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Back to school!

Brynmill School

I was invited to visit my local junior school as part of their St David’s Day week celebrations. I was representing Welsh Art, as I have lived and painted in Wales most of my adult life. Although I had been a Secondary school teacher for 17 years, I was surprised at how nervous I felt beforehand, although I clearly had absolutely nothing to fear from a bunch of 9 and 10 year-olds. I think it was my body getting ready for a “performance” after two years away from the classroom.

Painting of Brynmill Shool
Brynmill School – SOLD

I live opposite this large red-brick school. I hear and see the very little children playing the yard several times a day. Sometimes, they call out to us, asking us to fetch a stray ball for them. I had not been inside this school since 1998, when I had done a week’s observation before I did my Secondary school teacher training. I wasn’t sure how visitors got in these days. I eventually figured out that the school reception was on the opposite side to where I lived. I passed several gates with big padlocks and even the one that opened into the school-yard had a massive unlocked padlock on. Security is a big thing in schools these days and I spent a couple of minutes tapping my details into a screen, having my photo taken and being given a pass with my photo on and barcode to wear around my neck. 

I was taken upstairs to a lovely airy hall with a polished parquet floor. I passed tiny children wearing daffodils and wearing tops, one was dressed as a dragon (with a tail an everything). The school building was similar to the Edwardian Primary school I had been to as a child. I think Britain is dotted with variations of these school schools. They have high ceilings and long windows, that let in lots of light but they are so high up so you can’t actually see out the window.

DSC_0289
Me and Year 5.

A group of 30-40 Year 5 pupils (9 and 10 year-olds) were brought in quietly and they all sat crossed-legged on the floor. They waited quietly, looking at me with great interest.  Their teacher introduced me, one class had been studying my work (I felt humbled by that information) and they had lots of questions.

Then the floor was mine. 

Ah, that second before you speak. It may only be time to draw breath, but it can feel like it goes on for ages. I had not prepared what I was going to say, as such.  I had some slides on a powerpoint but I only had some vague points that I thought I might make. So in time honored teacher-style I asked them a question.

“Does anyone know what a professional artist is?” A few hands go up, I ask the girl sitting to the side of the class. “It’s an artist who is very, very good and has been painting for a long time”. “That’s a good description, but it’s also someone who makes a living as an artist. They make money at it. It’s their job.”

I then showed them my series of slides with a small selection of my paintings.

Brynmill school Presentation
Slide Presentation Overview

I talked about how I liked to paint what I could see on my doorstep. So that meant places on the Gower Peninsula like Three Cliffs Bay and Swansea Bay.

Local.JPG

Then I showed them a few of paintings I’d done of the streets surrounding their school in Brynmill. There was some excitement and laughter when one boy excitedly exclaimed, “That’s my house!” (forth one along)

Paintings of Welsh Streets
They are all somebody’s homes (except the school of course)
Emmma Cownie painting
Time on promotion

My final slide was meant to introduce the other side of an artist’s work. That of promotion. I explained that I spent a lot of my time on social media, online galleries and blogging so that people might see my work.

So this is where question time slot opened up. Lots of hands go up. I was very impressed with their excellent manners (absolutely no calling out) and very thoughtful questions they had. It was a bit like being one of those pop-stars being interviewed by children on Saturday morning telly in the 1980s & 1990s. I will list as many as I can remember. I will give a shortened version of my answers. I did go off on many tangents. 

“Do you ever get bored of painting?” – no. I run out of inspiration, however, at times. I don’t like that. I have to wait for my next idea to come along.

“What is your favourite place to paint?” – Gower and more recently, Donegal, Ireland.

“Do you ever make up what you paint?” – no. All my painting are real places.

“Why did you change from being a teacher to being an artist?” – I have them the super simplified version. Being a teacher made me ill so I became an artist.

“What is your favourite painting?” – I have two, one of a Gower pony, and another of the cat that used to live in the DIY shop in Brynmill. They are both in my bedroom.

“How much do your paintings sell for?” – It depends. Anything from £1700 to £20.

“What were the most ever paintings you have sold in a day?” – 8 (it might have been 6 actually).

“What is your favourite colour for painting?” – purple – I use it for shadows. There was quite a discussion on colour here. One of their teachers had pointed out to them that shadows were not black or brown. I talked about looking and seeing colours. I also pointed out that few things in real life are really black, if you really look at them. I used the example of a boy’s black trousers – I said the light makes it look, yellow and grey, maybe very dark brown and dark blue but very little black

“What advice would you give young artists?” – paint as much as you can, every day if possible. The more you practice the better you get. That’s true with any skill. Footballing or painting. One boy perked up here. He was clearly a keen footballer. “Footballers make a lot of money”. “Some footballers make a lot of money, lots don’t” I said. His teacher repeated the point (probably not for the first time). I went on to say, “Some artists make a lot of money, look at Damien  Hirst, but most don’t”.

