Wensum were always filthy so didn’t let much light in and thankfully, our tutor was unwilling to turn on the fluorescents. But sometimes the lighting effects were quite interesting!

4. Gradually, I left out the charcoal stage altogether, sketching in the shapes lightly with one of the pastels.

5. Eventually, I began to feel so at home with soft pastels that I felt free enough to experiment with colour – sometimes the results were better than others!

Have I made ‘painting with pastels’ sound simple? I do hope I have!  

There are plenty of ‘how to’ books with instructions about ‘cross-hatching’, blending colours and so on, but you really don’t need them! Soft pastel is such a ‘forgiving’ medium that if you don’t like something you’ve done, you can nearly always whisk the offending part away with a small brush!  It's quick, too, because the drawing and painting stages are rolled into one. Most of my pastel paintings take about 45 mins from start to finish.

All you need is:

1. A set of soft pastels – some are softer than others so, if possible, try various brands in the shop before buying. You won’t necessarily enjoy the most expensive ones any more than the cheaper ones – I don’t!

2. Some good, heavyweight pastel paper with a bit of grain – though you might like to experiment with sugar paper to begin with if money is tight!

3. Some sort of little brush – I use a stippling brush – to whisk away unwanted colour without rubbing it into the paper.

4. A can of cheap hairspray – fixing soft pastels inevitably darkens their colours and artists have been known to give up using them because of this. The way I deal with this – and maybe this is my ‘trade secret’? – is to spray the painting when it’s almost finished and then, while the spray is still damp, carry on painting till it’s finished.

5. Plenty of old clothes and overalls! The directness of painting with soft pastels can lead to such a level of absorbtion that you may not notice that smudges of colour get everywhere! I usually end up with dark blue fingers on my right hand and frequently a woad-coloured face as well!

There really is no 'mystique' about using soft pastels - it's simply drawing in colour and as long as you don't mind the possibility of ending up looking like someone out of 'Braveheart', it's the easiest way I know of to 'get into flow'!

Monday, 22 November 2010

What use is Art School?

A serious question!

For years I regretted not having stood up to my parents and teachers who decided that I shouldn’t go to Art School because they were ‘full of Beatniks, aka 'The Great Unwashed’. And for years I worried that I wasn’t doing my Art ‘right’ because I’d missed out on an Art education.

But then, with the coming of the internet, I discovered vast numbers of ‘self-taught’ artists making a success of their Art careers and I began to wonder whether a degree in Art is necessarily an advantage. The young man who started the Sunday Afternoon Book Club in our local Waterstone’s was an Art student and the projects he described – some involving quantities of fresh cream being liberally applied to his person to make prints – didn’t seem to me to be necessarily the best use of the taxpayers’ money! And this didn’t exactly encourage me to believe that going to Art School would necessarily have been an advantage.

Maybe it's helpful for getting a gallery to take you seriously? The owner of one of our local galleries once pointed out to me that one of my favourite artists was so good because he’d been to Art School and you could see it in his drawing. But on the other hand, when my house was on the market, one of the viewers was a tutor from the local Art College and when he saw one of  my ‘works in progress' he rather shocked me by telling me that he wished some of his students could draw like I did, even though I know that my drawing often isn't my strongest point.

So what goes on in an Art School? What can we learn that we can’t get from am Adult Education class, a private workshop, an online tutorial or through simply being part of a community of artists?  All of these can provide us with useful tips, for instance, about how to get the best out of a certain medium, a kind of toolbox of ‘how-to’s that can come in handy.

My own view is that attempting to teach anything beyond that runs the risk of being counterproductive, weighing the artist down with notions of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways to make their art. I believe that many would-be artists are inhibited by the idea of this ‘right and wrong’ way to make art and that what they really need are some suggestions that will liberate them from this belief. Maybe that’s what the fresh cream exercise was all about?

A couple of things helped free me up from this pervasive feeling that I wasn’t doing it ‘right’ because I’d missed out on Art School so I didn’t need to go down the fresh cream route.  Both were discoveries I made online.
  • One was a discussion forum attached to an online Art College where someone asked whether others bothered to stretch their watercolour paper and everyone who replied admitted that they didn’t! A similar ‘breaking of the rules’ came up in relation to pen and wash. As Chris Fothergill mentioned recently, traditionally the ‘pen’ comes first and the ‘wash’ afterwards. But there was a general consensus on that forum that it was fine to paint first and outline in ink afterwards. After all, it’s the finished results that count, no matter how it came about!
  • But probably the most liberating moment for me was when I watched Quentin Blake’s video clip of how he works on his illustrations! Do take a few minutes to watch this if you haven’t already seen it – or even if you have! No mixing of washes in a palette; instead he keeps a strip of paper beside him and tries out the colours on that, adding a bit of this and a touch of that as necessary! And to crown it all, I caught a glimpse of his paint water and what an eye-opener that was for me!

