Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Top 10 tips for being an artist

Suzanne du Toit, winner of the BP Portrait Award 2013, has written an article for the BBC on her top 10 tips for being an artist.

They're not just about being a portrait artist. Indeed a botanical artist friend of mine said she could identify with every one!

Suzanne du Toit with the BP Portrait Award 2013
(Left: Sandy Naire, Director of the National Portrait Gallery
Right: Joanna Trollope, Author,
guest presenter and one of this year's Judges)
So what are they?

Top 10 tips for being an artist

These are the headlines for her top 10 tips - but you need to read Top 10 Tips: Award-winning artist Susanne du Toit to find out her reasons for these tips. It's a jolly good and recommended read.
  1. Surround yourself with like-minded people
  2. Find the art form that you love the most
  3. Be able to endure working alone
  4. Accept your limitations
  5. Know your subjects
  6. Don't rush, take your time
  7. Use photos to help you, but don't work from them alone
  8. Be prepared for people not always liking your work
  9. Paint for yourself and be honest
  10. Remember what is important to you and pursue that

Monday, April 21, 2014

21st April 2014 - Who's made a mark?

This is the first of my "Who's made a mark" posts in a while.  It's a round-up of my posts on this blog and on Facebook PLUS it's interspersed with other news I've noticed as I get back to more normal life.

During my time writing the book I've had a couple of major milestones

The Making A Mark Facebook Page yesterday - with 2,001 likes
Many thanks to all those regular readers, visitors and followers of Making A Mark. 
I love hearing from you if the blog has made a difference to your lives......

After the hiatus I'll start by just briefly mentioning what's coming up on my blog in the next week:
  • a call for entries for an important new art competition
  • interviews with the six botanical artists who became RHS Gold Medallists last week
  • a return for "Who Painted This?"
  • and a big thank you to all the artists who contributed images to my new book
 PLUS a video of the biggest exhibition to open in London recently!

Art Genre

Botanical Art

  • We're into my favourite phase of the year with the RHS Botanical Art Show closely preceded or followed (as happens this year) by the Annual Exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists. So far I've written three posts about the RHS Show:
  • Meanwhile Gaynor Dickeson wrote a fascinating account over several posts on her blog
    gaynorsflora about what it was like to prepare for the show and then be there. There are several posts starting on 6th April - as she gives an insiders' perspective on what's involved with exhibiting at this show. I recommend you start around about the beginning of April as she starts her count down to the exhibition and all the last minute things you need to think about and do. It's recommended reading for all those who aspire to do the same!

Drawing and Sketching


  • Simon Weston portrait unveiled at National Portrait Gallery - It was great meeting both Simon Weston and Nikki Pihiliips who painted his portrait at the NPG.  It was also a privilege to see somebody see their own portrait for the first time. His mum said "It's him to a t." His family are all very pleased with it. Simon was voted for by the British public as being the person they most wanted to see in the NPG.
The framer, Simon Weston, Nikki Phillips (the artist) and Fiona Bruce

Watercolour Painting

Art Books

  • One of the best people I know in terms of drawing and drawing books is Sarah Simblet. This is Sarah Simblet and The New Sylva - a video about a new book she's been working on - it includes 200 drawings of trees in the UK

Art Business and Marketing

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Grayson Perry on television in 2014

Grayson Perry CBE RA - artist and contemporary social anthropologist is set to wow us with more of his fresh insights into contemporary society and the place of artmaking within it with two new television programmes due to be aired later this year. They are:
This follows his stunning success and increasing popularity associated with recent television and radio programmes and art exhibitions including:
  • his first Channel 4 series All In the Best Possible Taste (Channel 4, 2012) which won a BAFTA for his exploration taste and class
  • The Vanity of Small Differences - his series of tapestries produced as a result of the Channel 4 series. Perry and his gallery gifted this major work to the Arts Council Collection and the British Council.  It is currently touring the UK supported by Channl 4. the Art Fund and others. Remaining dates are:
    • Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (14 February – 11 May 2014)
    • Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool (23 May – 10 August 2014)
    • Leeds City Art Gallery (late August – October 2014).
    • Also available as an iPhone/iPad app which I highly recommend for those unable to get to see the tapestries. 
  • Perry's 2013 Reith Lectures - still available as a podcast (links to MP3 recordings below) - and well worth downloading for posterity - even thought the BBC has determined they will be available indefinitely!  They related to:

From The Vanity of Small Differences - a portrait of taste in writing
the names of cultural and style icons form what appear to be
textile ribbing but are in fact words (eg Picasso, Proust, Purcell, Matisse, Wagner)
Image credit: Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close (detail), 2012
by Grayson Perry © the artist

Who are you? - the new Grayson Perry Series

Three hour long films film Grayson Perry meeting people and then producing their portraits.

