‘Practice Makes Perfect’   Or Does It?

‘Practice Makes Perfect’ Or Does It?

 

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Practice Makes Perfect?  Or does it?

 

As the Pastel Academy Online’s pre launch phase begins (see next newsletter) I have had many more questions put to me about ‘why’ I am starting it.   Well maybe this blog adds a little to that understanding.

 

I can’t count the amount of times I have heard phrases like; The work of an artist is all about ‘Trial and Error’.  It is a case of ‘Practice Makes Perfect’.     

If anything is likely to get me frustrated it is those two phrases.  Why?  Because very day on my art Facebook groups, I see those phrases used more or less daily, and almost always they are used out of context.   Potentially good artists diligently practicing methods which are to say the least – not the best or most productive ones.

So this blog is going to ask you a couple of questions – more on those later.

Why Practice does not make Perfect.

 

You have been practicing for what seems like forever.

Now you feel you are at least proficient with what you can do.

You have learnt the hard way – by trial and error.

I know because this describes me – the path I took and by circumstance I was forced to take if I were to learn what I wanted to learn in my art.   But all I knew was that there must be a better way.

Did practice make perfect for me?     Eventually yes – but I was pretty lucky in the choices I made.  Very lucky in fact.  So luck had a lot to do with it.

Having learned the basics of the head structure and perspective,  this was a fruitful period of practice on self portrait drawings.   I studied facial anatomy books – which is the hard way.  Now I teach portraiture using the lessons I wish I had when I was developing. A good teacher will synthesize and condense the important lessons for you.

My Summer Portrait Seminar in the Ribble Valley; an annual seminar with a waiting list every year.     The seminars were 7 days with studio live study work during the day and a lecture programme on portraiture in the evenings.   Plenty of chance to pack in all the important basics which I wished I had been given when my learning began.

The Big Reality Check

 

Then there is the simple fact that should have there been better ways for me to learn – it would have come at quite a cost.   That cost would have been on a few levels.   For one thing money was tight.    When I started my studies in earnest, I was living in a northern town with no university, and no ‘degree’ courses possible in the area.  I was also a young Mum, and to make matters worse I didn’t drive.  So finding an alternative way of learning for me was – it seemed – impossible.  Of course there was no internet either.  So I went on a self-taught track, and supplemented my learning with evening classes in art history.

If given the opportunity – would I have done it differently?

Well put it this way, yes I would.  In a heartbeat.    The self-taught route can not only be lonely, it can lead you up the garden path – the wrong path.   It can also take an age to achieve relatively little in the process..

Oh in an Ideal World……..

 

Think about it this way.    A musician goes to the Royal College of Music, or one of the other reputable musical academies.    A painter is lucky enough to get a place in one of the top university art departments; the Royal Academy if they are lucky.    A budding dress designer gets a chance of a place at the Royal College of Art.    What have they all got in common?     Well clearly even having been admitted they have their first real accreditation – they are good enough to have got a place.  That knowledge is giving them a degree of personal and artistic confidence in the first place.

What else have they in common?  They are lucky – lucky to have secured this head start – and they are going to get the specific education they need – what I call the recipes; the methods and techniques which are the best practices.  The basic and fundamental stuff and when you have this quality input; specific focused knowledge – that is when practice makes perfect.   

Heather tutoring a Colour Theory class.

Heather’s Still Life Workshop; composition in StillLife Masterclass 2014.

The reality for so many of us

 

So you are at home – maybe with a young family, or looking after elderly relatives.   No chance of a place at the Royal Academy.  SO you ‘play’ and try and work out your medium and how it works,  and it’s the trial and error game.    Not so bad when you are young maybe, but as you get older ‘time’ takes on different meaning. There is less of it.     So eventually you might get a result – develop a technique maybe – that you are happy with and seems to work for you.

On your personal artistic growth scale you might have gone from 1 – 4 (on a scale of ten).   But how would you know?  By your own judgement?  You are not in a college with other students learning at the same time to compare your efforts to.

 

Beware the Praise of loved Ones!

 

In as much as their praise and encouragement is given in the very best of intentions, you need to ask yourself this:   How long has it taken me to learn what I know so far?  Does my Mum or sister or Dad really know anything about what I am doing?     My father had a massive influence on my young teenage art ‘career’, but his idea of art was making it look like a photograph.    Did that help me?  No it didn’t.   But his views are widely echoed especially by those who have not read a book about art, and never intend to, like my father.  What my father gave me was encouragement and support, but his opinion on my work had little value.

So I was destined never to have an objective opinion for a long time.  And without that – we are back to our lonely position of doubt.  No wonder so many self-taught artists are lacking in confidence.

So Practice Eventually will make perfect – Yes?

 

All too often the answer to that is no.  Why?    Well the idea behind practice makes perfect is simply this;   like the kid in music school – they are taught the musical scales – and told to practice and practice.

The key is of course they were taught the musical scales in the first place.  

