I’m working on a couple of paintings at the moment that are a slight departure from my recent work. My Relationships Series of paintings generally had a narrative content, either implied, or conferred on them by the viewer. With these new works, I have removed the narrative content, by using the same model for each of the poses. In so doing, the viewer is free to study the relationships of the separate figures on the canvas.
The larger size of one of the canvases has presented a few challenges. Although I worked through each pose with drawings in previous sittings, I also sketched directly on the canvas whilst working with the model. The canvas is 1.2m tall, and I had quite an elevated viewpoint – standing on a chair. It entailed lots of stretching up and bending down; I can’t recall a painting session that was so physically demanding.
The second painting is more modest in size – 80cmx80cm – and is based on The Three Graces.
I recently sold this piece on New Blood Art. It was painted in 2007, but I have only shown it once briefly, in a recent group show (Stomach#2, at Hoxton Arches). It’s a favourite of mine, and it’s nice to know that it will finally be on display somewhere.
Newbloodart.com was founded in in 2004, and is an online contemporary art gallery that sells original work by selected emerging artists. I have only had my work on there for a short while, and any difficulties I have had with this site are, funnily enough, a direct result of it’s main strength. Although new artists are advised to “take ownership” of their portfolio page, and keep their bios and statements up to date; actually trying to do this can turn into a frustrating process. Every aspect of the site is curated by the owner, Sarah Ryan. She has to approve every addition or amendment to your portfolio details, and selects which of the work submitted is shown.
A quick look at the website will demonstrate why this is a good thing. The artwork on offer is generally of a good standard, and artist’s details are presented clearly, and in a consistent manner, making it easier to browse through the portfolios. I might have found it difficult adapting to no longer having full control over how my work is presented, but that will be the case with any artist/gallery relationship, and the same applies to my relationship with The South Galleries, a bricks-and-mortar gallery. New Blood Art has a proven track record, and clearly has more experience and expertise than myself at finding buyers for Art……. Still, it is hard not being in control.
I often wonder about the the creative process. and how best to optimise my working methods. I have tried to identify the most favourable environmental conditions – the best breakfast , the most suitable background music- and the most effective working practices; but the abandoned and incomplete canvases scattered around my studio are testament to the fact that my methods are neither efficient nor productive.
At any one time, I will usually be working on two or three paintings, and will have at least a dozen half-finished paintings leaning against the walls. What happens is that I have no problems working through the preliminary stages – finalising the composition and setting the tonal values – and then I hit a brick wall. I will set the painting up on the easel as usual, but for some reason my mind will go blank. No amount of staring, or not staring, drinking tea or walking the dog will remedy the situation. I will have no ideas about where to start working on the painting, and it will look to me like the work of another artist. No matter what I do, I can’t avoid this artist’s block. Instead, I just have to regard it as another stage in the creative process – a time for pause, for reflection.
The three paintings that I am working on now are a perfect illustration of how this problem affects my execution of a painting. Painting 1 is my most recent canvas. It’s based on drawings and photos from a sitting some nine months ago. I was pleased with how the painting was developing. I’m reasonably happy with the composition, and I think the poses are interesting to paint. However, when I sat it on my easel yesterday, I felt nothing. I felt no connection with this painting, and was at a loss about where to go with it. It’s facing the wall now. I will take a look at it in a month, and hope I will see it differently.
My time working on painting 2 has been a long hard slog. From a promising start, when I felt very enthusiastic about the poses and composition, I managed to spoil the painting with the finishing glazes. I ended up removing the offending glazes and sanding down the paint surface in order to start afresh. I’m now in the process of applying those final glazes again, but I’m happier with the effect this time around.
Painting 3 is a puzzle. It had become quite tedious working on the figures, and I was very unhappy with the composition. I abandoned this painting months ago, seeing no redeeming features in it. When I stumbled upon it yesterday, whilst looking for another painting, I saw it with fresh eyes, and a genuine enthusiasm. I like the poses, and can’t wait to start working on it again.
Producing a painting, recreating one’s vision upon the canvas, can be a difficult process, involving a real battle with the medium. Although often frustrating, these same challenges are the main attraction of painting. If it were easy and predictable, I don’t think I would want to do it every day.