So, together with discovering so much ‘professional-looking’ art on the internet, created by self-taught artists, that was enough to convince me that I hadn’t really missed out by not having a degree in Art, or even an A-level.

However, there’s one advantage I can see to having a formal qualification in Art, apart from the confidence it might bestow.

  • A fellow student at one of the Adult Education classes I attended in Norwich  commented that she came to the class to make sure that she painted regularly. She was a doctor’s wife and mother of several children. At home, she said, she could rarely paint without feeling guilty about neglecting her wifely and motherly duties. But coming to a class where everyone else was devoting at least one morning a week to their artistic pursuits, relieved her of her guilty feelings. Maybe, for some, being in an Art School environment where everyone is focusing on their art for a considerable portion of their time, fosters the idea that it is a legitimate way to spend time, rather than something that they should regard as a hobby to be fitted in around all the other demands of their lives?

From that perspective, I can see the value of a formal training in Art.

But I’m sure there must be other advantages and I’d love to hear what they are!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Three Ways of Selling

Cries of London: 'Sweet Oranges'
In the late 1990s I changed from British Telecom to another company for my telephone calls and enjoyed much smaller bills for a long time. Then the company was taken over by another one...and another one...and another one and nowadays I get frequent unsolicited phone calls from them about switching to their broadband/telephone/line rental package. Apart from the fact that I don’t like getting phonecalls when I’m working and I’ve already looked at the package online and decided against, I really object to these phonecalls because they are what I’d call really aggressive marketing! On one occasion, when I said I wasn’t interested, the telemarketer turned quite sarcastic...and I put the phone down. But they still continue to call me about every six weeks, in spite of my frequent requests not to. When I ask a question, the caller never replies but continues with his sales pitch regardless.

The calls show up as ‘out of area’ which is the same as calls from my daughter in Sweden, so I pick up the phone, just in case.

To me this is an abuse of the fact that, as my telephone calls supplier, they know my telephone number. It’s what I’d call the ‘Hard Sell’ kind of marketing and I can’t see the point of it as it so easily leaves the potential customer annoyed if not downright furious. I can’t imagine it works that often but presumably, it does result in ‘sales’ just often enough to be worth their while continuing.

So, what is the best way to approach selling, if, like me, you are not a ‘natural’ salesman?

Over and over, I’ve read that networking, forging relationships, building trust, is what it’s all about and that social networking sites are the place to do it. I suppose that is what you might call a ‘Soft’ selling technique. But while I do think that the social media are great ways to get to know people, and even to become friends, that still leaves me with a problem. I feel really uncomfortable with the thought that my friends might think that I’m trying to sell them something!

I’ve recently sent out my first ever email newsletter to both old and new friends in my email contacts list and I found it really hard to click on the ‘SEND’ button, even though it wasn’t a blatantly ‘selling’ newsletter. I steeled myself to do it and almost immediately email replies came back with offers of help to build my partyplan network and even some promises to buy my cards. Also a request for advice on social media!

So, yes, when it’s a question of ‘I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine’ – or ‘I’ll tweet your link if you’ll tweet mine’ – I think getting to know people through social networking, whether on or offline, is great.

But for me it doesn’t solve the problem of how to sell.

Is it something to do with being English? I read somewhere recently that we in the UK are far less comfortable with promoting ourselves and our wares than our friends across the pond. Or is it an introvert/extrovert preference? Whatever the reason, I think many of us have an almighty dread of being seen to ‘brag’ and none of us wants to be thought of as ‘pushy’. I’ve found that people are happier to offer my greeting cards for sale to their friends and colleagues if they let it be known that the proceeds will be donated to a charity or good cause – nothing ‘pushy’ about that!

I can persuade myself to put my artwork out on public display because I believe that art is about communication and I don’t want my paintings and designs to be reduced to talking to themselves! But I have great difficulty describing my designs in the sort of glowing terms that I’ve seen some artist do; I’ll leave that to others if that’s how they feel about my work!