Having been given the tried and true recipe, yes practice will make perfect.  Without the initial information that you need, you might well be ‘making do’.

 

‘But you shouldn’t be just making the best of poor or ineffective methods – methods that are probably holding you back – maybe a collection of poor habits you have become accustomed to and that is even worse for your artistic development.’

 

I cannot think of a worse scenario than spending months practicing a method or technique that was doomed to fail in the first place. But you weren’t to know.    Stabbing in the dark is just exactly that – sometimes you will hit your target – sometimes – most times you won’t.  You might buy a book of another artists work and copy their style, and methods and you will make some headway, but at best you will only that one technique – and many practical art books are put out by artists who specialist in just one method – in one medium and in one technique, and very often using specified materials.      What you are doing in fact is a little like attempting to learn how to fancy wedding cake – without having learned how to make a simple cup cake and measure the ingredients first.    Trying to make a ballroom gown without a clue how to use a sewing machine.

More practice by way of my self portrait series and at this stage I was looking for ideas to bring something different to the sketches.  I was particularly interested in expression as can be seen!  All this was live in the mirror of course – it is the only way to develop real control over your portrait skills.   When I need to or have to I can turn these skills to working from photography – and can do so without ‘copying’ an image as much as interpreting it with a view to breathing life into it.

So is there any Merit in Trial and Error?

 

Learn the best practices and the tried, true and tested methods, and yes – then practice can make perfect.

 

In fact it is the Perfect practice that makes Perfect.

 

Well experimentation is a key principal of traditional art training.  Picasso is the perfect example.  But practice is most effective in the hands of the student who has learnt the basics and understands what they are practicing! When you are trying to learn the basics by trial and error – it is just an exercise in frustration and patience, and all too often, wasting time.    So for many trial and error is a pain, and when all is said and done – how do you know what is working?

So lets get back to that Ideal world……….

 

What are the best ways to learn and develop as an artist?    Ways that don’t cost the earth and give more results for your money? Well to start with try very hard to get some training in the basics in art.    That means stuff that isn’t medium specific – but applies to work in all mediums; composition, tonal values, colour theory, perspective.   Unfortunately, all too many developing artists go for details and technical tricks first.    And also they go to occasional workshops set up by other artists who don’t teach the basics – and frankly probably don’t even know them.  This is the one method, one way, kind of workshop – where a group of people get together in a room to all paint the same painting.   Fine – once you have learnt the basics!   But often this approach is poor educationally.

 

Then consider not trying to ‘Specialise’ too early.

 

I did, because I began as 13 year old who loved portraits.  IAt that age I was basically just following one path instinctively.   I eventually diversified, and wish I had done it so much sooner, but I got into the trap of trying to earn a living from my ‘art’, out of necessity – which works for a while.  But I wanted to improve as an artist – not become complacent with a few techniques under my belt.   Learning landscape has taught me the real important stuff I needed to develop my portraiture.  Strange but true! (I later learned that this is why top university art departments take the same approach.)

Have your ultimate goal in mind but step outside that single minded frame of mind when you can – you will be amazed at what you learn. Whatever you circumstance and whatever your relationship to your creative art is – I hope that some of what I have written here resonates with you.    And it is so important to push home the point – it is never too late to learn – and to improve and above all else to feel good about your work and how it is developing.

 

So as I said in the beginning of this blog – I have a couple of questions for you:

 

1.  Have you ever questioned the idea that some practice might not be productive?

2.  Are you also self taught?  Have you been frustrated by lack of guidance?   Have you learnt from books?

3.  If you have attended college courses, have you this far managed to get some tuition on the basics?  Colour Theory?  Tonal Values?   Basic Drawing?  Composition?  Perspective?  Or did you learn them at school?

Please use the comments section below and I look forward to hear your stories.

 

Click on this link for the download of the Leisure Painter article and look out for my new article in next months issue!

 

Meanwhile I am on my own learning curve – finalizing the launch details of the Pastel Academy!    News on the opening is coming very soon.    The first step will be to invite some beta testers!    So more on that in a couple of weeks.

Update on The Pastel Academy Online11

Update on The Pastel Academy Online11

The Pastel Academy Blog

The Pastel Academy Online Blog

News, Views & Pastel Perspectives

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The promised Updates on the Pastel Academy Online

 

The Academy train is rolling along, with still so much to do but at least it is on the right track!

Without doubt it is a massive undertaking but all the best things are worth waiting for.     One of the things that has not helped me is the fact that there is nothing out there in internet land, like the Academy, so I am more or less breaking new ground with this project.  It is exciting for sure but without doubt the Academy is pretty unique.  Why?   Well I’m an artist at the top of my game,  but rather than further career building, I am more passionate about my medium and mentoring the next generation of pastel artists, and for good reason.    So my time is now taken up with the Academy, and I am more excited about it than I would be putting together a new one woman exhibition.  In fact I’m very excited about the fact it is online rather than a real world brick built building housing a pastel school. Online, you can all participate.   Offline pastel tuition of this calibre would be down to access and affordability – travel, accommodation etc.

