Thursday, 11 May 2017

Sink...a surreal space painting

So events have conspired to keep me from starting number three in the 'Moments on the Mother Road' series, but in a good way.

Surreal art+universal plug+cosmos+sink+Nicola McLean
'Sink' - acrylic on canvas 40 x 50cm

Paintings completed since my last post: One

This painting harks back to my 'space junk' series of random objects in space. I painted the background to this one way last summer using acrylic modelling paste to get lots of texture and then spray paints for the night sky in which I painted a black hole. Then it just sat there in my art shed until last week when it seemed to jump out at me (not literally, that would be weird) and stare at me accusingly for my neglectful behaviour towards it. And so, I felt compelled to finish it after all.

Surreal art+universal plug+cosmos+sink+Nicola McLean

I already knew what I was going to paint on it. I already had the reference photo printed out and waiting in my stuffed full reference photo folder. Back when we redecorated our bathroom last year and bought a new plug for the sink, I thought about how an item is referred to as 'universal' when one size fits all and so when I saw the phrase 'universal plug' this is the image that popped into my head.

Surreal art+universal plug+cosmos+sink+Nicola McLean

Bricks and Mortar Galleries: One

In a rather exciting turn of events, I received an email last week from a couple who have just bought an old historic building which used to be a mission hall and had more recently been used as a studio by the artist whose house they also bought which happens to be right beside the track down to the beach I often walk the dogs on, in Melvich, the next village from ours. 

They are in the middle of renovating the building and turning it into an art gallery and had been doing some research on local artists. I was one of the artists they contacted to see if I would be interested in having them represent me up here. 

I went to meet with them on Friday and they showed me round the mission hall and told me what their plans are. They hope to tie in with the increase in tourism thanks to the North Coast 500 and will initially open from June through to the end of September. 

Surreal art+universal plug+cosmos+sink+Nicola McLean

Now the North Coast 500 is something I am honestly not keen on and which I had a little Instagram rant about recently due to the annoyingly inaccurate comparison to Route 66 and the increase in motorbikes zooming past our cottage at ridiculous speeds on the narrow country roads which are in really bad condition and aren't being maintained. 

Still, whether I like it or not the North Coast 500 is a fact of life up here now so I'd be stupid to cut my nose off to spite my face and while I don't for one second imagine that any of the boy racers doing the route as quickly as they can without stopping or even slowing down to enjoy the beauty of the place, will ever be buying one of my paintings, that doesn't mean that those tourists who do come here to enjoy the slower pace of life won't be interested in stopping to while away some time in a local art gallery and perhaps decide to take a small piece of colourful art home as a memento.

surreal art+surrealism+sink+plug hole+universal plug+nicola mclean

Anyway they plan to represent four or five local artists and the work on sale there will be exclusive to that gallery with the opening taking place on 1 June. With that in mind, I've set the Route 66 series aside for now as I'd like to complete a couple more of my 'signs of life' river rocks paintings and submit those to the gallery.

surreal art+surrealism+sink+plug hole+universal plug+nicola mclean

Time lapse videos: One

So, not wanting my Christmas present from S of the GoPro camera to have been a one trick pony, I decided to give it another outing in the art shed.  I discovered that if I use the video setting rather than the time lapse setting it takes up far less room on the memory card and it's easier to edit together at the end to make a time lapse video. I quite like just doing time lapse clips of just little snippets of a painting rather than filming the whole thing (which I found rather invasive to be honest) so here's a wee snippet of 'Sink'.

New work surface: one

My art shed was a year old in April and the work surface which had been painted with wood paint in cream was looking very paint spattered and grubby so I decided to cover it with some colourful sticky vinyl to spruce it up and make it wipe clean. I'm very happy with how it looks although I ran out with just a little bit to go so have had to order another roll to finish it off!

Sunny days: three followed immediately by the haar 
(sea mist that is the bane of summer in Caithness)

I went out to my art shed last Monday and the dogs sat themselves on the decked porch so I sat down with them for a minute.  Four hours later I was still there when I discovered it was actually really warm (relatively speaking for Scotland!) and then the postie delivered my magazine subscription so I took that as a sign that I should just sit in the sun and read all afternoon. I didn't feel guilty because we get so few sunny days that I knew I had to make the most of it!

That's all my news for now. Thanks, as always for taking the time to pop by.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Dissolve...a painting of city lights in bokeh

Chicago+City lights+Route 66+Blurred lights+Bokeh+contemporary cityscape+Nicola McLean
'Dissolve' - acrylic on canvas 12.5 x 12.5cm

Two blog posts in a week....what's going on??

