Tuesday, 30 September 2014

I have very exciting news!

I've been sitting impatiently on this news for over a month now but today I can finally shout it from the roof tops (or plaster it all over social media at any rate) - my leaf painting won first place in the GreatArt Postcard Challenge!

The winning entry - 'After the rain' - gouache on watercolour postcard

I was notified at the end of August but the winners weren't being announced by GreatArt until today. I'm over the moon to have won and the prizes are fantastic. I experienced an early Christmas day in August when I came home to find a massive box with £250 worth of art supplies in it – I had to lay it out on the sofa and photograph it (just like mum and dad Santa did with our toys on actual Christmas day way back in the 70s!)

A fantastic selection of art supplies from GreatArt as part of the prize

I also received £500 of vouchers to buy more art supplies on GreatArt’s website – I’ve been like a kid in a sweet shop looking at all the things I can spend them on.

Not only that but I get online gallery representation from bGallery for a year as well as an interview in the GreatArt Magazine in November and as if that wasn't enough - a painting holiday in Cornwall which I just got back from on Saturday past!

I left on Monday 22 September for the 5 day painting holiday hosted by artist Ashley Hanson where we spent two days in different locations around Cornwall, followed by 2 days in the studio creating paintings based on sketches and photos taken on location. The art workshop is called Freedom in Painting and the idea was to forget about trying to exactly replicate the subject of your painting and instead follow a more intuitive, personal interpretation. 

Port Isaac

Port Isaac

Sketching at Port Isaac with Ashley (& sitting on my new rucksack/stool combo courtesy of GreatArt) & thanks for the loan of the hat Beryl!

I was so excited about this, I  can’t even tell you, as anyone who’s been reading my blog for a while knows I’m always swithering between realism and expressionism/impressionism and I was really looking forward to letting go of all expectations of what I think a subject should look like and just let the colour and paintbrush lead the way! It was a fantastic week and I met a really lovely bunch of people. 

Cliffs at Trebarwith Strand (like Caithness but warm!)

Trebarwith Strand

Painting en plein air at Trebarwith Strand

Ashley is a contemporary colourist and his work is very vibrant and highly stylised if not strictly abstract so very different to anything I've experienced before. Although I learnt, when trying to create something more abstract than my usual art, that I'm pretty much always going to paint representationally to a degree, (so I won't be giving Rothko a run for his money any time soon) I also learnt to look at a subject from an entirely new perspective and how to use complimentary colours and different mark making to really add vibrancy to artwork.  

Castletown Harbour


Paining outdoors at Polruan (Photo credit: Denise Hanson)

View from Polruan Castle 

View from Polruan over to Fowey

View from Polruan Castle
Day 3 - in the studio (Photo credit: Denise Hanson)

Day 3: Exercises in colour mixing from Ashley (Photo Credit: Denise Hanson)

Ashley giving a demonstration of his painting techniques

Day 4 - in the studio (Photo Credit: Denise Hanson)

Our final night and a great meal at a lovely restaurant in Lostwithiel

As well as the interview for GreatArt Magazine which will be in the November issue, I’ve also been asked to write a review of the art workshop for Discover Art Magazine and they’ll also be featuring the winning entries of the GreatArt Postcard Challenge in their November issue at the same time so I'll add a link to the full review then but in the meantime, I can honestly recommend Ashley's painting holidays to anyone who wants to really step outside their comfort zone artistically. I sketched and painted outdoors for the first time ever which was both nerve-wracking and innervating and it's something I'll definitely do again (Scottish weather permitting!)and really learnt a lot about mark making and colour mixing from Ashley during the week. Not to mention I got to spend time in some beautiful parts of Cornwall!

These are the two pieces I finished in the studio based on sketches and photos taken on the previous two days - still a bit representational but definitely different from anything I've ever done before!

View to Fowey from Polruan - acrylic on canvas

View from Polruan Castle  - acrylic on canvas

The final piece and an exhausted but happy me!

Sorry for the long post but there was no way to shorten the most exciting thing to happen in my art life (so far!)