The people have been chosen because they are facing "a moment in their lives when they need to define who they are". The challenge for Grayson Perry is to distil his encounter with them and the impressions he gained into a portrait.

The portraits range from miniatures, to large tapestries, statues and ceramic pots - which was the medium he first became known for.  I'm sure they will all include a few well chosen words from Mr Perry! (see the above image for an example of how he works).

All of the works will then be shown in an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery - alongside portraits in the permanent collection. This is being timed to accompany the transmission and since Channel 4 says later this year and the NPG has its exhibitions up to October already listed - I'm going to take a guess and say it'll be an exhibition opening in November which will turn into a mini-blockbuster over the Christmas holiday period!

A complete range of contemporary human life - not previously covered in the "Vanities" - are his sitters for a portrait. They include:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Shortlist announced for BP Portrait Award 2014

Two elderly women and a homeless man painted by an international shortlist of three male artists are in competition for the £30,000 BP Portrait Award 2014.

These are:
  • Thomas Ganter (Germany) for Man with a Plaid Blanket
  • David Kassan (USA) for Letter to my Mom and
  • Richard Twose (UK) for Jean Woods.

The second and third prizes in the 35th year of this internationally prestigious art competition are worth £10,000 and £8,000.  

The winner of the BP Young Artist Award of £7,000 will also be announced at the Awards Evening on the evening of Tuesday 24 June 2014 (the date is in my diary!)  I really like the idea that nobody has any idea who this will be until the night itself.  Should make for a big turnout by those aged 18 to 30! 


Man with a Plaid Blanket
by Thomas Ganter, 2013
160 x 60 cm oil on canvas
© Thomas Ganter
The BP Portrait Exhibition will be held in London, Sunderland and Edinburgh:
  • the National Portrait Gallery in London (26 June – 21 September 2014). Admission is free - and this is always a very popular exhibition with lots of visitors. 
  • Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens (4 October, 2014 – 16 November, 2014) and 
  • The Scottish National Portrait Gallery (28 November – 12 April, 2015.)

Artists shortlisted for the BP Portrait Award 2014

I've got the high resolution images of these portraits and I have to say I'm extremely impressed by all three and can make a case for each of them winning.

My gut says Ganter will win. There's something very penetrating and yet enduring about that portrait and themes it raises. Plus I've never ever seen another painting like it in the BP and originality counts for a lot.

Thomas Ganter

Age: 40
Nationality: German
Occupation: Artist and illustrator
Current home: Frankfurt/Main, Germany
Art education: ?
Previous appearances in this award: ?
Website: none
Subject: Karel, a homeless man
After being in a museum, I saw a homeless man and was stunned by a similarity: the clothes, the pose, and other details resembled what I just saw in various paintings. However, this time I was looking at a homeless person wrapped in a blanket and not at the painting of a saint or noble in their elaborate garment. By portraying a homeless man in a manner reserved for nobles or saints, I tried to emphasise that everyone deserves respect and care. Human dignity shouldn’t be relative or dependent on socio-economic status’. 
His shortlisted portrait invites the viewer to contemplate the coexistence of wealth and poverty.

Karel, who tries to earn some money by cleaning car windscreens in the artist’s neighbourhood, attended five sittings for the portrait. After these, in which the head and the hands were painted, Ganter used a life-sized doll, and painted the clothes and the blanket before finally adding the artificial flower at the bottom right.

Letter to my Mom
by David Jon Kassan, 2013
124.5 x 81 cm oil on aluminium panel
© David Jon Kassan

David Jon Kassan

Age: 37
Nationality: American - born in Little Rock, Arkansas
Occupation: Artist
Current home: Brooklyn, New York
Art education: ? however he has two lists of recommended books and recommended materials
Previous appearances in this award: ?
Website: http://www.davidkassan.com
Blog: http://blog.davidkassan.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/kassan
Interview with the artist on Youtube
Subject: Letter to my Mom is a portrait of his mother.

You can see much larger images of this portrait on his website.

His portrait is the product of a request to his mother and father to sit for him in his studio in New York City while his parents made a brief stop on their way to Europe.
My work is very personal and heartfelt. It’s my visual diary, so my family and loved ones make up a large part of what and why I paint. My parents have always been inspirational to paint. This portrait is a letter to my mom, who hates it when I paint her. But I tell her in the painting that by painting her, it is my way of spending time with her, contemplating our relationship and time together, my earliest memories’. The Hebrew text painted onto the portrait above the sitter reads: ‘Dear Mom,/ This painting is my way to spend more time with you./ My way to meditate on our life together./ And all of the earliest memories I have/All of my earliest memories from you’.
Mothers are perennial and enduring sitters for BP portrait artists! Kassan's mother had sat for him a few years before and was reluctant to sit for him again. In order to persuade her, he had to bribe her by offering her a painting of his son Lucas.  I think all mothers should hold out for a bribe like that!