So the upside is – potentially you can all participate.  The downside – there is a limit as to how many enrollees I am able to take in.   More on that later.

The Big Decisions

At the moment the website is in full construction mode, and will remain in that mode for as long as it takes to complete of course.     I have looked at different kinds of models for the Academy and in the end chose the simplest and most effective solution.

The choices I had to make centred on whether it would be best to complete each course and then put them onto an online teaching platform – costed basically on their length and content, or, to house all the courses on a platform (website) of my own at a similar cost, or – not to charge for the courses individually, but to house them all on a website of my own on a membership basis.

After some consideration there was no contest:   The Pastel Academy will follow the membership site model.    The reasons are simple:

  • I want the Academy to be a learning hub for Pastel not just a place to buy courses.

 

  • I shall be filming many courses and access to them all would be a financial headache for many people.

 

 

  • As well as the all important courses on all areas of pastel work (and drawing), it is my aim to set up a constantly growing pastel directory.

 

  • Above all else the tutor mentoring aspect of the Academy is my priority. With that in mind I want the Academy to have a live training function; including challenges, projects and feedback.   In short – the same as going to pastel college.   (No – there isn’t one out there!)

 

  • Part of this live training function: an active and supportive Academy community.

 

  • An additional function which covers earning a living from Pastel.

 

Heather tutoring a Colour Theory class.

Heather’s Masterclass Demonstration for Pastel D’Opale,  France 2014.

 

The best and most efficient way to deliver all of the Academy’s services is via what is in effect a private Membership Pastel Club online.     Then when you enrol on a monthly membership (or a discounted annual one) you have access to the Academy resources.

So now the Academy looks something like this:

 

The Pastel Academy will be a private members club under my tutelage.    It will feature:

 

  1. A library of courses covering all aspects of pastel in portrait, landscape and still life. Courses also in basics in drawing and sketching, and the important basics such as Composition, colour theory, tonal values etc.    No good being a great pastel technician if you are making simple composition mistakes.
  2. A monthly Live Training session (webinar) where I set projects and challenges for review the following month.   This will include a special beginners section.
  3. An Exclusive Academy community forum – which will form an important part of the Academy resources.   Somewhere where you can safely post your work – out of the public eye – and get quality feed back if requested.    Also somewhere where important discussions re pastel and the art business can be explored.
  4. A Pastel history section.       I shall be publishing my university research on pastel history in the Academy.     As a pastel historian this is one aspect of the Academy which will also grow into an important resource.
  5. A Resources Directory covering: suppliers, manufacturers, links, Pastel Societies,   Society Exhibitions,  free photography (copyright free) sources, copies of my Leisure Painter articles in PDF format,  and much more.
  6. A Handy Hints & Tips page; subjects not large enough to warrant a full course being made – but important tips on paper choice, fixative, travelling kits, plein air work and kits, studio set ups, pastel storage etc.
  7. The Academy Blog, yes this page, will assume a different function when the Academy goes live.   The blog will host guest bloggers, and guests from the world of pastel:  manufacturers, Mail order suppliers, and all will be asked to bring with them a special offer for our members!     Usually a one time only offer which will represent good value for members.     In return these same guests may ask for your opinions for their own market research.In this way the blog will form a bridge between members and suppliers/pastel related companies.   It will be useful to you and to them,

And finally there will be a very important extra addition. 

I have been thinking about this for some time having been asked by artists over the years how I have built my career.

8. A programme for earning your living as a pastel artist. This will include  a course on marketing, and tuition relating to becoming a pastel tutor.    Another part of this programme will be advice on marketing your art both online and off..

This is something I am pretty passionate about and which is also in response to my survey questions last month.    Yes, I do have a lot of experience in marketing myself and yes I will be giving advice and adding that into my course content. (What you might not know is that I was accepted into Lancaster University back in 1990, as a mature student, on an Arts/Marketing ticket).

This is something that is of great interest to quite a few of you.     For me it is yet another way of putting down in course form,  my experience as an artist from a business level, and how to survive as one lol!         It matters particularly to me that I should be passing this information on to pastel artists of course, but this is one section that applies to all visual artists.

***This last Academy function will come under a separate membership level – a Platinum level membership.   It is something that might be of little interest to beginners and learners – at least until you are confident in your abilities – but something available to you down the line when you are ready to upgrade to platinum level.   (Of course Platinum level will also have other exclusive features).

The Academy Members – who will they be?

The is a really important consideration.    First of all let me outline my commitment;     Obviously I have been living and breathing this project for over a year now and in fact when the Academy goes live I shall be even busier.     The Academy will in effect become my art school.    I shall be on duty in the Community forums,  setting up a beginners program and providing Live Training every month.  In addition  to bringing in some interesting ‘guests’ into the blogs.   I shall be running the content creation program (courses PDF’s ebooks etc.)  and running the online functioning of the Academy – the Membership site software itself – and I’m not a techie!