Monday, 15 September 2014

The Merry Dancers - a work in progress

'The Merry Dancers - Work In Progress

Once upon a time, when we moved into our first house together back in N.Ireland, S had painted an abstract painting on a really long canvas to hang in the kitchen. This was back in the day when, I'm ashamed to say, I had to have everything in each room all matchy matchy and colour coordinated. We painted abstracts for each room using shades of the actual house paint that we'd decorated the rooms in - how very 90s of us (even though this was in 2006!!)Anyway, when we redecorated the kitchen a couple of years later, I held on to the canvas in case I ever decided to re-use it.

So, a few weeks ago I was having a hoke around in my art supply cupboard and noticed the same canvas hanging around at the back. I decided to carry on with the upcycling canvas theme and brought it out to try my hand at my first ever very large landscape. I wanted to do a painting of the Northern Lights as S had taken some great shots when we had the amazing display earlier this year. I only had a tiny tube of hot pink paint and that quickly ran out so I had to relegate the barely started painting to the garage while I ordered some more from Amazon.

I sort of put it on the back burner then while I got on with other stuff but this weekend, I happened to walk past it in the garage and got struck with the urge to do some more work on it.

I set it up on a standing easel and I discovered that an unexpected advantage to painting standing up is that I can dance round the sun room to the eclectic mix of music on my iPod while I paint - I even kept my phone in my pocket so my pedometer app could count my steps from the table where the paint was to the canvas and back again!!

This is just a sneaky peek of where I'm at with it so far. It's a bit of a mixture between acrylic modelling paste to give the beach and land mass some dimension and then impasto acrylic applied with a palette knife and textured with my sponge dabbers - I even got the big ones out for this piece!

I'll be starting another pet portrait this week so this may take some time to finish in between other things but it doesn't matter as this is a personal project - we're finally in the process of redecorating the living room of the cottage (it's been the same since we moved in) and as I no longer believe that art has to match the sofa this will be taking up residence above the fireplace (if it turns out okay, that is!)

Thursday, 11 September 2014

It's (still) a long way down...seascape in acrylic

This week I finished another pet portrait commission but the client is on holiday at the moment and hasn't seen it so I'll need to hold off on blogging it just yet. 

Also this week I gave another of my impasto landscapes (or seascape actually) a sponge-over and again I'm pleased with how it turned out. I liked the old version at the time but there's just something about that sponge texture that I really like. 

Orkney+Scotland+landscape+seascape+acrylic+texture+Nicola McLean artist
'A long way down' (again) - textured acrylic on box canvas (5x5 inch)

This was it before:

Here's a wee close up of the sponge texture on the re-vamped piece:

I've been thinking about Christmas - I know it seems ages away but it's time to think about cards and whatnot. I've got some of my previous designs in my Etsy shop but I'm thinking it's time to create some new designs. I have a few ideas but whether I can get them from my mind to the page successfully is another matter entirely. Watch this space. 

I'm linking up with Paint Party Friday and will endeavour to visit as many other blogs as I can over the weekend. 

Monday, 8 September 2014

A blog hop and Stormy Strathy Revisited

Strathy+Sutherland+Scottish Highlands+Acrylic+Impasto+Nicola McLean Artist
'Stormy Strathy' given a 'sponge over' - 5x5 impasto acrylic landscape

In between pet portrait commissions I'm still working away at miniature landscapes. I've got so much inspiration all around me and so many wonderful photographs to work from.

This one is actually a do over of one that I did back in May. This is what it used to look like:

The original Stormy Strathy

Ever since I discovered the texture that my little sponge dabbers give I've wanted to have at my previous landscapes and give them a 'Sponge over'. So I set about this one last weekend and I have to say I do prefer it now with the sponge texture. I'm planning to do the same with the other landscapes I've done, before doing any new ones. 

In case you might be wondering what a sponge dabber looks like - this is a bunch of them drying on the kitchen windowsill after a painting session:

Believe it or not that's after they've been washed! I'm quite hard on them so it's a good job they're cheap as chips!

