Friday, 31 August 2007

Pub+Church+Pub Oil Painting

Here is the first completed painting for the 52 Weeks - 52 Works series.

This painting is a view of Union Row in Swindon (Wiltshire – England). The street has one pub on each corner: Longs on the left and The Old Vic on the right. At the end of the road, you can see the tower bell of Christ Church, which has been built by the railway workers.

I did this painting on location in two sessions. I started each session at 5 p.m. in order to have the same rich yellow light of the end of the day.

Pub+Church+Pub - Oil Painting by Benoit Philippe (16" X 12")

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Impressionnism from France and America Exhibition

I just came back from Montpellier, in the South of France, where I spent two weeks with my family. One of my vacation goals was to visit the Fabre museum , which had been closed for several years for a complete revamp.A good surprise was the current temporary exhibition: L'Impressionnisme de France et d'Amérique (Impressionnism from France and America) with 80 works on exhibit by Bazille, Cassatt, Caillebotte, Degas, Manet, Monet, Morisot, Pissarro, Renoir and Sisley.

This exhibition has been put together in partership with the museum of Grenoble and FRAME (French Regional American Museum Exchange).

Here are few notes from my visit:
  • It is good to see that regional museums can pull big exhibitions that used to be the privilege of Paris museums. Some of the paintings on show were never seen in France before.

  • Americans collectors were early to recognize the value of impressionism. Mary Cassatt did a great deal to advance the cause of her fellow artists with collectors in the United States. Antoine Vollard, the Parisian art dealer, also contributed to major impressionist works been bought in the US.
  • What we call “impressionism” covers a vast array of works and styles. On the other hand, it is fascinating to see how painters in the group influenced each other at some point, either on the technique used or the subjects. There is a painting from Pissarro titled “Ferme, basse-cour à Pontoise” representing some chickens and ducks in a farm. I was certain it was a Renoir until I read the label, as several trademarks of the later artist were present: the palette and in particular the use of pink and Prussian blue, as well as very fluid shapes with undefined edges.

  • One room has a selection of coloured lithographs by Mary Cassatt, an aspect of her work I did not know about. It is interesting to see how she adopted and made hers the japanese style.

  • There is nothing like seing the paintings in a gallery. Reproductions won’t tell you about glazes (like on the painting The road near the farm (1881) by Pissarro – Fine Art Museum of San Francisco), how layers are put on the canvas or brush works.

  • The exhibition has been extended until 23 September 2007. Don’t miss it if you are in the area.

Related articles

Monday, 27 August 2007

Mayday: my tube cap is stuck

For oil colours that you don’t use often, the cap may get stuck to the neck of the tube. You generally find out about this problem in the middle of a painting session. You are eager to carry on, you twist the tube cap with all your strength, the soft metal of the tube bends, wraps and the tube burst open (and the cap is still firmly on).

With the cost of oil paint, there must be a better way to solve this issue. Here is a trick my father tought me years ago:

  • Take a jam jar or any recipient that can contain very hot water. 
  • Put the kettle on. 
  • Pour some boiling water in the jar and dip the tube upside down in the hot water, making sure that the cap is below the water line.
  • Leave it for a few minutes. 
  • Take a rag or a paper towel and unscrew the cap. If you cannot do it, put it back in the water.
  • When the tube is open, remove the old paint around the tube mouth and the inside of the cap with a palette knife.
The hot water helps to soften the paint, even if it is oil painting. I believe the heat has also an effect on the metal of the tube, although I haven’t got scientific evidence of this. All I know is that this is an effective way to open old paint tubes.

It works for all paint tubes: oil paint, gouache, watercolour.

You can also hold the tube under the running hot water, but you end-up wasting litres of water.

Two final remarks:

  1. Check your tubes from time to time. It’s not when you are out on a field trip that you will be able to use this method. 
  2. Use a jam jar that you are about to recycle. Do not re-use the jar for aliments. Paints contain dangerous compounds like lead, cobalt or cadmium that are harmful when injested.

Related articles

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Pochades: practice makes perfect

Peniche on the Seine river 8” X 6” - Oil on panel by Benoit Philippe

In the June 2007 issue of my free newsletter Notes From My French Easel, I looked at the definitions of a “pochade” and came-up with my own definition in 5 points:
  • Small format painting

  • Quickly executed

  • Done on location

  • Capture the essence of the subject without details

  • Records an impression and may be used as reference for a studio painting
Here are 4 practice suggestions when it comes to painting a pochade:

  • Use as big brushes as you can: this advice stands for any canvas size but may seem counter-intuitive for a small format. Avoid the trap of drawing with a double zero sable brush when you should paint. This is your chance to improve your synthetic view, to depict the volumes by interlocking planes of colours rather than resorting to a linear approach.