I am doing this because I know I can make a big difference,  and I want my life’s work to be of value when I’m no longer around. Pastel’s reputation and standing in the art world is my motivation, and the Academy’s role for me is in training the next generation of pastel artists – who will get the chance to hit the ground running because I am mentoring them.

 

So firstly let me say that a massive membership list is not my aim.    

There is a limit to the number I am willing to take in.   Some of course will need more guidance than others, but I don’t want a mass of students who are not going to get the full benefits of Academy Member ship because they lack commitment.

In fact the Academy will be open for enrolment three times a year, following its initial launch.   (This figure may change but it is the one I am working towards at the moment.)   This is particularly important to the beginners program, and there may be a more flexible enrolment policy for more advanced pastelists.     The people on my email list – all of you reading this – will be offered the chance to enrol first.

So how do I get word about the Academy out and still attract the right students?     Well one way I can do this is with your help.   I shall be running an;

Affiliate Program

Which means that if you refer (recommend) the Academy to someone you know who you think will benefit from it, and they sign up, you will receive a commission.   More on this later, but it is a good way to participate in the growth of the Academy and earn something towards your fees.

Membership levels.

At the moment I am planning just two levels – gold and platinum and I am working on the membership level fee structure at the moment.     There is an option of a silver level should that become a requirement.

So that updates you all on the Academy and how it will work.    I know that you will have many questions and this is what you can do for me.

  • First ask any questions in the comments below (or email me if you prefer, but others might like to see the questions and answers in the comments below).
  • Then  I would like you to tell me (given the outline of the Academy and what it offers)  – how much would you value it / charge for it per month?     I really do value your input at this stage, because pricing and costing is a big consideration.   As a guide, take into consideration what it would cost you to go to workshops and classes in the UK,  (yes I realise that there are not many of you with access to such classes without travel and accommodation costs)   and then add my name, experience and reputation into the equation and come up with a figure – even if it is one you would find hard to meet personally, state what you consider would be a fair price.   As a further guide – a ballpark figure might be within the $30 a  month ($1 a day!)   and $45 a month ($1.50 a day) or $60 a month ($2 a day) or $90 a month ($3 a day) etc.    (The fees will be quoted in dollars for reasons of business ease of use).
  • Also let me know also which of the Academy’s features as outlined above, you would find the most useful and why?     Feedback from you all is important at this juncture.
  • Let me know if there is a feature that you would find useful which I have not outlined above.  I have been through many revisions on content already so it is probably something I have thought about, but you never know, maybe it is something I have not thought about.
  • Let me know also if any of you already belong  to a membership site.   I belong to two and I am a happy member of both of them so I am used to how they work.   For some subjects they are wonderful and because the best ones are jam-packed full of features they are incredibly good value.

Please add your questions in the comments section below or if you wish send them through the email address on the newsletter.   I will read and answer them all – and I look forward to reading your comments!

‘Great Darling – It Looks Just Like a Photograph!’

‘Great Darling – It Looks Just Like a Photograph!’

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 Is Your Goal to Paint Photorealist Images or your Learning Process?

On my Facebook group Pastel Artists Uk some amazing conversations regarding all aspects of the artists life take place.    The issue of photorealism is a current hot topic; in fact it is always a hot topic.

This post is not about pro or against a style of painting.   There are far more interesting issues.  Photography is very much a part of our world and our use of it is important as artists.

So what is photorealism?  And why is it so contentious?   In short it is artwork which is as close as the artist can get to imitating the role of the camera – a photo realistic rendition of a subject.   The opposite of photo realistic work might be Impressionism – an ‘impression’ of reality rather than a photo realistic copy.   
Now as an artist and a tutor I have a pretty broad opinion on the subject; one which comes with age and experience.   
Largely the issue seems to have been seen as cut and dried.    You are either a fan or your not.    You are a photorealist or your not.     But it isn’t that simple.  The issue of photorealism is part of all artists experience.
Above: Monet –  Bridge at Argentuil Right: John Singer Sargent – Lady Agnew of Lochnaw 1893 On the surface these images look ‘real’ but neither are photo realist.  They are both well known paintings which are considered Impressionistic.   Monet and Sargent were good friends and often painted together although their subjects were different.   Some would say ‘realism’ is in the eye of the beholder?

An Artists Beginnings

In this case mine.   I was a child artist and not from a family of artists.  What I learnt was from experience -and I can’t even think of any books that taught portrait techniques back then, but I was not in the ‘art world’.   So what I had was a passion to do portraits and no way of learning how to do them other than from copying from art books of great masters, and trying to do a half decent job on my favourite pop stars from photos in teen magazines.  
My father and the rest of my family loved to encourage me.  I found out early on that approval came from my work ‘looking just like a photograph’!   At that time – 13/14 years old I was OK with that.   They were adults, and knew better than me (even thought they didn’t of course).     Meanwhile I had a mini teenage ‘career’ capturing ‘amazing’ likenesses of my favourite people.   

