The Secret is Out

The Museum in the Park in Stroud holds an annual Secret Postcard fundraiser. There are some far more illustrious artists than I taking part, from James Dyson to Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen, Cleo Mussi to Dennis Gould – but it is open to anyone so I thought I would make a postcard for the event. Its meant to be a secret ! but the show is over and the cards are to be allocated randomly to ticket holders later this week. So if you get this one you will know who its by, but then you will anyway, because my name is on the back.

Mother & Child

Mother & Child

Dreaming the Universe Into Existence

The Birth Goddess

a sketch of the birth goddess/creator of the universe

As part of the preparation for the recent birth of my daughter, I read a bit about birth art and a lot about natural labour and childbirth. Naturally for such a significant event I was going to have ideas for icons and this is the sketch of the image that came to me one day.

I hope you are not offended; having gone through the process my view of the female body is radically altered and I have no shame left so to me this drawing now expresses something natural and magnificent. Before the birth I was much more uneasy about it.

I was very lucky in that despite having just passed my 40th birthday a few days before the birth (and therefore feeling I was a bit old for this sort of thing) the baby was born in the birth pool and I had no need of pain relief (though that isn’t what I said at the time…)

The Goddess is not asleep – but she is dreaming the universe into existence. Life and death emerge from her body dreaming and rivers of energy flow from her being. A rainbow signals hope and the arrival of the new.The twins are like a yin and yang – the dark and light. Life begins here and at the end, she will take us back into her dark embrace, to nourish the next event with the afterbirth of experience.

I made this before the birth and having seen very few birth goddess images. Yet it features several elements that match other artist’s work on the theme.

Having now given birth I still feel it very clearly and strongly still works – if rather idealised – but then she is a Goddess after all.

This will form the central figure in a large icon painting I am planning, which will also feature the guardian angels (birth partners and midwife) and other characters in the process of this experience.

She Walks Among Us

A painting of a pregnant woman with the words 'She Walks Among Us' across the top

She Walks Among Us

I made this painting a long time ago, from a quick outline doodle I’d drawn of someone I saw in the street. I used to display it at the Kew Studio, in the staircase gallery, where the staff at the nursery on the ground floor would turn it round to face the wall.

Presumably they thought it was too much for the small children to bear seeing, but I was quite surprised by their reaction. Obviously it was really the women themselves who were upset: I can’t see how a two- or three-year-old would even notice it or be in the least bit offended or traumatised by this very plain silhouetted figure.

This painting was also listed on ebay as part of my studio clear-out earlier this year, but it was one of the few that wouldn’t sell, despite being listed repeatedly. So there she sat in the ‘what to do with these’ box for another few months.

At that stage she didn’t have a halo or any words, but after becoming pregnant for the first time this year I have become more interested in art relating to pregnancy and birth. This has led to an exploration of various ancient and modern iconic images and figures of pregnant and birthing women, and this painting seemed to me to be part of this tradition. I felt as though I had already seen the birth goddess without realising it, so I wanted to bring her into my icon collection.

The addition of Rhine Gold dust from the Greenshop, applied to a coating of size, has turned her into the goddess she clearly always was.

Studio Open 23 & 24 August

Art studio open stroud

If you are in town, come along and have a look around

You’re invited to join me for a drink and a look around at my studio on London Road in Stroud. It will be open on Friday 23rd August 6-8pm and again on Saturday morning 10-12. Pop in on your way to the market or after work on Friday.

The studio is around the back of London Road, in the car park near the exit of the Brunel multistorey parking. (Turn in from the Waitrose roundabout).

New work for a project ‘This is my religion’ involving a series of icons is in progress, and I’ve also been working on poetry paintings and a couple of portraits.

Reflecting on ‘Painting By Numbers – A Portrait of Stroud’

I’d like to thank the 350+ people who took the time to contribute to the Painting By Numbers project at Unit 56 as part of the SVA Site Contemporary Art Festival in Stroud, Gloucestershire in May 2013.

I am finally getting round to writing a few notes about what I learnt from this, my first public participation art project.

What was ‘Painting By Numbers’?

Painting By Numbers: Everyone a Rembrandt?

Everyone a Rembrandt?

The idea of Painting by Numbers was invented in 50’s America. Alexander Chancellor wrote in Guardian on this topic:

“In the prosperous postwar America of the 1950s, painting by numbers was promoted as an educative use of the “new leisure”. It also claimed to represent the American democratic ideal that anyone should be able to do anything, including paint. Hence the slogan ‘Every Man a Rembrandt’.”