I had my first sitting with a new model yesterday. The whole process, from finding a suitable model amongst the multitude of faces on various model networking sites; to making first contact, and explaining my work and current projects; to when the model finally arrives in the studio.., well, it can be difficult.
I am quite particular about selecting models to work with. Apart from looking for an interesting face and features, I also expect a professional approach to work, and preferably some experience in life modelling. Probably the most important requirement is a pleasant personality. My life drawing sessions will last between three and four hours, and may be repeated any number of times, as I try to develop poses for my compositions. They will be physically demanding of the model, and will require great concentration on both our parts. Working in a small studio with someone under such conditions would be quite tedious if the model wasn’t good natured and easy to talk to.
Yesterday went very well. The model arrived on time, was extremely professional and excellent at their job, maintaining poses well. This particular model has a fascinating, expressive face, which is what compelled me to contact her in the first place.
I’ve been in the doldrums with my work recently. I’m finishing off paintings that are based on sittings from months ago, but I’ve been bereft of ideas for new compositions. For quite some time I’ve been searching for a new model, with a distinctive, compelling look, that would add something to my compositions. I didn’t know what “look” I was after, and just thought that I’d know when I saw it. This new model had just such a look, and I was absolutely delighted when she agreed to work with me.
The first sitting with a new model is a process of learning how they look under different lighting and in different poses. Each body is different. I prepare beforehand by making small sketches of the poses I want to work through, but until the model is actually lying or standing there in the studio, I don’t know how they will look in each different pose.
During yesterday’s sitting I worked through eight short poses, which are now forming a mood board on my studio wall. They are just the beginning of the process. The next stage will be to develop some of the poses further, doing more detailed drawings. Making changes where the poses aren’t quite working: creating more interesting, dynamic shapes; avoiding boring straight lines. All the time I will leave the “moodboard” there, to offer inspiration for my next compositions. It’s working already, and I’m looking forward to my next sitting. Artistically, I’m in a very different place today than I was yesterday, before I met my new muse.
Since April 2013 I’ve been hiring models on a regular basis. Prior to this I’d been using friends, relatives and reluctant partners as models. Having been seriously let down by a friend, after months of planning for a painting, I decided that I would start working with professional models from now on.
Of course I’ve worked with professional life models in various life drawing groups over the years, but had never hired a model for a one to one sitting. Joining life drawing groups was fine as an exercise, as drawing practice, but was useless for developing poses for my compositions; I would never enjoy much control over the lighting and the model’s pose.
My first attempts to find a model were via Gumtree. Although my first advert for a life model was successful, and I found an excellent model with whom I worked regularly for several months, subsequent attempts to find portrait models via Gumtree were a waste of time. Communications with prospective models were painfully drawn out, and the models who I found (with one exception) were so uncomfortable and self-conscious posing, that it made the sitting a nightmare.
I then discovered that I could have an Artist portfolio account on the popular model networking sites ModelMayhem.com and PurplePort.com which has made it so much easier to find models to work with. The forums on these sites are filled with photographers moaning about being let down by models, but in my experience, every model I have worked with has been completely reliable and professional. When there are so many uncertainties and anxieties involved in creating a painting, it has been such a relief to find that arranging a sitting with a model can be completed in just a couple of emails, and sometimes within a few minutes.
The life models I have worked with via these sites have proved to be completely comfortable with and experienced at posing nude, which makes my life so much easier. One thing that always surprised me about the numerous models I have encountered in various life classes and groups over the years, including my college life drawing lessons years ago, was just how few seemed completely comfortable with what they were doing. Many of them acted like they were doing it for a dare!
I am very selective about who I work with. For any particular painting I may be looking for a specific body type, but I will always look for a face that intrigues me. I consider my nude paintings to be portraits. I am fascinated in the whole process, starting with the model posing – what is their motivation? It’s seldom just about the money. What is the artist’s fascination with depicting the nude figure? It’s not about titillation. And what does the viewer see in the product of this relationship.
Well, that’s how one of my paintings has been described. Sean Worrall, gallerist and artist at Cultivate Evolved, had to endure an early morning tirade by an angry visitor as he opened up shop on Thursday. This is what Sean posted on his Facebook page:
Well it would appear that Peter’s fine painting up there is “sick” and “evil” painting I (for it was me, Sean, who had to listen to the rather forceful abuse when I opened the gallery this morning) am an “evil sick satanic bringer of bad things” and I should be ashamed to bringing such unchristian lesbian sickness to the eyes of good people etc etc…. Do like a reaction, but he’s not really been paying attention if that one offends him so much….