Steady Improvement 

So on I went – getting better and better at making my portraits look just like the photograph – and eventually with time and practice I developed something more of my style and approach to my work.   But this happened gradually over a few years and almost without my noticing it.  
 I was also by that time researching my favourite artists and being influenced by them – which is inevitable.  ( That meant trips to the library of course)  Dad was still encouraging me along a photorealistic path – ‘Great darling – looks just like a photograph’,   and I began to feel ‘unsatisfied’ with what I was doing.     That was not my aim.    I’m not sure I could have told you what my aim was at the time but it wasn’t to just look like the photo.      He thought Canelletto was the greatest artist ever (his work is very photographic) but I preferred Monet, and Van Gogh and Rembrandt.     But I was severely limited to what I could learn from books I could access as a 13 year old.  
Later on in my research into Pastel I discovered the great French pastelist Jean-Baptiste-Simeon-Chardin along with so many others – whose work remains an influence to this day (portrait below of Chardin – his self portrait).  Probably one of the first to not use a finger blended approach to his pastels.  His work is a total tapestry of light; made up of a huge variety of marks in colour.  Click on the photo to see it in a lightbox.    
 

Portrait Painters have a Special Relationship with Photographic Accuracy 

 
Without my passion to get the painting as accurate as possible I would not have been able to develop to the artist I am today. But the thing is – I recognise now that chasing photographic accuracy was part of my development and once the skills developed – I gradually moved on;  a natural development.  
It is very difficult to paint the same way – exactly the same way – for 40 years!     In fact were that the case I would have wanted to give up 39 years ago.  But in fact that is part of the idea behind photo realistic painting;  to reach photographic perfection, and once that stage is reached what is next? 
It is good to remember that chasing accuracy to photographic levels for most artists is a skill building exercise.  It is up to you to decide when to move on to other skills and levels of development;  or whether to become a fully fledged card carrying photorealist.    
A budding portrait artist can find it confusing, because of the added complication of capturing that all important likeness, which is all about accuracy of drawing.   Believe me when I say that capturing a likeness is rarely just to do with photographic skills.     Ask yourself this – think of your favourite artists – and I don’t mean those posting on the same Facebook groups as you – but some of the great masters ( I refuse to say ‘and mistresses’!)  of art,  how many are photorealist?     Your favourite artists are a clue as to the artist you might become.   

My Tutor’s Head thinks in a different way

Now many years down the line – I still love Monet and Sargent and Rembrandt, and a whole realm of fabulous women artists which until 1990 I didn’t know existed .   My opinions are not just shaped by my own artistic experience but by my life as a tutor, and increasingly more as a mentor.    I think as a tutor and a mentor.   When someone posts on my Facebook group I respond and react as a tutor and a mentor, and I do it without thinking because I am passionate that the information on Pastel Artists UK is as accurate as possible, for the benefit of the group member, and for pastel.

So what do I think of Photorealism and artistic learning?

This is the crux of the matter for me.
My stance on photographic realism is that too many beginner artists think that is where the ‘art’ is.  The ‘skill’.    It is just one small part of the success of a portrait.     If you a passionate to learn those skills, with practice the chances are that you will.  
But beginners confidence can be very fragile.    When I think back I didn’t develop my skills in the same world as Facebook, where every day budding artists log on and see a lot of work –  good work – some really good.   That can be demoralising on a daily basis when you are a beginner. But that apart, my real issue with photorealism is the idea that producing work which is a photographic likeness is the aim of the game.  Even in portraiture it is so much more than that.  Such skills in artists did exist before cameras were ever invented of course – when the realistic skills of artists was the first consideration; that is what artists did,  but with the invention of cameras, the need for artists to chase photographic accuracy diminished.   So in an ideal world for me – beginners would be inspired by nature rather than photorealism.   Well I did say ‘ideal’ lol.     It is of course all down to the kind of artist you want to be.  Artist or Artisan.
Luckily, like you handwriting, your artistic style will emerge out of your own particular character and personality – for good or bad!  

So I have an awkward relationship with photographic realism.    

Like anyone I can admire some of the skill, but I personally prefer a non photographic approach;   I don’t feel the need to compete with a camera lens, because with experience I realise that photos are all too often lacking – especially in the kind of ‘light’ I portray.  I can only get that from studying nature.  
But as a tutor,   I am all too aware that the issue is a more important one than mere ‘I like’ or I dont like’, or whether it is or is not ‘our style’,   it also touches on how we see ourselves as artists – and how we measure ourselves against a camera lens and also against each other; beginners especially; those most vulnerable to having confidence issues. So realising that sweating over the details is a valid part of your growth process might well be the time you too will realise that artistic development may well take you through many stages, not just this one.   It can be quite a ride!
 
