Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The painter - oil painting

This is a quick painting I did, on the spot, during the Swindon Open Studios while another participating artist was making a portrait.

The painter - oil on linen canvas by Benoit Philippe

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Swindon Open Studios experience

A major advantage of an Open Studios event compared to a normal exhibition is the opportunity to meet the public and have direct interaction as well as feedback.

The question I was asked the most over the week-end was: “what is your favourite medium?” My answer is along the line that, when I see something interesting to paint, I feel immediately whether it would make a good oil painting, watercolour or pastel. I also go through cycles when I favour one medium over others. I also find interesting to treat the same subject in different media and see how they come to life in different ways.

The easel set-up close to the window to get good light and not be on the way

When I wanted to take the discussion further with one of the visitors, I would ask: “Are you an artist?”

I was attentive to people’s reaction. Some visitors just wanted to look at the paintings, other were pleased to discuss and willing to learn more about my subjects, my inspirations and my technique. I tried to make myself available while not being all over the visitors (I try to learn for the best shop assistants I am coming across). One way to do that was to signal to them that I was the artist, which I did in different ways:
  • I painted during both days of the event. If they see you painting, it makes the visitors interested and curious and also says clearly: “here is the artist”.

  • I put on the wall my bio and artist statement with a photograph of myself, so that people reading it could identify me.

  • I would tell people looking at the pictures: “Let me know if you have any question.”

The feedback I get was invaluable. My small pastels (that both sold) were frequently commented on. This reinforced my conviction that I should work more with pastels. Many people also liked how I paint the reflections in water.

I managed to give a copy of my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" to a good number of people. I found that some visitors were reluctant to take it themselves, even if I had prepared a big sign that read “Free newsletter – Please take me home”.
I also met some wondeful artists who were sharing the same space at the Central Library.

Some points that worked very well and that I will use again:
  • A long piece of cloth on the table: It looked good, professional and created a storage area under the table where I could hide all my bags, bubble wrap, etc., leaving the space uncluttered.
  • A small easel on the table with a work: it made the table interesting and allowed me to showcase a particular work (which sold quickly).

  • A plate of sweets: Enormous return on investment. Visitors felt welcome and it was an excellent way to bring families with children towards my paintings. The children went first and the parents followed. In addition, while the children ate their sweet, they let their parents watch the painting in peace.

  • Painting on the day: The public really enjoys watching artists at work and you become the centre of attention in the room. I don’t mind talking while I paint or painting with people around. If there was a quieter moment during the day, time just flew as I painted.

Table with a blue table cloth, plate of sweets, business card, newsletter, visitors' book and two paintings

I need to improve in a number of areas:
  • Visitors’ book: I did not get any comment in my visitors’ book. The main reason for this is that I did not ask (I was focused on distributing my newsletter and it was difficult to push the visitors’ book at the same time). I am also wondering if it was also because people were afraid of the blank page. I had a look at other artists’ visitors book who received comments and they had the page prepared with a table and marked space for the information they wanted to collect (name, email address, comment). I need to try this next time.

  • Sending out invitations ahead of time: because I was so busy with my work as part of the Open studios organising team, I neglected my own marketing. In particular, I sent my invitations late and did not reach everyone I should have.

  • I should have brought with me a small notebook: I ended-up writing on scraps of papers, which is the best way to misplace your notes. With a notebook, I could have noted some comments on the fly and recorded actions and items that needed some follow-up.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Swindon Open Studios 2009

Last week-end was the Swindon Open Studios 2009. It was very exciting and rewarding, but also quite tiring. I was sharing the space with seven other artists (see the article Day 1 of the Swindon Open Studios 2009 at the Central Library).

It was a great success. We had visitors all along and I sold six paintings in total. When I have more time, I will write an article on my experience of the event, what went well and what I could improve upon.

Friday, 11 September 2009

A visit at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

The museum is well-known for its Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Sir Edward Burne-Jones was a Birmingham-born artist and one of the rooms only contains his works.

Room dedicated to Sir Edward Burne-Jones' works

drawings by Sir Edward Burne-Jones

The Blind Girl (Oil Painting) by John Everett Millais is a fine example of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings. The technique is amazing, almost too perfect. Even the finest details of the houses in the background are there.

The Last of England - Oil Painting by Ford Madox Brown (Click on the photo to enlarge). The painting represents a couple the couple departing for Australia.

The museum has created an excellent
website to promote its permanent Pre-Raphaelite collection.

When we visited the museum, I saw an exhibition of the Perseus Series Edward Burne-Jones (Exhibition from 28th February 2009 until 4th October 2009). The paintings are on loan from Stuttgart's Staatsgalerie. This is the first time that the complete set of eight paintings has been shown in the UK. These paintings were very dark in mood as in colour... quite depressing in fact.

The Perseus Series Edward Burne-Jones

The museum owns a magnificent oil painting by Pissarro titled -
Le Pont Boieldieu à Rouen, Soleil Couchant (The Pont Boieldieu at Sunset).

In 1896, Pissarro went to Rouen and stayed at a hotel overlooking the bridge. Between 8 September and 12
November, he completed 15 canvasses, including this view The Pont Boieldieu at Sunset.

There is also an interesting composition by Guillaumin: Les Environs de Paris (Oil Painting).

Les Environs de Paris (Oil Painting) by Guillaumin

Guillaumin is one of the less known Impressionist painters. He was friend with Camille Pissarro and was only able to become a full time painter after he won 100,000 Francs at the French lottery in 1891. The painting “Les Environs de Paris” was show at the third Impressionist exhibition of 1877.

