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Monthly Archives: June 2018

From Art to Selfies

One of the first photographs I ever took was of Pete Townshend of the Who at what is now known as the band’s seminal concert at Leeds University in 1970.

I had been a drummer in a band that practised in my mate’s garage, fortunately a small venue as we were terrible. I thought that the next best thing to being in a band was to photograph my heroes – and none were bigger than the Who. I duly took the film into the local chemist and, a week later, I went to collect my works of art.

I opened the first sleeve and nothing, the next nothing, the next nothing and so on. I got to the end and, bingo, there he was, Townshend complete with Dr Martens boots in mid flight, framing Keith Moon perfectly.

This is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life – I was in heaven. The trouble was I didn’t know how this particular frame had come out. I had moved all the dials in different directions during the gig and one combination collided to work.

Nevertheless, this fledgling experiment with the genre was enough to trigger a lifelong love of photography, something I get to explore in my three-part BBC series, Britain in Focus, where I travel across the country to tell the story of the evolution of the medium. I get to go back to see how the pioneers cracked the genre and to ask some giants of the game what they were trying to do.

The series begins in the summer of 1835, when landed gentleman and polymath Henry Fox Talbot was seen purposefully walking in and around his country house at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire. He was carrying with him a small wooden box that his carpenter had made for him, trying to decide where to place the object. Fitted out with a lens from one of his own microscopes, Fox Talbot was trying to take Britain’s first ever photograph – something he succeeded in doing.

From here, the series moves on to, among others, Roger Fenton, a founder member of the Photographic Society of London, dedicated to raising technical standards but also to making photography into a fine art.

The most celebrated photograph that Fenton took was during the Crimean war –In the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Yet there is no fighting shown here, no dead bodies, just a landscape with cannon balls. But the power of the photograph is undeniable, you can sense the horror.

In 1860, Fenton returned to Yorkshire. Over 11 years, taking nearly 2,000 photographs, Fenton had wanted to elevate his medium of expression to the point where it could be accepted as an art form. But his life’s work was coming under threat because, by the 1860s, photography was not so much concerned with art but with commerce.

Evidence for a boom in commercial photography could be found on every high street – like in Lewes, East Sussex, where Edward Reeves opened for business in 1855. For Reeves, and others, the new wet-plate process had made photography a sound economic proposition. And as prices dropped, for the very first time in history, people of even modest incomes could afford to own a portrait of themselves. On reflection, and what impresses me most, is how far photography had travelled in the 60 years since that first experiment by Fox Talbot.

The focus on capturing oneself in photographs has taken on a fresh impetus in modern times. In episode three of the series, I meet 16-year-old Molly Boniface from Huddersfield who is one of 500 million Instagram users worldwide. With her smartphone, Molly takes snapshots and instantly shares them online.

This clearly isn’t just a hobby for Molly. She’s creating a commentary about her own life – almost in real time. Molly expresses herself through photography every day and the medium has never been more alive than in the hands of someone like her. And it’s the self-portrait that dominates her pictures. It’s become the most prevalent genre in the 21st century: now, the most important subject for the average photographer is themselves.

My own particular “moment” in my personal journey came when working as a sports photographer on the Observer in 1985. It was the European Cup Final, between Liverpool and Juventus in the Heysel stadium in Brussels. I wasn’t expecting anything like the horror that was about to unfold, and which I would capture on camera.

Painter Howard Hodgkin dies aged 84

Sir Howard Hodgkin, one of Britain’s greatest contemporary artists, known for his explosively coloured paintings of what he once described as “emotional situations”, has died aged 84.

The artist, a central figure in contemporary art for more than 50 years, died peacefully in hospital in London, only a few weeks after returning to the UK from India.

He was known for paintings, always on wood rather than canvas, full of vividly coloured, emotion-packed splodges, swirls, loops and smears. It may not have been obvious to the viewer but the works always had a subject and they were not abstract – he said that he had never painted an abstract picture in his life, that he was a “a figurative painter of emotional situations”.

The director of the Tate galleries, Sir Nicholas Serota, who curated Hodgkin’s first museum exhibition in 1976, led the tributes, calling Hodgkin “one of the great artists and colourists of his generation”.

He added: “His sensuous, intense paintings were infused with his love and understanding of late 19th-century French painting, especially Degas, Vuillard and Bonnard, and by his feeling for the heat and colours of India, which he visited on many occasions.

“Over the past 30 years Howard’s international standing has continued to grow with major exhibitions in Europe and America. His characteristic subject, the memory of a meeting or a conversation with a friend, resulted in paintings that radiate the emotions of life: love, anger, vanity, beauty and companionship.”

