My Material Monday post is quite late today.......lots of activities going on and not really any time to create much anymore. So I'm writing this after a day of much needed studio time where I've been hidden in the magic of creating miniature tidal pools in oyster shells which I think is becoming an obsession. More to come later on this Oyster Shell project!
It's also a challenge as I loathe deep dark water and instinctively avoid anything to do with going near great bodies of water - the Thames river being the closest to me here in London. But of course my desire to create is stronger than my fear of water which is an interesting and perplexing conundrum so I've been engaging myself in a series of water challenges to hopefully get over this unnatural fear of dark water - one of which is to go onto the Thames foreshore with a group of others which is fascinating as history and archaeology in particular wows me and it's also a chance to find more oyster shells which then seem to fuel my ongoing miniature tidal pools project.
Today I've cleaned, painted and saturated the oyster shells I collected from my last visit with The London Cultureseekers and now of course I need more!
On the other side of things, I joined this same group yesterday to a visit to a fascinating museum in south London which was a fun day out and also an attempt to forget that it was Father's Day. I failed completely to forget it as everything was advertising it everywhere I went but it was nice to meet other people and next time I've got to be more sociable rather than stuck in my own thoughts. I love my dad and hope I talk to him one day soon but yes, Father's Day is a challenge every year.
Short blog post for today but hopefully more later in the week!
For my Material Monday post, I'm sharing with you my Traditional Drawing class I teach every other Friday evening at the Victoria & Albert Museum to members of my Meetup group, London Art Museum Creatives.
I've been teaching drawing for over twenty years and my techniques have only evolved slightly since I attended art school long ago. In recent years, I've perfected this technique to just an hour and a half and each time I'm wowed by my students and how they respond to my methods. Most of my students come to me as complete beginners - often they're able to relate how they were never taught to draw or were put down as children when in art classes which I find unfortunate. There are also some who are convinced their skills are the worst yet and that they haven't got a creative bone in their body - this I see as a real challenge as I fully believe that I can teach anyone to draw in an hour and a half.
It's my belief that it is not the student who cannot draw, but the original teacher who couldn't teach. As a teacher myself, it is my responsibility to learn how I can adapt my skills to help each individual student because no student learns exactly like another so I have to be flexible and adapt to all needs.
In these classes, I try to "dislodge" my students with a series of exercises that force them to hold the pencil in a different way which gives their shoulders movement and limits perfectionism in the beginning of the drawing. I then need to observe how they perceive their subject matter and translate it to paper - seeing how their brains work this way, gives me the key to help them progress and then follows a series of more "dislodging" exercises that get their instincts flowing and loosens up everything.
I really enjoy this dislodging process because it's almost like a window into the brain of the individual. It gives me so much information about how they observe and understand and map out the way they view this world. I love how everyone shows their style right in those first moments!
So then from these exercises, I'm then able to rebuild their creative observation brains using geometry, mindfulness and spatial exploration and then this is where most of my students begin to start to actually "see" which is very exciting.
I call these types of final drawings, "Lost in Space" drawings, because you can't wander too far from your starting point or you put yourself at risk of wandering too far into open space and getting lost in proportion and perspective.
The above image is from my recent Friday evening Traditional Drawing class at the Victoria & Albert Museum which I enjoy very much as everyone is always so talented and keen to learn new techniques and most have never been taught to draw before!
I have a system with this meetup class in that I charge just £10 for the first class and then only £1 for anyone who wants to repeat. I love seeing the progression of returning students and how much those returning students really inspire the newer members! After teaching this class, I'm always in a rush to get home because I simply can't wait to draw and then end up spending several hours working on my drawings because my students inspired me so much!
My meetup group, London Art Museum Creatives is a place where I'm trying very hard to share with everyone interested what it is like to be a painter or an illustrator or a sculptor by trying those practices out in a friendly setting, while then going back to the art museums to really look at the artwork of famous artists and then have a clearer understanding of how much work it took to create a piece. It's like putting yourself in the shoes of the artists and getting a feel for what their lives must have been like. I find this fascinating as it ties into my fascination with history and I think it's the best way to properly understand artists who came before us.
So if you're keen to join any of my event's please visit: London Art Museum Creatives for more.
If you'd like to sign up for Traditional Drawing Classes please sign up here.
*For more Material Monday posts please stay tuned next Monday for some creative challenges!
Thank you for reading my blog!
The above image is a shot of my overcrowded work space in my bedroom/art studio where I crave organisation but only achieve it in small pockets of my life while perpetually bombarded by chaos that seems to follow me everywhere!
The only thing I'm really capable of staying focused on is creating a daily routine to allow time to create.....not with the intention to sell but because creating something is equal to circulating my blood and a necessary daily activity for survival.