The desire to test, cross and dissolve boundaries is a theme, indeed an ever-recurring fact, of my life. So it is naturally a central driver in my art practice.

When I first had the idea for this public art project, I wanted to create a tension, in bringing the aesthetic of this famous but oft-despised art form into an arena of High Art.

It would also allow the crossing of the boundary between artist and audience, to be thrown into question.

If the audience make the art, does that devalue the art? Who owns it? What is the point of the artist? Can’t everyone be an artist?

The Process

At the beginning

At the beginning, numbered spaces on a board, and some numbered paint pots.

I presented a large board (approx 2.4 x 1.2 m) decorated with an outline pattern, in which each space had a number between 1- 100 in it.

As people entered they were offered a numbered paint pot and invited to add to the artwork. If pressed I avoided directly answering questions about what they are meant to do and would only ask them to add or contribute, without specifying in what way.

However, most people recognise what one visitor called ‘the ritual’ of this practice and they quickly proceed to participating in the established framework.

The Results

Titled ‘A Portrait of Stroud‘ the image was based on a design built from a satellite image of the Stroud Valleys. While many people guessed it represented some kind of map or terrain, only one person had guessed precisely what the image was based on.

A wide range of people participated

A wide range of people participated

With so many people of all ages participating in bringing the artwork to life, there was a lot of evolution through the process. Several contributors added creative touches, deliberately or by accident, from ghosts to sheep, Pollock-style sprays, text, polka dots, and determined yet chaotic toddler’s splashes.

The 100 numbered paint colours were hand-mixed for each session using natural paint pigments and a clay paint base, donated by The Greenshop and served up in compostable Vegware pots. Support from Stroud Arts Festival covered other expenses and a workshop with myself and illustrator Rebecca Ashdown on traditional painting techniques.

The local papers covered it and the fabulous Mould TV gang shot a YouTube interview with the artist.
I am delighted that the Equine Eye Clinic in Wotton-Under-Edge bought the painting in a silent auction, for TomatoJack Arts in Berkeley, so contributors will be able to view the painting in the gallery there. 30% of the sale price was donated to the nominated charity, which is the Julian Trust Night Shelter in Bristol.

Now What?

I have learnt a great deal, the main thing being that most people appear to view life, and art, through a narrow lens of their own construction, and they rarely step outside it, even to the point of being frustrated and unhappy because of the confining set of rules they have unwittingly created for themselves.

I will be adding a series of short blog pieces here to cover in more depth what I have discovered from the project. There are also updates at https://www.facebook.com/arachnez

As well as an art project I would regard this as an interesting psycho-social experiment. Science collaborators, get in touch!

The finished artwork

The finished artwork

The shed, in its Swedish undercoat.

Making Swedish Paint

Swedish paint is the paint used in Sweden to protect traditional wooden houses. It’s an emulsion made with linseed oil and uses rye flour to make it strong and to create the emulsion.

We are making a small Print Room or workshop in the garden so I thought I would make Swedish paint and test the claim that it will protect the building for 10-15 years.

The recipe I used is from the excellent Earth Pigments website http://www.earthpigments.com/oil/traditional-swedish-oil-paint-for-exteriors.cfm

As you will see I adapted it somewhat.

Here is how I got on.

1. Gathering the ingredients. The recipe gives huge quantities in American measures so I adapted it to the European style and a manageable quantity – to make 5 litres of paint.

  • about 5L boiling water
  • 200g rye flour
  • 200g zinc sulphate
  • 800g pigment of your choice – I used La Tienda white, also some Societe des Ocres white and a little yellow ochre. You can prepare a pigment paste the night before (see below).
  • about 400ml linseed oil. The recipe suggests boiled oil but I used Raw because that is what I had.
  • I also added Thermalmix insulating paint additive as this is the easiest way to add some insulation to this wooden shed. Its one bottle per 5L of paint.

Warnings:

  • Zinc sulphate is labelled hazardous (it acts as a paint preservative to stop the paint being eaten so its optional if you dont want Chemicals in your paint)
  • Pigments and the Thermalmix paint additive are both dusty so you should be careful and use a dust mask and a ventilated area when handling these ingredients. Also the rye flour – although mine is very rough and grainy, it should really be fine ground flour.
200g rye flour for swedish paint recipe

Ingredients: 200g rye flour

Zinc sulphate and white pigment

Ingredients: 200g Zinc sulphate and 800g pigment

Linseed oil and the insulating paint additive ready to go into the can

400ml Linseed oil and a bottle of insulating paint additive (one bottle for 5L paint)

2. Put the 5 litres of hot water into a huge pan and boil, then sieve in the rye flour and stir or whisk regularly, while simmering for 15 minutes. This cooks up the flour.

