Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Robert Hannaford Workshop

About a week ago I was fortunate enough to attend a workshop by Australian artist Robert Hannaford. I have long admired his portrait work particularly his self portraits from unusual angles. I am certainly not alone in admiring his work as he one of the few artists who are loved by both artists and by the general public as his numerous "Peoples' Choice" awards gives testament.

This is Hannaford's amazing portrait "Bill" which won the 1990 Doug Moran Portrait Prize. I will return to it later but first some details about the workshop.

The class was for two days and Hannaford began with a brief overview of his thoughts and methods and a demonstration piece which he continued to work on over the two days. I took brief notes which I will reproduce here.

Robert Hannaford's Ideas

* Art is an "act of discovery"
* Don't have a plan
* Importance of a viewfinder to try different compositions and then the "That's the one I want" moment. As most of us didn't have this essential piece of equipment he proceed to make several out of paper for us.
* Abstract pattern / Abstract shapes of the masses, and Light/Dark
* Objectivity
* Squint to see tone and open eyes (till they blur) to see colour,  Shift between these two.
* Don't fiddle
* Don't rush in
* Using viewfinder try vertical or horizontal composition/ different sizes of head/ inclusion of body etc.
* There is a psychological horizon in a portrait ( eye height if standing in front of it)
* Re-see every day, don't follow your drawing from the day before or even from the previous sitting before the break.

As far as his method goes, Hannaford started on a white canvas, blocked in using charcoal which he then wiped off just leaving traces. He also started with lots of paint which he wiped back. He did even put in some highlights early on ( not details, details were last) so I guess you could say his approach is an instinctive one.
Filbert brushes
He did a tonal block in, around the head etc.

* Only when you cover the whole canvas can you really see what's going on.

 And his main point which he repeated throughout the weekend


He quoted Rembrandt as saying  "Nature is my master" and made the point that all the big leaps in art history have been made when artists returned to nature, i.e. Leonardo, the Impressionists etc. The Impressionists, painting plein air noticed that shadows were blue/purple and not the brown that Rubens painted.

He stressed the importance of composition from the start.

* Always rely on your own vision, not on your painting from yesterday.
* For his commissioned portraits he takes 6 to 7 days with a 3 hour sitting per day.

* Seeing is everything.
* Don't worry about technique, technique will look after  itself. Everything will look after itself.
* Spend 90% of your time looking, 10% painting
* Stand back /use mirror to view your progress.
* Don't copy other artists

He spoke about when he was young, taking his own work to his mentor Ivor Hele. He said Hele never said much he just looked, and Hannaford could then see his own mistakes as he felt he was seeing his own work through Hele's eyes.

Hannaford made an interesting point that we are on the verge of a Renaissance with our eyes.
* You can make unique discoveries.

I asked several questions about the painting of Bill (above) most notably about the dog and did he use a camera to capture the dog. He said he did not. (It is the artist's own dog.) There were over 100 sittings for the painting and the dog was there for about 50 of them. He says while other people train their dogs to fetch sticks,  he trains his dogs to pose.

                                Painting of Brett by Robyn Bauer

This is my effort after the two day sitting. I had a full-on profile which I did not choose as we drew easel positions out of a hat, but but I soon warmed to the possibilities (after using my viewfinder) and deciding to do landscape format which  I would not otherwise have done. The green curtain had been placed behind the sitter and framed the head very well for most of the painters but I ended up finding the book shelf very exciting (surprise surprise). I am sure I have never painted a bookshelf before.

Hannaford was very generous with his information and gave plenty of individual attention. There were some great painters there and some great paintings by the end of the weekend.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

What not to do in an Art Gallery

After eight years, today is the final day I will sit in my gallery minding a show of work by one of the artists I have been representing. As I have been hinting for months I am making some serious changes, no longer representing other artists but concentrating on my own painting and drawing, and I couldn't be happier. I keep catching a gleeful grin in the mirror.

This is me waving goodbye at the door. The reflection in the hall stand mirror is my manikin Frida holding her palette, and there is a tiny Martin Edge self -portrait at bottom right.

