Artist Interview with Carl Chapple
I met my friend, Carl Chapple when we were both exhibiting at Parallax Art Fair here in London in 2011 and I have been a fan of his ever since! I agree so much with his statement about art fairs in general too.
As a figurative painter myself, I'm drawn (no pun intended!) to his figurative paintings the most and of course I've been intrigued for a long time about his methods of working and what his studio is like and what types of colours he has on his palette and all sorts of other curiosities!
So I was really pleased when Carl agreed to let me interview him for my art blog! The biggest challenge with Carl and so far with all the other artists I've interviewed, is that I have so many questions that I have to whittle them down or I'm sure artists would be daunted by hundreds of questions! These questions in this interview, I think are the most pressing of the over eighty that I originally had to edit down from! I had so many questions about his materials but as a painter myself, I really feel that to understand another painter is to see how and where they work rather than what they produce! So I love the above photo of Carl's studio space with his work and all the interesting details surrounding!
I'm excited to share with you my interview with Carl and his fascinating work and practice. Please do check his social media links at the end of this interview to stay updated with his work, especially as he has upcoming exhibitions which is quite exciting! Any red highlighted underlined words are links you can follow. Please like, comment and share with your friends!
Franceska: When did you first know you were going to be an artist and what helped you decide this?
Carl: I’ve always been interested in painting, but wasn’t certain that I wanted to be a painter myself until the first term of my art foundation at Oxford Polytechnic. I’d spent the previous year working in a print shop doing bits of graphic art, and went into the course with a vague plan to go on to art school somewhere and study graphics, but that all changed after the experience of drawing from the nude and using oil paint for the first time.
Drawing from the nude and using oil paint for the first time can really shift your perspective on things. I found both impossibly difficult, and realised very quickly that they would be central to all that I wanted to do.
Franceska: How do you set up your palette? Do you have a specific system with your colours?
Carl: I think Whistler once said something about it being impossible for an orderly painting to emerge from a disorderly palette, and I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for a long time to learn from that.
I start each session with a row of colours arranged chromologically (I may have just invented that word) across the top of the palette, with a dollop of white beneath, but it all soon descends into a kind of blur as work proceeds, colours are mixed, and more paint is added. There is a system, of sorts, and I always know where everything is, but the nearest I come to any kind of discipline is realising periodically that I need to stop and completely clean the palette and start again. I try to do this at least every few hours.
Franceska: Who or what inspired you to become an artist?
Carl: My mum encouraged creativity in me as a child (we always had paints and glue and a junk box full of toilet rolls and cereal boxes, etc, from which fantastic space stations could be built), and at primary school I was labelled as the one who was good at drawing, meaning I’d get pulled out of lessons to copy pictures (the inner workings of the human ear, a Roman soldier holding a spear…) onto other teachers’ blackboards, which was obviously to be welcomed.
I went on to really enjoy studying art at secondary school, and had a great teacher (Stuart Stephens at Tavistock Comprehensive) who had a very open and informal approach to teaching his subject. Under his slightly arm’s length guidance, pupils were given a lot of freedom to explore ideas and techniques, and to make mistakes, etc. I found this to be a fun environment to work in, and took it very seriously.
Franceska: Do you have a specific subject that you enjoy the most in your art?
Carl: People - most recently dancers. It’s the only subject I’m really interested in. Over the years I’ve painted a few still lives and the occasional landscape, animal picture, etc, but nothing engages me like trying to depict another human being.
There’s a Vonnegut story in which a character responds to a vast and impressive landscape painting, suggesting to the artist that for all that’s great about the picture, there’s something missing: a figure, an access point for the viewer to place themself within the scene, and to more fully connect with it. The figures in my pictures tend to be front and centre, but I’m probably thinking along the same lines as Vonnegut’s critic. With a few exceptions (much of the work of Cezanne, for example), my favourite paintings and drawings all involve people.
Franceska: How do you come up with your compositions and what are your challenges in this process?
Carl: I’m artist in residence with the wonderful dance company Ballet Cymru, based in Newport, South Wales. Over the past few years they have inspired most of my work - either as I respond to rehearsals and performances, or work more collaboratively with dancers in the painting studio.
After years working from the nude and later painting portraits, I think of my current practice as very much a combination of the two - though now created in response to and in partnership with other artists. As I’ve been discovering, dance and figure painting share many common themes and concerns - line, gesture, narrative, the exploration of relationships between figures and the spaces around them, for example - which has given me new insights into painting. It’s been an extraordinary experience.
There have been some challenges. Sketching figures as they fly around a dance floor is quite different from working from a motionless sitter, and I’ve needed to innovate a good deal in order to adapt some of my working methods. In rehearsals, for example, I now film sequences of dance which I later loop and play back in the painting studio, so I can work over a longer period and more closely study dancers’ movement, etc. These experiments are ongoing, and I’m now in the process of working out how I can scale things up and create more complex compositions.
The residency has been a great privilege, and I can’t imagine working with a more creative and disciplined group of people. If you get the opportunity to see Ballet Cymru perform, I would urge you to take it.
Franceska: When do you prefer to work in your studio? Do you have specific times that work best for you?
Carl: I try to be in the studio before eight in the morning, especially in winter when daylight is limited. The first few hours of the day are generally the most focused and productive, I find.
Now that I’m working on more larger scale pictures, I’m thinking of changing my routine a bit to end the day with making smaller, quicker pieces, to reduce the risk of making bad decisions about big pictures when tired. For me, painting can be quite precarious, and not stopping when I’m starting to wilt can be a big mistake.
Franceska: Tell me what a typical "Day in the life of Carl" is like?
Carl: The focus of my days tends to vary between work in the painting or dance studio, occasional teaching (life drawing, portraiture, etc), and admin.
In the past week I’ve had three days in the painting studio, two with Ballet Cymru (including the final rehearsals and premier of their show Ballet Cymru 2 - Made in Wales), and one entirely spent at a computer. Next week I plan mostly to work in the studio.
