Friday, 27 February 2009

Lady Lever Art Gallery

I visited this museum and art gallery not too far from Liverpool a few months ago, but never get to write a post about it. They have a new temporary exhibition that would justify another visit….

History of the gallery

The Lady Lever Art Gallery has an extensive collection of fine and decorative arts (in particular British 18th and 19th century paintings). It was founded by William Hesketh Lever (1851-1925) to host the best pieces of his personal art collection and the gallery was named in memory of his wife Elizabeth. Lever was a multimillionaire entrepreneur who started his fortune by making soaps - his empire became “Unilever”.

The gallery’s collection and web site
The gallery is easy to access, with ample parking space. The entry is free of charge (including and audio guide with an adult and a children commentary). Non-commercial photography is permitted inside the gallery, as long as you don’t use a flash nor a tripod and sign a consent form at the front desk. Photography is not permitted in temporary exhibitions.

The website of the gallery is remarkable and well worth a visit. It is easy to navigate and contains extensive information on the collections, individual paintings and featured artists. You can browse the collection of the gallery online by alphabetical order of the artists name and even listen to audio commentaries on your computer. No need to download them on your MP3 player, as the gallery will lend you a free audio guide. I would give a full mark to this web site.

The only (but significant) negative point about the gallery is that the light level in some rooms is low to protect the works of art, which means that certain paintings are hard to see. In the main gallery, you have to add to the light issue the fact that some paintings are exhibited ones on top of the others, reflecting the conception of art galleries at the time of its creation. The combination of the distance and low lighting means you see more clearly the painting on the web site… a real shame.

If you like the Pre-Raphaelite artists, you have to go and see the works by Millais, Rossetti , Burne-Jones and Leighton.

Room number 30 has ‘Cottage at East Bergholt’ (c. 1833) a landscape by Constable with heavy applications of paint done with knife paintings and a large oil painting by Turner, both of high interest.

The 19th and 20th century paintings exhibited on the East and West balconies are far less interesting.

Temporary exhibition on French Impressionists
The current temporary exhibition is on French Impressionists. It runs from February 20th until the May 31st 2009 with works by Renoir, Monet, Degas and Rodin coming from Stockholm. The exhibition is described as “small but exceptional”. When I visited the gallery, there was an exhibition of drawings which were well presented, perfectly lit and interesting. So the cristicism on the lighting conditions for part of the main collection does not extend to the temporary exhibition space.

Practical details

Lady Lever Art Gallery
Port Sunlight Village
CH62 5EQ

Telephone 0151 478 4136
International Telephone +44 151 478 4136

Web site:

Monday, 23 February 2009

Heavy snow - Oil painting

A couple of weeks ago, we had some snow. It's all gone now...

Heavy snow - Oil painting (18 x 14") by Benoit Philippe

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Is it cheating?

For my painting Dig this!, I tried something different with a transfer experiment. I had kept a magazine article explaining how you can transfer a photocopy onto a canvas or a panel by using acrylic medium gel.

I started by reversing the digital photograph I had as reference and then printed it onto an A3 piece of paper.

I printed several copies at 100% and 80% size to see the one that worked best. With the unusual placement of the canvas (diamond shape), I selected the 100% version, otherwise, the background would have been too large (in particular the foreground).

I traced an axis on the canvas and worked out the placement of the image before applying the medium gel.

In order to transfer the image, I painted the front of the photocopy with a coat of acrylic medium gel, using a household paint brush.

I then applied the paper onto the canvas and pressed with my hand to remove any bubble. The canvas being soft, I could not press too hard, so I turned the canvas over on the table and laid some dictionaries to press the photocopy onto the canvas.

As the canvas is prepared with several coats of gesso, it is not as absorbent as raw fabric, wood or paper. I did not know if the transfer was going to work. To increase my chances, I decided to let the paper dry (although I may not have waited long enough) and then to moisten it again with a sponge to remove the paper. I theory, the image should stay glued to the canvas thanks to the acrylic medium gel.