As this is the last day I will be captive here and at the whims of the general public, I thought I would have a bit of fun with some do's and don'ts of gallery visiting.

I have divided these into two categories. The first is

Comments made by gallery visitors

1. "I would buy one but the one I want has a red sold spot" ( Said regarding a show of 60 plus works only one of which is sold)
2. "I really love that one and I will come back with my husband/wife/partner/cat/mailman on the weekend to see if they like it too..."
3. "I really love that but have absolutely no room on my walls."
4. "I could maybe get my artistic son/daughter/cousin to do something similar."
5. "What a great SPACE this is...Wow"
6. "Gee what a great view from the back deck, you should serve coffee..."

If I had a dollar for every time I heard these...

Helpful List of Do's and Don'ts.

1. Don't step two feet inside a gallery and ask "So how's it going?" What sort of answer do you want?

a)"Yes it's going great guns I am making a fortune"? ( a lie)
b)"It's a bit quiet" ( a half truth but I don't mind as it gives me time to paint)

If I answer with the latter remark, that does not automatically entitle you to then launch into...

"You know what you should do..."

Advice offered ranges from

"Have you tried to head-hunt X, Y, Z?"

"You should be showing A,B,C type of work."

"You should sell books"

"You should not sell books"

and of course

" Gee you know what? I think you should serve coffee on the back deck"

2. Don't come to every Opening for eight years, make a beeline for the bar, stay on the back deck all night without even a pretence of looking at the work.

3. Don't stand in front of a painting, and state loudly
"That's way too cheap", unless you personally intend to a) buy the work, and b) would like to pay more for it.

Believe it or not Gallery Directors have given some of the above considerations a bit of thought.

A few other classic comments I would like to share.

Visitor:   "You've painted the walls in here"
Me:   "No I haven't"
Visitor:   "Yes you have"
Me:   "No I haven't"
Visitor:   "Well you have since I've been here last!" (defensively)
Me:   "When was that?"
Visitor:   "About two years ago!" (more defensively)
Me:   "I haven't repainted the walls since I opened eight years ago"
Visitor:   "Are you sure?"

And a real classic was the lady who stood on the back deck overlooking our Sculpture Garden and told me it was a "common area put in by the Brisbane City Council".
When I said
"No it is our garden"
She assured me
"No dear, the council have put it in. See all those little paths? They go to all the neighbouring houses"..

I am really warming to my theme here. I have a few pet hates...(nothing to lose now...)

4. If you are an artist and you want me to see your work. Make an appointment.  Don't expect me to look at tiny images on phones that you take forever to locate.

5. Don't tell long stories about your grandmother/uncle/cousin who paints or who once did a painting that was "really good".
6. Don't describe in words a painting you/your child/your mother once did in school. Even if it had "sort of like a tree, with a kind of dolphin, and was kind of blue but maybe green" and was "really good".

7. Don't get out your phone to find said painting. "It's here somewhere...flick, flick, ... just can't find it".

8. Don't get the gallery director all excited by asking for measurements of a work unless you are at least 20% serious.

9. Don't listen to gallery director's introduction about who the artists are, what the work is about and then come out with "So is this all your work?"

10. Don't advise me to sell coffee!

While most gallery visitors are genuine art lovers and I am here poking fun, I hope you at least have a sense of the frustrations, the customer fatigue and the time wasted. I also think most people who are giving advice are genuinely well meaning in most cases but it  is condescending in the extreme.

My pet hate of all is the schools/kindies etc who send in a delegate to ask for a a donation for their school fete. People who have never set foot in the gallery before, not looked at anything, expect to walk out with a painting under their arm for free, under the dubious misapprehension that the "publicity" will be "good for the artist." My standard reply is to ask if they are also asking  dentists and lawyers to donate of few weeks of their time also or is it just the artists who are the lucky ones? I would conservatively estimate to one such request each week.

I would now like to end on a more positive note. There have been some great visitors and supporters (usually other artists) and some great conversations about art have been had, but now it is time to pull up the drawbridge and actually do some painting.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Internet for the Artist, New studio props

I am still so motivated and busy with the study tasks I have set myself for the year. Many of my experiments I have posted on Instagram just for fun.