Franceska: Tell me about Bertie?
Carl: Bertie is a house cat/panther/ninja who can disappear at will and spring out of nowhere to mercilessly savage your ankles (or bring down a bull elephant) without warning. She’s a true master of camouflage and concealment, blending effortlessly into any (dark) surroundings, and has the discipline to remain completely motionless and invisible for seconds or even minutes at a time. Her only weakness is tuna. If a can of tuna is opened anywhere within a quarter of a mile of her she will instantly appear next to it with a pleading/entitled/threatening look on her face. In these circumstances, it’s best to acquiesce.
She’s named after the painter Berthe Morisot, though is more of a Gwen John fan. I still feel bad about getting that wrong, but hope that she’s forgiven me.
There are some photos of Bertie on my Instagram, though of course you won’t be able to spot her.
Franceska: What other types of creative practices do you really enjoy?
Carl: I like cooking. In the kitchen, as in the painting studio, I generally make stuff up as I go along, too often forgetting lessons already learnt though occasionally making something which turns out ok.
Franceska: Do you have a favourite colour and has it changed over the years?
Carl: For several years I painted with a restricted palette of three colours - Cadmium Red, Sap Green and Naples Yellow - before eventually introducing a fourth, Prussian Blue. These colours are still the core of my palette, though whatever changes I might make and experiments I may be doing, Prussian Blue is pretty much always there. It’s a beautiful and hugely versatile pigment, and is often quite dominant in my work.
Franceska: How do you feel about art fairs like the one we met at?
Carl: It’s depressing to think that there may be other art fairs like Parallax, though I imagine there must be. I feel pretty angry about them really, and would encourage artists - especially those less experienced or at the early stages of their careers, whom these people seem very specifically to target with their flattering advances - to steer well clear. I feel a right chump for getting drawn in on that occasion, and if I were to show at an art fair again it would only be after a good deal of research to be sure it was a legitimate, worthwhile event.
Franceska: What are your goals for the future with your paintings?
Carl: To make better pictures than I did before. That’s always my goal. I may return to working from the nude at some point, but at the moment I’m completely immersed in dance as a subject, and hope to continue with that for some time.
Franceska: Do you have any more exhibitions coming up?
Carl: I have a few, yes. The Arts Council of Wales recently awarded me grant funding to build on my work with Ballet Cymru and produce two big exhibitions later this year, which I’m hugely excited about. The first will be at Ffin y Parc, a beautiful gallery on the edge of Snowdonia, in September, and the second at the huge Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, in December.
Both shows will feature work made with the dance company throughout their 2019 season, with the funding enabling me to work on a much more ambitious scale than I’ve previously been able to do. There will be audio tours for people with visual impairments (developed and delivered by a great company called Word of Mouth) at both exhibitions, and the WMC show will be accompanied by a series of figure drawing workshops for children and adults, which I’ll be delivering with Ballet Cymru dancers.
Before then, in April I’ll be showing some of my earlier dance paintings in Basel, Switzerland, with a brilliant pop-up gallery called frontofbicycle, and there may be a couple of other little shows in the UK, though these aren’t yet confirmed.
Franceska: What are you working on right now?
Carl: I’m between canvases. I recently finished a painting with the snappy title Ann Louise Wall, Giulia Rossi and Colleen Grace (Ballet Cymru rehearsal 149, EX SITU), featuring three dancers with Ballet Cymru’s Pre-Professional Programme working on a piece choreographed by Jack Philp. It’s two metres wide (my biggest picture to date), and has given me a lot to think about. My immediate plan now is to spend a few days drawing, and hopefully to develop ideas for further large compositions.
Franceska: Do you have an artist who really inspired you?
Carl: The Greeks, Italians, French, Dutch and Germans, among others. Years ago I travelled quite a lot in Greece and Turkey making studies of Classical architecture and sculpture to try to learn about some of the principles which informed them and to develop my draughtsmanship. I later lived in Florence and continued in the same vein, though with a focus on Renaissance sculpture, painting and drawing. I’m constantly experimenting with materials and techniques, etc, and have developed wider interests in art history and practice, but this period of focused study of early European art remains the foundation of my work.
On a side note, I’d mention that although it’s fantastically inspiring to study great work by great artists, it can be tempting to overly romanticise the Renaissance masters as superhuman paragons from whom flawless, beautiful art effortlessly flowed to echo through the ages - though I’d suggest this would be a mistake. There’s something fundamentally reassuring in coming across a drawing by Michelangelo, for example, in which a hip appears dislocated or an eye’s a bit wonky. It’s important to set challenging standards for yourself, but also to keep failures in context, recognising them as part of the process. Wonky eyes are part of the process, and I’m constantly having to remind myself of that.
Franceska: Where did you study and has it helped where you are today?
Carl: After Oxford Polytechnic I studied at St Martin’s in London, which at that time may not have been the best place for a wannabe figurative painter. It had its moments though, and being within walking distance of the British Museum, Courtauld, National Gallery, etc, was pretty great. This got me into the habit (and over the anxiety) of drawing in public spaces, which led to much of what I did next and where I am now.
Follow Carl and keep updated on his work:
Website - http://www.carlchapple.com
FB - https://www.facebook.com/carlchapplepainter
Twitter - https://twitter.com/carlchapple
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/carl_chapple/
Ballet Cymru - http://welshballet.co.uk
If you enjoyed this artist interview and would like to see more then please check back every Friday at 9am (UK time) for more.
Dorothea Tanning Exhibition Review
A few days ago, I went to see the Dorothea Tanning Exhibition at the Tate Modern here in London, not really knowing much about her but having been bombarded by advertisements everywhere to go and see this!
The actual image they have been using on the posters and website for this exhibition didn't excite me at all as that sort of painting never does......it seemed very steile and not what I enjoy as a painter. Because I wanted to attend this event with unpredictable dialogue, I arranged this outing to be an event in the meetup group that I currently run and quite a few people turned out which was exciting.
