Saturday, 8 June 2013

Forests, flowers and.... fossils.

"Wild Garlic in Sewerby Woods"
Original Watercolour
Glenn Marshall

Do you like springtime? Of course you do - everyone does. Just a few short weeks ago  it seemed as if nothing was ever going to happen and then - an explosion of life. The trees so bare are suddenly heavy with leaves and the ground is bursting with exuberant plants and flowers. In forest you first get a carpet of wood anemones and then the beautiful bluebells. Here in Sewerby park we also get aconite, celandine,daffodils and buttercups, not forgetting the gardener's friend (!) dandelion. All these are rightly featured in  paintings throughout the ages. But there is another less well celebrated spring flower. For me, this plant is the very essence of spring with its all pervading glorious smell - 'Allium ursinum' - 'Ramsons' to you and me or 'Wild Garlic'. Crush the stems or leaves and the smell of garlic can be overpowering, but the plant has other attractions - beautiful white star-like flowers. So, as well as its medicinal uses, its culinary attractions, it also looks good!  This is my painting in tribute to this unsung symbol of spring.
First Wash
We use the woodland walk in Sewerby Park most evenings. It is a delightful stroll and just over the road from us. The powerful garlic smell announced the presence of this splash of white long before we came across it. I really wanted to try and capture the energy and vitality of this spring scene so this meant a lot of 'flicking' to create random effects for the foliage. I had masked the garlic flower heads so I could be as free as I wanted especially in the initial stages. Then I carefully painted  the trees in ever more detail and tone to create 'space'. Lastly remove the mask and there we have it -"Wild Garlic in Sewerby Woods"
This is a very traditional painting produced using classic watercolour techniques that have to be learned and practised. I was talking to a good friend of mine Keith Blessed very recently. Keith is a very talented pastel artist who has his own gallery and studio based in Whitby. He has sold paintings all over the world, gives lessons, and does demonstrations for art clubs and societies all over the country. But he has one fault. Like me he is totally committed to representational art - he wants his paintings to look like real places or things. We had a good moan together about  the state of the  art scene  today, especially how people like us who have learned our craft over many years, are derided and scoffed at in favour of contemporary artists who just pick up a brush and 'express' themselves freely.  If you don't like it or understand what these great artists are trying to say, its you that's at fault
 - you must be old fashioned, 'uncool' and still living in the dark ages. Brilliant marketing but very confusing to the buying public, the majority of whom can see through this 'Emperor's New Clothes Syndrome' - but do they want to seem uncool or out of touch? Do you? So here's my simple guide to appreciating art - if you like it - it's good, if you don't like it - it's not so good! That's all there is to it really despite what art critics might pretend. We live on the dinosaur coast here in Yorkshire so have decided we are happy to remain a pair of old fossils and enjoy ourselves and our art!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Venice Exhibition 2005


"Lumi di Candilbro"
Original watercolour
Glenn Marshall

There are pivotal events in the life of every artist. This exhibition was certainly one for me and, I suspect, for everyone else involved. In 2003 I began to associate with a small group of artists based at the Rudston Art Centre. Part of a complex that included the Bosville Arms pub, this purpose built art centre was owned by professional artist Tony Hogan. Situated in the heart of the glorious Yorkshire Wolds it was an ideal place for a budding artist to practise and learn his craft and I spent many an idyllic day there. One evening after a convivial wine and dine at the Bosville (we had a lot of those!) it was decided that the group would visit Venice. Venice of course is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and has  been a source of inspiration  for artists throughout the ages. Although invited, it was impossible for Merice and I to go...we just couldn't afford it. But don't feel too sorry for us - I was quite happy to stay at home and man the gallery with all its facilities at my disposal while the rest of them were away! 
Anyway back they came full of excitement, ideas and inspiration. It seemed a logical step to translate all their experiences, sketches, paintings and photographs into an exhibition. Tony graciously invited me to participate and Margaret Hockney kindly gave me permission to use her photographs as source materiel for my contribution. It was very exciting, certainly for me. It was the first real exhibition I had been involved with and I felt like a 'proper' artist for the first time as we planned and prepared for the event. 
First we had to get the gallery looking its best. Somebody decided that it would be a good idea to paint the panels 'Pugin' red - I think it was Liz, but can't be sure. What I can remember clearly is just how difficult it was to paint the darned panels! But we persevered and eventually it was 'ship shape and Bristol fashion'. The next new thing was being interviewed by the press. We had managed ('we' should probably be translated - Tony) to get lots of publicity for the show. It was very novel for me to be interviewed and photographed by the boys from the papers. We were there as a group but I do recall that when the colour article came out - they had concentrated more on Liz than anyone else.
Would you like to see my paintings now? Ready or not - here they are:
"Riflesso d'Oro"
"Mattinata Mistosa"