Well, it seems I am not only getting my painting mojo back with the lighter, longer days of spring but I've also apparently rediscovered my will to blog. So, let's see, what's new?

Completed paintings - one

This is the second in the 'Moments on the Mother Road' series that I started last week with 'On the road again'. 

For this one, I've gone back to the beginning of the route to Chicago and I may try to keep the paintings in order as we head from east to west or I may just go with my gut and whatever I feel inspired to paint at the time.

Chicago+City lights+Route 66+Blurred lights+Bokeh+contemporary cityscape+Nicola McLean

This is based on a photo I took on our first night in Chicago of an actual Chicago Fire truck (I'm a big fan of the show so it was quite a novelty to see the trucks in the city - just a pity Severide wasn't in any of them!)  I love bokeh in photography and I liked the idea of painting it so I deliberately took this photo out of focus so I could try to paint it when I got back. I had a lot of fun painting this as it is quite abstract but hopefully you can see what it should be and it makes you want to squint your eyes to try to pull it into focus. It's definitely a painting that looks better from a distance!

I'm really enjoying this series because I get to relive the trip with every brush stroke.

Chicago+City lights+Route 66+Blurred lights+Bokeh+contemporary cityscape+Nicola McLean

The title 'Dissolve' was inspired by one of the songs that became our road trip sound track and also led us to discover a band that we'd never heard of before but who I love so much I've downloaded all their albums to date!

The band is Zac Brown Band and the song is 'Free' and if you listen to the words it really perfectly summed up that trip for us.  

The line that inspired the title of the painting is: 

'we drive until the city lights dissolve into a country sky, just me and you'. 

Magazine interviews  - one

I was contacted by GreatArt recently as they were interviewing winners of various competitions they had run in the last few years to find out what we've done since and to see what advice we had for other artists when it comes to entering competitions.  

The interview is going to be printed in their online magazine as well as in their printed version which is on sale in their London flag ship store.  They are also putting up posters of each of the winners' interviews in their store so that's quite exciting. You can read the full interview here, if you like. 

New online shops - one

I've discovered a great online shop to sell art from which other artists might be interested in. Like a lot of artists, I sell on various online galleries but I really wanted a way to sell direct from my website without it costing me a fortune for the privilege of an e-commerce function. I think I've found it with Tictail.  

mini canvas+acrylic painting+bokeh+city lights+Chicago+Route 66+Nicola McLean

The way it works is that you create a custom shop and they also include you in their marketplace which has lots of different kinds of shops selling everything you can think of. If someone buys something from you via their marketplace then they take 10% commission but if someone buys something direct from your custom shop then Tictail don't take any commission at all! All you pay is the Paypal or Stipe fee. Just make sure when you use the correct link as there are different links depending on whether it's their marketplace or your custom shop. The best part is that I've been able to create a page on my website which links straight to my Tictail shop so folk don't have to jump through hoops if they want to buy my art - now they can do it straight from my website after all! 

blurred lights+bokeh+Route 66+Chicago+acrylic painting+Nicola McLean

Number of part-time jobs - Back down to one

Way back in January I mentioned I was sad because the part-time job I'd been doing at the animal shelter, since October last year, was coming to an end. Then they extended it another three months and it was due to end on 5 May. In the meantime I was told that the day care service where I worked as an administrator two days a week for Alzheimer Scotland was being taken over by the NHS. This didn't fill me with joy because all we ever hear on the news is how the NHS has no money and how hospitals and medical services are being shut down all over the country. Anyway, it was all very uncertain and although my job was guaranteed initially there was no guarantee that a few months down the line they wouldn't change the conditions or send me to work in some other NHS department. 

Chicago+City lights+Route 66+Blurred lights+Bokeh+contemporary cityscape+Nicola McLean

So, I was talking to S about it and he said that if the animal shelter extended my contract again I should take it as a sign and quit the admin job and just work at the animal shelter. I mentioned that to the manager at the animal shelter and said I'd be happy to do more hours if it was my only job. Of course it wasn't up to her but she spoke to the head office and guess what?! I was offered another six months at four mornings a week plus holiday cover! 

Chicago+City lights+Route 66+Blurred lights+Bokeh+contemporary cityscape+Nicola McLean

So, today was my last ever day working as an administrator and now I'm back to having just one part-time job (with animals - what could be better!!)and being able to spend much more time painting again.  I am well aware that in six months time there might be no more extensions and I could very well find myself without any job at all but, you know what, I honestly believe it'll work out whatever way it's meant to so, for now, I'm just going to enjoy a life of art and animals. 