So, in the face of the competition from those who have no such qualms, are we introverted English at a disadvantage when it comes to selling? Do we need to model ourselves on market traders – ‘Get your pork sausages here – only the best!’ ? We have, after all, been referred to as  a ‘nation of shopkeepers’!

My mother had a set of prints known as ‘The Cries of London’ – ‘Buy my Sweet Lavender!’ etc and I have a similar set of French ones with sellers of clogs, kindling and eels! But that was all right if you were poor and only selling to the rich, it was just the way things were, as you can see from the illustrations on the plates. Which is not necessarily the position we are in, though it may sometimes work out that way!

I’m beginning to think there may be a third alternative to the Hard Sell/Soft Sell options – the ‘Indirect Sell’ – and it’s a solution that I have no problems at all with! Instead of selling direct to ‘people’, it involves ‘selling’ to the search engines – and I don’t really care if the search engines think I’m pushy or bragging, in spite of my tendency to ‘anthropomorphosise’!

Which is why I began my second, ‘products only’ blog that allows me to display my goods for sale without cluttering up my Art & Design blog. Since I began to tweet the link to that blog and post it on facebook, my sales have definitely increased . So I’m very grateful to my friends who have retweeted those links – and I try to return the favour wherever I can!

To me that’s like ‘setting out my stall’ but without the shouting – or simply dressing my shop window - and neither is a problem for me. I just hope it is sufficient to keep the sales coming!

How do you feel about marketing and promoting yourself and your work - which, in a way, amounts to the same thing?

Cries of London: 'Who'll buy my Sweet Lavender?'

Monday, 15 November 2010

Financial Security for Artists?

Financial security is something that most of us aspire to but, as artists, many of us find difficult to achieve. In fact I read an article recently that suggested that an artist can never be financially secure. And our UK tax system recognises the unpredictable nature of many freelance artists, writers’, musicians’ incomes by allowing us to set off one year’s losses against a later year’s profits.

Of course there are some for whom this is not a problem – if they have an unrelated income from savings or a ‘day job’, a spouse or partner who is willing and able to support them and so on. And a google search will bring up articles and blog posts that give tips about how to achieve financial security whilst pursuing the career that you are passionate about – such as, ‘not putting all your eggs in one basket’. (The young musician above, in Abergavenny High Street, has found a 'basket' that is not so easy for artists - though I wonder what has happened to the 'pavement artists' who used to be quite common in years gone by?)

We all need a certain amount of money to survive and that amount seems to be ever increasing, while for most of us the global recession has made it even harder to sell our art. But this very same set of global financial and economic circumstances has made me question whether financial security is truly achievable for anyone, not just artists and the like.

There is always the possibility of what once seemed like solid financial security being snatched from us unexpectedly through changes in our personal circumstances, such as divorce, incapacitating illness and so on. In the UK public sector employees in the ‘safest’ of jobs are facing redundancy because of ‘the cuts’. Even some of the most solid businesses have failed over the past two years, not because they were built on flawed business plans but because of the difficulties with obtaining credit from the banks, coupled with shrinking demand. So the notion of ‘financial security’ has disappeared from the thinking of an ever-increasing number of people. As Michele Webber commented a few weeks ago, at least as an artist, nobody is going to give us the sack!

But still, this question of financial security is one that haunts many an artist. It is true that there are compensations for this worrying lifestyle.

“Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort” – but when the boiler breaks down and needs replacing or the car begins to eat up our limited cash in repair bills, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of ‘joy’ or ‘thrill’ in the air!

So we need money as well and Olivia Stefanino’s article  gave us advice on steps we need to take, attitudes we may need to change in order to bring in more money and to dispel the myth of the ‘starving artist’.

However, I believe that there is another side to this question of financial security to bear in mind. This quote from Joseph Wood Krutch and many others along the same lines, sum it up for me better than I could put it into words:

“Security depends not so much on how much you have, as upon how much you can do without.”

It doesn’t address ‘financial’ security specifically but my own experience has proved to me that it can be applied to our finances as well as other kinds of security. I hope you find it helpful.

In case all this talk of insecure finances has depressed you, here's something to lift your spirits!