"Fine Siormata"

"Luce d'Orata"

"Lumi di Candleboro"

"Niente Azzurro"
"Serata Lucente"

"Notte Lucente"

These were all based on photographs that Margaret took and what about those titles then. I asked an Italian friend of mine to supply translations so "Misty Morning" became "Mattinata Mistosa" which sounds a lot more romantic does it not. Even "Niente Azzurro" makes you think of gondoliers and.... well admit it cornettos... but it definitely sounds better than "No Blue Used"!  I have to admit that some have stood the test of time better than others. Then came the hanging. This is the only time ever that I can say I enjoyed the hanging as later it became just a necessary chore. But getting everything just right was part of the experience and though painstaking and time consuming it had to be done.

Just about finished

Eileen's wall

Well earned rest

Liz's wall

Margaret checking the light

Where can we put all these?

Tony's wall

Rob's wall
But it wasn't all hard work - we did have some light relief:

Visit from Charlotte

Then came the night itself....the preview. There were people milling about to be chatted to, wine glasses to be filled up, even some last minute framing to be done!
Don't be cheeky , Rob!

Flamin' framin'!

Say cheese

Full house..well gallery

Scrubbed up well

Peek a boo

Official photographer

Proper poser!

Eileen still working!

The opening  night was a great success - we all sold something. I was in the back framing a print when Eileen came in and said someone wanted to buy two of my paintings. When I went to see him, he commented how much he liked them and how I had managed to capture the light and atmosphere of the City. "Of course" he added, "you have to go there yourself to be able to do that." What could I say....I agreed wholeheartedly of course! Over the next few months I sold another three of my paintings - one because it was the right shade of blue to go with someone's new bedroom wallpaper!
All in all it was a fantastic experience and left a lasting legacy. It cemented the bonds of friendship between the group that exists to this day and we have exhibited together many times since. It certainly contributed to Liz's decision to open her own gallery which she did later that year. Gallery Forty Nine thrives to this day and is a major attraction for visitors to the East Riding. On a more personal level, it inspired Merice Ewart Marshall to become an artist in her own right. Although part of the organising, setting up and publicising of the event, Merice felt she was missing out by not having anything to exhibit herself - something she happily rectified. This has meant that we have been able to work and exhibit together.
Venice Exhibition, Rudston Art Gallery 2005. Contributing artists: Tony Hogan, Eileen Hogan, Margaret Hockney, Ken Wathey, Rob Gobel, Liz Barton, Glenn Marshall. Official Photographer: Merice Ewart Marshall.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Chinese...whispers and waterfalls.

"The Waterfall"
Merice Ewart Marshall
Many years ago I had the good fortune to attend a one day course entitled "The Art of Chinese Watercolour". I remember the venue, I remember the details of the instruction but I can't remember (to my regret and shame) the name of the man who conducted this fantastic glimpse into the ancient art of Chinese watercolour painting. I do recall that he came from Doncaster and was a real Yorkshireman. He was so enthusiastic about Chinese art that he had attended classes in Beijing itself...he had loads of knowledge to pass on and we crammed a lot into that six hours. A lot of it stuck with me. Here is the painting I produced under his tutorship:
Bamboo on Rice Paper
Glenn Marshall