Hodgkin, although he had been increasingly frail, had been busy working up until his death with two important exhibitions due to open in 2017.

One is later this month at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG), where the curator Paul Moorhouse was told the news of his death 3o minutes before they began hanging the works on Thursday. “You can’t imagine how that was.” he said. “It is a personal loss and it is a great loss to the art world.”

Moorhouse recalled Hodgkin’s enthusiasm for what is the first exhibition devoted to his portraits – his first reaction was “at last!”.

“He is one of those truly distinctive artists who redefined the way you look at the world. He also changed how artists represent their experiences … He understood that we don’t just interact with the world visually, we interact in terms of emotions and memory and he brought those into the language of painting.”

Moorhouse said Hodgkin was the opposite of an abstract artist. “He never painted a picture which did not have a subject, he couldn’t paint a picture if it wasn’t about something. It was the language he used, this complex language of visual experience, emotion and memory which, yes, was unfamiliar … People have to get on his wavelength and when you do you realise how rich it is.

“We want the exhibition to be a celebration of his achievements. If any artist was about life, Howard was. His paintings are a celebration of life.”

The NPG’s director, Nicholas Cullinan, said Hodgkin was one of our greatest artists. “Howard’s painting has always resisted classification and easy explanation. His work often appears entirely abstract, yet over the course of 65 years a principle concern of his art has been to evoke a human presence, making a significant contribution to our understanding of what a portrait can be.”

The other Hodgkin show opens at the Hepworth Wakefield in June, exploring the influence of India on Hodgkin’s work.

The gallery’s director, Simon Wallis, said they were devastated because the gallery was looking forward to Hodgkin being there and seeing the show.

“He had been incredibly generous and the last six works in the show are the last six paintings he had made in India.”

Wallis said Hodgkin was “one of the most important artists of our time … His love of colour and gesture and the relationship to the spirit of place and the spirit of people that he was associated with just seemed to radiate from the paintings.”

Hodgkin was born in London in 1932 and evacuated during the second world war to the US where, fortunately for a precocious child who had decided he was to be an artist, he was repeatedly taken to the Museum of Modern Art. Back in the UK he studied at Camberwell School of Art, followed by the Bath Academy of Art in Corsham, Wiltshire.

He was part of a generation of artists who came to prominence in the late 1950s and early 60s, including David Hockney, Peter Blake and Patrick Caulfield, but success came far later to Hodgkin.

When he appeared on Desert Island Discs in 1994 he said the road to recognition in the UK had been hard as it was “enemy territory” for painters.

An important breakthrough was the Serota-curated retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford in 1976. Wider fame arrived after he represented Britain at the 1984 Venice Biennale and in 1985 he became the second artist to win the Turner prize.

7 Painting Substrates Acrylic Painting Tips

1. Canvas

Canvas is commonly used as a painting surface and offers many advantages: it’s absorbent, has a wonderful fabric texture, is lightweight and portable. Canvas supports comes in three types: unstretched, stretched and commercially made canvas boards. Canvas paper also comes in pads, but canvas paper feels very slick, not at all like real canvas fabric.

Stretching it yourself takes practice. You’ll need wood stretcher bars, a staple gun and stretcher pliers. Wrap the canvas around the bars and tack it down in the back, pulling it tightly each time. Start from the center and work outward. Stretched canvases can be purchased in standard sizes, or custom-made by your art store or framer. Those that are mass-produced with a machine can sometimes cost about the same or less than supplies for stretching it yourself.

2. Paper and Cardboard

Paper and cardboard are great support choices if you are a beginner or just want to experiment. Both are economical and easy to find. Both have absorbent surfaces that make washes and over-watered acrylic techniques possible. Select acid-free papers or cardboard, which are more archival and will not have impurities that might stain through into your painting.

3. Wood and Composite Panels

Wood is a great support for paintings, especially for thick applications of paint and other techniques that require a rigid, sturdy support. There are many types of natural wood available, as well as composites such as Masonite, high-density fiber board (HDFB) and medium-density fiber board (DFB). Birch makes great thin, lightweight panel for large paintings.

Wood has many impurities, resins and other natural elements that may seep through into paint layers, causing stains and yellowing. Always clean the surface first, coast it with a stain sealer, then prime before painting.

Composites are strong and have the feel of wood but don’t have a natural wood grain. Another type of composite product is particleboard, which is made of pressured sawdust. Moisture will cause the surface of particleboard to swell, so sand it after the first few coats of sealer and primer to smooth out the rough surface, and it should remain smooth for subsequent coats and painting.