“What did you want to be when you were younger?” – ballerina and then a famous writer! That puzzled them.

“How many days of the week do you paint?” – 6 sometimes 7.

“What was your favorite sport?” – rugby. The football fan’s friend punched the air at this point, this had clearly been a hotly debated point of discussion between them.

“What sort of dogs do you like painting?” – Jack Russells

“Have you I ever painted your own house?” – Yes.

“Have you painted the inside of your house?” – Yes.

Then suddenly the questions dried up and the pupils, whose attention had been faultless until now, started to fidget. I recognized this. “Is it break soon?” I asked one of the teachers. Yes. it was. I was then thanked by a teacher and presented with a box of chocolates! I wasn’t expecting that.

A small group of girls approached me and asked for more advice on painting. They were clearly keen practitioners. So I repeated, my point about painting frequently. I explained there will be many failures on the way (hide them under the bed) but they would need to find their own way of drawing and painting.

Two girls had been appointed to guide me back to reception (I needed their help as I shot off in the wrong direction at one point). I then had to return my ID badge and the computer said “good-bye” as I opened the door. “That’s a creepy portent of the future”, I remarked to the friendly human receptionist, and stepped out into the sunshine as the bell for midday break rang.

DSC_0290-001
From a different angle

But there’s more to tell – click here for the footnote

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The Bend in the Stream

Painting of woodland stream
Painting of woodlands in spring
The Bend in the River (73x100cm)

I am just going to post the photo of this woodland painting, it seemed to take all week to paint. I kept rushing out to take photos of the woods in the glorious (but worryingly warm) February sunshine we had early in the week, so I sort of lost my usual rhythm with the painting. Still, I doubled down and worked hard and I am pleased with the final result.

The clouds of pinkish trees off in the distance are hundreds of hazelnut catkins, catching the light. What I love about this ancient woodland is that, although its managed, and trees are cut back, and paths kept clear, fallen trees are allowed to rot in place. I have painted at several fallen (and falling), trees in this composition. Three lie in the stream, the other reaches across the canvas in an arc.

I’ll let you into a secret. I have been known to hug a mossy tree. They are like nature’s sofas. they are soft and springy. They provide so much for the eco-system. Mosses, lichens, ivy, and fungi grow on their surface and the creviced bark provide homes for hundreds of insects. The dying trees send nutrients back into their roots, passing on to their neighbors (who are usually their offspring). In our urban lives, we are insulated and somewhat shut off from the ebb and flow of natural life. My visits to the woodland remind me that life and death are constantly happening and that release from one form of life provides life for others. Don’t believe all that hype about “survival of the fittest”, nature is more sophisticated than that. It is all about balance, no one species rules the woodland, thousands live, cooperate and thrive here.

Here’s a fascinating TED talk about how trees communicate.

 

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Painting an Ancient Woodland – a Gower painting

Painting of trees
Emma Cownie in the Gower Woodlands
Me at Work (with Mitzy)
This blog is made up of 5 photos/images that represent the stages that go into the process of creation of a woodland painting. The first photo is the most joyous. Wandering around the woods (read more about this very special place here), taking photos and marveling at the light. On this day the light was perfect. I was delighted by the way it illuminated the leaves, the moss, and the grass. I was also excited by the fact the woods and stream were flooded with light in a way I had not quite seen before. The time of year and the time of day all affect conditions. No two days are the same. Enjoying the sunshine was the easy part. Woodland Painting Work in Progress #1 Now for the hard work.  My woodland paintings are different from my other paintings. I paint them in a different way. They are more of a semi-abstract construction and less organic than my paintings of clouds, coasts or people. I can’t exactly explain how I ended up doing this, I think it was when I was in my fauvist/refractionist phase. It sort of like constructing a giant puzzle and my head usually aches afterward! So I sketch out the basic position of the trees, stream and the main shadows. Painting is a lot of problem-solving. I have to decide which order to paint different sections of the canvas. Some parts I want to dry and then go back and add detail. So I start by flipping the canvas “upside down” and painting in the light blues and mauves of the sky.  I also need to convince myself that this painting will work so I paint in the tree trunks to “anchor” the painting. I look at the painting in a small mirror – this is a way of allowing me to see it in reverse, and trick my brain into seeing it like other people do (rather than what’s in my head). That’s day one of painting. Woodland Painting Work in Progress #2 On my second and third day of painting, I spend a lot of time thinking about colour and how to mix the right shades. Getting the different greens right is vital, from the fresh yellow greens to the very dark hues.  The hazy trees in the middle distance are difficult to gauge as mixing green with purple makes a dreadful sludge on my palette and nothing like the colour I want. I am anxious about the dark green on the opposite river bank on the left hand of the painting. I worry about getting it right. I have to be able to represent the damp dark greens effectively, without drawing too much attention to them. I mark in the darkest part of the bank and leave them for the next day. It is slow work.
Woodland Painting
Work in Progress #3
On the final day of painting, I pick up speed and tackle the far river bank. I attack the most interesting part by painting in the light on the leaves and the purple shadows at the top of the bank. The purple shadow then blends into the green and by the time I have finished with the bank I am pleased with it. The part of the painting that frightened me the most makes me the happiest. Ironically, no will notice probably it. That’s how exactly it should be. Painting of Woodlands “Path by the Stream” The final stage of the painting is solving the showed foliage in the lower centre of the painting. This I simply into blocks of colour. I want to focus of the painting to be the hazy light at the top part of the painting and I don’t want to draw the eye to the foreground at the bottom of the canvas. In my mind, I struggle with this process. There is alot of indecision. The literal part of my head wants to paint it “as it is” but my artist’s head is trying to reduce the colours into blocks. To help in this process,  I move my reference photo onto a chair so my myopic vision can no longer see the details. I push on and eventually, the canvas is covered. I then will leave the room to make a cup of tea and return with the express purpose of “surprising” the painting. This way I can see it with fresh eyes from the other side of my studio and decide if I am happy with it. I am.  
Painting of woods
From further away
I am delighted to report that I sold “Path By the Stream” to one of my most valued collectors, who has bought many of my works, in beautiful Kent, England.  