(I will put in a note here, that I tend to have my friendliness misunderstood to be flirting by various men I encounter, who, perhaps use meetup in a different way than I do) That said, we can move on....
First of all, thank goodness it wasn't expensive which is a relief as the Tate Modern tend to charge more than necessary very often, probably due to the mass quantities of tourists in the city. Well, being on benefits, it's a bit of a challenge to maintain a life as an artist as I often can't afford to attend certain exhibitions due to the ridiculous high ticket prices! Luckily I spent very little.....an affordable £10 (only affordable due to using my credit card!).
So the exhibition itself tracks the seventy year career of Dorothea Tanning - 1910 to 2012. It says in the brochure that her work asks us to look beyond the obvious. Her earlier surrealist paintings have a lot of narrative that's not obvious or known to the viewer and does peak the curiosity to understand what is happening....with labels not often offering this information. Her use of symbolism is intriguing to say the least and definitely taps into a connection to the subconscious which ensures to generate dialogue which is why I wanted to attend this exhibition with others.
So Dorothea Tanning was an American painter and I didn't even know about her which is strange as I don't think she was even in my art history courses when I was a young art student at the Kansas City Art Institute way back in the 1990's! I remember her husband, Max Ernst very well as I loved his paintings but I never heard mention of Dorothea.
I love that she wanted to create her own spaces in her work.....I can sort of relate to that mindset as I do this a lot in my own practice. It doesn't matter what my living situation, once immersed into drawing, painting or sculpting, I'm in a world that is entirely the meaning of "home" to me.
So in the exhibition, first few paintings.....not very exciting as expected as they were tight and not fluid but the second room got fun! The first one that got my attention was of a door that divided a canvas in two with two figures on either side of the door (entitled, "Door 84").....it's fluid and there's so much movement in this piece. So apparently the door is a surrealist symbol: a portal to the unconscious (according to the brochure).
"Door 84" - above was where I started to consider liking this painter so this was a good start! The only strange thing about where they put this painting was that it was in a room full of paintings that the artist had painted decades before.....this Door 84 being painted in 1984. It's like the people who curated the exhibition couldn't decide where to put the paintings.....in order of when they were painted or in relationship to each other.......it was a little discombobulating. If I had an exhibition of everything I'd created from my whole life then I'd find it really odd if some of my later more recent work was mixed in with very early work.
As an artist myself, I feel that artwork has a narrative all of its own and that progression from start to finish is important in the development and understanding of the artist.....so yeah a bit weird, their curation of the show.
"The Philosophers" painted in 1952 was in the same room as "Door 84".....(room 2 and 3 are joined so you tell me how that reads to you in the progression of the artists development!)
Anyway, I lingered a while here at this painting, not because of the variety of activity in this piece but because of the way she painted the folded tablecloth which intrigued me as she made it so tactile.....I felt like I could feel it on my skin as that slippery silky folded cloth that I know it to be. The memories of those creases in that fabric that won't lie flat and held its own symbolism in the act of staying folded. This is something I'd like to revisit so I think I'll have to return to see this painting in person again to ruminate on this and see what develops.
"Insomnies (Insomnias)" painted in 1957 presumably when Dorothea and her husband Max had then moved to live in France.....she's painting that damned folded tablecloth again and before I read the description, I knew it already and from this was able to understand the previous painting.
In this painting here it says in the label, "Tanning intended our experience of this painting to unfold gradually. In it, the figure of a child - identifiable by a face at the centre - is depicted as disjointed body parts which seem to disappear and reappear amongst folds of cloth. Tanning explained her process: It was like a game, hiding and revealing my familiar images, floating them in mist or storms. I felt like a magician, just to bring these forms out of nothing with my brush and paint."
At the end of the label it states: "The title of the work suggests the anxiety of night-time wakefulness." which I think hits home for everyone!
Needless to say, it fascinates me.....and confounds me because of the memory of those folds yet again so I think another visit to this exhibition is in order.
"Heartless" painted in 1980.....a painting in nearly the last room.....I've left a great deal out but it would ruin it if you were intending to visit for yourself.
This painting was difficult to walk away from as there was too much that my brain wanted to try to unravel. Too many hidden meanings and unsaid words. I like what Dorothea says, "I don't see why one shouldn't be absolutely fascinated with the human form....we go through life in this wonderful envelope. Why not acknowledge that and try to say something about it? So what I try to say about it is transformation."
I'm still thinking about the exhibition as it has made an impact on me as a figurative painter and I am wondering how it will impact my own practice.
I think if you're here in London or nearby then you need to go to see this exhibition as it'll get you thinking.....which is good in this day and age of technology!
- Per usual, all red highlighted underlined words are links to related content.
*If you enjoyed reading through this exhibition review and would like to see more then please stay tuned to this space every Thursday at 9am UK time for more!
Pen & Ink Patterns in Drawing
I have an addiction to drawing complicated repetitive patterns of tangled tree branches in pen and ink and hiding various words or images or my signature within these branches just for the fun of it so I had to write about this addiction!
I've made a speed video so you can see how very addictive my ink pattern drawings are! If my fingers were able to go on drawing for hours without sleep then this is the activity I'd probably choose!
I find that the best pens to use for my addiction are Graphik Line Maker pens, Faber-Castell PITT artist pens or Staedtler pigment liners.....all varying sizes. If you want some of those pens for yourself then just click on the highlighted brand names so you can purchase your own on Amazon. I tend to go through one of each size in about a month due to my addiction!
I find this type of drawing very meditative and very similar to how I sculpt in toothpicks so I think that has something to do with the addiction as I'm just as addicted to creating toothpick sculptures as I am to drawing!