I was intrigued by the ethos of their each stroke of the brush is like a breath so that there are no unhurried or unplanned marks. I was especially impressed with the Chinese brushes he provided for the occasion and decided to get some for myself. I called in a Chinese Herbalist shop in York and yes..they had some brushes for sale. I bought four of various sizes. They were not very expensive, indeed I remember remarking on the comparative prices to 'Western' brushes - my Yorkshire upbringing of course. Sadly after a few more attempts at bamboo paintings I put them away with my painting kit and forgot all about them. Recently I was talking with an artist friend of mine who had just bought some new brushes for a course he is attending and among them was an 'Oriental' brush. I'm calling it that because I have a vague recollection that it was in fact a Japanese brush but no matter. After listening to his fulsome praise of this brush I recalled my own set hidden away somewhere  and resolved to find them and have another go. My brushes are definitely Chinese. They are made of hogs hair, that's right hair from little piggies. They are brilliant - very tough, hold a lot of water, can be used for large washes but also make the finest point you could wish for to do detailed work. So I started to use them, gradually at first but very quickly integrating them into my essential kit. Here they are:
The writing on the brush
So the next logical step was to paint a traditional Chinese subject albeit somewhat westernized. What could be more traditional than a painting of a waterfall? So I was looking forward to the challenge but decided I needed a real waterfall. I could have made the scene up but a 'real' place makes a 'real' painting. I would love to be able to go trekking up on the moors or the Dales to find a spectacular waterfall. But by the very nature of the thing, the best waterfalls are in fairly inaccessible terrain especially if you have mobility problems as I have. What to do then? Is anybody closer and let me whisper in your ear..I used a photograph. Shock and horror say the purists- you have to get out there yourself to capture the real spirit of a place! Fine if you can, I say, but not totally necessary I would argue. Many of the great artists of the past painted from photographs - John Atkinson Grimshaw certainly did and if it was good enough for him, it's good enough for me! I am very lucky that my wife Merice Ewart Marshall is a talented photographic artist so I use hers....and she has never sued me for breach of copyright...yet! The selected photo is at the top of the page. I had no intention of trying to do an exact copy but it would serve as a strong framework to carry the 'look' I would try to achieve. Here's the start:
There you are - well I am painting a waterfall, so I started with a waterfall! You can see the drawing I did and the paint is still wet here. I used a very limited palette comprising five colours- ultramarine blue, winsor red, winsor yellow,antwerp blue, and payne's grey and a lot of water and my usual Saunders Waterford 140lbs CP paper. And here it is..the finished painting:
"The Waterfall"
Glenn Marshall
I am not going to tell you the location of the waterfall as that would influence the way you look at the painting. I wanted this to be a 'universal' waterfall, a place where we can go enjoy the spectacle and feel the spray of cold, fresh mountain water on our faces....happy days!



Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Good or Bad Art....?

"Back to Life"
"I maintain that two and two would continue to make four, in spite of the whine of the amateur for three, or the cry of the critic for five."