I have started my next woodland painting, if you want to follow its progress like & follow me on Facebook.  

Woodland Print
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Wonderful Welsh Woods

Woodland paintings

It’s that time of year again. When the slanting sun makes you believe that spring is just around the corner. Snowdrops and crocuses are flowering in parks and in the woods. We spent the last two days revisiting my favourite stretch of Gower woodland. It follows the stream that meanders from Ilston along the Ilston Cwm to Parkmill (the stream then it crosses the A4118 and winds its way into the sea as Pennard Pill). You can see it on an interactive map of Gower here .

Map of Gower
Ilston to Pennard

Yesterday, we revisited the Parkmill end of the woods (you can read about the Ilston end of the woods here). These trees are technically part of Kilvrough Manor woods, although Kilvough Manor itself, is quite a distance off on the other side of the A4118.  The woods have been here for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The trees are “ancient semi-natural and broadleaved, made up of a canopy of Ash, Oak, Beech, and Elm, with a Beech plantation”.  They have given me years of inspiration for painting.

Photo of woodland near Gower Inn
Woodland near Gower Inn

Very early spring is my favourite time of year because the sun cuts through the bare branches and illuminates the ground. The shadows create an exciting combination of colours; the beech leaves on the ground are an interesting orange and mauve, and the rich brown earth is almost a dark purple, that reminds me of a dairy milk wrapper.

Cadbury's Dairy Milk
Diary Milk purple

In the past, I have usually visited this part of the woods in the morning. I feel almost stupid when I see how different it all looks in the early afternoon.

Painting of Gower Woodlands

Of course, nature is a giant sundial. The trees cast shadows in different directions, depending on the time of the day and the time of the year. If you come too early the trees nearest the car park lies in darkness, as the sun has not risen above Pennard.

Painting of woodland
Pennard Pill

If you come too late the same trees are in the shadow of the hill that rises up beside the stream to the west. When the trees are illuminated it’s very exciting. It’s like an incredible show that is switched on and off, depending on the light.

Painting of woodlands
One impulse from a Vernal Wood.

As the river meanders along the valley the path crosses it by a number of sturdy bridges. I have painted many of these over the years. There’s the 1950s concrete and metal railings one, nearest the Gower Inn.

painting of woodland bridge
Bridge Over Ilston River

From both sides, if the light allowed it.

Painting of Bridge in woods
A Bridge in Ilston Cwm

There is a beautiful wooden bridge, further along, that resonates with walkers’ footsteps as the stride across it.

Painting of woodland bridge by Emma Cownie
The Bridge to Parkmill
Oil Painting of woodland bridge
The Bridge

In the summer, when the stream is low, I have waded through the water under this bridge and listened (troll-like) to the sounds of people walking above.

Yesterday was a day of epiphanies. I stood listening to the wonderful cacophony of birdsong and soaked in the sight of the light catching the leaves I realised that what made this place so special was its sheer age.  People have walked along these paths (and crossed older, long gone bridges) to reach the places of worship for many many years. Over 300 hundred years ago a Baptist chapel was built by this bridge by John Miles and people travelled from miles around to reach it. At Ilston, much further along the stream, there has been a religious cell, or church since the 6th century. These woods have been a place of contemplation for centuries, and it feels like it. Modern people may or may not contemplate religious matter, but it is difficult not to get drawn into contemplating the rhythms of the natural world.

Gower Woodland
Light Catching the leaves

For me is the moss that marks this woodland apart from others.  The moss catches the slanting light and the trees almost look like they are wearing halos.

Trees of Parkmill Valley
Light Catching the Trees

In some parts of the wood, the moss is so thick they cover the tree like padding.