I love the stark contrast of white paper against thin black lines as it feels to me as if the lines are like a visual vibration and very pleasing because I unconsciously try to find shapes or words in these branches which is probably what has lead me to hide words, shapes and my signature in my drawings. I love the idea that the viewer has to interact with my drawings rather than just passively look at the thing.....more fun to play a game, don't you think!
If you want to try to spot hidden words or my signature in the finished image, make sure to follow me on Instagram to see the finished drawing at the end of this week: @MirMarnia
*If you enjoy these material reviews/techniques then please stay tuned every Monday at 9am for more!
I'd like to introduce you to a really interesting sculptor friend of mine, who also uses toothpicks to build with! Bob and I came into contact because of our mutual love for creating sculptures with toothpicks so I've been really eager to interview him about his work since the subject is beyond fascinating for me! The way he creates his little buildings and rocks and terrain in his work will just blow your mind as he can do wonders with the very ordinary toothpick! I often wish I could shrink myself down to be very tiny so I could explore his creations as they're so gorgeous and so imaginative!
As per most of my artist interviews, I sent Bob a series of questions which for me was quite a challenge as I have soooooo many questions that I had to really edit them down or he'd have received a very long list from me as I'm far too curious about his sculpting methods especially in a subject area that I adore!
So anyway please enjoy below my interview with Bob and then see below for all the links so you too can follow and stay up to date with everything he is creating:
Franceska: What first got you started building in toothpicks?
Bob: About 40 years ago, I visited the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum in St. Augustine, Florida. There were several toothpick and matchstick sculptures on display including, various musical instruments, a Model A Ford truck, and replicas of the Eiffel Tower and Tower Bridge in London, England. I was very intrigued by these pieces and thought to myself, I can do this. Not long after that visit I started creating small toothpick buildings.
Franceska: When you were growing up, what types of creative projects did you enjoy working on?
Bob: I really liked to draw and paint pictures, still do. Also, I loved to build tree forts. Sometimes I would take them apart and start over with a better design. Music is another creative outlet I truly enjoyed. I started playing drums when I was 12.
Franceska: Has there been anyone in your life who has been a big inspiration to you?
Bob: Yes, my wife. She has been my number one fan, motivator, supporter and source of inspiration since we met as teenagers.
Franceska: What were your early sculptures like and how do they differ from what you do now?
Bob: My first pieces were very small and didn’t have a lot of details. Most were like the tree forts mentioned above. Over time, I started developing techniques that helped me manipulate the toothpicks in different ways. These techniques have allowed me to become more detail oriented in my creations.
Franceska: Tell me what you love about toothpicks?
Bob: You can create with them really quickly. Hahaha, I wish. One of the things that’s cool is using toothpicks not only as a medium, but also as tiny tools. They are perfect for applying and cleaning off glue.
Franceska: How do you come up with your sculpture ideas now?
Bob: Sometimes I’ll have a dream about an idea and jump out of bed to start working on it, or at least make a quick sketch so I don’t forget. Other times I’ll start by making a window or door, or just an abstract little piece, and just keep adding to it. I like to let the sculptures “build themselves” you know, coming up with new ideas as you create. I don’t sit down and draw a complete blueprint first. I also don’t enjoy making replicas. I love to just use my imagination for my pieces.
Franceska: Describe to me what a typical "Day in the Life of Bob" is like?
Bob: Get up and grab a diet Mt. Dew, I don’t like coffee, go in my studio, turn on the radio and get to work. Monday thru Friday I usually create about 5 to 10 hours a day. I try to get in a little work on weekends, but life is not all about toothpicks. hahaha. Also, being a musician, most gigs are on weekends.
Franceska: Where do you get your toothpicks from and do you have a preference?
Bob: I buy toothpicks in bulk from an online site. I usually order 2-4 cases at a time. Each case has 24 boxes of 800 count round/square center toothpicks. They are from Royal brand, but I’ve used Foster, Diamond and other brands in the past. While I mostly use round/square center toothpicks, I also use regular round and flat for certain applications.
Franceska: Have you had any big failures in finding your style and have you found good solutions to past problems?
Bob: Like most artists, I have some projects that just don’t have the right flow. So, either they sit around collecting dust or I change the direction. I wouldn’t say I’ve had any big failures finding my style, it’s just evolved for many years through trial and error.
Franceska: What do you enjoy the most out of what you do now?
Bob: Not only do I love to create through art and music, I must create. Creating is like oxygen for me, I need it to live.
Franceska: Who is your biggest influence in your life right now? How does your life experience feed into your art?
Bob: I was born in Naples, Italy and all the beautiful seaside towns throughout the country seem to be seared in my head. That’s the only explanation I can think of as to where most of my architectural ideas come from.
Franceska: What are your hopes and dreams for your art practice now?
Bob: I hope to continue to have opportunities to share my work through interviews like this, magazine articles, exhibitions, etc. Having my art out there for the world to see the past 5-6 years has been a dream come true. I’m very thankful...and lucky.
Franceska: Are you working on anything exciting at the moment and can you share a little bit about it?
Bob: I have a few projects I’m currently working on, but the most exciting one is, I’m working on a new section of my largest sculpture, Bob’s Toothpick City. When this phase is complete, the total toothpick count will be close to half a million. It will be approximately 10 feet wide, 2 feet tall and 2 feet deep. I hope to have it finished in a year or so.
Franceska: Thank you so much, Bob for letting me delve into your world and for answering my questions about your work and lifestyle as an artist! I feel so inspired by your answers and I want to publish this and immediately get back to studio to get on with my toothpick sculptures too! I feel like I related to so well of what you have said and I'm so pleased you were willing to share!
To keep up to date on all of Bob's work then please follow these links:
*If you really enjoyed this artist interview and would like to see more like this then stay tuned every Friday at 9am (UK time) for more really interesting artist interviews!