What is 'good' art or conversely, what is 'bad' art? Whistler certainly found out all about that question.Let's have a look at what happened to him and see if it will help us decide what is good or bad art. Whistler maintained that art should need no explanation - that it should stand entirely on its own merit. Unfortunately this brought him into conflict with the establishment and in particular one  John Ruskin. Ruskin was the pre-eminent critic of his day and the final arbiter of what was acceptable or not, in other words, what was 'good' or 'bad' art. He thought art should have a moral or social value. Ruskin wrote a particularly vitriolic condemnation of a painting by Whistler. Our hero was incensed and took out a libel action against Ruskin. Whistler based his case on "art for art's sake", arguing that art was art regardless of what anyone else might think or claim, summed up in his quote above. He expected the support of his fellow artists but he was wrong - his 'friends' were too afraid of offending the establishment so they kept silent on the issue. Nevertheless, amazingly, he won his case. But even the Judge closed ranks against him and awarded damages of just one farthing! One farthing was one quarter of one pence in old money. The resultant  court costs and other incurred expenses made Whistler bankrupt and his paintings and possessions including his home were sold off to clear his debts.  He travelled around Europe continuing to confront and confound the art establishment. He made many friends and built up a large following becoming very successful on the way. These friends included the Impressionists, who invited him to exhibit with them at their first controversial exhibition - an offer he declined. Strange therefore that this enigmatic artist who was so modern in his ideas and subjects is best remembered for a painting he did of his dear old mum! 
So what do you think? Who was right - Whistler or the art establishment?
I think that today the answer would very clearly favour Whistler. We live in an age when anything can be classed as 'art' and according to Whistler - rightly so because art needs no explanation and has no moral or social obligation. So what is 'good' art? There is no objective answer. When I worked in galleries I noticed what I called the 'Gallery Effect' on people. They would talk in whispers so that nobody could overhear their comments and think them stupid for liking or not liking the 'right' thing. There is still a great deal of snobbishness attached to art and critics still have far too much power in deciding what is good or bad. The older a critic gets the more he seems to favour modern or contemporary art...I think this is just to make him appear cool, but the knock on effect can be very detrimental to traditional painters who have taken a long time to learn their craft only to be dismissed as old fashioned and irrelevant(on the soapbox again!). I used to tell the customers that if they like it - it's good, and if they don't - just say it's not so good. My painting above was based on a faded print in my mother's home (perhaps I should do a painting of her.). I had always liked it and brought it back to life as a large watercolour. I later found out that the original artist was called Benjamin Williams Leader. A Victorian painter and a member of the RA, he fell victim to the obsession for modernity and is largely now unrecognised for his fantastic work.
For me though, this is and always will be 'good art'.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Twilight Stroll on Bridlington Beach

Initial Sketch
"To say to the painter that Nature is to be taken as she is, is to say to the player that he may sit on the piano."
James Edward McNeil Whistler

Not all my paintings are inspired by nature...sometimes I am intrigued by a particular effect or look that I want to try and capture. Having decided on the 'look' I want, the next stage is to find a real place that will best fit that look. I had been looking at a painting of Scarborough by J.M.W. Turner. He visited Yorkshire several times and did lots of paintings of the area including Scarborough but I can't find any record of a visit to Bridlington. So that got me thinking, "What if he had made it to Bridlington after all?". So that's the genesis of my painting. Now let me say straightaway that it was never my intention to do a 'Turner' - how could I or anyone else do  justice to this country's greatest ever artist. His shifting shapes and dissolving forms were happening in his head not mine but I could use some of the ideas and techniques that we know he used to help me achieve what was in my head!
So to work. My initial pencil sketch is fairly accurate of the view from Sewerby steps towards the town. Although obviously very simplified the proportions are just about correct so this is the first change to make. So I did what Turner often did and exaggerated the height of the cliffs to make the scene more dramatic. Of course in Turner's time this was never an issue. When he got back home to London and said this is what the cliffs look like - very few people would be able to argue - no digital cameras back then! But this idea is also in line with what Whistler said in the above quote. By his time photography was starting to become popular so he realised that as a painter, he was going to have to do things differently to be able to compete with this new technology......this is even more imperative these days. 
So here's the first painting from the sketch:

You can see that the cliffs have been made higher. I also used a lot of yellow on my first wash and established a very clear light source as the great man often did. I faded the background but retained the church steeple as this is a very prominent Bridlington landmark. The foreground is quite bold and distinctive which again is a Turner trait. I was pleased with the result. Now a dear friend of mine who has been involved in the art world her whole life once told me, "If you  achieve an effect once, it might just be a lucky accident, but if you can do it again and again, then you have learned a new technique.". Sound advice, so I decided to do the painting again. This time I should be able to take more care with the detail as I had already worked out the technique. It worked and I was really pleased with the result. Would you like to see it? All will be revealed later. I left it for a couple of days and just kept having a look at different times - it just needed something extra to finish it off.
Figures? Possibly. Turner certainly used figures as they give a sense of scale as well as a focus for the viewer. But I decided to wait another day or so before I made up my mind. I mentioned my musings on Facebook and got a variety of suggestions ranging from a 'moose' (A friend of mine from the USA),a dolphin, fat bloke with burger and onions. knitting whale (my wife - ever helpful!), dancing hippo in a tutu (what can I say Ozzy?) to a boat....all very helpful I'm sure. Anyway you have waited long enough so here is the finished version:
"Twilight Stroll on Bridlington Beach."
20" x 16"
Original Watercolor
Glenn Marshall

