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… and no photos!

Last week I posted that I work from photos. True, but only to and extent – I should clarify.

There are two aspects (at least) to any landscape, there’s the man-made world and there is nature. For man-made items – houses, boats, bridges etc – it is important to get the details right. I am speaking from the perspective of a representational painter, which I am. I was annoyed some time ago, when I painted a boat heading out to sea. I worked from a photograph, and I was happy that I represented the boat well. I decided to re-enforce the location by painting the Hook lighthouse in the background. I thought it all worked out well. Later- to my horror – I noticed that I had inadvertently painted an extra hoop on the iconic lighthouse. I hadn’t referred to any photo for the lighthouse itself, I painted it from memory!

Nature, and natural things are different. The sky, trees. grass and so on, I think these need to be approached in a freer manner. Some do and can, paint an absolutely perfect copy of a photograph of a wave, for instance. Photo-realism. I admire this, but its a bit like playing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ exactly like the original Led Zeppelin version. Admirable, but not as much fun as jamming, (check out the Boys from Nashville County / Tribute to Led Zeppelin- Irish trad jam session version – brill).

In watercolour, in particular, you have to let certain aspects of the painting do their own thing. You can paint a perfect watercolour sky in minutes, but you have to allow the water and the paint do their magic, and besides if you copy a cloud perfectly as it is, its gone again before the paint is even dry. I decide whether I want a clear blue sky or a stormy sky and choose my colours accordingly. I wet the paper, I apply the paint, the colours mix and blend, I create clouds by lifting off paint, and I am usually pleasantly surprised at what emerges. Its fun, just like jamming.

I paint the sea in the same way. I have a feel for the sea. I apply the paint lightly. I add darker tones to achieve waves, using gum arabic at times to keep it all fluid. I keep splashing away until it looks right to me. I might continue to add touches for days, or weeks even, as in the case of the painting above.

So, reference photographs are essential for man-made items in the landscape and for the outline of iconic scenes (like the Skelligs), gut a good feel for clouds and the sea, for trees and the countryside is imperative. This is only achieved by going out there, by observation and immersion. Only by feeling the sense of a place can you properly capture it in a painting. Photographs are useful, but they can be limiting.

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Yes, I paint from photographs, mostly ones that I have taken myself.

It is not really feasible, for me, to paint at the scene. I choose my subjects based on where I’ve been and how I felt when I was there. For instance – a recent outing in September, the plan was to to take a walk in the woods near Durrow, to generate an appetite for lunch at one of our favorite restaurants – Bowe’s. A lovely stroll about 7k, though it was a bit damp. The return leg took us along the banks of an infant Nore, the sun came out and (wow) I got that feeling again “I must paint this”. I don’t carry my gear around on spec, but the camera on the phone is a great asset. I paint back at my little studio and use both the photo and the memory of the feeling and mood to create the painting.

Gold Creek is an example of this in action (A3 watercolour). I was in a happy mood already. The sun was in the south – directly downriver, and was almost blinding as it burst through the trees, creating a scene that no team of lighting engineers could replicate. The photo doesn’t really capture this. What intrigued me most was how the sun lit up the river bed, creating wells of pure gold in the river. I took a number of different photos of this effect, and tried to capture it in the painting.

I used to believe that the Nore got it’s name from the word Ór (Gold) as in an Ór, or abhainn an Óir. Signage generally used the spelling an Fheoir, though if you google this, no-one seems too clear, as to what this word means. It is, they say derived from this or that. After seening that splendid display of gold light in the river, I have no doubts as to the origin of the river’s name.

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A few years ago when I wanted to show off my paintings I bought cheap frames in the hardware shop. However when it came to my first exhibition, I decided that they wouldn’t do, so I got them framed professionally. Much better. I think it is only fair to the buyer to provide a good frame. Now I get all my exhibition pieces professionally framed, and any paintings I want to show, will be nicely mounted and presented in plastic pockets.

I got a few frames recently in Ikea. I popped a painting into one. It looked OK, bnut it is only chipboard and there is no glass, only clear plastic. I was disappointed. It was a reminder not to buy cheap frames.

However, I have a lot of older paintings still in cheap frames. What to do? Sell them at a discount? (it is black friday after all), or take them out and mount them properly?

I think I would like to be taken seriously as a painter, so I will keep away from cheap frames, no matter how nice they look in the shop. Anyway my framer does a great job, I’ll stick to painting.

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Padron. The story behind the painting. The subjects I am drawn to are ones I have a connection with. I have great memories of walking in Spain.  I remember especially Padron.  We were tired and weary, and tried to order some food in the small hotel we were staying in. My Spanish is limited enough and things we not going well, when a guy from a large group sitting in the bar, asked if he could help. He convinced the lady to bring us some us some bread and cheese, though the kitchen was closed. Turned out he was from Kilkenny (fluent – his wife is Spanish). In fact the whole group was from Kilkenny, about ten of them. Great guys.