4. Patterned Fabric

I love browsing in fabric stores to get ideas for colors, patterns and textures. Sometimes I buy small pieces of fabric just to hang around my studio for inspiration. A fun technique is to take your favorite fabric and use that as the starting surface to begin a painting. No need to stare at that white canvas with fear. Get a jump-start by beginning your painting with colors and patterns already there!

5. Silk

If you want to paint on silk and hope to keep the fabric soft and freely flowing to use as a banner, fabric installation or wearable art, fluid acrylics offer a more stable alternative than fabric dyes. Dye works well on silk, but is not as lightfast and stable as acrylic. This technique demonstrates how to use acrylic on silk for durable, lightfast, washable color while maintaining the softness of the fabric. This technique may be used on fabrics other than silk.

6. Metal

The two issues of concern for preparing a metal support are adhesion and rust control. This technique works best for ferrous metals like steel and will provide a long-lasting rustproof support for indoor or outdoor use, suitable for coating with acrylic paint. There are many types of metal to choose from. Research safety issues, availability and necessary additional preparation. This demonstration uses 11-gauge,1⁄8-inch (3mm) Mild Steel. Whatever metal you choose, have it professionally cut to your specifications.

7. Glass

One reason to paint on glass is to take advantage of its clarity. The main concern with painting on glass is adhesion. Etching or sandblasting the surface will add tooth. Both methods will make the glass slightly cloudy, so etch only in the areas where paint will be applied.

Purchase glass at any glass supply store and have it cut to size. Float glass and window glass are smooth, clear, inexpensive choices that will work well. Glass also comes colored or textured. If you are sandblasting, use glass that is at least 1⁄4-inch (6mm) thick. If your glass piece will be freestanding, cover the sharp glass edges with framing.

Tips to Save Oil Paints

1. Drying Oils

Drying oils used in artists’ paints are mainly linseed, safflower, poppy or walnut. We know that linseed oil is safe to work with because we can buy specially processed food-grade quality linseed oils in health food stores as a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. The health food industry uses the term flaxseed oil in reference to the plant from which we derive linseed. We use both safflower oil and walnut oil in cooking. Poppy oil doesn’t appear to be popular in the health food realm, and references point only to its use in paints; however, manufacturers do use it in skin care products.

2. Stabilizers

The stabilizers, if used, are metallic fatty acids. Because they’re mixed into the paint, they do not pose an independent threat to a person using an art material.

3. Soaplike Substance

Water-soluble oils contain an ingredient that would be considered close to soap, which makes water combine with the oil for assistance in cleanup.

Pigments can be as benign as common dirt or as harmful as many other chemicals are to the human body. Many of the paints used by artists from the Middle Ages to the late 20th century had varying degrees of toxicity. Even today, while the most highly toxic pigments have disappeared, no pigment should be considered nontoxic. The one property that makes oil paints so safe to use is that the pigment is bound in a liquid vehicle (the drying oil). Therefore the problem of dry powder finding its way into artists’ lungs or flying about and landing on their families’ food is eliminated. Even the nastiest of pigments, which no longer are readily available, wouldn’t give off toxic vapors or be otherwise harmful unless taken directly into the digestive system by mouth or, in the case of some pigments, they came in direct contact with unprotected skin.

Safe-Use Practices for Oils

1. Keep paint and solvents off your skin.

I would remind artists that repeatedly allowing oil paints to splatter on their hands and arms is a bad practice. That’s especially true when an artist removes paint from the skin with a solvent. Skin, the largest organ of the human body,
is a sponge for taking in substances. Unbroken skin may be good at repelling germs, but an artist negates that protection when he or she tries to remove paint from skin using a solvent-soaked paper towel. Skin absorbs solvents, and when you mix paints with a solvent, the paint can enter the body as well. When using oil paints, slathering paint on oneself and cleaning it off with solvent poses the greatest risk.

Common sense and careful studio practices are crucial to keeping the paint on the painting and off the body. My advice to painters who display a tendency to get paint all over themselves is to wear disposable gloves and to protect other areas of the body with clothing or an apron. When oil paint does get on the skin, remove the paint with plain soap and water. Painters who hate gloves should at least use a barrier cream, sold in art stores, that provides some degree of protection against paint components entering through the skin.

2. Paint in a well-ventilated area.

Use extra caution with paints classified as alkyd quick-drying colors. Unlike traditional oils, these contain a small amount of odorless solvent; you should not use these in a closed studio space unless you outfit that space with continuous airflow and exchange. When you use alkyd colors outdoors or in a well-ventilated studio, handle them in the same way as traditional oil paints.