Gower Moss
Thick Moss

Moss is odd stuff. It is a plant, with stems and leaves, but no true roots and no flowers. It needs damp conditions to reproduce. The moss grows so thickly here because it’s very damp in South Wales, it rains a lot. The stream also creates a lot of dampness. The moss absorbs huge quantities of water. It actually helps to soak up rainfall and create a locally humid environment. There’s also lots of lichen on the trees. This is a good sign as it only grows where there is clean, unpolluted air. Lichen, apparently is not a plant, although plant-like. Its sort of fungi.  Lichens amazingly are some of the longest living things on the planet. They grow very slowly and live very long lives, a bit like the ancient yew tree in Ilston churchyard.

Lichen in Gower
Lichen
Yew Tree in Gower
Ilston Yew Tree

To give you a feel for the beauty of the place I have uploaded a couple of short videos. The splashing you can hear in the first clip is my dog, Biddy walking in the water, hoping that I will throw a stick for her.

Here she is!

Biddy
Biddy (Look I have found a stick for you to throw!)

 

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How to commission a painting

Custom paintings by Emma Cownie
Selection of Commissioned work by Emma Cownie

How to commission a painting. This for all you collectors, decorators, and art enthusiasts who are intimidated by the thought of commissioning a painting, but thrilled at the prospect of working with an artist on a piece of your own. It’s easy.

Here are my 5 steps.

1. The Brief – send me an outline of what you are looking for in your commission; i.e. size, subject matter, and include as many good quality reference photos as you can.  I can edit or combine images on request. Here’s an example of a project where I did this last year. If its a pet portrait, what sort of background would you like?

2. Size of the Work – This has a bearing on the price. Here are some guidelines. These prices include free packing & shipping. Most canvas sizes can be ordered to suit commission requirements.

60×50 cm – £295      (Approx 19.68 x 23.6 inches – US $380)
70×50 cm – £345     (Approx 19.68 x 27.5 inches – US $445)
80×60 cm – £450     (Approx 31.49 x 23.6 inches – US $582)
100×80 cm – £650   (Approx 39.49 x 31.49 inches – US $840)

3. Logistics – Timescale, is this work a present for a special event? A custom painting can be a unique gift for a loved one. I will need to know special dates well in advance so there is plenty of time for the work to thoroughly dry before it is packed and shipped.

4. Deposit – I will need a deposit usually 25% of the final price, this is to cover the materials and any design work, such as sketches or other mockups.

5. Final review – You will be sent images of the final painting. I finish my work by painting a neutral colour around the edges so the painting is ready to hang. Your work will be shipped and a tracking number provided.

That’s it. Sit back and admire your painting for years to come.

Get in touch to discuss ideas. Email emmafcownie@gmail.com

Commission of a painting of a spaniel
The progress of a painting commission

So to sum it all up…

Custom art work by Emma Cownie
5 steps to a commission

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My top 10 tips for selling Art online

Selling Art online

My Top 10 tips for selling art online. I am sometimes asked for advice on how to sell art online. To be honest, I feel like there is so much I don’t know about Art marketing, but I did sell over 200 pieces, originals and prints last year and half of these were direct sales to collectors so something’s working. Marketing and selling art takes an enormous amount of time  and effort. At least 50% of my day is spent on marketing. The great thing about it all is that the longer you do it the more followers and fans you will gather. It’s an investment of time – but it cuts both ways. You will spend hours at the keyboard, posting away (sometimes wondering if it’s worthwhile) but you will develop a following. Some of it casual, some of it very loyal and dedicated indeed. You need to remember that it may take months or even years of following an artist’s work and career before a collector buys your work.
Your fans are invested their time in your you and your “journey” too so you need to keep them with you.
So here are my top 10 tips (BTW there is no affiliate marketing in this blog post and there’s so much more I could say but I’m sticking to 10 tips for starters).

  1. Your story – Be positive. Nothing succeeds like success. There’s enough depressing news out there and your art is (hopefully) an escape from all that unpleasantness. So it’s important to celebrate all your successes no matter how small; every sale, exhibition, painting-in-progress is a cause for celebration. Don’t ever be tempted to say that you aren’t selling or you hate online galleries. Instead talk about your latest project. Explain WHY you make your art. How does it make you feel?

    Tip for selling art
    Celebrate where ever you can
  2. Have your own website – there are many different hosting platforms out there. There are some that specialise in hosting artists such as artweb, fasco and artmajeur.  They will all charge an annual fee (update: Artmajeur’s free plan now allows unlimited artworks to the site).  You need to make sure that your site has ecommerce facilities. That means it doesn’t just function as a gallery but also as a shop where collectors can buy work.