Stir while cooking for 15 minutes

Stir while cooking for 15 minutes

3. Add the pigment. The best way to prevent lumps is to mix up the pigment in a separate container (the paint can will be fine) with a small amount of water to make a thickish paste. You can mix and blend this more easily, and then add it to the boiling pan. The La Tienda pigments suggest you make this paste the night before to slake the pigment properly.

Yellow ochre pigment

Yellow ochre pigment mixing in with white pigment paste

4. Oops! When I tipped the pigment paste into the hot water the whole lot boiled over, creating a monstrous mess. So I recommend you add it slowly and carefully, and take the mix off the heat first!

Swedish paint recipe - boiling over

Oops! It boiled over making a horrible mess

It took about an hour to clean up and I lost some pigment. But the cooker hasn’t looked so fresh in ages!

Once it was cleaned up it was then cooked for another 15 minutes, stirring to get a nice smooth creamy liquid.

5. I mixed the paint additive with the linseed oil to make a paste. The paint additive claims to reduce heat loss by about 20% – we’ve used it all around the house and I am convinced it does work! It did affect the colour of the finished paint a bit, giving a slight greyish tint to the white colour.

I mixed in Thermalite insulating paint additive

I mixed in Thermalite insulating paint additive with the linseed oil

6. The cooked mix is then cooled a bit and added slowly, bit by bit, to the linseed oil. Lots of mixing is needed to make the emulsion. Once its made it doesnt separate out, just a light stir is needed to get the paint ready to use each time.

Cooked pigment mix is added slowly to the oil in the can and mixed to make the emulsion

Cooked pigment mix (on the right) added slowly to the oil in the can (on the left) and mixed thoroughly to make the emulsion

7. Apply to shed! This paint can covered the inside of the building and three of the outsides. The paint was quite thin, so its suitable as an undercoat, I will make another batch in a stronger colour to finish the job with a second coat. The finish is very matt and a bit textured, this is largely down to my rough grain rye flour and also the Thermalmix additive.

The shed, with its Swedish undercoat

The shed, with its Swedish undercoat

8. Cleanup

Cleanup always needs to be factored in to the time and energy of this type of thing. (Especially when you have pots boiling over). Brushes and pots can be washed with soapy water. Always wash your brushes in cold water to avoid melting the bristle glue and damaging the brush.

Painting By Numbers – A Portrait of Stroud

Painting By Numbers - A Portrait of Stroud

350+ contributors, 100 paint numbers, 20 pigments, 3 media, all ages, three newspaper articles, one Mould TV interview, one workshop, one sponsor, one festival, one grant and one sale by auction. A Portrait of Stroud.

I’d like to thank the 350+ people who took the time to contribute to the Painting By Numbers project at Unit 56 as part of the SVA Site Festival in May.

This collaborative artwork was based on a design that used a satellite image of the Stroud Valleys. While many people guessed it represented some kind of map or terrain, only one person had guessed precisely what the image was based on.

With so many people of all ages participating in bringing the artwork to life, there was a lot of evolution from the original design and it looked much more like an abstract painting at the end. Several contributors added creative touches, deliberately or by accident, from ghosts to sheep, Pollock-style sprays, text, polka dots, and determined yet chaotic toddler’s splashes.

The 100 numbered paint colours were hand-mixed for each session using natural paint pigments and a clay paint base, donated by The Greenshop and served up in compostable Vegware pots. Support from Stroud Arts Festival covered other expenses and a workshop with myself and Rebecca Ashdown on traditional painting techniques.

The local papers took an interest and the fabulous Mould TV gang shot a YouTube interview with the artist.

I am delighted that the Equine Eye Clinic in Wotton-Under-Edge bought the painting in a silent auction, for TomatoJack Arts in Berkeley, so contributors will be able to view the painting in the gallery there. 30% of the sale price was donated to the nominated charity, which is the Julian Trust Night Shelter in Bristol.

This was a truly collaborative art project and with so much support from the people and organisations in the area I reckon it warrants the title ‘A Portrait of Stroud‘.

Articles, photos and film about this project are on the way. In the meantime here’s a little gallery:

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