Sunday, 29 January 2012

A bridge over troubled water...

In my last post I bored you all with the details of our photography workshop and the photos I took on the day.  I mentioned that my camera had a problem with the thumbwheel (which was clearly the only reason why I wasn't producing the amazing photographs I pictured in my head).  S took it to a camera shop and they advised that, as cameras go, what with new technology meaning they update approximately every 5 seconds, my camera was quite old and that it might be pretty expensive to send it away for repair with no guarantee that it would actually work at the end of it.

So, one night last week, I came home from work and S said that he had a surprise for me which he'd give me after dinner.   He'd only gone and got me a brand spanking new FujiFilm bridge camera - the one that is more than just a compact digital but not quite an SLR.  (A couple of the men on our photo workshop had these bridge cameras and I had commented on how clear their photos were and how nice and neat the cameras were compared to the quite unwieldy SLR I had and S, being S, had stored the information way for a later date!)  He explained that it's an early birthday present (it's not til 9 February) but that I needed it now so I could learn how to work it before Krakow next week.

I've spent the last few days trying to master the shallow depth of field/blurry background thing and the rainy window thing but let's just say it's still a work in progress!!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

It was all just a blur...

Yesterday we went on our photography workshop.  It ran from 10am to 4pm and took place at Mountstweart, a National Trust building on the Ards Peninsula about half an hour from where we live.  We got up early to walk the dogs before we went and left them with Kong toys stuffed with treats and promises to be back soon (I hate leaving them so it was with both excitement at our impending camera mastery and a feeling of guilt at leaving them alone on a weekend that we set off). 

There were 12 of us on the course and it covered the basics of SLR and Bridge cameras and what all the different functions do.  As with most courses these days, it started with that horribly embarrassing bit where we all have to say who we are and why we're there.  'Hello, I'm Nicola and I'm an artist who wants to learn how to take my own photographs that I can then use as a reference source for my paintings'. I did manage to pass one of my cards out to a girl on the course with a Boxer dog who said she'd love a painting of him so you never know!

Now, I certainly didn't come away from the course as the next David Bailey (or whoever the latest photographic genius is these days). The bits where we have to checks ISOs against shutter speeds and aperture size still confuses me somewhat but I got the gist of it (and S understood it all so he can explain it to me again and again)  The most important thing though, the thing I most wanted to learn - how to take a shallow depth of field with the subject in focus and the background blurred - well, I learnt how to do it! Whether I can actually put what I learnt into practice is an entirely different matter but at least I know how to do it in theory.

We spent the first part of the course listening to a presentation and then practising the different functions of the camera and then after lunch we were let loose in the grounds of Mountstewart with our cameras and check list of things to photograph to show the tutor we had been listening.  Then we had to hand over our SD cards and he put them up on his computer so we could each see what we'd done right and find out what we'd done wrong.  I did have to admit that once we reached the lake with the ducks and swans I completely forgot all I'd learnt and reverted to point and shoot on automatic all over again!

Anyway, here are some of the photos I took on the day, unedited and in all their amateur glory!!

The trunk at the front was supposed to be in sharp focus - oops.

I think this is my favourite of the day. 

Even the swan looked impatient with how long I was taking to get the shot!

It was quite ironic that the most important thing I learnt on the day was that the thumbwheel on my camera for increasing and reducing certain levels isn't working properly and using all the functions properly is causing my batteries to drain completely flat within 20 minutes (I changed batteries 3 times during the day!) I'd never have known that if I'd kept on just using the automatic point and shoot settings so I now need to leave it in to a camera repair shop before our trip to Krakow next month. 

Thursday, 19 January 2012

A farewell, a no show and some orange eyes...

I can't believe it's Friday again already. Last Saturday saw me up at 6am for my early morning flight to England to for my friend’s farewell party in St. Albans. There were 11 of us staying over at her house so it was pretty hectic getting ready. Everyone else spent the afternoon getting spray tans, gel nails, their hair curled and professionally applied make up in preparation for the party. I, er, didn’t. Well, I had painted my own nails and used a wee bit of Lavera tanning cream (vegan friendly and the best I’ve ever tried, by the way!) a couple of days beforehand and as my hair's in a short bob there isn’t much of it to get curled! Also, call me old-fashioned (or tight) but I’ve been applying my own make up for 25 years so I’m not about to pay someone else to do it for me at this late stage and figured that a party frock and some heels were plenty of effort for someone more at home in wellies and jeans covered in muddy paw prints!! So, it would seem that actually, in the scheme of things, I’m pretty low maintenance after all (although S may beg to differ!)