Last weekend, I attended an exhibition with friends at the Camden Image Gallery which turned out to be a fascinating and inspiring visit as I got to meet several of the artists which I found really interesting as well as friends of the artists too. The work is gorgeous and literally a treat for the eyes especially to those of us who love to paint! The painters are united by colour and light and had me returning in thought to my recent visit to the Pierre Bonnard exhibition at the Tate Modern and his explorations into colour and light.
The exhibition at the Camden Image Gallery ran from the 13th of March to the 18th of March and featured the work of five artists: Karin Friedli, Ayse McGowan, Dawn Limbert, Neeta Popat Kataria and Diana Sandetskaya.
I'm including below a sample of these artists work or at least my favourites of their work from this recent exhibition. I do love how they all have captured nature in such a way to suggest paths not yet discovered or glimpses into a future world not yet explored. It sparked my imagination for sure so I was excited to share what I saw. The red highlighted names above lead directly to their individual websites.
Please see below their wonderful paintings and check out each artist and their links to follow what they're up to. Links to all artists and this particular gallery are below the images.
"Pacific Sunset" by Diana Sandetskaya
"Evening Shadows" by Neeta Popat Kataria
"Follow the Path" by Dawn Limbert
Facebook: Dawn Limbert Art
"Secret Path" by Karin Friedli
"North Cyprus Sunset" by Ayse McGowan
To learn more about exhibitions offered by the Camden Image Gallery please go to their website at:
If interested in purchasing artwork from these particular artists, then please see below each of their paintings for their contact information.
*If you are enjoying these exhibition reviews then stay tuned every Thursday at 9am (UK time) for more from the London art scene.
Today I'm reviewing and demonstrating the watercolour graphite that comes in a tin, called "Art Graf". Above on the left you will see a speed drawing video of myself using the material with a brush and then on the right the finished drawing.
One thing to note for anyone who hasn't tried this material yet - I found it easier to first put a few drops of water in the lid of the tin first and then dab the brush into the solid graphite before painting with it. Only reason being that if you put any water directly on the solid graphite cake in the tin then it just soaks away very fast.
It's a fun way to add graphite in a fluid way to a drawing/painting but if you want to erase areas of this watercolour graphite then you may be frustrated as it doesn't erase very well. I just painted over the problem areas using watercolour paint and it solved my issues right away.
It is lovely and fluid when you paint it on but it dries fast which is a little frustrating as you can never get the perfect consistency because it always dries up after a few strokes. I do enjoy how it can be layered onto a surface and then possibly scraped off with sandpaper (very fine sandpaper though).
I'm still not very sure how to use it so I think this is very much something I'll have to experiment with and then return to in a later post once I've worked out how it will work best for me.
It is far more fun than pencils but with less control! All in all, I think it's well worth it as a great drawing tool and painting tool for artists and I will plan to repost in the future after I've had some more time to play with it.
In the meantime, do have a look at my speed drawing video and let me know what your thoughts are especially if you have experience using this material as I'd be very curious to know other's opinions on the topic.
To buy your own Art Graf please click on this sentence to purchase it from Amazon.
*If you would like hear more materials reviews and watch more speed video's and demonstrations then do check back every Monday 9am UK time for regular material review posts.
Interview with Michelle Young-Wilson
I wanted to interview my wonderful friend, Michelle Young-Wilson, as my next artist interview but because she has kept me inspired by how she leads a creative lifestyle. Also I wanted to offer this celebration of my lovely friend this week as this is the week of her birthday which works out perfectly! Michelle isn’t a practicing artist but her way of living, her daily activities, our exciting adventures together, how she cooks, her recipes, and her creative projects have kept me smiling and bright inside for several years already!
Michelle is one of the few friends who I can be silly with or have spontaneous adventures that seem outrageous but so much fun; or create imaginary worlds with just sticks and leaves! I have such fond memories of so many types of adventures we’ve already had and its rather exciting to think of the adventures yet to come!
So today is an interview with a creative in the way she lives her life and perhaps some moments into our adventures together!
Franceska: Do you have a morning routine before you start your day?
Michelle: Yes. Because I have a dog, I do.
Otherwise, I’ve never had much of a routine and I have trouble doing anything consistently. I rather invite change and transformation…I think I like the stimulus.
My morning routine, at the moment, is all about my dog, Hawkeye. He wakes me up at dawn and we go for a walk and I have come to love our walks together. I really get to observe the seasons change. I see the first flower buds and leaves on the trees in spring and get to watch the leaves explode into color in the autumn. Hawkeye is always living in the present moment and he is constantly reminding me to return my focus to the present. I love him for that.
After our walk, it’s time to make breakfast for him and myself and sometimes, my husband, Bob. Breakfast has become its own sort of meditation. I think I love cooking because it keeps my focus and attention from start to finish and since breakfast comes together quickly, it is almost a fluid dance. Just think about it: biscuits in the oven, bacon frying, tea kettle whistling, eggs scrambling and you are working for it to all be completed at the same time hot and delicious! With the right perspective even something as mundane as making breakfast can be artful. After breakfast and cleaning up, my day is entirely random. I get my work done as early as I can because that’s when I have the most energy and focus. I am always wanting to add yoga to my morning routine, but it just hasn’t fit in, yet.
Franceska: When you were young, how did you use your imagination in play?
Michelle: I remember playing alone a lot in my room. I liked setting up scenes with my dolls. I would make sofas from Kleenex boxes and little cakes from York peppermint patties. I made a circus trapeze once for a Barbie doll out of straws, string and scotch tape. Then when she fell from the trapeze, I made her crutches from straws and a cast from toilet paper and scotch tape. Something funny I remember, is that I set the scene as if to take a picture of them, I never was good at coming up with any dialogue. When I was playing with my older brothers, I was just trying to keep up and be tough. We did things like set firecrackers off under our GI Joe’s. It seems like the boys were always playing at war or car racing and I was always wanting to make something pretty.
Franceska: When you cook, do you have a plan or do you prefer to experiment? What have been the best experiments?