    Emma Cownie's website
    Front Page of my Website
  3. Start blogging – a great way to tell your story is to write a blog. I use WordPress but there are other blogging sites like blogger and many websites will have a blog page integrated into the site. Your blogs don’t have to be great long essays but the important thing is to blog regularly. Some bloggers blog once a day, others once a week. Don’t be an occasional blogger. There’s nothing more frustrating than a blogger who only blogs three times a year. You will lose followers if you are inconsistent. Keep focused. Blog about your art and inspiration or art in general. Why do you make your art? How does it make you feel? Don’t blog about the news, your family, what you had for tea, latest fashions unless it’s directly related to art, and what inspires you. Which brings me to…

    Emma Cownie's Blog
    My Blog/website
  4. Social Media – there are lots of outlets, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube, etc. You don’t have to do them all (I dropped Tumblr, for example as it was a bridge too far) but make sure whichever platform you choose to be, do it well. To honest no one platform is necessarily better than the others for promoting your work, all of them will do something to help.  Don’t post twenty times a day – it will seem like you are spamming people and they will unfollow you. Once or twice a day is enough, maybe three times on twitter.  The important thing to remember is that it’s called social media for a reason. You have to be sociable. If someone comments on your post it’s good manners to respond, with a “like” and a “thank you”. It’s important that you support other social media users and follow other artists, photographers of any supporters who like, comment on, and share your posts and return the favour. We all need encouragement. It’s important to encourage others. I have made many good friends out there in the online world. Again. like the blogging try not to mix business and personal stuff on your Art pages/sites – have a separate one for your own family stuff and stick to art-related things on your Art accounts.

    Buy and selling Art
    Not really material for an artist’s Instagram feed
  5. Pinterest – It’s not just for recipes! It has 250 million users every month,  with 25 million users in the US and about 80% are female. It’s not a social media platform but a search engine. It’s well worth joining to get your work seen and develop a following. It also a really good source of information about art marketing. I have learnt a lot about blogging, pinning, marketing, and websites from pins on Pinterest. If you want to see a selection, I have saved my Buying and Selling Art pins here.

    Emma Conie' Pinterest Page
    My Pinterest page
  6. Canva – is great for creating professional-looking blog covers, Pinterest graphics, and so on. I use it all the time. There’s also Pablo and Visme which does some pretty awesome infographics.
  7. SEO – Use Key Words in your posts so that search engines like Google and Safari can find you. A website that is well optimized for search engines “speaks the same language” as its potential visitor base with keywords for SEO that help connect searchers to your site. I find this a vast subject but there are pins on Pinterest and sites like Moz.com will help you improve your SEO. Make sure that when you post your pictures on your website that you filling all the boxes.

    SEO for artists
    Fill in all the boxes
  8. Listen to Podcasts for marketing tips – Search in your podcast provider for Art Marketing or Artist podcasts. Some of my favourites are Artstorefront and Content Jam. There are plenty of others. I listen whilst I am painting.
  9. Finally, Online Galleries – there are loads and loads to choose from. There is a very long list of online galleries here.   It’s a bewildering choice. Some work better than others. There are massive ones like Saatchionline where it is difficult to be seen and smaller ones like Artbazzar that have less of a budget for advertising, there are others that charge to be on them like Artfinder and Artgallery. Others are still free to be on them such as Singulart, but they charge higher rates of commission. It makes sense to have a presence on several sites.
  10. Just remember that putting all your energies into one website or social media site is foolish, as it’s like building your house on someone else’s land. They all change their algorithm, pricing policies, curators, and what might work for you one year may not the next. I’ll give you an example, last year Facebook shut down my Emma Cownie Artist Business page with no explanation. This is not uncommon on Facebook.  I tried in vain to find out why it had happened and to get it restored, to no avail. I lost thousands of followers and their contact details. I was devasted. That’s not a story I usually share as it’s not a positive one but let that be a warning not to put all your eggs into one social media basket (thankfully, I hadn’t, but it still hurt).
    Facebook locks people out of their Business pages
    Facebook locks people out of their Business pages

    It’s always sensible to be on several platforms and sites and encourage your followers to follow you on different platforms. You can do within many ways such as an email signature with links to your social media platforms. There’s so much to learn and there are plenty of people out there who will offer tempting online courses on Art Marketing but I prefer to teach myself. I hope that this post will help other artists get seen. I welcome any comments, suggestions from other artists or commentators

Email Signature of Emma Cownie
My email signature
Summary of my 10 tips to sell art online
10 tips to sell art online
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Donegal Blues

I warn you now that this is a blog post about paint; about one shade of blue in particular. It might even involve watching paint dry. Which, unless you are an artist, probably isn’t very exciting.

Paints represent a sort of non-verbal language for me. I actually find it hard to put into words how I feel about paints. I have a “feeling” in my stomach and I want to wave my hands about a bit to express those feelings, but it all seems very inadequate. I don’t know if other artists are like this. I see colours in life and think of the paints I might use to represent them on the canvas. There is a particular warm shade of brown that I am yet to satisfactorily find in a paint. For a long time, I struggled with particular shades of green, until I found that mixing turquoise produced the right level “zing” in my summer greens. In Donegal the greens need yellow ochre to make them ring true.