I exaggerated the cliffs even more and painted the foreground carefully before adding the figures to complete this timeless scene - hope you like it.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

What's in a Name...... or Variations on a Theme

Original Watercolour
This might sound silly to anyone who has never tried to sell a painting, but anyone who has will certainly understand what I mean when I say that sometimes the hardest thing to do your picture!
This is especially true when you have done several paintings of the same scene or the same theme. I was going through my photo archives and came across a painting called "Out to Sea". It was a large watercolour (30" x 20" in old money.) that I painted six or seven years ago. Although it is a fairly simple scene it is actually a very strong composition. It is also an iconic coastal view that most people have encountered when strolling along the clifftops. These factors meant that it attracted a lot of interest and was eventually sold. Let's have a look at it:
"Out to Sea"
So this was the original and even though I say it myself - in a frame with a 2" mount - it looked pretty good. However it had been painted in our pre-digital camera period, so the only record I have now is this small photo. I am preparing to paint a large watercolour which will form part of our major exhibition next year (if it turns out right!). It is a large scale coastal scene that I have in mind and as I had been engrossed in iPad painting for several months I thought this scene would be ideal to revisit to ease myself back into 'proper' painting. I could brush up my 'coastal' techniques and I thought it would be interesting to compare the two. Want to see the outcome:
20" x 16"
Original Watercolour
Glenn Marshall
As you can see, it is a fairly straightforward take on the original. But I have made  variations which improve the composition slightly. I have widened the path and curved it  to make it more pleasing to the eye. But the main difference is in the sky. The original sky was very much a 'happening' with the easel tilted  and the painting upside down so that the paint would run away from the sea. Over the years I have acquired a lot more control in the way I paint. I used the same colours (I always do.) but this time made the paint go where I wanted it to so that the clouds lead you into the distance. This creates 'space' in the painting and more depth than the original where the sky is a bit horizontal. However, even as I was painting the sky I was thinking I  should have done this differently! When completed, framed and hung on the wall though, it didn't look too bad. But over the next few days I kept looking at it and wondering. I probably would have taken it no further except that driving up the coastal road I noticed the real life effect I had so nearly captured on paper. It was morning and the sea just faded away into the sky with no distinguishable meeting point. That was it...all the incentive I needed to go "Out to Sea" again! It is no different than a musician doing a different take of a song until he gets it right. This was the effect I was after and had seen:
So the same colours again but this time painting the sky and sea together in one wash to create that lovely misty effect. Again I made a few alterations to the foreground - making the path a bit 'warmer' and exaggerating the height of the posts to create even more depth. I even added a careful shadow on the left hand signpost to add to the illusion of reality. I hung them side by side in my studio to compare the two and have decided that I am very pleased with my third (final?) attempt "Out to Sea - Misty Morning".
Naming the paintings was pretty straightforward but you do have to be careful. When I first started painting professionally, I opened a business bank account trading under the name of Fairfield Arts. It seemed pretty logical at the time - we lived in Fairfield Cottage so why not. But a couple of years later a friend (!) abbreviated it to F-Arts! We then became and still are Marshallartz. Again it is a pretty cool name - but we have had inquiries for karate classes! The Rudston group even tried to get me to change my 'painting' name as there are quite a few artists called Glenn Marshall....they decided I should be known as Ship McCoy!
So on that note I'll say farewell for now me ol' shipmates and splice the main brace!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

My Studio...