Michelle: It depends on who I am cooking for. If it’s just me, it’s an experiment. I may use a recipe for inspiration but I change it to use the ingredients I have on hand. But if I’m cooking for someone else’s pleasure, I take it much more seriously and strive for perfection. I recently made Christina Tosi’s (of Momofuku’s Milk Bar fame) Strawberry Lemon Cake for a friend’s 70th birthday. It is the most complex cake I have ever made. It has 6 elements that you must make separately and then you assemble it and freeze it for 12 hours to set. It was worth it! Absolutely delicious and everyone who had a slice agreed. If I ever make it again, however, I’ll do it as a trifle and not freeze it at all.
Franceska: In your work, how were you able to use your own creativity and was it often a challenge?
Michelle: I worked in the Art department in the Film and Television Industry for 14 years. I am truly grateful to have been able to use my creativity everyday in my career. When I interviewed a new potential employee I would tell them that being a creative problem solver was one of the most important qualities for any film-maker. And even though, I have moved on from that industry, I still use my creativity daily. Creativity can be utilized in all things. A mechanic can be creative about the way he repairs an engine. I think challenge breeds creativity. Isn’t all work a challenge?
That’s why we have this love/hate relationship with work. We want the stimulus but we resist the challenges. I believe we need challenges to grow and advance and become. Using creativity to overcome challenges is part of human nature. My dad, really inspires me in this respect. He is a creative problem solver, I learned so much from just being around him. If we had dropped something down a drain, for example, and couldn’t get to it, he would craft some device out of whatever was around to retrieve it for us and he loved doing it. He instilled in me a sort of confidence, that no matter what, we can figure this out.
Franceska: Are there any books you read growing up that you feel made an impact on who you are today?
Michelle: Absolutely, yes! There are so many books that I read in junior high school specifically that I believe shaped my moral character. Julie of the Wolves, Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry are the first that come to mind, though I am sure that there are more.
Franceska: Do you have any creative projects you have done in the past that you really enjoyed?
Michelle: I’ll be like Jesus and answer your question with a question: Are there any creative projects I have done in the past that I didn’t enjoy?
Even the hardest creative projects I have worked on, the ones that felt like a huge pain in the ass when I was working on them…looking back it all seems like great fun.
Franceska: What inspires you right now in your life?
Michelle: My focus for the last few years has been on the spiritual and mystical realm. I light up when pondering our infinite and essential nature. There is so much to explore and nothing is concrete, which delights me to no end. In a more tangible respect, I find a lot of inspiration in cooking. I am at home in the kitchen. The process of creating with food pleases me because I always finish (unlike many of my paintings and drawings) and once it’s eaten it’s gone….clean slate for tomorrow.
Franceska: What is your favourite colour and has it changed over the years?
Michelle: I love them all and I can’t pick just one and why should anyone ever have to? I am intrigued by birds because they have more color cones in there retina and can see a range of colors that humans can’t see. Isn’t that exciting. The idea of new never-before-seen colors!
Franceska: Do you have a favourite dessert and if so has this changed over the years?
Michelle: Oh, Franceska! I’m really not good at picking favorites. I struggle to think of a dessert I don’t like. If I have something sweet, I want it to be well worth the calories. I would choose buttery breakfast pastry over a cupcake. I don’t like things that are sickly sweet, I often go for something that has a hit of tartness to balance sweetness which is why I enjoy fruit in my desserts. But then there’s chocolate and who could pass up a good slice of chocolate cake? Not me. The choice is impossible. Absolutely impossible!
Franceska: What are your hopes for your future?
Michelle: I am a person who works hard at being present, but I do think that daydreaming and visualizing is a good tool to use when creating the future you want. I recently made a vision board for not only my current human existence, but also, for my next transformation. For my next life, I would like to be a Beautiful Bridge Builder who makes breathtaking bridges between planets and galaxies with her wand that works much like a 3D printer. (and I can fly effortlessly) How’s that for hopes for the future?!
Franceska: Oh my goodness! I've read through your answers with wonder, agreement, laughter and lots of lots of smiling! I know I completely relate to all and so love that you let me interview you during your birthday week about your life! That was lots of fun! Thank you Michelle for sharing!
- Please note that any highlighted words in this interview will send you to the items they are talking about.
- The images selected above.....
top left - "Candy Cobbler & Window Cobbler" sketch by Michelle Young-Wilson for a potential window display;
top right - set from the "Dallas" series created by Michelle Young-Wilson with her words about it, "It shows a huge piece of artwork that I created from colored torn paper. Of course i also selected and placed everything else in the photo."
bottom left - "Voodoo Bathroom" set from "Queen of the South" TV series with one of the drawings from me, (Franceska McCullough) of Jesus Malverde;
Bottom right - "i thought about the Save the Date pic I sent out for the Bob and Michelle wedding. I had run out of time and wanted to do something a little different so I just arranged flowers and leaves that I found in Costa Rica on my walk that morning….it was just plants I found along the road."
*If you enjoyed this interview then please follow this blog every Friday 9am UK time for more artist/creatives interviews!
My friend, Heather Scott and I just recently had a look around the Interim show for select postgraduate courses at Central Saint Martins here in London. First year students currently in MA Art & Science, MA Photography and MA Fine Art were showcased in a gallery space in East London, called The Apiary.
Both Heather and I first met when we were first years on the Art and Science course so we admittedly were curious as our exhibition experience our first year was quite appalling so we were hoping that this new space would be an improvement!
First impressions on arriving were that the venue was indeed a great deal better than what we had experienced so that was definitely a plus! There was excellent lighting, lots of great wall space, real wooden floors and no unusual railings or dusty corners or odd yellow stripes.
But as most student shows go, it didn't wow us unfortunately.....both of us felt that it was way too overcrowded.....there were larger artworks that simply dwarfed smaller pieces and caused us to completely overlook some really nice smaller artwork. More white space would have been a benefit as it was such a jumble. The curating of the exhibition didn't create an easy flow to the work and lets not even get started on the labeling!
