2020 update #1

I have been neglecting my website terribly this year. I have no excuses for this other than being busy and focussed on making new work. Although things have been very far from normal across the globe for the last few months, the Covid-19 crisis has not hugely affected my everyday life. I work from home, by myself, and so it’s mostly been a more intense version of that for me. With a lovely online community of artists for company I have actually been very productive and consider myself incredibly lucky to have the refuge of art to take me out of myself and act as a form of meditation.

There have also been several projects and initiatives which have provided inspiration and a framework to aid continued motivation. These include Tom Croft’s wonderful portraits for NHS heroes, for which I painted three portraits. Here’s the first (below), and my personal favourite.

Portraits for NHS Heroes

“PPE”, oil on paper, 12″ x 16″ NFS

Another brilliant initiative has been the Artist Support Pledge founded by Matthew Burrows, which has enabled me to not only sell work, but also buy from artists that I have greatly admired for a long time as well as those I have newly discovered. I was onboard with this movement fairly early on, and it has now become a global force and newly formed not for profit company in support of artists and makers. Instagram has been my main shopwindow for this, but I’m hoping to develop a simple online shop here too where there’ll be work available that is part of the pledge, as well as other work that is discounted while the fall-out from this pandemic continues. I also want to make my own contribution to collective efforts to help those less fortunate than I am with a percentage of sales going to charity. I am currently considering a range of causes that are specifically to do with the struggling arts sector, as well as those that are unrelated to art but close to my heart.

There has been a lot of generosity from across the artistic community. Whether that comes in the form of charitable contributions, the pledge to buy and sell in order to keep a micro economy moving, or the giving of time and resources to simply share knowledge and solidarity. For me, the people I want to give special mentions to are Raw Umber Studios for their free portrait sessions and educational videos going out on YouTube. Coincidentally I did a 4 day workshop at their studio in Stroud just before lockdown with the incredible Felicia Forte. I have been a fan of hers for a long time and can’t believe that the opportunity to study with her so locally presented itself (she is based in Detroit and added Stroud to her international teaching schedule). I love her aesthetic and it was great to experience another way of working and artistic philosophy. For the the first ten weeks of lockdown she instigated a weekly painting challenge which was great to take part in and, again, feel part of a wider community of likeminded people. It was a real sanity saver. Here’s one of my more unusual subjects for the challenge of “chicken”.

“Frozen”, oil on mounted paper, 12″ x 9″

And finally, a mention of cancelled exhibitions. In a year which started really successfully for me, it’s been a great shame to have had several exhibiting opportunities cancelled. I was thrilled to have a painting accepted to the annual exhibition of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, and two paintings selected for this year’s Royal Society of Portrait Painters exhibition. Both of these exhibitions are currently viewable online, and there’s a slim possibility that they may yet take place later in the year depending on the lifting of restrictions. I also had nine paintings due to be on show at The Gallery Holt in Norfolk. Lockdown was announced the week of opening. Still, we’re all in this together and I have so much sympathy for the artists I have seen with cancelled solo shows that they have been working towards for a long time and with much personal expense.

Here is a little bit about my portrait submissions to the RP. I was especially thrilled to get these selected because, honestly, they were a nightmare to paint.

Portrait of a man in interior

“January Blues”, 50cm x 40cm, oil on gessoed panel .

“January Blues” is a portrait of my husband and was completed at the beginning of the year. It originally started out as a summer painting, with the initial block-in taking place in the heatwave of 2018 in a friend’s studio. The focus was going to be on his new patterned shirt, but life got in the way and the painting was put aside and forgotten. During a tidy up I re-found it and decided to rework it at home. I don’t usually paint with oils inside our house due to the mess and fumes, but I knew that staying in the studio wouldn’t help with my aim of getting beyond the figure alone. Changing location ended up being a real struggle. The light was terrible so I decided to work at night with a controllable artificial light. This was too cold in temperature and I found keying hue and tone really difficult. At the same time our gas boiler broke down and getting it fixed proved very frustrating, with my husband getting a stinking cold on top. He sat uncomplainingly most evenings for the two or three weeks the painting took to complete, wanting to help me, but also wishing he was in front of the fire and that Spring would hurry up and get here. Early on I noticed that a taxidermy crow sitting on the windowsill behind him could become a subtle motif for the general mood that descends in those post Christmas, dark days of January. The result is a portrait that marks a quiet shift into describing something beyond the sitter.

Portrait of the artist at work

“Blue Glove”, 20cm x 30cm, oil on mounted paper.

The second painting, “Blue Glove”, was made at the same time and is a self-portrait made in the same space, but from a different angle. As I was painting my husband at night, I decided to put a mirror against the wall and use myself as a free model in the day. Again my aim was to work more with the interior, featuring the dresser behind me that houses our collection of various ceramics, plants, paintings (including “January Blues as it dried) and various odds and ends. The light source is a large south-facing window unfortunately, which means the light moves around very quickly. At a certain point in the day however the light hits the dresser and creates some lovely shadows and geometric lines that is fleetingly really uplifting.

The technical difficulties of working in this space of ever changing and unreliable light made both of these paintings a real struggle to complete. They are exercises in perseverance and testament to not giving up.