Personally I think the letter idea has a strong appeal.

The painting also reminds me a lot of Aleah Chapin's portrait from two years ago which in a way I'm surprised about.  The notion is that "me too" paintings should be avoided at all costs.  However this is a very fine painting judging by the high resolution image I've seen.  Maybe the similarity is to do with a style of painting in New York?

My reservation about this painting is I just don't quite see a painting which doesn't include the eyes actually winning this award.

Jean Woods
by Richard Twose, 2014
90 x 60 cm oil on board
© Richard Twose

Richard Twose

Age: 51
Nationality: British
Occupation: Teacher and artist - he currently teaches Painting and Drawing and Art History at a sixth form college in Bristol
Current home: Bath
Art education: ?
Previous appearances in this award: ?
Website: http://www.richardtwose.co.uk
Subject: Jean Woods, a 76 grandmother living in Larkhall, Bath

Richard Twose first saw the sitter of his portrait, Jean Woods, when she was working in a shop in Bath. His daughter told him that she was the grandmother of a friend after he saw her again in Channel Four's documentary Fabulous Fashionistas which was a.....
Cutting Edge documentary meets six women with an average age of 80, who are determined to look fabulous, have fun and redefine old age!
After calling her and asking her to sit for him, he was struck by her professionalism as a sitter –derived from her recent experience as a fashion model and from a quality of stillness she seems to possess naturally.

He was impressed not only by her striking looks and contemporary, edgy style, but also by the depth of character in her face.
Sometimes as Jean was talking, especially about her much-missed late husband, she reminded me of Rembrandt's Portrait of Margaretha de Geer. Jean has a similar intensity and honesty in her gaze. I wanted to capture that sense of someone who has learnt to be almost fearless, looking forward to life still but with a great richness of experience behind her’.
It's a fine portrait and well painted. However I find Jean Woods more striking in the photographs of her - click the links above to see what I mean.

Judging Panel

This year’s judging panel are:
  • Sandy Nairne, Director, National Portrait Gallery (Chair)
  • Sarah Howgate, Contemporary Curator, National Portrait Gallery
  • Dr Alexander Sturgis, Director of the Holburne Museum, Bath
  • Joanna Trollope, Author
  • Des Violaris, Director, UK Arts and Culture, BP
  • Jonathan Yeo, Artist

Observations about the shortlisted works

Note that:
  • not one of the portraits is a portrait of just a head.  As I've pointed out in previous posts (see below), the panel want to know whether you can do more than paint a head - because that's what commissions for the NPG usually involve.
  • all portray the individual above the waist
  • all make a feature of the hands - demonstrating abilities in that very important area
  • colour palettes are very varied but impressive - these are people who know how to use colour
  • backgrounds are not flat - even if one is flattish

Relative sizes

I did a little exercise to check the relative sizes. This was prompted by being stunned when visiting the exhibition by the very different sizes of some of the artwork of shortlisted artists in previous years.  I cranked up Excel and starting counting cells and then overlayed the artwork - and then thought again and lined them up as if on a wall.

Relative size of the three portraits
Left to right: Ganter, Kassan and Twoze

BP Portrait Award - previous years

I've been covering the BP Portrait Award for some years and have an extensive archive of posts relating to previous competitions which I know are much studied by those contemplating an entry!

BP Portrait Award - Shortlisted artists on Making A Mark:

BP Portrait Award 2012

BP Portrait Award 2011

BP Portrait Award 2010

BP Portrait Award 2009

BP Portrait Award 2008

BP Portrait Award 2007

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sarah Simblet and The New Sylva - a video

Back in 2008 I did a drawing class with Sarah Simblet about Drawing Trees at the National Gallery. She talked about a major project she had embarked upon to draw trees.

Little did I realise at the time this would lead her to illustrating a new and revised version of a very old book about trees. The New Sylva - published this month - is an updated book about trees which takes as its starting point John Evelyn's Sylva (A Discourse of Forest Trees, and the Propagation of Timber in his Majesty's Dominions) published in 1664 - which was the world's first book about Forestry.

That wasn't illustrated - and this one is - with 200 new pen and ink drawings of more than 100 tree species.

Images from the book can be viewed on Facebook
The original book was for landed estates which grew trees. The new book is for everyone.

You can:

The events associated with the publication of The New Sylva are all located as one might expect at arboreta and botanical gardens
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