Karl Jenkins is half-Welsh, half Swedish but has his home in Wales. He started out as a jazz musician but is now well-known as a composer whose works include both 'easy listening' and Requiems - and a great deal more in between! There is another version of Palladio here, with wonderful photography that is highly suited to this time of year.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Seven Artists' Reasons not to go Digital

A couple of weeks ago, I tackled the subject of digital art when I discovered some fractals that I really like. It seemed to open up quite a debate and it certainly made me wonder why some of us artists are so resistant to going down the digital route. I found it impossible to define what it is about using 'traditional' methods that makes me so reluctant to abandon them in favour of making my art on the computer. So I asked seven artists, whose work I really like, to write a sentence or two about why they stick with the 'old fashioned way'. Clearly, two sentences wasn't enough to explain their reluctance; they gave a variety of reasons, with some common denominators - and most of them 'chimed' with me.

Michele Webber

When Judy asked me why I chose to produce art the old fashioned way instead of digitally, the first thing I thought was 'Well just because I can'. Because thinking about it, digital art is not a shortcut, the little I know about my graphics program makes me convinced that to produce a good image takes far longer than drawing it by hand (assuming you can draw). Which makes me ponder on digital art. For some it is a way to enhance their talent, a medium in its own right, but others use it to obtain a career in art without natural artistic ability. This really puzzles me. For example I love music, I love to sing, I would love to be a singer... alas I am confidently informed I sound like a cat being ironed. So I will stick to what I am good at. Ultimately I draw and paint because I enjoy it, and it has always just seemed the right path for me. There is a calmness to painting that is seldom found when I am swearing at 'Paintshop Pro' or kicking my printer.*/

Carole Barkett
I find digital art can be very appealing but at my age I don't want  to invest to learn it properly.  I tried when the first computer programs came out but when they kept changing and I had to keep relearning even simple things such as where to find things, I gave up.

Also, I enjoy working with my hands and find it relaxing, whereas working on the computer raises my blood pressure which is another good reason not to do my art digitally.

Carol Anfinsen

I think it's partly an age thing. Younger people have grown up using and knowing computers from kindergarten. Something we never did. A part of me feels that digital art is cheating. If you can't really draw or paint -- go digital art. I know that may be unfair; I've seen some wonderful digital pieces that are very creative and well done. They combine original artwork and enhance digitally. Bob Salo on FAA is a good example.

Diana Ting Delosh
I create in ink and watercolor. My wiggly ink line is a direct expressive link from my brain to my hand onto the paper. I like the spontaneous nature of watercolor, a medium known for having it's own mind. I can mix and blend the colors right on the paper and revel in the happy accidents. While it may be possible to mimic what I do with ink and watercolor, I wonder if the joy would still be there if I had to do it pixel by pixel.

Nicki Ault
I suppose the simple answer is that I have never learned, but in the end that is because I am not interested. Digital art has it's place, but for me, the art I want to create as well as the experience I want to have while doing so, is not possible through a computer. I love my tubes of colour and choosing which ones I will use for a project. I love the smell and sounds that go along with painting. I love the feel of mixing the paint on the palette. I love the work and physicality of traditional art. Besides these things, I love painting en plein air and I get a kick out of finding bugs in my medium and having pine needles drop on my canvas. The experience would not be the same sitting in the forest with my laptop! I think when painting the traditional way, the viewer can see the lumps, scrapes, movement and texture the artist left behind; almost like a fingerprint. Perhaps it is these imperfections that can bring the viewer closer to the artist and his process. With digital art the viewer (to my mind) is one step removed from the artist- the computer is the middle man. For me, at this point, I am having so much fun with traditional art and have so much to learn, that digital art just doesn't hold an interest right now.

Chris Fothergill
 As an artist, one trains early on to be able to produce a faithful image that imitates life, in perspective, colour and tone, and a ‘good’ artist is often a term applied to one who creates a lifelike picture. And yet, at my exhibitions the most popular side show is my open sketch books. These contain ‘rough’ drawings and quick colour sketches, yet people like the liveliness of these. It is the very inaccuracies, the ‘suggestion’ only of what is being portrayed, perhaps the economy of line that appeals. An example of this is this little sketch of older people sitting waiting for a bus in Cirencester. Done from a photo, I painted the colour on first mostly, without drawing, then with a pen did the outline after. This is traditionally the wrong way round, and so the whole thing is a bit wonky! But guess what – I really like the result! There is a natural humorous quality – can you get that in computer aided design?

Lucia Del
I am Watercolourist, and there is no greater reward than to receive recognition for something you have created on a piece of paper using pigment, water & one’s imagination. Just to watch the water and pigment moving across the white paper is so magical, each time different from the last. George Bernard Shaw once said “You use a mirror of glass to see yourself, you use Art to see your soul."