As an artist who specialises in painting the human figure, I have occasionally encountered some conservatism towards the subject of the nude, and it has limited my opportunities to show my work at some venues. I have also encountered the odd wry smile or grin when I’ve observed people viewing my work, but I have never encountered an angry reaction to my work. In an age when the mass media is filled with sexualised imagery, I find it genuinely surprising that this painting could provoke such a response. Just glad I wasn’t there.
I’ve had a nice run lately where I’ve had paintings hanging on a wall somewhere or other, all through the year. Although it’s nice – in fact, it is the main reason I paint – every exhibition opportunity costs money, even if it’s just transporting the paintings to and from the gallery. With maxed out credit cards, I’ve started to think more about which opportunities offer value for money. I don’t see much point in going to a lot of trouble and expense to get your work shown, unless it’s actually going to be seen by people interested in Art.
Competitions and Open exhibitions. I’d grown a bit tired of these, with their inconsistent judging, over-crowded opening nights and awful cheap wine. I used to go to the openings in the vain hope that I’d have a chance to meet collectors and curators, but the only people I would find were either other artists, or friends of artists, or friends of friends of artists. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the ArtGemini Prize early this year. Apart from having a nice selection of work, it was in a very nice gallery (Rebecca Hossack Gallery, Conway St., London), and the opening was a bit classier than the usual affair. Great selection of cocktails, no cheap wine, and some interesting introductory speeches before the prize giving. I’ll probably enter this one again, if I have any paintings available.
Art Society open exhibitions. I’m decidedly wary of these. If you’ve ever submitted work to one of the many such exhibitions hosted by the Mall Galleries, and queued up outside with all the other hopeful artists, you will realise just how many entries these exhibitions attract. What they don’t make so clear, before they take your entry fee, is that most of the selected work will in fact be by society members, not leaving many spaces available for all those fee paying hopefuls. Just seems like a way for them to fund their little exhibitions.
Having said all that, I was quite impressed by what I saw of the Chelsea Art Society Open. I submitted a painting to their show earlier this year, and had it turned down. If I’d done my research, I would have realised it just wasn’t suitable for that show. I’d originally wanted to enter the show as I remember working in the venue, the Old Town Hall, in my previous life as a painter/decorator. It’s a lovely building, nicely situated along the Kings Road. The entry fee is reasonable, and I like the way judging is completed the same day as the paintings are delivered, and so you don’t have to wait an age before you can collect unselected work. When I collected my unwanted piece, it was the Society President, Luke Martineau, who took me to my painting. He offered some really good advice, and was very helpful. I’ll definitely try to enter this one again. They seem genuinely interested in inviting other artists to exhibit with them, rather than just make a profit out of them, which sadly is the norm.
Group exhibitions. I’ve been involved in a number of these. There was the After Adam show a few years back, which was a nicely curated selection of paintings by three artists whose main focus was the human form. Unfortunately it was in a wholly inappropriate venue, and it’s only real value was as another line on my cv, which is a shame. I’ve been involved in a couple of more lively events this year. Stomach#2, Hoxton Arches, which was a one night show, and Open Wall at Façade, London Wall. Both were great opportunities to meet other artists – not that I’m any good at the networking thing. Sometimes it’s just nice to meet other artists, and learn they’re having the same problems you are!
More recently I’ve had the opportunity to show my work at Cultivate Evolved, an artist run space on Vyner Street, London. It was quite a revelation going up there on a First Thursday, and seeing a steady procession of people walking through the small gallery all evening. Having worked hard to get my work shown in a number of venues this year, only for my handiwork to hang on the wall of an empty gallery for two or more weeks, unnoticed by anyone, it was a real joy to see so many people casting their eyes over my efforts. No matter that most of them walk straight past. What does matter, and is what makes it all worthwhile – the struggling without money, as it’s all spent on paints, canvases and models fees – the sleeping on a sofa for months, as I’ve had to rent my bedroom out to a lodger in order to pay the bills – the constant struggle with my Art – what makes it all worth while is when someone takes the trouble to stand in front of one of my paintings, and really takes the time to look at it.