I had intended to write about a talk I recently gave to my meetup group about John Singer Sargent, but after some thought and because I know my blog is in a sort of evolution, I decided I'd much rather share with you my favourite artists who still have a huge impact on my work many years after studying for my first degree.
This first one, is Richard Diebenkorn above with the knife in the glass. I was first introduced to his work and all of the San Francisco Bay Area Figurative Painters by my incredible life drawing teacher at KCAI, Norma Cowdrick, who gave me such an incredible education in the art of understanding space and relationships in drawing!
A few years ago there was an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Diebenkorn's work and I went with my knees knocking together in sheer excitement because it's really rare to have an entire room full of Diebenkorn's so I spent hours in just the few rooms they had, literally trying to inhale everything on every canvas. He just has a way of laying out space and light that I can't get enough of and it unhinges me! Going to see several rooms full of his paintings is emotional to say the least. I'm clearly still an oil painter to my core.
Even now, when I mix colour on my palette, I'm always transported back to my early years exploring the depths of colour theory. My painting teacher, Michael Walling was very organised and was an excellent guide to me when I was setting up and understanding my palette and mixing techniques especially when working with the life model. I developed relationships with cerulean blue and cadmium red and lemon yellow and my love of all the blues fell to the deep dark well of Prussian Blue that still halts my breath when spreading across my palette. Richard Diebenkorn was always in the forefront of my colour studies then and I'd study his paintings at the museum for hours and hours, trying to understand the chemistry behind his colour mixing on his palette. Sounds ridiculous, I realise but oil painting was my first passion and still a fierce addiction.
So Richard Diebenkorn has been a direct influence on my two dimensional work since the end of the 1990's and continues to wow me.
Then there is William Kentridge who I encountered a decade or so ago and who uses charcoal drawings animated in ways I'm intrigued by to tell political stories that touch the heart and make you think. I know my own activist work is influenced by what Kentridge is doing and I'm still intrigued because of the way he narrates his work and puts it into motion. It is potent, undiluted intensities that fuel me in so many ways. He is a master and I hope to meet him one day, though I fear I'd just stand there unable to form meaningful words.
I remember going twice to the Kentridge exhibition when he came to Dallas when I lived there. The second time I visited the exhibition then was with my dad which was a few years before my dad had a huge heart attack. I still cling to memories of the conversations I had with my dad during that visit and since then have wondered if the impact Kentridge has on me now is somehow tied to the sadness and longing I have for what I can't get back.
William Kentridge seems to convey human emotion almost in a dreamlike format, sometimes you feel part of it and sometimes you feel as if you're just an observer but always I feel caught up in the story line.
Following this, is a painter who I'm recently acquainted with who painted mostly empty rooms with light streaming in - Vilhelm Hammershoi. They're really dull scenes, with very little happening but inadvertently this artist has had an impact on my miniature model making work as I'm intrigued by a lit space that is glimpsed at the moment when the occupants have just left or have ducked out of sight. For some reason this concept intrigues me and I'm still in the "magic" stage of this idea in my illustrations and my models. His paintings thrill me as I understand them in a way I don't think I would have done when I was younger.
See one of his paintings below:
And following below one of my models with the photo taken in a similar way as the painting, to offer an idea of just having missed someone beyond a half closed door:
There are so many more artists who inspire my work but these three are at the top of those lists at the moment and seem to be remaining at the top for the last couple of decades.
What a relief it is to paint for eight hours after six full days of meetup events. I love socialising and enjoy meetup very much especially having become an organiser of my own events and as a member of other fun organisers events but wow a day in studio just for myself is like a deep breath on a clear day!
I attempted to ignore all communications and now I've stopped painting, I've discovered roughly 47 notifications and messages from my meetup members all asking various questions most of which can be resolved by reading event details but oh well, I'm glad to have so many eager members!
In my current studio work, I've been attempting to refine my painting skills especially in decorative botanical painting because I believe it could help me find work if I perfected my skills. So my plan is to try to push myself to paint at least six hours every day which hopefully will give me a sharper eye for colour, detail and composition. I've never been a fan of landscape painting but I've evolved as a painter from what I was in my twenties to how I am now in my forties so I think this is the natural progression of my craft. I definitely feel I have a ways to go before I'm even remotely acceptable as a decorative painter so lots of practice is key.