I had hoped to show you some photos of the party but it turns out that my new phone isn’t so good for taking photos because no one seems able to hold it steady so all the photos are a tad on the blurry side (In fact they look much like most of my photos from the 80s and 90s before the dawn of digital and HD etc!) So, you'll have to take my word for it - everyone else looked fabulous and I scrubbed up not too badly!

Like all my art, it looks better if you squint or look from a distance!!

So, in other news,  my night class in animal care was supposed to start back this week but the tutor phoned in sick (which she also did the week before Christmas). I get the impression that she isn’t really interested in teaching our small class of adults as I guess she thinks it isn’t exactly going to lead on to new careers for any of us, being an entry level qualification and us all being so middle-aged! Her attitude has kind of dampened my enthusiasm, to be honest, but I’ll finish the course and get my qualification and even if it means I just know a bit more about animal behaviour than I did before then it won’t be a waste of time.

Anyway, back to the art, this is a portrait in acrylics of one of the most beautiful birds on this planet, the owl. I used a photo from the Paint my Photo website as inspiration. I mentioned millions of times before what a great resource it is for artists as people post photos on it that artists are free to use as inspiration without the worry of copyright. Anyway, as coincidence would have it there is always a monthly challenge on Paint my Photo and January’s was to paint any photo on the site pertaining to wild animals – so this week, I’m linking to both Paint Party Friday and Paint my Photo!

This is the first of my canvasses for the Windows to the Soul series. The previous ones I did were small watercolours sketches but my aim for this year is to do a whole series of different sized large canvasses and wooden surfaces which I’m then going to try to get a gallery to accept (in my head anyway!)

It's not that I've developed a strange thing for including my hand in the photos
but I wanted to show that this one is bigger than teeny tiny!

Tomorrow, S and I are off to our one day photography course so we can learn how to get the best out of our SLR cameras and hopefully after that I’ll be able to take much better photos of exactly the subject matter I want to eventually paint. Apologies in advance if I don't get round every one at PPF but I will try over the weekend!

Thursday, 12 January 2012


I know that most folk who attend the online fiesta that is Paint Party Friday did this last week or even the week before so I’m a little late, but seeing what other people chose got me thinking...

Basically Kristin and Eva asked what one word we would choose as our word of the year; something that means something for where we are in our own personal journeys, or to aspire to, or to serve as a reminder of what we want to achieve in 2012.

Initially I had thought I would choose Carpe Diem (‘seize the day’ in Latin) even though technically it’s two words, as it’s sort of mine and S’s motto and one that we got tattooed onto our persons instead of engraving our wedding rings when we got married to serve as a reminder to us that we should seize every moment of every day in our married lives together. (Sometimes, with the groundhog day of real life getting in the way it’s a tall order to remember to seize anything other than a few snatched daydreams of the life we wish we were living if only the bills didn’t have to be paid!)

Anyway, I was in my studio last night working on a new painting of an owl for my Windows to the Soul series and the word just came to me – EVOLVE.

I read a book recently called The Naked Ape written by a zoologist about how humans evolved from fruit-picking, tree-dwelling primates to what we are today. A fascinating read, by the way as he discusses human behaviours in the same way he would discuss any other animal, which is after all what we are. I’ve also been reading about why man invented all the different religions which have ever existed and which still exist today. Anyway, suffice to say that I've seen the light, to use a religious term, although not in the usual meaning of the phrase. 

So basically, over the last year I have evolved quite a lot. Bringing the dogs into our family made me more thoughtful about animals as a whole, which resulted in me becoming vegetarian. That lead me to educate myself even more about how mankind treats the animals used for their milk, eggs, wool and hide which led to me becoming vegan. This in turn had me questioning how a god of whatever denomination could sit back and allow such suffering to continue in the world he allegedly created. So, as a result, my beliefs have evolved and are still evolving and with that evolution the things I am inspired to paint have also evolved. 

Ultimately mankind is a mere blip in the timeline of the universe (just like the dinosaurs) and some day we’ll probably be the authors of our own extinction (that or a giant meteor!). However, while we are still here, I intend to keep on evolving!

Anyway, I think I have used my word of the year and derivatives thereof, enough times for one post so, to get back to the whole art part of the art blog, here’s another itty bitty teeny weeny canvas from the Nature’s Magic series – rainy windows - where nature takes manmade stuff and makes it pretty!! (As before, it helps to squint a little when looking at it!)

Final glazed version

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Nature's magic...

I mentioned in my last post about the photography course that S has booked us both on. One of the things I really want to learn is how to take good photos through rain streaked windows. I am always bewitched by photos that manage to make lights go all blurry, sparkly and twinkly (Google image 'rainy windows' and you'll see what I mean) Either by focussing on the foreground and making the background go blurry or by capturing light through a rainy windscreen or window – they just seems to make an otherwise ordinary scene look a little big magical.