I'm really grateful to these seven busy artists who took the time to think about why they prefer not to  make their art digitally - and then to write it down!  

In the meantime, I persuaded myself to have a go at making a picture using the brushes in one of my photo-editing programs. It was quite fun and I found it easier as I got used to using my graphics tablet. But it was strange that even though I was fairly happy with the image I produced, I didn't feel that I wanted to save it. Maybe it was because I felt rather disorientated, knowing that the colours would look different when printed out on paper because on the screen they are backlit. Maybe it was the lack of physical contact with the 'painting' because it felt as if it was 'behind' the screen on my monitor? Somehow it didn't quite feel as if it was 'mine'.

Whatever it was, I'm certainly not against new technology or learning new things; but I don't think I'm likely to abandon my delicious soft pastels or my scrumptious watercolour papers any time soon! Playing with the materials, smudging the charcoal and pastels, spraying my watercolours with a plantspray and sprinkling with salt....all that's at least half the fun and I'm not about to give it up!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

November Nasturtiums

This afternoon I did something that I really hate to do! It was all because of the weather forecast which had made it very clear that today was going to be one of the few fine days we can expect in the coming week or more. Even though it was decidedly cold, the sunshine lured me out into the garden to tidy it up for the winter, knowing that, from tomorrow onwards, deep 'lows' will swoop over the British Isles, bringing with them high winds and heavy rain.

There was quite a bit of tidying to do - I call it 'putting the garden to bed for the winter'. The smaller, shady area at the side of the house, the part that I look out onto from my dining room where I mostly work, was so overgrown that it was impossible to make out the path from the main part of the garden to the dining room French doors! A large and healthy looking antirrhinum has seeded itself right in front of the doors and the nasturtiums seem to love this less sunny area and were threatening, triffid-like, to take over! They had thrown out long shoots everywhere, up the drainpipes and behind the shed, rooted themselves in the gravel path, entangled themselves in the honeysuckle and even climbed the jasmine's trellis almost to the height of the bedroom windowsills. Simply trying to walk through what was once a path, one risked getting caught and tripped up by their interwoven stems, hiding under huge leaves as big as saucers!

So really, something had to be done, they had to come out! But the trouble was that they were still in flower! On recent afternoons when it has seemed to get dark so very early, I loved to look out on these splashes of scarlet and orange that seemed to light up the view from my French doors. It was almost as if someone had lit candles along the path and hung them from the walls!

That apart, I have a real aversion to uprooting plants that are flowering and nearly always manage to avoid it. The life cycle of a plant is too similar to that of  human to make it easy to casually destroy one that is blooming its heart out! But today it had to be done. So to lessen the feeling of waste, I picked the flowers that hadn't started to fade and here they are in a vase -

They won't last long indoors - flowers that have been exposed to low temperatures never do - but I think it's a lot better than putting them straight into the compost bag!

The apples are waiting for the blackbirds to get hungry! They've feasted on them the past two winters and they're welcome to them as they are pretty tasteless. There are a few roses, mountain cornflowers and marigolds blooming as well - that's one in the distance to the left of the path where the apples are. The seasons seem to be behaving really strangely!

Who would have thought I'd be picking nasturtiums well into November!

Monday, 8 November 2010

How good are you at visualising?

Do you visualise your finished artwork before you begin?

A few words in a friend’s email the other day sparked my curiosity – but it was something I’d been wondering about for a long time as it had often come up in conversations with an old friend who, sadly, died a couple of years ago.

The phrase was, ‘I had an image in mind...’

My old friend regularly insisted that I must have an image of my finished paintings in my mind before I began. And I had protested vehemently that I don’t and she had found this impossible to understand. So I’m curious to know whether other artists have an ‘image in mind’ when they begin a piece of work?

The fact is that I find it extremely difficult to hold any image in my mind! This makes anything that requires me to ‘visualise’ very frustrating! You know the sort of thing – ‘Imagine a golden light...’ ‘Imagine the person you are afraid of as a baby...’ ‘Imagine yourself beside a stream in a wood...’ Impossible! I can conjure up the associated feelings and ideas but definitely not an image!