Chicago+City lights+Route 66+Blurred lights+Bokeh+contemporary cityscape+Nicola McLean

That's all my news for this week. Thanks to anyone who still bothers to visit - I know I've been both a rubbish blogger and blog-visitor for the last while but I plan to work on that now that I've got more time again!

Friday, 21 April 2017


*Disclaimer - This is a bit of long post as I have two months of stuff to waffle on about - I've created handy headings so skip any parts that make you yawn.

You'd be forgiven for thinking the title of this post refers to me as yet again it's been nearly two months since I last wrote. I haven't been lost, merely waylaid.

So, what's happened in the last couple of months?

Paintings completed - Three

I finally finished the third in the 'signs of life' series of still life paintings that continues my current obsession with river rocks and water reflections.  

This is 'Lost' (as in lost your marbles, geddit?!) 

Lost+marbles+river rocks+contemporary still life+acrylic painting+Nicola McLean
'Lost' - 30 x 30 cm - acrylic on canvas

River rocks+colourful art+contemporary still life+marbles+Nicola McLean

This is 'Peaceful'  - inspired by a photo S took of the Peace Bridge in my hometown of Derry/Londonderry (so good they names it twice - just to keep everyone happy!)

River Foyle+Derry+Londonderry+Peace Bridge+Miniature acrylic painting+Nicola McLean
'Peaceful' - 10 x 10cm - acrylic on canvas - SOLD

It's only little

This is 'On the road again' the first in a series called 'Moments on the Mother Road' inspired by our road trip across America last year on Route 66 - whaddya mean am I still banging on about that - yes, it was the best trip we ever had and I plan to get a lot more mileage out of it (2448 to be exact!)

Route66+Roadtrip+acrylic painting+American landscape+California+Amboy+Nicola McLean
'On the road again' - acrylic on canvas 30 x 24cm

Route66+Roadtrip+acrylic painting+American landscape+California+Amboy+Nicola McLean

Time Lapse videos completed - Two 

(but what an epic pain in the art the first one turned out to be)

If you read my last post at the start of March you'll know that I'd been having technical problems with the camera, getting the memory card to last long enough to get in a few hours painting at a time and then the many hours it took to spew all the individual photos onto the computer for S to work his magic and compress them all together into the actual time lapse.  Anyway, I ended up buying a new mobile phone so I could keep my old one purely to run the GoPro app from whilst plugged into a charger and the GoPro was simultaneously plugged into another charger so that I was able to continue painting without fear of running out of power half way through.

Things I learnt about making a time lapse video- several

I may have to rethink filming every single painting because it really did stall the flow as it became such a pain to make sure it was all running okay before I even thought of putting paint to canvas. 

It made me very self conscious of how I paint. I tend to go over and over certain parts instead of working in a nice orderly fashion. I may paint a river rock one colour and then decide I don't like it and repaint it a different colour - several times. I became much more aware of that as I knew it was being filmed but then, it's not like I'm running a workshop, I'm just showing how I paint and I guess if it's all over the place then that's just how my mind works! Mind you, I actually bored myself watching this particular video back so either I need to cut it down a bit more or speed it up a bit more, I'm not sure yet.

I still want to film my work in progress but maybe just little snippets here and there rather than the entire thing every time. We'll see.  With that in mind, here's a wee short clip of the start of painting the iconic Route 66 shield road sign in 'On the road again'.

I've also learnt a bit more about how to actually edit the video in the GoPro Studio thanks to S and I've discovered that if I just use the video mode instead of the time lapse mode it takes up far less room on the memory card and is easier to edit together at the end.

London Exhibitions - None

A while back I entered a competition run by Fine Art Seen and was delighted to discover that I'd been shortlisted and invited with all the other shortlisted artists to exhibit in London this spring/summer when the winner would be chosen. 

Well, I got an email from Fine Art Seen a few weeks ago to advise that they had decided, with a heavy heart, to wrap up their business as they'd found that although they'd helped a lot of artists to sell their work, they just weren't getting big enough volumes of customers to make it worth continuing with their business (they covered the cost of postage which is quite unusual for an online gallery and would surely have eaten into their profits).  Funny enough, I sold my first painting through them just a few weeks ago as well and it went all the way to China.  

So, not only will I never know if I might have won the 'Illusion of Water' competition, there will now be no exhibition in London. Sad face. 