  • Step back a metre from your pochade from time to time during your painting session to judge the balance of shades, lights, and shadows.

  • Approach pochade painting as an exercise. A more relaxed approach will give you freer brush strokes.

  • Don’t overdo the painting: setting yourself a time limit (let’s say 45 minutes) is a good idea in this respect.
In the September edition of the Newsletter, I will tell you how to make the most of your pochade box.

To see some examples of my pochades, click on the "pochade" tag on the right side of this page.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

52 Weeks, 52 Works

The goal of this project is to complete 52 works in 52 weeks. Why 52? Because there are 52 weeks in a year.

This project is about playing with time. I will take a painting journey throughout the year, capturing the seasons, the changes of the light during a yearly cycle and the passing of time.

Time constraint is part of the exercise. Artists transform constraint into an asset and create their own constraints as part of creating their art. Constraint is the best instrument to focus the mind and foster creativity. Georges Perec , a French writer member of the literary group Oulipo (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle), wrote in 1969 a novel titled “La Disparition” (translated into English under the title “A Void”) without using the letter “e”. At the time, some reviewers of the book did not even notice.

The idea is to complete the 52 works for this project within one year. I will use various media: oil painting, watercolour and pastel because each medium has its own vocabulary. I don’t intend to finish one work per week but rather to keep to my overall goal: oil paintings take time to paint and come to fruition.

I will use the paintings as a visual journal. In parallel, I will use this blog to put words around the pictures, describe the techniques used and the subject of the paintings. The blog will track progress towards the 52 works goal and give you some insights into my creative process.

The clocks started ticking on 1st August 2007.

Sell your art, not your soul

Selling is an art that we can all learn.

I was reading an article in Forbes titled “When To Dump That Great Idea” by Wil Schroter (09 July 2007). One of his statements prompted me to write this entry:

“At bottom, it doesn't matter how ingenious your product is--if you can't communicate its value, it may as well not exist.”

What is the value of your art? Artistic value and price spring to mind, but there is more to it. When trying to sell our art, we often take an “Art-centric” view of the word, as illustrated below.

  • The Art is what matters, so everything should gravitate around it.
  • The Artist comes second. After all, he is the one who created the Art and therefore the one closest to the work of art. 
  • The Customer is in the next circle. His interest in the Art warrants him this place.
  • The Rest of the World does not understand the Art or is not interested in it and is relegated to the periphery. 
This vision may seem a simplistic caricature, but how far is it from the way some artists approach selling their art?
When selling, your art is a good place to start, but only a starting point. Sales manuals will teach you that you should find and use your Unique Selling Point (USP). For example, your USP could be that:
  • You use a unique technique or precious material 
  • You use acid free conservation material (including for your framing)
These features are interesting, but only as far as they are relevant to your customers and translate into real or perceived benefits for them. It is time to look at the customer’s perspective. Why would someone buy your art? Here is a (non-exhaustive) list:
  • They fall in love with one of your works of art 
  • The work triggers an emotional response 
  • They feel proud to own an original piece of art 
  • The work reminds them of a special place or a special occasion 
  • They collect art 
  • They know you 
  • They just bought a new place and want to make it personal 
  • They want to buy a work of art for someone close to their hart 
  • They want to leave something special to their grand children

In his book Selling to Win , Richard Dennis wrote a chapter on The Rules of Professional Selling. His number 1 rule is: “Sell to people” and he explains:“understand that every sales presentation must be different because you will never find two identical people.”
Listen and understand your client’s motivation. Then you can use the features in your USP that support what the customer is looking for. For example, if your customer wants to leave something special to his grand children, she or he will be delighted to learn that you are using acid free material (feature) that warrant an optimal conservation for your work (benefit).

Don’t be afraid to be selective about the features you describe. It is tempting to go through the full list and try to impress customers, but irrelevant features will just put them off. How many times have you bought an electronic gadget with dozens of features and ended up using only one or two? The customer’s mind work around WIIFM: What’s In It For Me?

In other words: features are irrelevant unless they bring some benefits to the customer and bring him value.

The last piece of the equation is you, the artist. Art is personal and customers are more likely to buy if they are emotionally engaged. Hearing your story will just do that. This is your personal USP.

Rather than the “Art centric” view, think of the selling process as a balanced relationship between your art, yourself and your customer.

In Summary:
  • Know the USP (Unique Selling Points) for your art and yourself 
  • Listen to your customers (You have two ears and one mouth and should use them in this proportion) 
  • Understand your customers’ motivation 
  • Translate your unique features into benefits for the customer
To take it further

To work on your own Unique Selling Point, read the post by Alyson Stanfield from on how to build and use your stories (while you are there, make sure you bookmark her blog and subscribe to her free newsletter. You won’t regret it): 
Some excellent books on selling: 

Selling to Win by Richard Denny is straightforward and very practical. Don’t be deceived by its apparent simplicity. It will teach the ABC of selling. A book to read again and again.