This ‘deficit’ of mine became abundantly and embarrassingly clear when I tried out a Neuro Linguistic Programming technique for learning spellings on one of my older pupils who found learning the relationships between letters and sounds, for spelling purposes, too ‘baby-ish’. Although I feel sure that the Synthetic Phonics ('sounds') method of learning to read and spell is by far the best one, I was amazed at what this boy told his mother about how he imagined shelves in his head and stored the words he wanted to remember on these shelves!
Another younger boy who was still at the ‘cat, sat, fat, big, pig...’ stage of learning the ‘sounds’ was able to look at the word ‘urgency’ for a few seconds, close his eyes, visualise the word and spell it out to me correctly! He was also able to ‘make the letters bigger’, ‘change their colour’, and tell me the letters backwards in the correct order! All of which helped my pupils’ self-esteem because they were able to do easily something that their teacher could not!

That is not to say that I never visualise anything. Images do come into my mind involuntarily but they are no more than a fleeting flicker and if I try to hang on to them to analyse or describe them, they are gone! People have suggested that this is very strange in someone whose work is decidedly ‘visual’! But I wonder whether it is or not?

Of course there is no need for visualisation if I’m painting from a model or a photograph. The image is right there in front of me. But I am puzzled about how I draw ‘from imagination’. I don’t have an ‘image in mind’ that I am aware of. And yet, as I draw, I do know whether what I’m working on is right first time or whether it needs alterations but it’s a kind of ‘inner sensing’ rather than comparing what I’ve done with an image that I could ‘see’ in my mind’s eye.

Maybe it’s that ‘naughty pencil’ of mine that has a secret pair of 'eyes'?

Friday, 5 November 2010

Autumn in the Park

I have often mentioned the park that I cut across on my way to the shops and the avenue of beech trees is particularly spectacular both in Spring and in Autumn. They were almost the last to change colour this year and won't last long if this wind keeps up so I'm glad I popped across the road and took a few snaps of them earlier in the week:

It's from this path that I spotted the 'smiley' cut in the bracken high up on the hillside to the right of the park.

One thing I don't like about my new camera, compared to the previous one is that sometimes it's impossible to see what you are photographing in the viewfinder, especially when the sun is bright, so most of these were a case of 'click and hope'!

But it's difficult to go too far wrong when Mother Nature is doing most of the work!

I was short of time, so I didn't go far into the park - but I didn't really need to!

This was as far I ventured from the front gates that you can see at the bottom the picture. But I'm glad to have 'captured' something of the breathtaking route to town!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Working from Home

I suspect that many of you who are reading this are working at home, as I do.  

The internet has made that possible for many in ways that we would not have dreamed of twenty or so years ago. I once spent a weekend at a holiday cottage in the ‘wilds’ of Wales, north of Llandovery, amidst stunning scenery, where sightings of Red Kites were relatively common. And I was startled to discover that the nearest villages – more hamlets than villages really – were mostly inhabited by people who worked at home, whilst instantly connected to the rest of the world for the purposes of their work, thanks to the internet. How about that for idyllic!

But I started working at home long before the internet had taken root, more out of necessity than from choice. I had discovered that my chronic back problems made it very difficult for me to work to someone else’s timetable but that I could nevertheless still complete a fair amount of work, as long as I went at my own pace and in my own way. My last spell of ‘going to work’ really brought this home to me when I was supply teaching. After a full day in the classroom, I would come home in so much pain that I could barely do anything else for the rest of the day – and yet, on days that I didn’t teach, by pacing myself, I could achieve just as much as I’d done in school.

The final straw came when some African guests came to get the children involved in African culture. We were all gathered in the School Hall when I suddenly found myself ‘volunteered’ to model some of the African garments and headgear. I was decked out in brightly coloured robes and turban that were so slippery that I had to stand stock still to prevent them falling off – and very soon I had such a strong need to move around that I was seriously afraid that my back was ‘seizing up’ and that I would be unable to drive myself home. So that was it – decision made. I would find a way to work from home as a self-employed person. And I did.

I can’t imagine working any other way now but it does have a few ‘downsides’! 

Such as -

·    You probably won’t have the sense of financial security that a monthly pay cheque brings!

·    You will need to be more self-disciplined – it’s very easy to put off getting down to work, particularly if the work is of the daunting kind. There is always a houseplant that will die if you don’t water it instantly, a little bit of tidying up that can stretch into a morning’s job....

·    It can often be difficult to convince friends that just because you work from home, it doesn’t mean that you are always available for phonecalls or visits – although it may be that you can sometimes be more flexible than if you were out at work.