When I was studying my first degree way back in the 1990's, I remember distinctly that my teachers told us how very important it was to make sure that we knew how to properly label our work in an exhibition setting.....this entailed understanding how to make professional labels that had our name, the title of our work, the date it was created and a relevant description and the price. All vital and basic but something the instructors/curators have forgotten to teach at Central Saint Martins.
I'd say that I was most attracted to the MA Fine Art students as a select few were making really interesting work and I will definitely follow them to see what they come up with in their second and final years. One first year in particular was a lady named, Sian Fan who was luckily standing right by her really interesting work when we were trying to understand which label was hers.
Sian is an MA Fine Art first year and had such an unusual piece that was suspended from the wooden rafters. I was drawn to her work the moment I walked in the room.....we had a short conversation and were intrigued by her explanation of her work. The fact that it's suspended in the centre of the room and lets light pass through it while also catching and holding light and sound was just fascinating......she explained to us about it being something like a realm in another world.....I'm not doing it justice and I'm eager to talk to her more about her work and hopefully interview her too for my blog.
I wish her work had been away from all the other pieces in the room as they overwhelmed it. The image above on the top left is Sian and her work......I found her work very ethereal and I'm intrigued to watch her progress. So keep your eyes out for this artist - Sian Fan!
MA Art & Science did not spark any interest in this show sadly......or at least, if there had been labels helping us identify who belonged to what and what it was all about then that could have changed our opinions a bit. I left with a feeling that MA Fine Art are the ones to watch out for.......though only a select few. As for MA Photography which is apparently called something else now.....left us clueless because again......ineffective labels.
So well, keep your eyes peeled for Sian Fan (click on her name to reach her website) as she's really creating something exciting!
I'd love to tell you to watch for the artist who did the glowing glass thing in the middle photo above but I couldn't find the label!
Heather is posing in the photo on the top right because we were utterly confused by the pile of hair and the hanging balloons and sticks.....because again....ineffective labels.
We were told on arriving that there would be a tour going through to explain artworks to a visiting group but we didn't join in as we were already half way through the exhibition by that point and on a limited schedule.
To check out my friend Heather Scott and her creative process as a graphic designer please follow these links:
*If you'd like to read more exhibition reviews then please stay tuned every Thursday at 9am UK time for more.
Get Motivated In Your Art Studio!
Lack of motivation can hit at any time in a creative process.....for me it's usually when I've got a deadline to complete a project which is the worst time. So in an effort to get myself back on track I have a few techniques I try which do always seem to work if I'm patient with myself.
Firstly, I allow myself to make a mess no matter what my ultimate objective is. The goal here is to let the mess happen without restricting myself to using the materials for whatever it is that I'm avoiding working on. I find that if I allow myself to just play then the images and the ability I'm blocking will return but gently and without me pushing myself.
If however that fails and frustration occurs......(example: noisy flatmates who make so much noise that it's impossible to focus even in another room) then I plug myself into music or anything that helps me concentrate and block out the distractions. Creating speed videos of making a mess with no ultimate outcome is always quite cathartic somehow as I do enjoy watching to see how images emerge out of a mess and then this itself gets me motivated to try again, this time usually with an idea in mind which means I'm on the right track to getting myself really motivated!
Lastly, rewards help.....I make a list of the most simple tasks and take absolute delight in ticking them off once I complete them and a reward always helps too so if I have something in mind as something I can really enjoy if I accomplish all the tasks on my list then I have motivation to keep going. What often happens is that I get so caught up in finishing the tasks that I can become caught up in the creative process and end up going back to it even after my reward which is a bonus!
My favourite material in which to make a mess is ink.....in bottles and all vibrant. If I just start dropping dollops of brightly coloured ink onto a wet or dry surface and moving it around with the ends of paint brushes and then going back to dab and then draw into it.....I can make a serious mess but eventually it'll become something and this something is the spark to keep going.
The video you see above is my attempt to motivate myself today.....you can see it started out as unrelated marks and nothing more and then eventually became an old tree! But now, I had so much fun that I want to try again and I'm brimming with ideas and my elusive motivation has returned!
*I'd love to know what other artists do to recharge their motivation and what techniques they employ to get it going again.....I do hope someone feels like commenting as I'm very curious!
**If you'd like to keep following Materials posts then please stay tuned every Monday at 9am UK time for more.
Following last Friday's interview with my artist mother, Juliette McCullough please find below the 2nd part of the interview which I think is even more fascinating than last week! Having grown up with my mothers artwork all my life and heard so many accounts of her life as a young artist, I thought I'd learned it all but in taking time to further delve into her work and life as an artist it has given me so much more which is so very inspiring indeed!
I would encourage you to check out Juliette McCullough's website (listed below) and also follow her regular Instagram updates. She will inspire you guaranteed!
Here is part 2 of the interview. Enjoy:
Franceska: After finishing your studies, were you able to set up an art practice? What were your challenges at that time as a newly qualified artist?
Juliette: It was so very challenging to find myself facing only myself without any controlling incoming influences. It was terrifying, especially because I wanted to paint human beings, but had no models. That was when I first started pulling images out of my boots so to speak.
Because I had worked so much from life I was really surprised to find that I could create from memory which opened up so many possibilities. Suddenly moving (painting or drawing) across an empty surface became a journey in which the image came through me, in spite of me. It was, and still, when I am lucky, continues to be like dreaming while awake (a lot like the ‘Active Imagination’ practiced by Jungians. I had to submit to what the image wanted, and so each attempt became a sort of dialogue, a real push/pull between me and the surface. While the process itself was a deep experience, the resulting outcomes never satisfied me at that time. I don’t think I had any real identity until I faced and came through that difficult lonely struggle.