Another project I've begun this last week has been the introduction of an online shop here on my website which uses dropshipping via Printful as a source of merchandise which my artwork is printed on. So far my attempts to share this with my friends on social media has resulted in lots of friends "liking" but not buying anything which is infuriating! I've bought a bag for myself so I can potentially help promote myself by carrying it around so fingers crossed!
Back to painting.....next up is a butterfly then after I've done this dutiful colour study, I thought it would be a good reward to do a few hours model making as its been ages.
Stay tuned later in the week for an artist blog post about John Singer Sargent and my recent talk about him in the Tate Britain museum last week as well as next Monday for another Material Monday blog post which is just an update of my studio day.
To visit my shop please click here.
Lovely Sarah Coghill - photo provided by her daughter, Catherine Mun-Gavin
My mum drawing in the sand
Last Sunday it was Mother's Day in America which is where my mum lives so though I live in another country, I wanted to share with everyone how much of an influence she is in my life, especially as she was one of the reasons I also became an artist. I really wish I lived closer so we could see each other more often. My family is split across two countries and it's quite challenging and lonely to be so far apart from those I love. So I offer this blog post as a virtual hug to my mum for what I'm calling Happy Mother's Week!
When I was growing up, I had two very inspiring creative women in my early explorations in the arts and those two women were my wonderful mother, Juliette McCullough and her dear friend, Sarah Coghill, both figurative oil painters. I was accustomed to being the subject of many of my mothers paintings and drawings and watching her mix colours and paint in her studio. I remember sitting and listening in fascination to the conversations between my mother and her friend Sarah when we would visit and it was in those early years that I knew I would also be an artist.
From being a silent witness in both my mother's studio and Sarah's studio, I came to understand the set up of the palette and techniques and peculiarities of each artist. I grew up loving the rich aroma of linseed oil and the course scratchiness of palette knives across treated glass palettes. I learned to stretch a canvas by the age of two, was encouraged to discuss my opinions on art in a curatorial setting in exhibitions and studios and had thumbed through epic art book collections by the age of ten. No art school could do what my mother and Sarah did for me and I'm so aware how precious this upbringing was.
My mother's paintings are gritty and full of the deep souls of our human existence - they thrum with their own heartbeat and I regard many of her works that she did during my childhood as equal as family members. They are well loved and intense and part of the fabric of the imagery that shaped me. Now her paintings are full of sinews and living textures that make her work come to life under the veil of paint. There are not words to accurately describe what I want to say about my mother's paintings, except that they are paintings that need to be shared because their message is something we need to have in our eyes because it shows us our own humanity which is so important.
Sarah's paintings were like memories captured in a single moment, imbued with a colour intensity that poured into me as a synesthete and in colour spoke a language unwritten in words that for me was lyrical and poetic and full of the wind and sun and smell of the grass. Sarah seemed to channel the earth we stood on when she painted, it was rich and intense and echoed with family and friendships like a woven tapestry. I miss her dearly.
My mother sculpts with oil paint. She is able to dig deep and pull to the surface of the painting, beings that we encounter in our subconscious to which my mother has somehow found the key to all that roots us to who we are in this existence and it awes me daily. She fuels my own artistic journey, especially in my own teaching because of course when I was young, my mother was my teacher. I did go to art school but it was my mother who taught me colour theory and how to actually "see" colour. It is now her teaching methods that I employ in my own teaching to my students. There is something really magical about learning to actually "see" and understand how to draw and paint that makes every blank paper or canvas a treat.
So as far as mothers go, I have been incredibly fortunate! I'm genuinely grateful of the regular conversations I have with my mother, Juliette, on all things art related which keeps me firmly footed on this earth as the artist I am because of the journey she set me on over forty years ago.
So Happy Mother's Week to my mum, Juliette and to Sarah too - the biggest impacts in my life as an artist.
One of Sarah's paintings - provided by her daughter, Catherine Mun-Gavin
I feel like I'm a participant in her painting.....it's like I'm buffeted by the wind, and can feel the sun and smell the air. It's glorious and I want to inhale deep to capture it all!
I've been creating miniature tide pools inside oyster shells which has been fun, smelly and time consuming! Two examples here from my project of clear resin filled oyster shells with blue ink and iridescent pearl, silver and gold paint.