1640-50
The Madonna’s ultramarine cloak

I am particularly obsessive about a particular colour that until yesterday, I was even sure how it was pronounced. This is phthalo blue. I doubt you have ever heard of it. It’s not like Ultramarine blue, made from lapis lazuli stone, which was was famously so expensive it was solely reserved for painting the Virgin Mary’s cloak.

Now, I am absolutely no good at saying words I haven’t heard someone else say out loud. That “ph” at the beginning really confused me and I used to call it “p-th-al-ff-oo” blue, deliberately tripping over the syllables because I’d never heard it said out loud. Until yesterday, when I realised I could look it up! So it did.

What! It’s pronounced “thalo”!! Why don’t they just call it Thalo Blue? I noticed in the comments below the video that someone else said ” I say it as pfthpfthpfthpfthpfthpfthpfthalo blue”. I don’t recommend, however, that you listen to the Russian pronunciation of “пхтхало блю” on google translate because it’s sort of like my original managling of the word!

phthalo-blue-organic-pigments
Phthalo blue pigments

You are probably thinking, who cares? Well, I care because I am passionate about Phthalo blue. No, that’s not true I am obsessive about it. It is very useful colour in my messy box of paints. I particularly like the version made by French paint manufacturers Lefranc & Bourgeois.

 

Phtahlo Blue paint
I love you!

It’s not cheap but it a very useful colour. Its very strong. It’s very dark and I love it for creating really dark blues, blues that mixed with Van Dyke Browns and make wonderful dark clouds.  I don’t like to use black for dark shades as it has a tendency to “kill” a colour.  I have found that its essential for both the massive white Cumulonimbus clouds and the really filthy rain clouds of Donegal. It’s actually a synthetic pigment from the group of phthalocyanine dyes. When it’s mixed with Titanium white it makes a delightful light blue that’s also very useful for skies.

Painting of Errigal
Swirling Clouds Round Errigal
Paint
Phthalo Blue with titanium white

Oil paints are in essence pigments carried in oil (once upon a time vegetable oil was used) usually linseed today. The pigments were originally derived from mineral salts, a few from organic materials such as roots.  Many of the historical pigments were dangerous, such as the wonderful greens called Paris Green (copper acetoarsenite) and Orpiment (arsenic sulfide), which were highly toxic.  Happily, these pigments are no longer used. Later, man-made or synthetic, pigments increased the range of colors available, phthalo or phthalocyanine blue is one of these modern colours.

Chemists first developed this blue pigment in the late 1920s and it was sold under the trade name “Monastral in 1935. This list of alternative names is bewildering. Here are some of them; monastral blue, phthalo blue, helio blue, thalo blue, Winsor blue, phthalocyanine blue, C.I. Pigment Blue 15:2, Copper phthalocyanine blue, Copper tetrabenzoporphyrazine, Cu-Phthaloblue, PB-15, PB-36, C.I. 74160.  I want to add to this long list of names Hoggar blue. Surprisingly, this colour is also used in Lidl’s Dentalux Total Care Plus toothpaste!

Now, I am sometimes faced with the situation that I have used up all the paint in a tube (and I really do get all the paint out of the tubes) but I can’t read the name or number of the paint to reorder the right one. I might be able to work out the manufacturer but its name or number. Here’s an example of what I mean.

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What’s your name?

 

 

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Still a bit of paint in here!

Lefranc & Bourgeois are the oldest artists’ quality colourmen in France. They share the same parent company as Winsor & Newton. This is why, it difficult to get their paints in the UK most stockists carry Winsor & Newton paints instead. A while back they decided to have a rebrand and they changed their labels and the names on the labels. This caused me great confusion because neither of the two suppliers where I usually ordered this great colour listed “phthalo blue” anymore. I’ll show what I mean. Here’s the Lefranc & Bourgeois page from the Great Art website.

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And here’s the page from L. Cornelissen & son in London:-

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So I ordered a Phthalo blue made by another paint maker, Lucas 1862. It was OK but not half as good as the L&B version. It didn’t feel the same, and it didn’t mix with other colours in quite the way I wanted.

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Left L&B and Right Lucas 1862

Looking back now, I can see that Hoggar Blue and Phtalocyanine Blue are actually the same colour, phthalo blue. The colour I thought they had stopped making. This meant I spent weeks eeking the last drop of paint out of the what I thought was my last tube, thinking that this colour was no longer to be had in the UK. Then I realised that I had another tube in a drawer so I got it out and studied the label carefully.