When I removed the paper, some of the image also came off, probably because I did not put enough gel medium on parts of the photocopy.

I managed to remove most of the remaining paper pulp using a rubber.

The final transfer is less than perfect. I actually like the distressed look of the transfer as a base for my painting. It feels quite “industrial”.

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Monday, 16 February 2009

Art activities annual calendar

I am still working on the detail of my art activities for 2009. Instead of just having my activities as a list, I am putting together a calendar for the whole year. As a visual artist, I like to see things… visually and with a calendar and some colour coding, it all becomes much clearer.

When working on my calendar, I realised that one of the things that was holding me back was the fear to book an exhibition and discover later that it clashed with another family commitment.

I see several advantages to using an annual calendar:

  • You can put your “big rocks” in and then see the time you have to do other activities

  • It makes planning easier because you can review the future months at a glance and working back to see what needs to be done before an exhibition date, for instance.

  • You can make sure your marketing activities are well spread over the whole year. If one month is too busy, then you may want to move some items around.

  • The visual aspect, with colours, makes gap obvious. Are your exhibitions all in the first part of the year? Then you know you need to get to work to book some dates for the second part of the year.

  • If you have a new opportunity coming your way, you can quickly check if it fits or not with your existing commitments.

What goes into your calendar?

This is a non-exhaustive list of items that could go into your calendar:

Start with your personal commitments:

  • Vacations

  • Family’s events (yours, your wife’s or partner’s and children’s ones)

  • Days out

Recurrent activities:

  • Sending your newsletter

  • Blog entries

  • Articles you write

  • Christmas / end of the year cards

  • Promotions you want to run

  • Updating your website

Specific art events:

  • Exhibition already booked

  • Open studios days

  • Workshop you plan to attend

  • Shows or exhibitions you want to go to

The tools you need

The tools you need already exist.

  • You can use a large wall calendar, but make sure you see the whole year at once (don’t use a calendar that has a page per month).

  • An A3 version can also be used. You can print one from Duct Tape Marketing. See the article: Create Your Marketing Calendar Today

  • Another solution is to use an Excel spreadsheet. The good news is that Michael Hyatt created a template you can use. See the article Creating an Annual Time Block by Michael Hyatt. The great advantage of Michael’s template is that, by entering the date of the first of January for any given year, all the date will be updated automatically (even for leap years).

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Saturday, 14 February 2009

New exhibition at the Wyvern Theatre

I am taking part into a collective exhibition called “The Art of Water” where I have three paintings on show:

Relaxing at Mevagissey

Torquay in the rain and Wilts & Berks canal

Where and when

The Art of Water Open Exhibition
Wyvern Theatre Lower Foyer

Theatre Square , Swindon, SN1 1QN

Directions to the exhibition
Wednesday 11 February – Saturday 21 March 2009

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Homage to Ambroise Vollard

This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – January 2008.

Ambroise Vollard is arguably one of the most influential French art dealers of the impressionist and post-impressionist period. His name is associated with Cézanne, Gauguin, Degas, Renoir, the Nabis (Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Vuillard), the Fauve artists (Vlaminck, Derain, Rouault). Many works hung in museums around the world today passed through his hands.

Ambroise Vollard is arguably one of the most influential French art dealers of the impressionist and post-impressionist period. His name is associated with Cézanne, Gauguin, Degas, Renoir, the Nabis (Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Vuillard), the Fauve artists (Vlaminck, Derain, Rouault). Many works hung in museums around the world today passed through his hands.

Ambroise Vollard by Auguste Renoir - Courtauld Institute Galleries (Source: Wikimedia)

He did not launch impressionism into the world. Durand-Ruel and Mary Cassatt were promoting Degas and Renoir well before Vollard came into the art market. However, Vollard organized the first major Cézanne exhibition. Vollard did not have much money at the time. He recalled, after visiting the painter and asking for works to show: “Not a long time after, I received approximately one hundred fifty diverse works by the artist. The canvasses were rolled together. My modest means at the time only allowed me to present them to the public stretched onto 2 pence [sous] a metre strips of wood.”
He also reached out to modern art, selling Matisse and Picasso. Pablo Picasso had his first Parisian exhibition in 1901 at Vollard’s gallery.