So after walking an unexpected eleven miles today, I've decided to post this Material Monday blog post a day early so I can attempt to be organised tomorrow instead! (insert hysterical laughter here)
In my daily creativity, I try to set aside a few hours each day to draw, sculpt or paint. Recently, I've been focused on pencil studies of the Michelangelo sculptures from the Cast Courts at the Victoria & Albert Museum but some days that kind of heavy duty drawing is difficult to get into......so I have to play around with doodling and generally being silly to get the juices flowing such as the video below:
Tonight my warmup doodling just enhanced my exhaustion from a very long walk earlier so this warm up hasn't lead to a proper studio session but hopefully tomorrow will be the day to get back on track.
If only I could be as organised with everything else as I am with my studio practice!
The pencil sketch above is an ongoing project and this portion above represents roughly 3 hours of work though I often think it doesn't look like any time at all! I've yet to learn how to draw faster - still a work in progress either way.
My method for these longer pencil studies is to capture a photo when in the gallery while I'm starting to map out the drawing. I usually spend about four or five hours drawing in the gallery itself because I feel like it's easier to understand perspective and proportions and the light while there. It's when I'm home that I refer to the photograph I took to continue the drawing. The only issue being that I'm aware how flat drawing from a photo can be so I'm always eager to bring myself and my ongoing drawing back to the gallery to study from the sculpture in person.
I'm giving myself a month or so to properly explore this sculpture and others but I'm completely focused on Michelangelo for now.
I like to give myself challenges to keep things interesting in my life as well as in my studio practice, so I've challenged myself to work on 43 faces of Michelangelo from the Cast Courts and because I'm writing this here, I feel like this will keep me accountable to some degree! I have to finish this challenge by early October so it feels rather daunting at the moment since we're just now into June!
Of all the challenges I've given myself, I feel like this one could be the nicest but also the most difficult in terms of focus. I tend to back out when things get difficult, especially in art so hopefully this challenge will make me more disciplined! Fingers crossed.
To continue to follow up on my daily progress on this challenge and others, please follow me on instagram at: @Mirmarnia
Thank you for reading and stay tuned next Monday for something completely different and hopefully oyster related!
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 (below video) 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.
*Thank you for reading my blog posts and though I know this blog is in a strange sort of evolution at present, it'll even out in a few weeks/months and develop a more reliable schedule (hopefully!) so stay tuned!
This is my third post of the day.....I only intended one but here we are.
A little different this time, I'd like to share something that could be tragic but currently has become hilarious at least to me. So yay, bonus blog post.....ironically free.....my thoughts offered to anyone who wants to read them. What a bargain. Interestingly, I'm not in any way depressed but just stating what has happened and how I feel about it. Maybe someone else who has gone through long term unemployment could relate......no one I know who is employed knows what this is like hence my desire to share.
After writing and posting my 2nd post of the day, I attempted to send an update to my wonderful subscribers but unfortunately May is a long month and my website platform only allows me to send a limited number of subscription emails per month and I've run out (because the platform counted two false emails last week when their site was down) so my next update email has to wait till early June. I was hoping in my update email to alert people to my new online shop because I'd love to make a sale because I'm dirt poor.....funny isn't it....not allowed to email subscribers about new shop which could help me earn money because I can't afford to upgrade and because they count failed emails as used up emails. Sigh.
Earlier last week, I was rejected from a job I really wanted that I was well suited for too.....being an artist! Do you want to know the reason I was rejected? It was because the interviewer felt that I was nervous......so I was rejected because of appearing nervous. My abilities were perfectly matched to the position but they rejected me for something that had nothing to do with the job itself......and let me point out that shortly before interviewing with them, I'd just climbed four flights of stairs to reach the room so what they perceived as nervousness was actually what I look like after climbing four flights of stairs in a hurry.
A few months ago, I applied to a model making shop here in London because I'm a model maker and know the material really well and thought I'd be a great match which again I was.......but after a trial day in which I did everything that was asked of me, I was told that the reason they were not hiring me was because I was too interested in the job.........most model makers are interested in model making shops. I thought the point of the job was to have an interest in the products and what they do.
A short while ago, I interviewed with the National Theatre to get further experience in the props department but was told in the interview by the interviewer, "that no company would waste their time with someone this close to retirement age".......this from an interviewer much older than my 42 years! When I reported them for agism, I was curtly told that I'd "misheard" and that was it.
I get hundreds of job rejections every month so I'm very used to them and not many bother me anymore but these stick out as being memorable and perplexing. I've been looking for a job since 2013 now and still can't believe I'm still unemployed. Each month, I have my CV re-evaluated to check to see if I'm doing anything wrong. I suppose this is tragic, isn't it.
Everything feels like a scheme to make some form of income but everything I try to set up has a way of keeping me just barely above the surface so that I'm able to use my benefits to pay rent but literally nothing else.
It seems hilarious that I've run out of subscription emails to send out at the time that I'd like to share my new online shop which if I made any sales, could help me pay some bills. Thank goodness for meetup and the occasional teaching I do as the little cash that I get is helping me fund groceries so I'm not likely to starve anytime soon which is a bonus. The only downside and yet another irony is that when I report this to the jobcentre in two weeks, they'll deduct what I've earned from my benefits and I'll be poorer than when I began. Do I laugh here perhaps?