Selling Art 101: The Art of Creative Selling by Robert Regis Dvorak. As the title suggests, this book is geared towards selling art. You will find here some practical ways to get better at promoting and selling your art.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Making the most of summer

Summer is elusive this year in England ("Come rain, come shine"), so it's important to make the most of it. On my way back from town centre, I stopped at the Palette Café in Queens park, had a cappuccino and painted the customers relaxing under the parasol.

The small size of the panel help to keep a synthetic approach where details are only suggested. The dappled light create interest and movement.

Here is a close-up view on the finished pochade:

Palette café - Pochade on panel (8" X 6") by Benoit Philippe

Related articles

Friday, 3 August 2007

Sunrise in the Lawns

I woke up early this morning and found the day as sunny as forecasted. Yesterday was grey and rainy, not a good day for painting. Blue sky is on the menu today, with pale strings of thin clouds. I get out of the house at 6:15 a.m., my French easel on my back, and few minutes later I set-up in the Lawns, a park in the middle of town.

The sunrise casts its golden light on the trees, the long ochre grass sparkles with the early morning mist. Other wild weeds take the colour of faded lavender. I am the only one in the park and the silent town is still asleep.

I choose to paint a line of trees around some steps. This is the border between the meadow on the hill and the more formal part of the park, planted with various trees. The flight of steps belonged to a mansion long gone. The pillars on each side of the steps are the lightest areas of the scene and make a natural focal point.

I install the 16” X 12” canvas (prepared with a grey background) on the easel and squeeze the following colours on my palette:
  • Titanium White
  • Naples Yellow Light
  • Vermilion Hue
  • Carmin Alizarin
  • Manganese Blue
  • French Ultramarine
  • Blockx Green
I will only use two brushes: a Round Hog number 6 and a Short Flat Hog number 7.

I do not draw but put in place the main elements with the Round Hog dabbed into thinned paint. I then block in the trees, starting with the shadow areas. After that, I paint the sky in order to have a reference to key the whole painting. In the morning, the air is transparent and luminous. I finish by working on the grass in the foreground. The rich light makes the blades glow with warm tones that offer an interesting contrast with the cool colours of the sky and the dark areas of the trees. Finally, I apply some orange mixture I used for the grass on the light areas of the tree tops in order to warm the green leaves that catch the early sun. This also gives unity to the painting.

It is 7:30 a.m. and time to stop. Here is the painting at the end of this first session.

I walk home and see a few dogs walking their masters.

I will rework this painting in the studio, glazing certain areas like the sky to reinforce its lightness and transparency. I have enough information to continue from memory.
There is no substitute to painting on site. You can paint the same place over and over and have a different painting each time. To illustrate this point, see below the painting I did last year of the same steps, from a slightly different angle.

The town is getting to work. This was a good way to start the day.

Related articles

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Take a Walk on the Light Side

"Take a Walk on the Light Side" is the title of a watercolour I recently completed for a commission. 

The "Light Side" sums-up for me the essential characteristics of watercolour as a medium: transparency, freshness, lightness.

If you are wondering about my watercolour technique, you can learn more in a 12 steps demonstration with photographs of the different stages.

The painting represents a view of Marlborough (Wiltshire, United Kingdom), a town which is full of character. The wide High Street is lined with eighteenth-century houses and a church raises its bell tower at either end: St. Peters & St. Pauls Church at the west end and St Mary's Church at the other end.

The selected view shows the Town Hall and Kingsbury Street on its north side, with its old buildings and a row of shops under a colonnade. In the background, the tower of St Mary's adds interest. The Victorian Town Hall is interesting from an architectural point of view, but also to the painter: honey colour carved stones, red walls, large rounded corner stones, pillars, balustrades and a roof with a lantern… there is a lot to play with.
Here is the final painting.

Take a Walk on the Light Side - Watercolour by Benoit Philippe

My French Easel starts here

Welcome to My French Easel blog.

My name is Benoit Philippe. I am a French artist leaving in Wiltshire (UK) and I work with oil, watercolour paints and soft pastels.

You can see my current works on my website where you can also subscribe to my newsletter: "News From My French Easel"

In this blog, I will explore and talk about:
  • My works in different media
  • My painting projects and coming exhibitions
  • Painting techniques for oil painting, watercolour and pastel
  • Art in general
  • Art history
  • Books on art I am reading
  • Good articles found on the web
  • The business side of being an artist
See you soon. Until then, go outside and paint something.