Painting in Progress
"I have no philosophy, my favourite thing is sitting in the studio"
Arne Jacobsen

My wife, Merice, has been helping me 're-vamp' my studio. This involved a lot of work  entailing moving things (some very heavy things!) around to create more space and make the maximum use of the ambient light. I am very pleased with the result and have already started a painting. 
Earlier that same day we had bumped into a friend of ours while out walking the dog. His wife is a very accomplished artist. She attended several of my courses and workshops but really didn't need to apart from the fact that she needed somewhere to paint. Each week she could come to a class and paint. She needed this routine, not because she didn't enjoy painting- but because she found it difficult to be motivated when she had to set up and then clean up after every session at home...not enough space there for a studio.
This made me realise how fortunate I am to have the luxury of all this space to claim as my studio. There are so many benefits to having your personal studio. It's such a wonderful thing to have a dedicated area to your art - a place where you don't have to set up or clean up after every session. So if you only have a bit of spare time you can just retreat to the studio and pick up where you left off! This is so important to your development as a painter because there is no substitute for picking up that brush as often as you can. Studios don't have to be anything special. You just need enough room to be able to leave your painting kit set up and a good source of daylight is preferable. But even if you haven't got a window you can always invest in a 'daylight' bulb! Now I'm lucky - I've got a full room to myself but remember the more space you have, the more 'clutter' you will collect...this is part of 'Murphy's Law'.
I suppose we are all different when it comes to how we work in the studio. For instance I never change the water once I begin a painting. I certainly don't wash my brushes  either until the painting is finished....that's why I have a different brush for every colour I use.
When were you last washed?
But my studio is not just for painting. It's the place where I let my imagination run riot, the place where I take time out from the world in general, the place to sit and think, to plan and prepare for my next painting, to experiment and have fun with different styles and techniques,the place where I am at liberty to make mistakes, the place where I develop as a painter and a person - so you can see how vital it is for me and why I will never take it for granted.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Galleries, Grumbles and more Grumbles...

"Bridlington Priory from Kirkgate"
iPad Painting by
Glenn Marshall

I had occasion to visit two art galleries last week. The first was a well known 'contemporary' gallery and the second was a 'community' gallery. At opposite ends of the art market it is good that they are both surviving and prospering (I hope!). Although not a big fan of 'contemporary' or 'modern' art I appreciate that many people are attracted to it and by it, and buy it! I admit to being hopelessly old fashioned and like my paintings to look like real places or things. I am a great admirer of painters who have studied the craft of painting and apply it carefully rather than just 'expressing' themselves with daubs and splodges ..hey this is my blog, so just my opinion - no offence meant to anyone! This being so I should have had a better time in the community gallery, but it didn't work out like that. Why? Generally community galleries charge no commission and are open to any artist who can afford a small monthly rent for wall space. This is fine in theory but does not work out so good in practice because having a 'few bob' is not a guarantee of talent. And if you've paid for a space you are going to make sure you fill it up to get your money's worth! So the gallery ends up cram packed with mediocre paintings that completely overpower and seriously undercut the few talented artists on show.
But let me stress - I am not against the gallery system. I used galleries to full advantage for many years. In fact I used to have my own gallery - 'The Glenn Marshall Gallery' in Old Town, Bridlington.
"Glenn Marshall Gallery"
from an original watercolour by
Glenn Marshall
So why don't I have the Glenn Marshall Gallery now? What do you think? Bad location, because Old Town back then was rapidly gaining the reputation as THE art centre of the East Riding of Yorkshire and featured no less than eleven galleries in High Street! OK...maybe it was because the artwork wasn't up to much. Wrong again...of course I have to say that as only Merice's and my work were on display. Joking aside, we were doing  well with sales -so that wasn't the reason. What about the credit crunch? There is no doubt that this certainly impacted on everybody in the art sector but with judicious pricing and increased marketing we were riding the storm so that was not the reason I closed the gallery either. The real reason was...wait for it....the smoking ban. That's right - the smoking ban.
As well as eleven galleries, High Street had seven pubs, so when the ban was imposed, this forced seven groups of people out on to the streets to have a fag. They didn't mean any  harm to anyone. However congregated outside pubs with a drink in one hand and a fag in the other, and shouting across to groups outside other pubs on the opposite side of the street, they unfortunately presented an intimidating barrier to passers by. By the very nature of things the weekends were the busiest times for both sets of businesses and within a very short space of time the number of potential customers dropped dramatically.....time to close the gallery I'm afraid. I wasn't alone either - there are only two galleries left in Old Town now.
So let's finish with a big thank you to all gallery owners and long may you keep providing opportunities for artists to show their work.