I found a gorgeous photo depicting this very thing online a while ago on a desktop wallpaper website but I've since learned that apparently these sites just grab photos from other websites and use them willy nilly with no regard for copyright issues. It’s something I’m always very paranoid about especially if I hope to sell the derivative artwork so I’ve tried to find out who actually took the photo but haven't been able to. Every time I Google it, it brings me to wallpaper sites.  So unfortunately, I can't give credit where it's due for the inspiration for this particular painting.

Anyway, S saw these teeny tiny wee canvasses (9cm x 7cm) on equally teeny tiny easels for an absolute steal in a bookshop recently and got me 10 of them! I spent ages trying to decide what to paint on them – I dismissed doing more Twisty Towns as the larger (but still mini) canvasses I did for the craft fair haven’t all sold yet so I wasn't inspired to do more.  Then I started out attempting a whimsical girl’s head which then morphed into a cat sitting on a fence with a twisty house in the background before deciding it was rubbish and painting over it all in black. I then, quite by chance came across the aforementioned photo of the rainy reflections and decided to give it a go in acrylics painting over the now black canvass.

This is the result and I’m really quite pleased with how it turned out. It’s a little bit pointy, a little bit abstract and a little bit impressionist all rolled into one, I think (or it’s just a mass of coloured blobs but either way I like it!) I think it helps to squint a little when looking at it!

Rush Hour Rain - mini-canvas

And to put the size into perspective!

So, now I want to do a series of rainy reflections (working title – Nature’s Magic because nature can make functional manmade objects look pretty and magical) but I need to find photos that I can use for inspiration until I can learn to take them myself. With that in mind, if anyone reading this has any photos for which they have copyright and that they wouldn’t mind emailing to a fellow artist to use as inspiration (with a view to creating a mini-exhibition!), I’d be immensely grateful!

Anyway, this is my contribution to the first Paint Party Friday of 2012 (which in now in its 43rd week altogether!) 

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Time Flies...

Happy New Year.  I hope that Christmas passed off peacefully for everyone, without too much drama.  We had a lovely, relaxed Christmas day, as we always do, starting with our annual viewing of the Polar Express on Christmas Eve with a mug of mulled wine - it's the perfect Christmas movie and never fails to get my inner child all nostalgic for the days when I really did believe!  Then on Christmas day we lounge around in our PJs most of the morning, opening our presents before going for a big walk on the beach with the dogs and then back home to light the fire and put nibbles in the oven.  

We decided when we first moved in together that we didn't want to make a full on Christmas dinner as it was only going to be the two of us and so instead every year, we stock up on frozen party food, you know, Chinese selection, Indian selection etc.  This year I had to make sure mine was all vegan but other than that, it was the same as it always was.  We cook enough for a small army, set it out on platters on the coffee table along with our mulled wine and spiced rum and coke and nibble our way through the afternoon in front of the TV. It doesn't get much more relaxing and chilled than that.  I love it!

We spent a few days up with my folks and met up with my old school friends in our old local (which has undergone several face lifts and name changes since we first started going there at, ahem, 18!) The pub, that is, not us. Not yet anyway!  One of my friends (the one I did the portrait of for her 40th last June) is moving to Shanghai, China for 3 years with work and is having a leaving party in St. Albans in England on 14 January.  I didn't think I could go as its so close and money isn't in abundance post-Christmas but my lovely S booked me a flight so I just need to buy a new party frock in the sales and I'm good to go!

I didn't spend as much time in my new art studio as I would've liked over the holidays.  Even though we were off for 10 days what with going up home for a few days and then S's wee boy coming over for New Year, I just didn't seem to find the time to get as creative as I had hoped.  That, and the lure of the roaring fire and our lush new reclining sofas!! I did spend a few hours over the weekend locked away there with the wee heater keeping me warm and my iPod docking station keeping me company and I loved it!

Anyway, I promised photos of the inside of the studio now that it's finished, so here it is:

My worktop with the glow of the wee halogen heater underneath keeping me warm!

In other news, S also surprised me with a day's photography course for both of us on 21 January so we can learn how to use the fancy DSLR cameras we have.  At the moment I can just about point and shoot so hopefully after this course I'll know a bit more about how to set it up to get better shots. Which will come in handy for our trip to Krakow in February!

That's about all my news from the festive period. No resolutions as such, other than to try to dedicate more time to art in 2012 (and finally, finally get enough work together to try to persuade a gallery to let me exhibit!)


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