To me, the most fascinating aspect of Vollard’s career is how he influenced the creative side, how he gently drove artists in directions they would never had taken without him. Here are some examples of this:
  • As he loved artists’ books, he became publisher and introduced major artists to engraving: Cézanne, Maurice Denis, Redon, Renoir, Sisley, Toulouse-Lautrec and Vuilllard produced engravings to illustrate books that Vollard published. He explained: “My idea was to ask engravings to artists who were not professional engravers.”
  • He commissioned some vases, plates and dishes by asking artists (like Bonnard, Derain, Maillol, Matisse or Vlaminck) to collaborate with André Méthey, a master ceramist.

  • Inspired by the works Monet painted in London, Vollard asked Vlaminck and Derain to go there and bring him some views of London.
Vollard was also an accomplished storyteller and his books (Recollection of an Art dealer or the biographies of Degas, Cézanne or Renoir) are full of precise accounts seasoned with a dash of humour. Don’t miss the opportunity to read these books.

Related articles and resources

Books by Ambroise Vollard

Sunday, 8 February 2009

The art of recycling – Recycling for art

  • Rags: Don’t throw away this worn out shirt. Old cotton clothes make perfect rag for painting.
  • Bubble wrap: I always keep the one I get. Very handy to protect works in transit. Bubble wrap can be re-used several times.
  • Re-using turpentine: For oil painting, turpentine is used both as a thinner and to clean your brushes. The first way to make the most of your turpentine is to have two different containers: one to clean your brushes and one for the turpentine you use as thinner. The second one should remain clean for longer, as you clean your brush in a separate container. When the turpentine you use as thinner gets dirty, don’t throw it away; just dip it into your cleaning jar. Even this one can be made to last for longer. When the thinner is cloudy, leave it to rest in a jar. After some time, particles of paint sink at the bottom and you can re-use the cleaner thinner at the top of the container. Some paintbrush cleaner jar have a part at the bottom to collect the falling pigment (check the link below to an article explaining you how to make one).

  • Containers: Jam jars are good to store turpentine and some small plastic bottles (like the ones for drinking yoghurt with a screw cap) work wonder as water container for your watercolour when you travel. They are very light and won’t brake.
  • Watercolour pan: when empty, watercolour pans can be filed-in with paints from your tubes.

  • Canvas: Artists have always reused canvasses, covering paintings they did not like. However, you need to assess whether the brushwork of the first painting will interfere with the new painting. Having texture can be a bonus, unless you can guess from it what was painted underneath. Another thing you need to take into account is the fact that some colours (like Prussian blue) have very strong pigments and may bleed through. The best way to deal with this is to cover the initial painting with a coat of white paint (don’t put acrylic gesso on top of the existing oil painting, it would not stick – remember that it is all right to paint with oil over acrylic, but not the other way around).
  • Panels: Panels (wood or hardboard) are easier to reuse as you can sand the surface before applying a new layer of gesso.
  • Toning your canvas: When you finish working on a painting, it is likely that you will have some paint left on your palette. You may be too exhausted to start another painting, but you can tone a canvas with the paint left.
  • Making your own pastel sticks. Soft pastel break or at the end, you are left with a piece of pastel stick too small to handle comfortably. Here are some good articles on recycling these pastel leftovers: How to make your own neutral tone pastel sticks with leftovers. “What Can I Do With the Leftovers?” by Richard McKinley . Also check How To Fix Broken Pastels .
  • Another use for pipe insulation tubes: Richard McKinley from Pastel Pointer explains in his article Pushing around pastel that he uses pieces of pipe insulation tubes to push pastel around. Other materials he is recycling for his art include grocery store plastic bags and foam packing peanuts.
From WetCanvas:
  • How to Make a Paintbrush Cleaner Jar
  • How to Rebind a Moleskine Notebook: Make a Custom DIY Sketchbook!
  • How to build a palette table
  • How to build a pochade box using a cigar box