I began by submerging the shells in distilled white vinegar which was quite an interesting science experiment and made the entire flat smell like smelly feet......an unexpected eye watering treat!
I used a lot of sandpaper as well as a metal engraver to get down to the original pearly surface of the shells. I'm thinking that the next oyster shells I work on should be glow in the dark and painted in patterns.....so I'm looking forward to collecting more oyster shells!
I've got a selection of old broken clay pipes also from the same Thames foreshore visit previously mentioned in last weeks post, in which I'm now planning to draw with black ink. Apparently there's another artist out there who makes them into jewelry which is interesting but not really my thing. So illustrating them and then sculpting with them seems to be the next course of events.
What do you think of my two oyster shells shared here?
As mentioned in previous posts, my blog schedule is changing as I'm trying to accommodate a career adjustment back into freelance mode so these #MaterialMondays will be a weekly event and cover whatever I'm currently working on in my studio while I'll still interview other artists but only on a monthly basis as well as I'll be writing about the latest art exhibitions I've been to every other Thursday of the month.
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In studio lately, I've been fixated on dragon eggs and have begun to create my own little miniature scene of multicoloured dragon eggs in what I hope will be a phosphorescent den that I'm going to insert into a miniature I've been working on for the last few years. These eggs are made from assorted Fimo clay and are entirely of my imagination.
See below a detail of part of the miniature I've been building. I don't think the eggs will go in that space but perhaps in a dark exterior somewhere.
Meanwhile, aside from making miniatures, I've been drawing in the Victoria & Albert Museum and it's been a bit of a struggle this last week as my interest in model making has taken over. This week too, I received a rejection email from the Royal Drawing School who have for whatever reason decided that my drawing abilities are not good enough for their graduate programme.
(I should point out that I'm not unfamiliar with rejections because I receive hundreds a month from either job applications or art opportunities, but enough is enough. I wanted a boost out of poverty and struggle and the Royal Drawing School would have offered the boost I needed but never mind.....moving on)
So this last week, I've decided to ditch my five year long pointless job search and return to being a freelance artist instead which just means no days off, lots of work and hopefully more income than the last time I tried to live like this! Previously, I worked as a freelance artist from the late 1990's to 2014 but having struggled with the instability of the work, I broke away to try to find a steady job because I was longing for financial stability but apparently that isn't going to happen so it's back to freelance. Joy. I'm hopeful that this time around, it's easier because I'm that much wiser! (insert sarcasm here!)
Being a freelance artist feels like I'm walking a plank over sharks or something and each time I take a step, I've got to build the plank ahead of me in order to survive as an artist. Here's hoping I don't fall in!
So I've been actively involved in attending meetup groups and even organising my own events all of course related in some way to my own art practice. I've also given myself a challenge for the Cast Courts at the Victoria & Albert Museum as I feel like my drawing ability has been knocked down a notch from that rejection so I'm going to revamp my technique and try to crank out some well worked drawings while just focusing on the sculptures by Michelangelo.
Below, an image taken the other day in the Cast Courts. I've got to now work on compositions that are interesting and not typical so that I can push myself in drawing.
And lastly below this an image of some of the items discovered along the Thames foreshore when I joined an event lead by the London Cultureseekers, a group on Meetup. It was an interesting day listening to what the archaeologist had to say and show, as well as discovering for myself all the fascinating finds along the shoreline and then conversing with other members about previous discoveries they've made. As suggested by the London Cultureseekers organiser Robert, I'm trying to find ways to make these finds into some sort of art project so I'll hopefully update with this project in the coming weeks.
This blog title, River Monsters, referring to my ridiculous fear of deep dark water and the only monsters spotted during this event were in my imagination, thankfully!
I must say, it was absolutely fascinating and I'll definitely do it again, with hopefully a more knowledgeable eye and less jumpiness to the churning dark river!
If you're keen to follow me and my ongoing art projects then please stay tuned each Monday at 9am UK time for more #MaterialMondays.
If you simply cannot wait till next Monday then quickly step over to my 4 instagram accounts where I update my art projects daily:
If you're interested in archaeology and other cultural events in London then check out my friend, Robert's meetup group: London Cultureseekers
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.