Thursday, 8 September 2016

The illusion of water - Fine Art Seen competition entry


Fine Art Seen - the illusion of water+still life+river rocks+pebbles+vibrant contemporary art+welly boots+wellies+Nicola McLean
'Stones in the river' - acrylic on canvas 30cm x 30cm

Camera phones are great, aren't they? I mean, I have an actual camera that's really pretty good but I tend to use it for photographing my paintings to put online, I rarely take it out with me when we go for walks because the camera on my phone is pretty good too and perfect for when inspiration strikes and you just want to snap a quick impression of a scene. 

When I’m on the beach with the dogs, I’ll snap away on my phone if I see anything that inspires me usually because of the colours or the reflection of light – mostly the sky or the sea but sometimes I’m lucky enough to see an otter or seal although then I usually just end up with a blurred smear that’s supposed to be the otter or seal as they disappear quicker than I can press the button.


still life+river rocks+pebbles+vibrant contemporary art+welly boots+wellies+Nicola McLean


A few weeks ago, I was wandering along by the Halladale river that flows down to the North Atlantic on Strathy beach and happened to be wearing a rather funky pair of wellies my sister had given me. I was looking down and was quite taken both with my wellies and the colourful stones on which I was standing. So I snapped a quick photo.

Originally my feet were at the bottom of the photo as I was looking down as I took it but I liked it better the other way round for the painting. 


stones in the river+photo reference+Nicola McLean


Fast forward a couple of months and I received an email about an art competition being run by Fine Art Seen, one of the online galleries that I’m a member of, with the theme ‘the illusion of water’. I remembered the photo and decided to have a go at painting it because the water I’d been standing in that day was so shallow that it was really only the reflections on the ripples that would indicate there was any water there at all – which seemed pretty appropriate for the theme.



still life+river rocks+pebbles+vibrant contemporary art+welly boots+wellies+Nicola McLean


Unfortunately, as seems to be the way nowadays with online competitions, the method by which they decide the top 50 paintings is to have an open vote for the public to choose which paintings they like best. I’m not a fan of art competitions being judged in this way because I feel that it turns the whole thing into a popularity contest which sort of ignores the actual quality of the art work in favour of how many friends the artist has which is crap for me because I don’t have that many friends! Maybe if I had a gazillion followers on Facebook/Instagram/Wherever I might like this idea more but, honestly, I'd rather the art was just judged on its own merits.


river rocks+colourful still life art+contemporary art+Nicola McLean+the illusion of water


However, much as I genuinely hate the online lobbying that this sort of competition voting necessitates, the first prize is £1000 worth of art supplies and winning that trumps my distaste of asking begging folks to take a couple of minutes out of their busy day to vote for me  so, here goes - PLEASE VOTE FOR ME(this is why I could never be a politician - all that campaigning for votes makes every inch of my introverted self cringe!) But, seriously, I’d really, really appreciate it. 

If I get enough votes to make it through to the top 50 they then have actual judges to decide on the winner and runners up - that may go in my favour or it may not but at least they'll judge the artwork and not the popularity of the artist! 


river rocks+pebbles in the river+reflection of water+still life art+contemporary art+Nicola McLean


Selected works will also be on exhibition in London in 2017. Fine Art Seen will donate a percentage of any commission earned on the sale of artwork during the exhibition, to UNICEF whose mission is to eliminate malnutrition by 2030 and who work to improve sanitation and hygiene of water sources in Africa. 

  
work in progress+artist at work+art studio+river rock painting+still life+Nicola McLean


Thanks so much if you do vote for my painting. By the way, the title is also the title of a song by Carrie Newcomer which I came across on YouTube when looking for song lyrics that mentioned stones and rivers! I'd never heard it before but it's really rather nice!



Wednesday, 24 August 2016

A new dimension...polymer clay dog art

polymer clay dogs+staffie+staffordshire bull terrier+westie+cake topper+Nicola McLean
'Staffie and Westie polymer clay 'cake toppers'!