Strathy+Scotland+Acrylic+Landscape+Nicola McLean Artist

I mentioned on my last post that Sandra nominated me to take part in a blog hop where I have to answer specific questions on all things art and then nominate three other art bloggers to do the same. The questions are:

1. What am I working on?

Currently I'm working on several different things. I have a few pet portrait commissions lined up so they are the priority and once they're completed I'll be back to working on my series of miniature landscapes such as the one illustrating this post.I also have the second of my 'sweetie' paintings to complete - this one is of a bowl of licorice allsorts and I'm looking forward to getting into that as it's something new for me. 

2. How does my work differ from others in my genre?

Well, firstly I'm not even sure what my 'genre' is so I'm not entirely sure how to answer this question!

Obviously animals are my main subject matter and I suppose I would say my paintings are realistic but with a healthy dose of whimsy as they certainly don't look photo-realistic but nor would I want them to. Even though I admire that technical ability in other artists, I like my art to look like a painting with obvious brush strokes and more vibrant than real life colour palettes! 

I love landscape paintings, for this reason, where the focal point is the colour and drama of the scene rather than the scene itself, if that makes sense - more the impression of a moment such as sunrise or a stormy day and the effect that has on the landscape than the landscape itself.

Colour and texture are becoming increasingly predominant in my art - I love a tactile painted surface and bright vibrant colours whatever the subject matter.

3. Why do I create what I do?

I think I might have answered that in question 2! I'm passionate about animals and they will always feature in my art in some form or another but ultimately whether it's a dog, an amazing sunrise or a rain drop on a leaf, certain things will just attract me, like a magpie to shiny trinkets! I imagine I'm like many creative people in that wherever I go I look at things all around me and instantly visualise it as paint on a canvas and that's why I'm glad of the invention of camera phones so I can always record what I saw and store it away for inspiration at a later date. (That, and my pedometer app which calculates all the steps I take as I walk along these stunning landscapes!)

4. How does my creative process work?

Ha, this is where I show myself up as a self-taught rather than classically trained artist. I don't have a process. I don't do lots of sketches beforehand. I work from photographs because I'm either painting an animal (and they aren't known for sitting still for long) or a landscape and I'm not inclined to sit outdoors in the Scottish weather to paint!) 

If I'm doing a pet portrait for example, I simply sketch it out on the canvas or paper in pencil and then have at it with the paint! I noticed when I did my first time lapse video that I move around all over the painting rather than focussing on one area and I go over and over the same areas a lot building up layers and layers of colour to add depth. I'm sure there is a lot I could learn about tone and shade which would improve my work but at the moment I simply apply paint until I'm happy with it! 

I always photograph the work in progress after each painting session and from that photo I'll instantly see areas that need tweaked that, for some reason, hours of staring at the actual painting didn't reveal. 

Whilst all paintings are essentially the artist's interpretation of the subject, with my portrait work I aim to capture the physical look of the animal as well as their unique personality whereas with landscapes I am much more free to create the mood of the piece with colour and texture. I'm finding I'm in my element creating these landscape paintings as there are no expectations from anyone else as to what the end result should look like. 

With the landscapes I apply acrylic modelling paste to the canvas with a palette knife, to give the painting more dimension and then I simply add paint with my sponge dabbers, letting it dry between colours and adding more until I create a feeling of depth and again I simply keep going until I'm happy with it. There really is nothing more complicated to my process than that!

Now, I have to nominate 3 other artists to carry on the blog hop and answer these questions on their blog.

I have met so many artists online, all with very different styles and techniques and it isn't easy to choose only three but here goes:

Morag is a mixed media artist and she creates wonderfully vibrant pieces inspired by the Isle of Skye where she lives using all sort of techniques that I'd never even heard of! I am drawn to the subject matter, texture and colours of her work. 

Marji also uses a technique that I'd never heard of until I discovered her wonderful art via Paint Party Friday. She is an encaustic artist and again I'm drawn to her work because it is so wonderfully vibrant and textured regardless of the subject matter which varies from animals to still life and human portraiture.

Angela Simpson

Angela is a very talented artist who I've actually met in 'real life'! We both moved up to the far north of Scotland in January 2013 and met by chance at the animal shelter one day early on. Angela has a wonderful traditional style specialising in pet portraiture and sheep and makes oil and pastel look effortless.

I hope you'll pop by and visit these artists if you haven't already met them in blogland and hopefully they'll keep the blog hop going with answers to these questions as well. 


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