Madame Renoir sculpted by Auguste Renoir

Portrait of Mademoiselle Marie Fantin-Latour - Oil painting by Henri Fantin-Latour. This portrait of the artist's sister was rejected by the Salon of 1859.

Bronze sculptures of dancers by Degas

Madame X by Modigliani

You can browse or search the entire collection on the museum main website.

Details for the museum

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Chamberlain Square, Birmingham, B3 3DH
Admission: FREE. Some exhibitions charge an admission fee.

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery website

Photographs are permitted (except in a few rooms for copyright reason) provided it is not for commercial purpose and that you sign the appropriate form at the entrance desk.

Related article

The Lady Lever Art Gallery also has an extensive collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Another look at “The diving board”

I want to come back to the painting “The diving board” because of particular techniques I used in this painting that led to interesting effects.

The diving board - oil on linen canvas (27 cm x 22 cm) by Benoit Philippe

A blue background
I like to prepare my canvasses with tinted grounds (read the article “Making MDF canvas panels" for an explanation of my normal process).

When I finished "Watching the sharks at Monterey", I had a large amount of Manganese blue and Cobalt blue left on my palette. I hate to waste good paint, so I decided to prepare a couple of canvasses with a coat of blue. The result was very different from my usual muted mid-tone tinted canvas. Manganese blue is a potent colour that almost screams at you. The nickname “electric blue” would suit this colour. It is also a transparent colour, so the white of the canvas makes it glow.

Because the background colour was intense, touches of light colour appeared very luminous by contrast. Yellow hues also contrasted on top of there complimentary colour.

As the background has a rich colour, I let is show on purpose. The water was an obvious place where the background could be used, but I also let a blue border at the top of the springboard. This way, it looks like the springboard is glowing. In addition, the sparks of blue background showing though all around the painting give the work a great unity.

Blue background showing in the water

The blue "glow" around the springboard

Using the texture of the canvas

The canvas is a Lefranc & Bourgeois linen canvas that I bough in France. The fabric is sturdy with a strong texture.

By using an almost dry brush technique, I took advantage of the natural texture of the canvas. I also preserved the intensity of the blue background between the planes of colours.

On the springboard itself, I painted with a light touch and you can see some hints of blue underneath the muted yellow paint.

Light application of paint lets see the blue background underneath

For the sky, I scrubbed the paint in and the texture of the canvas is visible in the clouds.

Friday, 4 September 2009

It’s time to interview you (or the DIY interview)

You can read my interview on the Swindon Open Studios 2009 blog.

As part of the organising team, I put together a dedicated blog for the coming
Swindon Open Studios 2009. We are more than 60 artists taking part over the week-end of 12th / 13th September.

I though that publishing interviews of participating artists would be a good way to promote the event as well as the artists. The public can learn more about each artist and participants to the event can also do the same. It was certainly very enjoyable for me to learn more about artists leaving in the area.

There are currently 17 interviews posted on the blog. As I am acting as the editor for the blog, I ended-up interviewing myself.

This is a very useful exercise. I did not come with the idea. I remember reading an article by Alyson Stanfield with this suggestion on
Art Biz Blog (I could not find the article, but it is there). Here are some obvious benefits of doing this:

  • It makes you think about you, your art and what makes it special. Therefore, it is a great way to get you started on your artist statement.

  • You do not have to rush. You can write a draft and come back to it as many time as you want.

  • It prepares you for future interviews with journalists, where you may have to answer questions on the spot. If a local radio calls you today, do you have something interesting to tell them?

I used the following interview questions, which are all relevant and general (apart from Question 10 that you can skip) to suit different art disciplines:

Q1 – Could you introduce yourself briefly to the readers?

Q2 - How did you become interested in art?

Q3 - What inspires you most as an artist?

Q4 - What is your favourite medium or media? Why?

Q5 - Could you tell us some more about your work?

Q6 - How would you define your style?

Q7 - What are your influences; artists from the past or present who inspire you?

Q8 - How do you choose the subjects of your works?

Q9- How do you prepare yourself for an exhibition or a show like the Open Studios?

Q10- You took part in the Swindon Open Studios in the past, what did it bring to you?

Q11 - Are there territories (media, subjects, etc.) you want to explore in the coming years?

Q12 - As an artist, what would be your dream?

Q13 - Could you share one thing that you have learnt in your own art practice that would be useful to other artists?

I would suggest that you try to answer these questions without reading the interviews published on the blog (OK, you can read mine if you want to…), so that you are not influenced by what you read.

Only after you have a draft of your own interview, go and read all or some of the 17 interviews published on the
Swindon Open Studios 2009 blog. By asking the same questions to all artists, I have effectively built for you a reference library of answers. I am sure that reading how other artists have answered these questions will give you some new ideas to describe and explain your art.

If you want to take it further, you can start to collect interview questions in art magazines and newspapers and see how you would answer these.

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Thursday, 3 September 2009

The diving board

Last week-end, I went to Coate Water Country Park to paint. The first painting I did was blown away by the wind and flipped-over on the grass. Not too much damage to the fresh paint, except for the lower right corner that is smudged with eath. This is the risk of working outdoor. I will show it to you later, once I have reworked the damaged part.

I then did a second painting. The lake is a 56-acre reservoir that was built in the 1820s as a headwater tank for the Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal. I am not sure when the diving board was built, but it is not used anymore.

The diving board - oil on linen canvas (27 cm x 22 cm) by Benoit Philippe