European cities visited - one (Berlin)

At the end of March went to Berlin for five days. I booked it as a surprise for S for our anniversary last November.  It was fantastic.  What a great city. Really big but really easy to get around as the public transport system is super efficient. And, it just so happens to be the vegan capital of Europe - so many restaurants.  It was a delicious novelty to be able to choose from entire menus and, indeed, to actually be spoilt for choice to the point that we had to go back to one of the restaurants twice because they had too much I wanted to try! We did walk eight or so miles every day so I didn't feel so guilty about eating so much and we got to see lovely parts of the city that we wouldn't have seen otherwise had we stuck to restaurants in the more touristy part of the city. We were also really lucky with the weather as it was blue skies and sunshine for all but one day. 

Brandenburg Gate

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Part of the Berlin Wall at Potsdamer Platz

Berlin from a hot air balloon

Berlin Bunker Museum

Neptune Fountain

Victory Column

Checkpoint Charlie

The history of the city is fascinating, obviously sad as so much of it relates to World War II as well as the cold war era and the Berlin Wall but its fantastic how they used the ruins of the war and the wall to create beautiful memorials and museums to the memory of all those who died during those periods in history.

It was quite poignant that we were there as the British government triggered Article 50 - It'll be interesting to see how that affects our ability to travel freely (and without visas) to mainland Europe in the coming years. 

Well, if you've made it through all that, congratulations. I do have more news but I think that's more than enough for one post. I should really have split the paintings into three posts to stretch it out a bit but what's the point - might as well get it all caught up now in case it's another two months before I blog again. 

By the way, I use Instagram and Facebook pretty much daily so please do follow me there, if you'd like, so we can keep in touch more often!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Lapses in time...

So, it's been nearly a month and half since I last blogged and I swear just now when I logged into Blogger I saw a tumbleweed blow slowly across my laptop screen!!

Anyway, following John's query about where I was recently, I thought I would pop by with a wee update on what's been happening the last few weeks.

So, this is what's what in my world right now:

Current Part-time jobs - still two - the animal shelter asked me to do another three months (on my last day working there in January!) I couldn't say no because I love it although, honestly, I was a little gutted that I'm still working two jobs and not back in my art shed - if the Universe is listening, thanks for the extension but if you could make it a permanent part-time position rather than just keep extending it, that would be great!

Trips back to Ireland - one - I went home for a week at the start of February and it was so lovely to catch up with my friends and family and to not have to get up at 5.50 every morning to walk the dogs before work and to just sit around and do literally nothing. 

A night out with friends

and family

Have I done anything arty since my last post - yes - I didn't take any art materials back to Ireland with me but actually got such an urge to sketch, which I never really do, that I actually bought a cheep sketchbook and colour pencils and I ended up sketching two ideas for the spirit animal paintings I've been doing (very slowly) for the last year or so! I'll turn these into paintings at some point. 

Unicorn/rocking horse sketch

Raven sketch

Current works in progress - one - the next in the river rocks paintings, the one with the marbles which will be titled 'Lost', is currently sitting on my easel and I'm making slooow progress. 

work still very much in progress

Technology - friend or foe - right now it's a foe. I'm doing a time lapse of my current painting and I seem to have spent what precious painting time I do have fighting with technology. 

The GoPro camera is set up to take so many photos a second which it needs to do so it flows smoothly as a complete time lapse video - if you don't take enough snaps per second it can end up a bit stuttery and jumpy (at least that is what S tells me and he's the expert). The problem is that it seems to be filling up the 64g memory card ridiculously quickly - I only managed to get about four hours of painting in on Friday before the card was full and when I went to move the images onto the computer so I could use the card again, there were so many it said it would take 1 hour and 50 minutes to move them! That's time that I should have spent painting but because I've already committed to the time lapse I want to see it through to the end of the painting and so I had to stop painting until I could empty the memory card again as S was away and I couldn't find another memory card to use. I'm sure it's all just teething problems and I'll find a way (or rather S will find a way) to make it work better for me but right now it's just a pain in the art!

my GoPro Foe!

New Art tools - two - the GoPro for my time lapse videos (not strictly an art tool but that's what it'll be used for, and a new Mahl Stick. I've been after one for a while but all the ones I looked at seemed to have suede leather toppers and I wanted something that didn't come from an animal.  It was thanks to a review about this particular one complaining that it wasn't real suede that meant I was able to go ahead and buy this one. Perhaps the seller would be better to describe it honestly as faux suede so that folk who want real get real and those who want faux know it's faux!

My GoPro in place and my 'faux suede' mahl stick!!

Well, that's about it. I discovered a #MarchMeetTheMaker challenge on Instagram run by a designer and illustrator, Joanne Hawker, and each day there is a prompt to post about. I'm taking part as I'm hoping it'll be a good way to inspire arty things and also to discover some lovely new creatives online. It's not too late if you want to join in.


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