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All those different names

I realised that the names for this paint in other languages used Hoggar a lot (the Hoggar mountains are in Algiers, once a French colony); Blu Hoggar /Azul Hoggair /Hoggarblau so I went back and looked at the Great Art online catalogue and worked out that my phthalo blue was actually now listed as Hoggar Blue. So I ordered this Hoggar Blue and it was the same colour as Phthalo Blue. I was so happy! It meant that a part of my vocabulary was restored to me and I wasn’t going to run out of words!

So, you can see that I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I was obsessive about colour. Who else but an artist has a celebration over a particular shade of blue? The moral of the story is that all paint is not created equal and it’s always worth being obsessive about colour.

Painting of Errigal, Donegal, Ireland
Brooding Clouds Over Errigal

Oh yes, if you want to watch the video about paint drying, be my guest. I have watched and actually found it interesting (OK I actually skipped the drying bit to see the different colours)!

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Painting Bunbeg Donegal

Painting of Errigal

Bunbeg. The word has a pleasing sound to it. It’s short, easy to say and has a nice rhythm to it. Most place names in the British Isles are simply descriptions of locations, or who used to own it. That is not always obvious to modern English speakers because the descriptions originated in Anglo-Saxon, Welsh,  Gaelic (Scots) or Gaeilge (Irish). Therefore, when speakers of the Celtic languages use a place name they have a ready made description of the place. It’s the same with Bunbeg. Bunbeg is the anglicised version of “An Bun Beag” which means the “the small river mouth”.  I know very little Gaeilge but once you start picking up words you see them everywhere. Beg meaning small – there’s Derrybeg (Doirí Beaga) just round the corner which means small oak.

Bunbeg is located in an area of Donegal known as Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair), known as a bastion of Irish music, language and culture and home to legendary bands such as Clannad and Altan. If you are as old as me you may well remember Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” which was a hit in the UK way back in 1989 and seemed to be played everywhere. Enya was originally a member of Clannad.

Gweedore is the largest Irish-speaking parish in Ireland with a population of just over 4 thousand people. I enjoyed listening to two fisherman having a good gossip in Irish at Bunbeg harbor round the corner from here. I no idea what they were saying but the conversation went at a good pace. I enjoyed just the sound of the language and comparing it to the sound of Welsh which I am familiar with.

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Fisherman (not gossiping) in Bunbeg Harbour
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“Eddie”

Anyway, back to Bunbeg. The vast tidal sands that stretches across the indent in the coastline is known as Magheraclogher beach. When I say, vast I mean vast. It is one of the best known beaches in Gweedore, largely in part because of the distinctive shipwreck that’s been there since the 1970s.

It is known locally as ‘Bad Eddie’ or Eddies Boat. It has regularly appeared in Music Videos as well as providing the backdrop for countless wedding photographs and instagram posts. That mountain in the distance is Errigal, which also features in countless music videos, photos and paintings.

Photo of Bunbeg with Errigal in the distance

“Eddie” with Bunbeg and Errigal in the background

Usually photographers shoot him at low tide. Here’s the photo they use on Wikipedia.

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Bunbeg – Wikipedia image

I decided to paint a different view of Bunbeg, without “Eddie”, because I liked the reflections of the clouds in the shallows, I thought it made for a more dramatic composition.  I thought the rain clouds also gave a better sense of the mercurial nature of weather of Donegal. It was also windy when we were here although, I would say that wind is a pretty much a constant feature of the “Wild Atlantic Way”.

Painting of Bunbeg Harbour, Gweedore, Donegal, Ireland.
From Magheraclogher Beach (SOLD)

This beach is popular with dog walkers and tourists as it is easily accessible, with a car park. Yet, I say “popular” the other people we saw were dots off in the distance.

