Change continued

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The big change for me this year is to ask for help with my art. I have been helping others for years now but that does not mean that I have all the answers. Far from it, so it is time that I started asking for help when I need it and I recognise that now is the time.

Struggles with self-doubt can hit any one of us at any time and I have said in the past that I am not immune. I just generally don’t panic about it because I know ‘this too shall pass’. I have also written in several blogs about how to tackle this when it happens to you.

So, I signed up to take a class at the Emily Ball studio. More about that in a moment but the runup to getting ready for the class was interesting so I thought I should share that so that if you find yourself in a similar situation you consider my position when trying to resolve things for yourself.

As you will know, if you have been reading my blogs, I moved house in August 2021 and was (and still am) without a working space. To kickstart my painting practice, I decided to join a class with Nick Bodimeade, who has a reputation for being really good at helping artists get back on track.

All my art materials are still in boxes in a room which I can’t get into as the boxes fill the entire space and during these cold, wet days trying to pull everything out, organise it and put it back is impossible. So, the dilemma: I am going to a class and 99% of my art stuff is unobtainable so what should I buy and how much should I spend?

Fortunately, I could reach my box of acrylic paints so had lots of tubes of Heavy Body Golden acrylics and Chroma Atelier Interactive Artists’ Acrylics. I would normally use these towards the end of making a painting, preferring to start off with System 3 acrylics, mainly because I can buy them easily in large pots, and I also use them with print medium when I make screen prints. So, as I had paint, it was really about what to paint on. 

I was attending a class at Emily’s of Seawhite Studio, so I decided to visit the adjacent Seawhite of Brighton shop so that I could also double check where Emily’s classes run. I bought five medium-sized canvases; a large pack of A1, A2 and A4 paper; some brushes; charcoal sticks, pencils, pallet knives and a few other bits.

So, on Friday, I climbed the stairs to the class with some trepidation. Nick’s opening lecture was about war artist Paul Nash. I am not a fan, but it was interesting to learn more and consider that he and his contemporaries possibly used such dull colours due to the lack of supplies in the early to mid-1900s.

I don’t know what I was expecting from the class, which is called a ‘Painting Surgery’. Whatever it was that wasn’t what I got. There was no instruction and all the artists there were working on projects with Nick going around each one, giving advice where needed. I really should have done more research rather than ask other artist friends for their recommendations. Trying to find teachers who understand and support abstract painters is hard. There are lots of amazing artists out there who produce abstract landscapes, flowers, still life etc., but pure abstraction, there aren’t many.

However, the day wasn’t lost. I was introduced to a young American artist called Jennifer Packer. She is producing portraits in a way that I have long been looking for. I love painting people but recognise that no one will want to buy a portrait of someone they don’t know. What Jennifer Packer has skilfully done is remove the personal element by concentrating on distorting the subject and then playing with using just one or two colours in her finished works. Her pieces are politically motivated around black lives matter but, regardless of how you feel about that movement, her work is interesting and well worth looking at.

As for what I produced myself? Rubbish. Really pants. For a moment, I thought “That’s it, I am useless at this. I give up” and then I reminded myself that it doesn’t matter how good a teacher you have or how well, as in Nick’s case, the art world views you. He is one of Saatchi’s darlings, he doesn’t necessarily ‘get’ pure abstract art and I have to fight for that very small area by just keeping going.

I am also extremely lucky in that I do know a number of pure abstract artists who I can count as friends and who I can call on when I am struggling. One such friend talked me through my emotional response to the class and how I could still try and move forward, even though I really don’t have anywhere to make the large paintings I am longing to get going on.

We talked through ideas for both her work and mine – we produce very different end results – but by having a conversation and sharing thoughts and suggestions, we were able to help each other to move forward with our ideas.

So, what did I gain from the day? I realised I that I need to be more careful about which classes I take and who I take them with. I did, however, learn about Jennifer Packer, who I am inspired by as I can see a different way forward with my portrait work. Nick is a lovely man, and this is in no way a criticism of him or his teaching style as I listened to other artists discussing their work and gaining the feedback they needed.

I take full responsibility for taking a class that wasn’t right for me. Moving forward, I have some things I do want to experiment with, and I have two exhibitions at the beginning of March, which is often a good incentive to get work made.

NB Just for the record, I do not get paid to endorse any of the brands I have mentioned above. These are all products that I use and genuinely believe in.

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