Last Friday night, I went out for a Chinese meal with the staff and other volunteers from the animal shelter for my friend, Christine's birthday. Another friend, Audrey, happened to mention a couple of weeks earlier that her teenage daughter, a very talented cake maker, was baking Christine a birthday cake.

Christine has just adopted the most adorable staffie and somehow Audrey suggested I could make a staffie cake topper to go on the birthday cake and somehow, I found myself agreeing to give it a go even though I know absolutely nothing about making cake toppers!

polymer clay dogs+staffie+staffordshire bull terrier+westie+cake topper+Nicola McLean


In the end up I decided against trying to make it out of fondant icing and instead ordered a little square of polymer clay and some clay sculpting tools from Amazon, thinking I'd try my hand at that. How hard could it be? Very hard, as it turns out! So much harder than just painting a one dimensional picture of a dog, as it happens.

polymer clay dogs+staffie+staffordshire bull terrier+westie+cake topper+Nicola McLean


I watched several You Tube clips and read several more 'how to' guides and then realised that it seemed you needed to fashion an armature (dog shaped skeleton thingie) out of wire to put the clay round. I didn't have any wire and this was now Thursday, the day before the cake topper was needed for our night out.

I made the executive decision that this dog didn't need an armature and just started rubbing the clay between my hands to soften it and did my best to fashion the shape of a staffie sitting down. Bearing in mind that I didn't have any photographs of Kye, the staffie, to work from I had to just look at generic white staffie photos online and I texted Audrey and asked her to go and look at Kye (who spends the day at work with Christine) and tell me what markings he had!


polymer clay dogs+staffie+staffordshire bull terrier+westie+cake topper+Nicola McLean


I have no idea how polymer clay artists get their creations to look so smooth so I searched the all knowing Google to find out and came across a forum where someone else had asked the same question likening their sculpture to 'spat out chewing gum' which seemed like the perfect description of mine too. Apparently you need rubbing alcohol to smooth it out. Not something I tend to have lying around the house so I decided that my clay dog was going to look a little rugged and bumpy and proper handmade (I didn't really decide this, I had absolutely no choice as that is just how it ended up looking!)

polymer clay dogs+staffie+staffordshire bull terrier+westie+cake topper+Nicola McLean


Anyway, I finally got it to resemble a staffie and popped it into the oven for 30 minutes, letting it stay there until the oven cooled down again. I even had a tiny bit of clay left over so I made a little westie for myself!


polymer clay dogs+staffie+staffordshire bull terrier+westie+cake topper+Nicola McLean


On Friday I started painting the dogs. Because polymer clay is essentially acrylic you can paint it using acrylic paints. Handy because those I have no shortage of. I referred to Audrey's text telling me Kye had a black ear with a white tip, a brown tail with a white tip and a brown spot on his side and finally my first ever polymer clay dog was finished.


polymer clay dogs+staffie+staffordshire bull terrier+westie+cake topper+Nicola McLean


I don't think I'll be giving any polymer clay artists a run for their money but I had fun making him and Christine was absolutely delighted with him and a couple of the others at the meal said they'd be interested in commissioning little models of their own dogs - who knows maybe I'll start a little sideline in three dimensional dog art!

polymer clay dogs+staffie+staffordshire bull terrier+westie+cake topper+Nicola McLean


Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Namasté...a portrait of a pig

pig+animal art+colourful contemporary art+Namasté+Nicola McLean
'Namasté' - Acrylic on canvas 20cm x 20cm

So, it seems as though my mojo has decided to come back. Despite already having a heap of ideas and reference photos to work on, I got the urge to paint a pig. So I went to my favourite online photo reference library, Paint My Photo and found the most adorable photo which I immediately printed out (on photo paper which turned out to be much smaller than the A4 size I thought I'd ordered!) and, fired up with an enthusiasm that's been sorely lacking of late, I headed out to my art shed to make a start on it. 

Sketching out the rough outline 

I already had a canvas which I'd spray painted the night sky on and decided to use that. Graphite pencils don't show up against the paint so for sketching out the rough outline of whatever I'm painting, I discovered a use for the pastels which would otherwise fester in a drawer in my art shed forever because of the intense dislike I have for the chalky mess they make. Anyway, because the acrylic spray paint creates a smooth, shiny surface, pastels are perfect for sketching because if you get it wrong, it just wipes off with a baby wipe!