Make sure you also check my previous article on Art DIY and week-end projects that contains links to good articles.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Signac on impresionism

This quote was first translated from the French and published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – December 2008. Follow the link to subscribe to the newsletter

«By taking off all dull and dark colours from their palette, Impressionists had to reconstruct, with the small remaining number of colours, an extended spectrum. Therefore they were driven to a more fragmented touch than Delacroix: and instead of these romantic hatching, they used small marks applied with the tip of an alert brush that mingled in multi-coloured ball – pretty way well suited to an aesthetics centred around fleeting and sudden sensations. »

Paul Signac ( in “D’Eugène Delacroix au néo-impressionisme”)

Paul Signac: The Papal Palace, Avignon, 1900
Oil on canvas. 73.5 x 92.5 cm.
Gallery: Musée d'Orsay, Paris -
Source: Wikimedia Common

Signac on painting subjects

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Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Monet’s Palette

This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – December 2008.

At the "Monet, impressionist eye" exhibition at the Musée Marmottan in Paris, one of the displays was about the colours Monet used. Here are two quotes the curator for the exhibition selected on the topic :

« The major point is to know how to use colours for which the selection is only a matter of habits. In short, I am using Silver White, Cadmium Yellow, Vermilion, Dark Madder, Cobalt Blue, Emerald green and that’s it. » (Letter from Monet to G. Durand-Ruel – Giverny, 3 July 1905)

« Claude Monet, apart from a period when he bought colours from a shop in Laval Street – today named Victor Massé – never had other provider than us (…). His palette had (…) Silver White, Light Cobalt Purple, Emerald Green, Extra-fine ultramarine. Sometime – occasionally – some Vermilion. Then a trinity of Cadmium : Light, Dark, Citrus. I also sell to him a Citrus Yellow Ultramarine, since a few years. » (Tabarant, « Couleurs » in Le Bulletin de la Vie Artisitique, 15 July 1923, pages 287-290)

La Gare Saint-Lazare de Claude Monet – Source Wikimedia

One of the exhibits was a reconstruction of Monet’s palette over time, put together by Claude Yvel (they are not a perfect match with the quotes above). Here are the different pigments the artist used at different times of his career according to Claude Yvel:

  • Flake White
  • Naples Yellow
  • Chrome Yellow
  • Red Ochre
  • Yellow Lake
  • Emerald Green
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Rose Madder Lake (Laque de Garance)
  • Vermilion Red
  • Burst Sienna
  • Ivory Black
  • Flake White
  • Cadmium Yellow
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Rose Madder Lake (Laque de Garance)
  • Vermilion Red
  • Yellow Lake
  • Emerald Green
  • Milori Green
  • Zinc White
  • Cadmium Yellow
  • Chrome Yellow
  • Cadmium Orange
  • Vermilion Red
  • Rose Madder Lake (Laque de Garance)
  • Cobalt Purple
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Guimet Ultramarine
  • Emerald Green
I like, as an exercise, to study a painting and try to figure out the palette used by the artist.

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Monday, 2 February 2009

Dig this!

I recently completed a study called Night roadwork and I announced at the end of the post that I intended to make a larger version of it. This is done now.

Dig this! - Oil on canvas (40 x 40 cm) by Benoit Philippe

The twist I was thinking about was to use the canvas in a non-conventional way. The idea came to my mind by association of ideas. The theme of the painting is roadwork and, as I was holding my square canvas, I thought about road signs, which led me to shift the position of the canvas by 45 degrees to turn my square into a diamond canvas. I will choose a flat frame to mimic the border of a road sign.

Securing the canvas onto the easel was possible, but I had to be gentle on the canvas or to hold the side of the canvas with my hand if I wanted to paint more vigorously.

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