Feel free to add your thoughts on this blog in the comments below.    It is an interesting subject, and I know it affects many of you.
Check out these links for more on photorealism:
photorealism revisited       (video)
I would very much appreciate it if you would leave a comment/question below.     It helps me to know how you see your own artistic development,   aand the more people who engage in the subject – the more interesting it will become!
So Why Am I Shelving My Own Career for a Mad Mission?

So Why Am I Shelving My Own Career for a Mad Mission?

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Why I decided to Put My Own Work to One Side for as Long as It takes to Complete My Mission

Quite a few people have messaged me about this and I said I would explain it better in my blog.

 

Writing, Painting, Sketching &  Drawing, Planning, Photography, Documenting, Organising, Teaching, Exhibiting, Dealing with Galleries, Motivating, Self Motivating, Self Disciplining,  Advising, Encouraging,  Computing………Blogging……….

All these things are part of the life of a modern day artist.     That and a lot more besides.   All that and for many –  you can add being a Mum or a Dad, running a house, weekly shopping, keeping a job, a carer, or caring for family……the list never ends. Conclusion:    Your artwork is often difficult to fit in to you daily lives?   Sometimes you feel annoyed about that? In my last post I asked ,   ‘When did you know you were or wanted to become an artist?’  The response was wonderful, and heartwarming and many of you shared your personal stories.   For some of you I think it might have been the first time you had shared your thoughts and feelings about your work, and for others it was probably the first time you had even thought about the question. But it is important that you do think about these questions – in particular if you are trying to carve out a career as an artist.  ( Even if you are just what you regard as a ‘hobby painter’,   you probably care about your work enough to want to give time to it;  learning time and developing time.) So now is the real big question:

Why Do You Want to Be An Artist?

Lets be honest here – trying to earn your living as an artist is hardly a good game plan if you are looking for a regular income. Some of you reading this right now are probably wondering the same thing – and yet – for what ever your reason, your art is a part of your life,  and a part that you most likely treasure.       And what if you are not interested in earning an income from your work?  Let alone a living wage.    What makes you want to be an artist?

So here is the thing:

I grew up with a multi talented (or skilled – whatever you might call it), Grandmother – you know the idea – whatever my Nanna Ada did – she did beautifully.   During the 2nd World War she was a busy lady;  making clothes for the family, and wedding dresses for those who could get enough clothing coupons together to buy enough fabric to make a wedding dress.   Ada was also a knitting pattern designer, and an expert in knitting and crochet. (for those of you who dont know what rationing coupons were – Google wll keep you busy for weeks! )      Special clothes -even for men. She was an talented florist (the ‘go to person’ for a wedding for sure – she covered it all) – and spent hours ‘wiring’ flowers for lapels and bouquets. Her cooking was renowned – a real home cook of course – eating out was not something people she knew did during those years. Come Christmas – her artistry made the festivities memorable – special pies and Ada’s tarts,   and her Christmas Trifle was something the whole street came to see before it was eaten.  (It was made in a punch bowl). Her Christmas house decorations were amazing and cost nothing. On top of that – she was a Cap and Gown Pianist (in other words she was capable of pursuing a career as a professional pianist and did in fact have the opportunities offered her – but as the oldest sister of a large war time family it was not to be an option – she had to look after her siblings or go to work).

  • Could she draw?   I have no idea, but I took after her in all other things – anything to do with my hands,  came easy for  me. But my guess is that she probably would have been able to draw too, had she not been kept so busy with the necessities of life during wartime Britain. – keeping people clothed and fed.  If she was here today – I could teach her to draw for sure.
  • Did she earn a good living?  Absolutely not.  During the war needs came first.     Some would pay her two shillings for her skills in making a dress – but that was rare.
  • Conclusion – she gave more away than ever she earned or charged for her time her skills and talents.  Some of you will have similar stories in your own family.

It was second nature to her to give rather than charge for her skills.    Now of course part of that is because women had for centuries been expected to give rather than charge, and the idea of a woman having a ‘career’ in working class Britain back then was a bit ‘far fetched’.   Boy have things changed some 80 years later.

Of course the real issue here is ‘Was she happy’,  giving and providing and helping and ‘saving the day’ on many occasions when she sat up most of the night sewing a special dress for a special friend.     I don’t think she would have even questioned her role back then. It was rare that women did.   But this much I do remember – she felt she spent her time wisely – she  loved to learn, and of course back then it was the done thing for women to stay home and she never felt the pressure of having to go out for a wage.   Now that is a freedom many people today would value.

So What Did I Learn from This as an Artist?