My shoes are falling apart and leak when it rains. My clothes are becoming threadbare but I have this idiotic artistic talent that doesn't do anything for me. When I try to sell my artwork or prints of my artwork, no one buys it. But yet I need to keep making art because the action of creating something is equal to circulating my blood......maybe I can sell my blood? Or is that going too far?
I'm rich in other ways......I'm making wonderful friends via meetup and at home and I'm full of ideas for more schemes and I'm staying positive which are all free things that I have in abundance so in this sense I'm so wealthy! I am grateful but what did I do in my past life to make this one so difficult? Will I ever have a stable income again?
So I put in this blog post my heart and my thoughts to anyone who wants to read it. I'm not looking for pity or anything really. Just that....this is me.....the owner of this blog....being real. Maybe that's why creating is so magical, because I can dissolve completely into a world that is entirely my own and thank goodness my imagination is free and not deducted from some benefit somewhere.
Today my imagination has been involved in botanical studies in watercolour which has been fun but not as much fun as making miniature rooms. I want to find a Hammershoi painting here in London to study but I don't know how to begin to look. His paintings inspire me so much in my model making. Tomorrow after my meetup to the toy museum, I'm going to work on one of my big miniatures. I'll put pictures up at the top of this post to cheer it up a bit. If I was tiny, like the Borrowers, I'd be able to live in my miniatures.....how wonderful that would be.....though I'd have to invite all my meetup friends there so they'd have to shrink too. Would be a fun meetup in a miniature room!
Thank you for reading this unusual "reality check" bonus post! I wonder if it will shock anyone? Or maybe someone will relate to it?
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.
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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.
Thank you for reading my blog and please like and comment. I never get any likes or comments apart from my own so I'm at the moment convinced no one reads my posts aside from wayward internet travellers. Interaction would be greatly appreciated!
I've managed to overwhelm myself with 6 busy days in a row and haven't had time in studio so this is for anyone visiting my website early Monday morning to let you know to check back later on today after I've had time in studio and something to show for it!
I have many many projects all on the go at the same time and all very exciting and stimulating but all every exhausting and I'm wishing there were either more hours in the day or days in the week so I could accomplish them all!
So for all you morning people, enjoy my Anglo Saxon detail of an ink drawing above and check back later this evening for a proper Material Monday post!
It's been a challenge trying to find time to get in studio this last week with such a full schedule but I took Sunday off to do something creative because I was really craving it. Using the little broken pieces of clay pipes I found on a recent visit with the Culture Seekers to the Thames foreshore, I've experimented by drawing some of my own designs and a few Anglo-Saxon designs on them. It's my hope to reconstruct all the pieces into full length pipes that probably will have a quirky flare to them.
To follow the progress of this project do follow my instagram account for updates: @toothpickmuse
In other studio news, I'm working on a series of hyperrealistic paintings of fruit and veg slices, partially to sharpen my own skills as well as have a bit of fun and because I need a challenge so to follow along with my progress on these please follow my illustration account on instagram for regular updates: @mirmarnia
In completely different news about my blog, I'm adapting my artist interviews posts to be an extension of talks I'm offering with my meetup group, London Art Museum Creatives so if you would like to attend these talks then please join my meetup group here in London or follow this blog and stay tuned to the Artist Talks: An Artist's Perspective posted monthly.
And yet even more different news, I'm back to job searching as I would love to get out of poverty at some point in my life! The talks and classes I'm offering through my meetup are a great idea but would be so much more wonderful if more than 2 people signed up as I currently don't make enough to even buy food on a weekly basis. So in reality, it's fun organising meetup and making new friends, but wow that fee they charge is diabolical when buying basic groceries is a challenge! After five years of being unemployed and trying everything I can think of to earn money and still not making it, I feel like I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel for new ideas. And I'll tell you, finding motivation to keep creating in studio is a huge challenge, especially when everything I make never sells no matter what I do.
I suppose this is just not a good time to be an artist. I'd give anything to have a job and regular income. So if someone out there reads these words, lives in London and knows somewhere that's hiring for an art related person like me then get in touch! I'm learning that it's not how many applications you put in that will net a good job, but who you know who will speak up for you.....and no one I know seems to have any connections so it's like I've got one foot nailed to the floor and I'm going around and around and around and never moving forward.
Meanwhile last week I met the enthusiastic and inspiring granddaughter of Eva Schloss and then later on Eva herself which was so incredible and gave me such a boost of inspiration that I've been cheerful in everything I do. What an amazing family and how lucky I am to have met both Eva and her granddaughter whom I hope to collaborate with very soon! So now maybe this inspiration will fuel my job searching and bring me more success and hope. It's all about perspective, isn't it?
I just have to learn what positive things come from being unemployed for five years.....
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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To read weekly about my studio practice projects please stay tuned for more every Monday at 9am UK time.
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My name is Franceska McCullough and I'm the owner and artist of Toothpickmoon. I'm interested in blogging about art materials, art events and conducting artist interviews.
*Disclosure: The links I'm using on this blog will only ever relate to the products I myself use in my own practice.