Artist at work 

Once I'd sketched the pig I started adding thin layers of paint just to mark in the light and dark areas and after that it was just a matter of building up the paint until I was happy with it. I quite like using a dry brush technique as it gives a nice effect you might notice on her ears and snout.  I didn't want to layer on the texture for this one so I used a super little brush I have that allows you to get that hairy effect without having to paint them all on one at a time!


Pig painting+art+animal art+contemporary animal art+vegan art+Nicola McLean


As for the title, well, the definition of Namasté is:


My soul honors your soul.
I honor the place in you where 
the entire universe resides.
I honor the light, love, truth, 
beauty & peace within you, 
because it is also within me.
In sharing these things
we are united, we are the same,
We are one. 

When I saw the reference photo of this pig with her eyes closed, looking so full of blissful enlightenment, she looked like she was meditating, contemplating the universe and being at peace and I wanted to find a title that reflected that and Namasté seemed perfect to me. 

pig+vegan art+animal art+blissful+namaste+Nicola McLean
Just to put the size in context
available on Artfinder

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Between the mountains and the sea...a landscape

Between the mountains and the sea+whimsical naive art+vibrant colourful Scottish landscape+Nicola McLean
'Between the mountains and the sea' - 4 x 4 inches

It's been over a month since I last blogged and probably that long since I last painted. It seems that my artistic mojo has decided to go on a pre-vacation vacation. I've got ideas popping into my head at a great rate of knots but just don't seem to have the motivation to actually translate them onto canvas. So, I'm going with it. I'll paint when I feel like painting. I did feel like painting a little at the weekend and so I conjured up this imaginary landscape - places like this do exist along the coast up here so it's based loosely in reality.

Between the mountains and the sea+whimsical naive art+vibrant colourful Scottish landscape+Nicola McLean


I wish I could say it's the long hot days of summer that have kept me away from my easel but alas and alack, this summer is turning out to be much like last summer and the summer before that and, indeed, the summer before that as well. I keep reminding myself we didn't move to the far north of Scotland for the weather but I still didn't expect to need a knitted hat and waterproof coat to walk the dogs in August.

Anyway, only one month until S and I fly to Chicago to start our road trip along Route 66 and I am so excited not least because we must surely get some sunshine as we head east to west across the States.


I wish I could say it's the long hot days of summer that have kept me away from my easel but alas and alack, this summer is turning out to be much like last summer and the summer before that and, indeed, the summer before that as well.  I keep reminding myself we didn't move to the far north of Scotland for the weather but I still didn't expect to need a knitted hat and waterproof coat to walk the dogs in August.
Available on Artfinder

In other news, I recently stepped out of my introverted comfort zone and went along on my own to a Creative Conversation - a small group set up by Jana, an artist, who works in St.Fergus Gallery in Wick with the aim of bringing together artists, writers and musicians in the Caithness county area to chat and brainstorm on ways to collaborate and promote our work locally. This one was held in Dunnet Head Lighthouse which has recently been bought by Norman, another artist, who's turned it into the Engine Room art gallery. 


Credit: Jana (who isn't in the photo as she took it!)

I almost didn't make it as I drove to Duncansby Head Lighthouse (in fairness they both start with D), got there early and just happened to look at the Facebook event page and saw it was actually Dunnet Head, 20 minutes back the way I'd just come (on single track roads for the most part!)Anyway, it was good to meet with other people as I haven't really gotten to know that many folk in the three and a half years I've lived here and I'll look forward to the next get together in October.  

I also decided to get some new business cards as I realised that the ones I had were no use to me since I changed my website address. I ordered these mini ones from Moo Cards and I love them - I put a 5 pence piece beside them so you can see how little they are!

My lovely new Moo business cards 

That's all my news. I may or may not blog again before our holiday - I'll just have to see if my mojo decides to come back first!

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