Many artists, of course, don’t have studios, and some admit to painting in their kitchens. This is one place where food and painting materials have too great a chance to interact. In addition, the potential for fire rises when solvents come into close contact with cooking appliances. If possible, set up a painting area in another part of the home where you can establish ventilation that constantly changes the air in the space. As I’ve explained, when it comes to poor ventilation, the problem generally isn’t so much with the paint as with the solvents the artist uses for cleanup and paint dilution.

Waste Management for Oils

How to Use a Solvent Can

Open the can only when necessary and close it immediately after use. Wipe excess paint onto disposable paper towels before using solvent to clean brushes. This makes your solvent less prone to becoming overly dirty with paint. The solvent not only lasts longer, but you decrease your exposure to the solvent because you can clean your brushes quickly. Place the used paper towels in the closed metal can.

What to Do When the Solvent Can is Full

When the pigment waste in your plein air solvent can accumulates to the point of coming close to the bottom of the inner basket, it’s time to clean the solvent can and dispose of the pigment in the container. Let the can sit for several days until the pigment waste has settled to the bottom and some clear solvent remains on the surface. Slowly decant the clear solvent into another container for temporary storage. (You may want to purchase a second solvent can to use in tandem with the first one.)

Remove the inner basket from the solvent can containing the pigment waste. Pour the pigment sludge onto a flat piece of aluminum foil folded around the edges to create a shallow pan. Make sure you support the foil with a palette or sturdy piece of cardboard. Let the sludge dry outdoors in a safe place that won’t be disturbed. Fold the aluminum foil around the dry sludge, and take it to your local waste processing facility for disposal. Many counties have paint and hazardous waste reclamation programs for properly disposing of these types of materials.

Another option is to let the paint waste dry and then mix it with an alkyd medium to make a paint-like material that you can use to tone canvases or panels for future paintings.
With an adequate, well-ventilated space and a waste disposal method that limits solvents escaping into the studio, a family can live safely with an oil painting artist.

Tips To Make Your Art Project Exciting

Paint on something interesting

Time and time again I see students who paint or draw on white cartridge paper and nothing else. There is nothing wrong with cartridge paper. Some cartridge papers – especially thick, gutsy, wetstrength ones – are beautiful. Sometimes, a thin, flimsy sheet (the kind that warps at the mere hint of moisture) is all you need. But, often, experimentation and creativity with media brings considerable advantage. There is a joy –a wonderful aesthetic discovery – that takes place when you paint on something unexpected: a surface with history that brings with it colours, textures, marks and irregularities of its own.

Draw on coloured paper

The first thing you can do is embrace papers of other colours. Select those that integrate seamlessly with your coursework project (creams, browns, greys and blacks are likely to be more appropriate than psychedelic pink, for example).

Dark colours can be great for drawing on with light mediums; mid-tone papers (those that are a ‘medium’ tone – not too dark and not too light) are also excellent. As in theJuan Gris example above and the Indian ink work below, the colour of the paper acts as the mid-tone for the drawing; dark and light areas are added as required (this results in a piece that appears three-dimensional very quickly).

Embrace textured paper

There are lots of textured papers available. Some are machine made, pressed with a uniform mesh of bumps or grooves; others are handmade, with flecks of fibre, thread, tissue and other items intertwined within the paper pulp.  If you don’t have access to textured papers, you can easily find or make your own. Tear apart packaging or disassemble things you find in the trash. Source whatever scraps you can and draw on them, or cut, tear and glue them into a painting.

Discover the beauty of drawing on tracing paper 

Many people don’t realise that tracing paper is not just useful for tracing – it is an exciting drawing surface in its own right (see examples below by Debby Kaspari andMercedes Baliarda). Tracing paper can be used to make translucent overlays or glued onto white backing paper (be careful when gluing, as some tracing papers warp hugely when in contact with moisture). The shiny surface creates rich, glossy images that love to smudge and blacken your hands. Permatrace – a thick, waterproof drafting film – is particularly exhilarating: it produces some amazing outcomes with ink.

Use ripped, scrunched, folded, ripped, or stained paper or tissue

Tissue paper can be scrunched and glued onto a painting (shaping as required) to create a textural surface that can be painted over. As with other textures, dry-brushing will exaggerate them and make the fine web of creases more visible.

Paint or draw on patterned or textured wallpapers or other decorative surfaces

Care needs to be taken when integrating patterned items; it can be easy for the pattern to dominate and overpower a work. When appropriate imagery is selected,  however, patterned items can provide excellent drawing surfaces or collaged material.