For information on the history of Gweedore area click here 

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Art as Satire

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I paint commissions. Most commissions requests are pretty standard, say a beloved dog, a favourite landscape or the owner’s house. Some commissions, however, are different. I recently painted two commissions that quite different from the typical paintings of animals/landscapes. My client sent me two images, both were photographs cut out of the New York Times, with little or no explanation. They were both clearly political in nature. I was given free rein to interpret them as I liked.
Painting of American internment camp on Mexican border
Suffer the Children
I find these commission interesting as these are not my usual subject matter. I *usually* paint landscapes or observational people portraits. However, in painting these images I am forced to look at them carefully and consider the wider implications of what I am observing. I don’t research the image beforehand only afterwards, I just observe.
The first image I painted was of an internment camp. So with “Suffer the Children”, the tents reminded me of  the 1970s medical comedy/satire M*A*S*H which was set during the Korean War. In its early years, M*A*S*H was clearly a commentary on the Vietnam War but later on the Cold War in general. It often questioned, mocked, and grappled with America’s role in the Cold War. It was funny and thought provoking.
I knew that the figures lined up in my source photograph were minors. Teenage boys, I guessed from their size. I didn’t know where they were, but I guessed that they were somewhere in the USA near the Mexican border.
It eventually dawned on me that the white squares on their colourful T-shirts were actually I.D. tags, a bit like those luggage labels evacuees wore during Britain in the Second World War. Turns out that these were teenage boys who had entered the USA illegally. This is, in fact, is a secret internment camp at Tornillo, outside El Paso, Texas. I call it secret because no reporters have been allowed to visit although the New York Times wrote an onion piece on its existence. The photos were presumably taken with a drone.
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Internment camp at Tornillo, outside El Paso, USA (New York Times photo)
When I painted this image and shared it on social media there were the usual “likes” but little commentary. Few comments. No one said how terrible it was that children were held indefinitely in these camps, in the “free” west. Or that similar “immigration removal centres also exist in the UK, where people, men women and children, are locked up without time limit. Perhaps, they think “immigrants” and then lose interest. Perhaps people missed the satire of the title “Suffer the Children”?
I drew a very different reaction with the second commission. This was a photograph of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un standing on a bridge. I know plenty about the North Korean leader and I think that North Korea must be a dreadful place for its citizens to live in, as they are lied to, starved and any disent is swiftly punished with time in work camps. Also know that that we in the west are told a lot of nonsense about the Korean, such as North Koreans only being allowed a choice of 15 “official hair cuts. It all needs to be taken with a pinch-of-salt.
 I initially thought this image had been photoshopped. The two figures either side of Kim didn’t look real. In fact they sort of reminded me of a Pink Floyd Album cover, “Wish you were Here”. If you are not familiar with it , it shows of two men in suits shaking hands. One of the men is one fire.  As the image was made in 1975, those are real flames. Not photoshopped. Which makes the image especially mesmerising.
Man on fire image from Pink Floyd Album
Pink Floyd “Wish You Were Here”
As I looked athe Kim Jong Un, photograph I realised that two suited men were his security detail. The image was as “real” as the Pink Floyd one, but also just as staged. All photography and images of Kim have to be officially sanctioned. North Koreans can’t draw or paint him unless they are official state artists.
This photograph, then is how Kim wants to be seen. As a relaxed and smiling leader on a modern railway bridge. There are no ordinary North Koreans in sight on the train platform in the distance. If I was a North Korean citizen, the act of making this painting, however, may lead to me and my family spending time in a prison camp, Hence the title “Wish You Were Here” (no question mark) is ironic.
Turns out that this was a new railway bridge in Gwangwon Province and photograph was taken less than a day after Donald Trump called off his planned meeting with Kim. North Korea had said that Kim was still willing to meet Trump “at any time”, so the title is doubly appropriate.
Painting of Kim Jong Un
Wish You Were Here? (Kim Jong Un painting)

Wish You Were Here

When I posted this image on facebook and twitter, hashtagging it #statire, it was met with a storm of outraged comments from people who assumed that it was some sort of endorsement of the North Korean state. I was bemused. I wasn’t expecting this sort of reaction. Is it really very likely that a western artist would paint a fan portrait of a dictator?
There were many outraged comments on how Kim Jong Un killed people in work camps and was an evil man. These came mostly from American and Asian commentators. Interesting, in the light of the fact that Trump’s government imprisons children indefinitely and China also detains muslim uighur people in Xinjiang province. I could go on. Hypocrisy is rife. It’s also interesting, it was only British commentators who got the joke or just commented that it was “bizarre”. I’d be interested to see what sort of reaction I’d get if I painted a portrait of Donald Trump or Putin.
There is a long tradition of satire in Britain and Ireland. Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit to draw attention to both particular and wider issues in society. Hence Jonathan Swift’s famous ‘A Modest Proposal’ which he published in 1729 in which he suggested that the people of Ireland sell their children as food. This outrageous idea was never meant to be taken as face value. Satire is never meant to be taken at face value yet in this social media era things often are, which is why we are all such suckers for fake news, no matter how outrageous it is.
We can scoff at Trump supporters who believed his lies about Clinton and the pizzagate conspiracy but just yesterday a lot of people on twitter in the UK got worked up about a supposed protest by the far right against the new vegan sausage rolls. These sausage rolls had been introduced by Greggs the Bakers. It’s a long story, but a right wing TV commentator Piers Morgan had started the “controversy” when he called the company out on Twitter calling them ‘PC-ravaged clowns’ writing: “Nobody was waiting for a vegan bloody sausage.”
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This tweet appeared in my feed yesterday. So as you can see the tweet was “liked” thousands of times and there were many outraged and puzzled comments about how the far right were pathetic and stupid.
Five hours after the original tweet the person who posted it tweeted, backtracked, presumably after realising he’d got it wrong and another tweet claiming it was a “joke” or “banter”, as he called it.

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 The traditional print media put everyone right, eventually.
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Manchester Evening News
So we all need to slow down and think about what we are looking at. Take a minute to see beyond the surface. I’ll leave you with an quote from Jonathan Swift to ponder.
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If you are interested in a commission, satirical or otherwise, please get in touch here.