Padron is a lovely little town, famous for its peppers. The centrepiece is the cathedral. There is also (as far as I can remember) a series of steps (like hundreds) up to a shrine, but we didn’t climb those. We were already tired from the long walk of the day.

So I channelled all of my memories into a line and wash painting. I was happy with the finished product, but it turned out that a number of people were interested in it, so I decided to get some prints made. Today I sold a print, and also the original. Happy days. The buyer’s fond memories of the place dovetailed neatly with my own.

I still have prints available, a nice present perhaps for a Camino vetern.

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Art and Space

What does the artist need? Nothing in one respect, one can start with very little. However if progress is to be made, certain things become important. Space is one of these. Headspace certainly, but physical space also. In fact three spaces.

The artist needs space in which to work. We all start by painting at the kitchen table. This is fine until dinnertime, then all has to be put away. Any flow underway is undermined, and it is hard to pick up again. No, a dedicated space is needed, where the work and materials can be left safe, until you come back again. This is a must have. A spare room, a small shed. A studio, essentially.

Then, as paintings emerge, one by one, you need somewhere to put them.,especially if you paint on canvas, because these can be bulky. Initially they are fine in a corner of the studio, but as it builds up, storage space becomes essential, if the paintings are not to be damaged. If you paint in oils, then the need to let them dry (maybe for months) is a factor. A secure, dry store is necessary for both materials (we are all guilty of impulse buying materials!) and finished work.

The finished artwork in the store is just gathering dust, so we need somewhere to show it. Local cafes and galleries, yes – hopefully. But people like to call around to see your stuff. You need a gallery. Ideally your gallery is light and spacious, with a loo and coffee facilities, in that way the customer can be made at ease, and take their time. If they feel good about the visit, they are more likely to buy!

So I started at the kitchen table. Then I created a small room at the back of the garage, this was fine for years. It got quite full of ‘stuff’ though, and became difficult to work in, in the end. It certainly restricted my efforts. My response was to concentrate on small sized watercolours. These don’t need much space to create, they are easy to store (unframed). Finally I began to use the ‘granny flat’ as a home gallery.

Now, I find that I have the opportunity to work full-time at my painting, and so the need now presents itself for a larger studio. I have added this to my to do list. The loft over the garage seems to be the best bet!

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Back to the drawing board

Winter is setting in, and the winter light is great for drawing and painting (it is here, anyway!). With fewer distractions more time can be spent on art, rebuilding my body of work and planning themes for next years exhibitions.

The body of work is important. anyone in retailing knows that it is important to offer choice. Take clothes for instance – you need to have a range of colours and styles, and also sizes to fit everyone. That can amount to a lot of inventory. Selling art is the same. You might suppose that if the customer wants one painting and you have one for sale, then that’s ok. NOT. The customer must have choice.

My body of work comprises A3 and A4 (standard sizes) and assorted sizes also. I have about six A3 at the moment, so I need to do some more, this size has been selling well for me. I have about thirty A4, too many, but they are a handy size to paint, and also I sometimes do an A4 as a warmer-upper for a larger A3 painting. However I (and also customers) get fed up with these standard sizes, so I often do smaller and larger pieces, some square, but I like the panorama view as well, I have about twelve of these in total. So I have inventory and you have choice.

I particularly like to paint water, the sea, lakes, rivers. People always ask for local scenes though, so I have to make sure I do some of these. I paint some local townscapes, but these tend to sell quickly, but I do like drawing and painting buildings. I don’t have too many of these in stock right now …. so I must get painting.

I have (too) many framed pieces, about thirty, this is good – they are ready to hang, but as they are under glass, they are not suitable for posting. You have to call around to look at them. Various sizes. I really would like to clear these, as I don’t think I should exhibit them again and again.

So, my work plan for the winter is – paint more A3 scenes, paint more local townscape scenes in assorted sizes (probably line and wash) to replenish my body of work. I also want to develop a theme for next years exhibitions (blue, actually) and work on these.

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Mountain View

Mountain view market in Ballyhale, becomes a pop up art gallery / fair for one day 24th October. Sunday next. Thanks to Geraldine Walsh for putting me in the know. Ill be there. The stalls are small so I will bring boxes of unframed original watercolours, I wont try to hang any framed pieces. See you there ?

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Riddle me this, Arches from Arches but not on Arches. I spent two weeks two weeks in the Arches Gallery at Rothe house, what did I do all day? I did some drawing. Drawing and painting is relaxing. I was also trying to improve my website – not relaxing. Anyway pm me or email if you are interested in the painting, mounted and ready to frame. Micheal.

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Art at Rothe House

Rothe House is a beautifully restored 16th century house in Kilkenny City. It houses a museum and a gift shop, and most recently an art gallery. The gallery is being made available to local artists to exhibit their work. I am currently exhibiting my watercolours there, the exhibition ends 16th September, when I take down my work and make way for Michael Cantwell, who is coming in next. We are all very pleased with this new initiative, as it provides us with a great platform to meet and interact with locals and visitors to Kilkenny who are interested in buying art.