Well there are a few things:

  •  It is natural to create – on any terms and in any fashion; at lease it was in my family.  (My mother considered herself the only non creative member of our family.    Not true – she created the fun, the laughter and the chaos which was the backbone of the family.   Amazingly she judged herself as non creative until she took up knitting.   But she did undervalue herself as a result of being surrounded by creative members of the family).
  • It was absolutely the expected thing for women in Ada’s day to be creative.   Homemaking and nurturing the family was expected of women; and that involved a lot of ‘improvisation’ which today we might call ‘artistic inspiration’ and ‘artistic licence’.
  • Being creative and being artistic – are the same thing.
  • I learnt that producing artwork – for me – was and remains something totally detached from financial considerations.    That said I have needed to earn an income.
  • I’ve discovered I cannot do anything without the ‘artists eye’ coming into to play.   Someone said recently that you can tell my garden is the garden of an artist.   Did I think of that?  No.    I do what I do – I cannot see with the eye of the beholder.
  • I can say now that the best work I produce, or the work I am happiest producing, is done for my own pleasure and gratification – not for clients.    (That of course is not unusual for successful commissioned artists to feel that way – one of my idols John Singer Sargeant felt the same, as have countless other artists).
  • I still love to learn and grow as an artist.    I never want to stop learning.   In fact continual growth is up there with my primary reasons for wanting to do what I do.    Just like my grandmother’s passion was for more and more intricate and interesting patterns.

Above All Else: I learned that to be an artist is to value the nurturing role.   This is true of me but may not be for everybody.   Maybe it is because of the wonderful role model I had that I link creativity with nurturing.   It is what makes me a passionate teacher. I absolutely thrive in the teaching role and seeing others develop and progress.   And true to say the older I get the more I realise that the wealth of knowledge I have may not be ‘passed down’ if I don’t take positive action.

So it means that for the forseable future I put my own work to one side and get on with the development of the courses.   The emails I have received from those concerned that what I am doing is career suicide (yes one mail actually put it that way and I understand her point).     But there is no other way and what I have planned re tuition needs time and focus to get it done properly.  A few select commissions I would never refuse, but those apart my studio has morphed into a recording studio.

In a way it is exciting were it not for the sheer size of this project.   But Onwards and Upwards, and if I am lucky I will have a few well trained and passionately dotty pastelists to show for it all in the end.

 

 

And that is what this blog has been about.   My Grandmother has been a lot on my mind lately.

 

SO please let me know if any of this resonates with you.   Did you have an Nanna Ada in your life?     Share your story – it will be much appreciated by many if the last blog response is anything to go by.  Comment below.

Ada doing what she always did
used her hands – this time knitting.
Me doing what I did when
Debs was asleep!  1974/5
How Did You Become an Artist  (and How to Become a Page Three Girl)*

How Did You Become an Artist (and How to Become a Page Three Girl)*

The Pastel Academy Blog

The Pastel Academy Online Blog

News, Views & Pastel Perspectives

Manufacturers Updates

These first few blogs are, I believe, important, and from the response to my last blog about limiting ourselves to one kind of painting – so do you. It would have been easy to launch straight into the mode:  ‘This is my painting of XYZ’   ‘These are the Work in Progress shots etc’.    Oh yes I have those blogs lined up, and we will get to them soon enough, but these few ‘Introduction’ blogs  are about subjects which are relevant to us all, no matter what your favourite subject is.

I started this week with the idea of asking a question which you might already have asked yourself at some point:

  •  Are Artists born and not made?  Coupled with
  •  When did you realise you were an artist?
  •  What made you become an artist?   Lets face it – it ain’t easy.  Right?
Then in the last week or two I started to receive a few messages .  In fact I have had some messages expecting a response for a few months now but the Pastel Academy Online has bought about more questions,  and they are much the same as mine:
  •  Heather – when did you realise you were an artist?
  •  What made you decide to be an artist?
  •  Were there artists in your family?
(Coupled with:  Heather – How could you possibly decide to put your own work to one side so as to get the Pastel Academy going?    This I will answer in the next blog.)

Meanwhile back to this blog – and the slightly changed plan;

You know the funny thing about writing a blog is that the process makes me realise stuff that I hadn’t thought to much about for a long time.  I am finding it hard in some ways and almost therapeutic on the other.    We all have stuff in our lives that bring about different feelings.
So I’m going to go first and answer those questions, and for a good reason;
Artists need to relate.  They need to understand other artists so as to understand themselves more.  Why?
  • Because more often than not they feel isolated and in some way ‘separate’ from friends and family.
  • Some are actually isolated physically – eg live alone, single parents, limited income etc.
  • Because artists who have a clear understanding of WHY they produce art -make more progress in accomplishing a standard of work they desire and – in my experience they build better careers for themselves.
So yes I had a bit of an unusual start as an artist  (some of you have ploughed through my BIO – you get a medal for that lol!),  but I bet some of what I am about to say resonates with you.
Here is the deal – I tell and then you tell – use the comments box beneath to leave your thoughts and responses to the above question.
Question One:  Heather -When did you realise you were an artist?
Answer:   When someone told me!  I was a child – maybe 6 or 7 years old and I though all kids were like me – always with pencils and crayons in my hand.  I also knew other kids were not like me in that I was constantly ill for most of my childhood – had every illness going and I could not read or write properly  until I was 9 years old and managed to put a full term in at school for the first time.
Drawing – colouring books and music were my life – not playing outside with the other kids.    I was OK with that I remember.
So – I was overweight – (no exercise) and used to living in my own world.   No brothers or sisters.  Mum and Dad worked – Gran looked after me and taught me to knit, crochet, cook design knitting patterns from the age of 5/6 yrs old.
I finally got a bad dose of Glandular Fever aged 13.   Whilst recuperating from hospital I saw a face on TV – a face so beautiful I rushed to get what was to become my first portrait done before the song this guy was singing finished.  This was in the days before video.
 ( This is a pretty long and fascinating story – and will be expanded on later for a group of people who follow this man and his amazing talent to this day ).
So I fell in love (hey I was 13 years old!) with a face on the TV and was captivated by faces ever since.     I spent days – weeks perfecting portrait after portrait of this man (he became very famous),  and then this happened:

Me The Page Three Girl circa 1966

Yes that is me aged 13.   Photo taken in the Town Hall at Rugby,  by the Daily Mirror.    It was printed on page three – before page three girls existed!   Those large pencil portraits are of the group The Walker Brothers,  they got very famous and I ended up with a BBC contract as a teenage artist aged 14 yrs old.   For the next 4/5 years I was the ‘portrait darling’ of the press and TV.
 
Now under those circumstances – you are called an artist from day one.
The upside – I got to meet anyone just by doing their portraits.  Boy that was fun – i the middle of the swinging 60’s!
The downside:  my school worked out that every time I was off school ill (that lasted until I was around 15) – there would be something in the papers!
The bigger downside:  Everything I did as a teenage artist was in the press and that affected my life on many levels.

(The portrait ( above) that landed the BBC contract – of J F Kennedy – which is now homed on the National Archives Gallery in Washington DC.      1966 – Pencil.)

(The photo is of  me and the daughter and husband of the founders of the British Bramley Apple.   Pencil portrait 1967)
The Strangest Downside of all:   I knew I was an artist – but then I felt no different than I did before all the press attention – but now I produced portraits.   People said I was an artist because that is what artists did – produced ‘art’.  I learned to smile and say thank you.
A good Upside:   But the only time I felt like an artist was when I was alone with my work in progress – knowing I was improving all the time and loving it.   As soon as I finished one portrait – I was keen to get on with  another one – and not for the press attention.   But because I felt I was learning something.
I was developing a pride in my work.   That is when I knew what it was to be an artist for the first time.
 
The real bummer:  I  was in the middle of all the press interest and the person who was such a magnificent ‘manager’ of his artistic child – my father.
Between the two I found I lost my personal identity as an artist.   I turned away from it all,  got a boyfreind,  got married, became a Mum,   and knew all along how disappointed my father was in me.   He strongly believed in the power of publicity – I didn’t.    I had lived it for 5 years and knew better.  I makes you famous – it doen’t make you an artist.

Making My Own Decisions

When a daughter becomes a mother, there is a slight shift in the relationship with her own father – I was not a child anymore – but a mother in charge of her own child.   I commanded that respect.
That is when I became an artist.
My daughter was less than one year old – and I began studying and learning,  not just about portraiture – but all subjects,including the History of Art at a local college for an O level exam.   For a long time I hid all of this studying from my father.   By the time my daughter  was three I had organised and produced my own first exhibition at the Preston Guildhall – where it was a permanent fixture for five years, and comprised 36 portraits of musicians and songwriters.
That is when I new for certain what it meant to become an artist – and yes I could ring up the daily papers whenever I wanted to – I had learned a lot as a teenager.
Question:  Were there other artists in my family?
Answer:  My Gran was a artist/ craftswoman of enormous talent – a trained pianist  who was forced to give up her passion to earn a wage before the war and help look after her family.
And my father – was always known as a poet and wordsmith from the age of 16 years old, and a great creative mind.   For a while he lost his creative way which is why I became the focus.     With my encouragement he found his own creative path once again.

Heather with portrait of Rupert Brooke – Rugby poet circa First World War.   ALl the wording in this peice was the white of the paper – all done by hand.    Hung in the Kings College Library, Cambridge. 1967

So are there any conclusions to be made about my story?

Was my colourful and exciting teenage career of use to me as artist?      Only as far as my ability to deal with the press and understand their agenda.    As for my being an artist – no it didn’t help.   It fact it got in the way of me going to study art at college or university.

Did I learn anything about myself as an artist during this time?   Yes – that what matters is you and your relationship with your work and your love of doing it.  Everything else is a diversion.

Was any of it of use to my career as an artist?    Only in as much as I have some impressive stuff to quote, and some interesting tales to tell.   Also in that it gave me a real insight into public relations,  publicity management and press, TV etc.  But that has limited uses.

It did give me confidence beyond my years.   That is of enormous value to any woman in particular, developing a business side to their art.

SO there it is – Both a Happy and a Sad tale.   In some ways it is a wonder I ever  made it with my need to create intact.

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