It was all intensified because I changed countries at the same time, so I left behind everything and everyone who knew me, everyone whom I could relate to artistically. I became an unrecognizable stranger in a new land, and a foreign culture. This was before the internet and everything that connects us globally today.
I read a lot, and looked to artists I admired for some inkling of how I could develop. I remember coming to the shocking realization that artists in previous generations had had a mythology to live by, even Picasso was born into a time when I think ‘myth’ and an imaginal world was still alive. I found myself struggling to give form to my most nonverbal ideas in the dead years of the end of the 20th century. I was hit by our collective loss of meaning through our reduction of ‘myth’ to mere fairy tale insignificance. Nietzsche’s idea of ‘the death of god’ seemed right on to me. It was only then that I was able to come to the conclusion that a ‘death’ would precede a ‘birth’, that the death of an old order was in fact the beginning of a new one! So, as a young artist I decided that my only hope was to follow my own nose and my own instincts in spite of the fashions of the day; to find my own personal mythology.
This was before I came upon the works of Carl Jung and his idea of ‘archetypes’. I have been learning from him and his ideas for many years now, and the journey still helps me understand my personal struggles in relation to the collective, and it all relates to my artistic journey.
Franceska: How does your art practice now differ from your early years after your education?
Juliette: I haven’t had time to practice properly since I was in art school. Working to keep a roof over my head (especially as an immigrant).
This is why young artists today go for ‘fame’ when they are at the beginning of their journeys, because they hope to make enough money to buy the time to be able to practice their craft uninterrupted. I have had to learn to carve time out of my life to get in the studio, and it does affect my output, and my rhythms of working.
Having said that, I now have a confidence and better awareness when I do get concentrated time to work.
Franceska: What artists had the biggest influence on you as an artist?
Juliette: So many really, but some that come to mind immediately are Rembrandt, Picasso and Willem de Kooning
Franceska: What is the best studio space you’ve ever had and how did you use the space?
Juliette: The one I have now - but then any space I have used has always been the best! I like to stretch my canvases straight on the wall. I like to be able to bash away on a solid surface so that I can push and pull the paint and scrape off too. Then, if an image ever gets to the state that it is ready to go out in the world, I do have the pain of having to stretch it after it’s painted. I have often enjoyed painting on the floor too. I found it necessary to get away from the typical canvas on the easel situation.
Franceska: As an artist, have you ever felt the need to react to the political climate? How did you react and how was it received?
Juliette: Yes, of course, how can I not be affected by what is going on around me! But, I have never considered myself a political painter. Mostly, those images will come out so strong that I don’t attempt to show them, or doubt that I would find a suitable venue for them. However, I started a series of images in 2016 which became my way of handling the stress of the political situation we were living through, and I was delighted when I got to show one of them in the inaugural exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Political Art in Washington DC just opened by Charles Krause. https://www.politicsartus.org/
Franceska: How did you manage to raise a family and maintain your art practice? How did you keep your focus?
Juliette: With difficulty, but I consider painting as a way of living, rather than separate from living.
Every experience I have in my life informs my images as it grows my consciousness. Nothing has been easy, but as long as there is a burning need to make images, somehow they will come out.
Franceska: If you could go back and give advice to yourself when you were just beginning your art education, what would you say?
Juliette: Trust my instincts.
Franceska: How do you arrange your palette? Can you describe how your palette has changed throughout the years?
Juliette: I think the changes have been small. I used to use a very limited palette using only primaries and a white, and that was a great discipline because I had to really learn to mix. Maurice de Sausmarez who ran the Byam Shaw School taught me how to sensitize my eyes to colour nuance, based on the studies of Johannes Itten and Hans Hoffman at the Bauhaus. I owe everything to Maurice’s intense education in experiencing colour.
I added to my palette very slowly and methodically - I remember the exciting day I bought my first tube of cobalt violet! Then learning about the incredible differences between cobalt and ultramarine blue, and cerulean - they are such very different visual energies, and after years of practice my brush (or whatever tool I use) knows exactly where to find the energies I need on the palette.
Franceska: Do you have a favourite colour and has this changed over the years?
Juliette: Now I just love yellows, paint as much of my house yellow as I can, but that doesn’t mean that this is going to have a huge effect on my painting
Franceska: How do you feel about how artists now have to exist in a world of constant online imagery? If you could change anything about how we as artists get our work out there, what would it be?
Juliette: Having felt totally isolated in my studio for years, I actually find that the online world can connect me to other painters in a way that has never happened before ! I love to see the work of young and not so young artists in Europe and Asia etc.
Seeing the real thing is always far more exciting and revealing, but I will take the world of digital imagery over the poverty of abject isolation, which is often the lot of the pioneering spirits who cannot afford to live in any of the major cities.
Even then, so much that is showcased in our cities is more about the response to ‘art as commodity’ which is dominated by a false market driven by the collections of millionaires. I believe this has very little to do with the real creative folk who are speaking with authentic voices and possibly really affecting our world. If we can only manage connection on line, at least we have that!
Franceska: Thank you so much for taking the time these last two weeks to answer my questions and letting me dig even further into your life as an artist! I found myself relating to everything and smiling a lot especially at your love of yellows (being that I helped paint your kitchen yellow a few years ago!) I know that other artists of all ages will find inspiration in these interviews!
To learn more about the work of Juliette McCullough please go to her website:
To follow Juliette McCullough on Instagram please go to: @Juliette_McCullough
To follow Juliette McCullough on Facebook please go to: @PainterOnTheEdgeOfMystery
If you have any questions for Juliette McCullough please do comment on this post and we both will try to answer the best way possible.
*If you really enjoy these very inspiring artist interviews then please do follow this blog for artist interviews every Friday at 9am UK time.
My name is Franceska McCullough and I'm the owner and artist of Toothpickmoon. Here I will share my studio practice in all it's forms.
*Disclosure: The links I'm using on this blog will only ever relate to the products I myself use in my own practice.