·    You will need to be a self-starter – there is nobody to tell you what to do from day to day, from hour to hour.

·    On the other hand, there is nobody to tell you to stop! And this can lead to ‘working all hours’ and possibly to ‘burn-out’!

·    It can be lonely and you may miss the camaraderie of the workplace and having someone to bounce ideas off, especially if you live alone as well as working alone. However, this is unlikely to be a problem for an introvert and if it is, the internet and social media can help you to stay ‘in touch’ with the rest of the world.

·    If you are self-employed and working alone, in the final analysis, all the responsibility, every single bit of it, rests on your shoulders – there’s nobody to ‘pass the buck’ to!

But, on balance, I think there are more ‘upsides’ – and there are ways to work around the difficulties in Norman Young’s very useful blog post - Ways to Stay Motivated When You Work at Home

And now for the upsides! These are just some of the joys of being self-employed and working at home - 

·    No boss, no line manager, no hierarchy, no ‘career path’, no ‘appraisals’ – these can all reduce any feelings of pressure.

·    No commuting – this saves time and probably reduces stress as well!

·    No dress code – you can often work in your PJs if you want to!

·    You can decide own working hours – as long as you actually do put in some working hours!

·    You can to some extent decide what to work on – there are huge benefits to being able to work on different aspects of your job, according to how you happen to feel on the day!

·    You can’t be given the sack – especially beneficial in times like these when cuts to the workforce are imminent!

Do you find that the ‘upsides’  outweigh the 'downsides' of working at home?

Both pastel paintings are from photos I took during a weekend break 
in a cottage at Cae'r Belli, North of Llandovery

Monday, 1 November 2010

Is Rejection Always a Bad Thing?

“I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat.” Sylvester Stallone.

How do you respond to rejection of your work? Does it send you into a Slough of Despond that inhibits your creativity? Or do you take it as a wake-up call as Sylvester Stallone does?

Last year I read a lot of articles full of excellent advice about designing greeting cards but the one piece of advice that stuck in my memory was that to be successful in this field required two things: the first, that you are prolific and the second, that you have to be able to deal with rejection.

The first is absolutely no problem for me – in some ways, it might even solve my printing problems if I only had  a few designs to offer. But the ‘dealing with rejection’ bit is a great deal harder! I’ve found that it did get easier to handle once I had some ‘acceptances’ in the form of sales under my belt and that has led me to become somewhat more philosophical about the rejections, because, for me, it has been a very useful eye-opener to see how varied people’s tastes are. So nowadays, if someone doesn’t like my work, I can usually shrug it off by reminding myself that what is of no interest to one person, many others may think is the bees knees!

But it is obviously a huge factor in the life of an artist or anyone who has the courage to raise their head above the parapet and offer their creative work to the world at large - I would even include those of us who blog! So much so that I seem to frequently come across articles and blogposts on the subject.

I think the main reason that rejection of one’s creative work hurts so much is summed up very well in this quote from Henry Ward Beecher -

"Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his picture."

So it seems that it can be, not just one’s technical abilities that are found wanting, but one’s very nature! No wonder rejection can be so painful!

My ‘philosophical’ attitude works well when offering my designs to the general public but might be less successful if I were trying to find acceptance from publishers – and failing! But what I have learned through reading articles on the subject of rejection is that there are numerous, sometimes quite complicated, industry-specific, reasons why a publisher may reject one’s work and that these reasons may have nothing at all to do with the quality of one’s offerings!

I have found it fascinating to learn of these reasons and as they may not generally be known to the artists, writers or other creative people who are on the receiving end of rejection, I have picked out three articles on the subject of 'rejection' that I thought were particularly helpful. Here are the links to them:

The Illusion of Rejection and How to Deal with it, from Maria Brophy’s website.
I just love the photo at the top of the article!

Rejection – get over it, from Joanne Mattera’s Art Blog
Some lovely stories in the comments!

Rejection – a few antidotes from illustrator, Diana Ting Delosh’s blog

I have a little ‘story’ that might come under the heading of ‘rejection’ It’s more of a ‘criticism’ story really but rejection almost always implies criticism and vice versa. 

When I had my very first solo exhibition of my pastel paintings, someone wrote in the visitors’ book, ‘Rather heavy-handed – should try oil pastels’. Fortunately it had been a very successful exhibition so I was able to laugh about what I think was a ‘rather heavy-handed’ comment!

Do you have any ‘rejection’ stories or tips for handling rejection?