I have started serious new work but am keeping it secret for a while.

Like everyone else with an iPhone, computer etc I have been seduced by the instant gratification of posting images on facebook, pinterest, instagram and twitter. There are so many artists doing this and many of them are interesting to follow, particularly in countries different to Australia which have a different aesthetic. There is a danger though I think to the artist, of putting work "out there" before you are truly ready.

The process for showing work in the past, - beavering away in your own studio, sometimes destroying work and then only showing your best, -  has totally changed. Now, as soon as you finish something (in my case a life drawing) a sketch, an idea, or an experiment, you take a photo on Instagram without a thought. No wonder there is so much crap out there.

I am as guilty of this as anyone. It is fun! And ten minutes later you have twenty "likes" from all around the world. The sense of studio isolation is replaced by a sense of connectedness to others interested either in what you are doing (best case scenario) or in similar preoccupations.

For serious work though, the time factor, and the process of work developing over time is still the most important thing.

For me personally I am discovering I have to be wary. As I stated already I am keeping my new work secret for a while. It has been a big struggle to get everything to come together, particularly when trying to assimilate new influences, a new medium and technology.  I liken the process to when you are trying to remember a name you have forgotten ( in private not in public) and you know the name is up there somewhere in your brain but you can't quite grasp it. If only you could reach up and clasp it but   ...it ...is ...just out of ... reach... That is how I feel about the new work I am trying to do. I am motivated, I am inspired and I have the ideas but putting them all together is such a struggle it keeps me awake at nights. It is starting to work though and I feel all my hard work is about to pay off.

I know Monet said to a friend that when he finally got his garden going and his studio organised, he said
 "Now I am going to paint masterpieces". I know I am not in that category but I do feel my best work to date is just around the corner...

With the experiments I have been undertaking it has been confirmed to me more and more that I am really a reclusive studio painter. I agree with Degas' remark that painting outdoors is a kind of sport. I can manage to draw or photograph outside or in a life session but setting up to paint must be done in my own private space.

I have no qualms therefore in making that space exactly how I want it, furnishing it like Sorolla's exotic studio. I collect images of artists' studios on my Pinterest site. (Another obsessive internet activity that I am addicted to)

So, even though I am not showing new work here, what I would like to share are my recent studio prop purchases. These have been acquired over the last six months and the plan is to set up my whole existing gallery as a studio, only open on Sundays and only showing my own work to those interested.

 I have always wanted a big birdcage to do this with. No doubt it will make its way into my paintings in various guises. I collect bird sculptures and I plan to play around with them and the cage.

A new set of mapping drawers for my life drawings and paper storage.

Antique hall stand for keeping hats etc for portrait sitters to play around with. I seem to be mentioning the word "play" a lot. Julia Cameron would be pleased.

Another antique purchase. This is called a Canterbury and I plan to use it for book display and various other arrangements.

Did I use the word "exotic" above? Let me introduce "Iris". She is a black panther, life size made of bronze. She will be keeping me company during my painting hours.

And meet Uncle Leo (named for his famous anatomy obsessed antecedent). I have done many drawings of him in my pseudo academic self study program. This has really helped with my portrait work.

This is Mr Muscles, showing what makes faces twitch. I have drawn him heaps also and ditto to the comment above.

 I bought these little guys also. I already have quite a collection of porcelain dolls in the bedroom but these two are avid readers so must stay focused on the book shelf. No names yet sorry. Any suggestions? They are Bavarian.

 I am also starting to collect fabric. These beautiful satins are from Spotlight. I have always loved the background drapery in Rubens and Van Dyck and am on the lookout for a big red velvet second-hand curtain.

 Antique hexagonal mirror and Persian rug from an auction. And of course books, books, books and more books. There is no furniture as charming as books on a shelf.

I am looking forward to putting these things together in the studio, but for the rest of 2013 I am planning to rent out the gallery space to artists on a weekly basis. The new studio set up will be up and running in 2014 when I reveal the new work.

Meanwhile back to the secret paintings.