Saturday, March 31, 2012

Paint and Robots

I'm doing lots of things at the moment. I've decided to focus on competitions and events and I'm working on three paintings at the moment, a leaping tiger (theme "moving"), a flagellation of Christ (for a competition about religion) and a giant chromium man embracing a giant chromium skeleton (for a competition about the future). The last one is the largest and most complex, and probably the most visually impressive too. All of the shiny little bones were difficult to outline but I got there in the end, and the underdrawing looks good already. I'll be doing that on canvas for a change, "Top Gun" polyester, which doesn't require priming but does resist drawing/pencil marks so I'll be outlining in oil paint.

Next month I'll be attending two events; the launch of a new three-month exhibition at Crewe Hall. The opening night next Wednesday is free to attend and you are welcome to come along if you are nearby. Find full details on the Art Up Close Website. The second event is an open mic. poetry night, Poetry Blast, on the 23rd of April. I'll be reading something from 365 Universes there.

And later in the year there are plans for a Steampunk event. Actually more of a mini-festival, organised by Carol at The Cubby Hole. It's a bit hush-hush at the moment but several people are now working on art for it and I'm hoping to make a sculpture and a watercolour painting for it. Here's a look at the bits of steam-train robot I want to make.

I'm really just making it up as I go along, gluing this to that here and there. I'll plan more when needed. I'm painting a watercolour because there are lots of watercolour competitions these days, so I thought I'd paint something I could enter into one of those in future.

All of these events made me think of the comparison with art and sport. I wonder if professional artists could work like professional sports people? Being paid prize money that falls not just to a "top three" but down the ranks. Is that how sports competitions work? If so it might make for a good way of funding art, and would require a standardised set of rules of entry for competitions, so that prize money, fairly divided, had a more even spread. It might create a circuit of artists, like golfers or snooker players, that compete regularly in art events.

Finally I'll end with some mentions. I met with a photographer and printer last Wednesday morning called Terry Davies who has a professional attitude and creates good quality giclee prints. I may use his services in future. On the same day my art group had a watercolour tutorial from Paul Brotherton, a nice friendly teacher with a good knowledge of art techniques. That day was fraught as I was telephoned the day before to make me feel bad for not being able to attend the tutorial in the morning and then told that I was not permitted to go in the afternoon - we each need a space to work, but hardly "permission" (some of the attitudes at that club drive more than me mad)! In the end the afternoon was great, and my picture benefitted from splurging darkness and improvising as I went! I think it's fair to say that everyone learned something from Paul and it was nice to see people who had never touched watercolour have a go.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Painting vs. Writing

I'm concentrating more on writing now, my new fad. In art I'll focus only on paintings for competitions or specific exhibitions. Sadly, it means that many of my artistic ideas will not be painted, but I can do those later when I'm rich enough to rest and indulge in flights of artistic fancy.

Writing is like painting in many ways. The first draft is like the underpainting, but it's made linearly instead of all in one go, like a painting that starts in one corner and creeps towards to other. Some painters have a rough underpainting that marks out the blobs of light and shade, and writers like that would quickly write a first draft, then spend a lot of work on subsequent drafts, redrafting many times, like those painters who add lots of layers to model and refine. Some painters plan the whole picture first. Some just start, adjusting as they go. The same is true of writers, although it seems relatively rare for writers to plan the story in advance, many just writing and making parts up as they go.

I write like I paint, first with a rough plan that sets out what happens in each chapter. I do this largely unconsciously, exactly like my idea sketches for paintings, so that the mood can be instantly captured. Then I write the first draft, with lots of detail and largely like the final book, again like my detailed underpaintings. Then glazing, a next and (hopefully) final draft, which contains few new elements, adds colour, more unusual words that fit and enhance the story. As in an underpainting, the first draft contains a simpler vocabulary.

The two media are amazingly similar. One big difference though is expression of emotion. In a book the mood can change and sway with each chapter, but a painting really conveys one feeling. Paintings can contain many emotions, each part with a different mood, (Dali's The Great Masturbator was the first time I noticed this, the eroticism of the woman's face, the fear of the grasshopper on the big face, the anxiety of the ants) but paintings like that demand more attention, and have less instant visual impact, they are less accessible. Similarly though, a book works best when it as a whole has one mood. Nineteen Eighty Four has a feeling of oppression conflicting freedom throughout. Perhaps one overall mood, with subtle variations in different parts is the key to a good artwork in any medium. If I were to illustrate the story I'm writing it would demand and benefit most from one single painting for the whole story, I think.

In my story so far George has caused a stir and is about to try to escape from Heaven with his 1950's teenage rebel father, pursued by angelic guards. I'm writing the odd bit at night while spending the day planning paintings.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Paperback Arrived

The first copies of the paperback edition of my book have arrived and I'm really pleased with the quality! This is probably the thickest book in my collection and on good quality white paper, not the yellow flaky stuff that many paperbacks are printed with.

The official "book registration" process is just about done. It's not difficult, not compared to the vast and bewildering complexity of registering music. First I applied for ten ISBN codes from Nielsen, the registrar for U.K. ISBN's. They entered details of the first book into their international book database. Then, got an EAN code made from the ISBN (modern ISBN codes are the same as EAN codes, so that was easy, I found some free software called Presilo to generate the barcode image), and I printed the book with the barcode on the back according to specifications on the BIC website. For the paperback edition a new ISBN is needed so I assigned a new one, and have applied to access the Nielsen database, so that I can type the publication details in myself. Next stop was to print one copy of each book to send to the British Library, which is a legal obligation.

That's about it. The website,, was the final step. Soon I'll add the books to that so that people can order from it. Today I read about something called an Onix Availability Status Code, which each publisher uses to specify if a book is available, in print, on order, etc. My books will be available only from me directly because the printing costs are so high that I have no hope of selling at a wholesale price to a retailer.

The hardback will cost £100 and is limited to 100 signed and numbered copies. The softback will cost £10.99. I estimate the postage costs will be £5.99 or so. I'll have to look into that. A few copies of each edition have been pre-ordered by friends already, which was an unexpected excitement.

This, and reading "Flowers for Algernon" has inspired me and I'm 11,000 words into my novella/novel/story "The Many Beautiful Worlds of Death". It's a philosophical work of literature, but told as a fantastical adventure story. At the start George, the hero, finds that he has six weeks to live and vows to use the trans-dimensional gateway he built in his basement to visit different people and places to find a cure. In chapter 5 he visited the wisest man in the world. I'm on chapter 6 at the moment and George has entered heaven, a "perfect" society.

I'm writing late at night, between 10pm and midnight and that works best for me. I expect it'll be complete before October. I aim to find an agent for this one rather than publish it myself.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Book Arrived

Yay my first copy of 365 Universes arrived today and it looks excellent, better than I'd expected. It's a pity the software is awful, and their ability to accept or treat feedback (bug reports) because Blurb do lots of the "everything else" very well.

It's the first book from Pentangel Books, which I've set up to publish it, and will be available in two formats initially; a £100 limited edition full colour hardback, and a monochrome paperback for £10.

The book contains over 200 illustrations, over 100 small watercolour paintings, with other even smaller watercolours on plain paper. Over the weekend I added a new Watercolours section to my website which shows all of them, including a few older ones from previous years. It's been a productive 2012 so far.

I've also just completed my first oil painting of the year, Prometheus As A Turkey Being Eaten By A Peacock. A trip to an up-market high-street gallery over the weekend was an inspiration. Although the "art" was as dead as ever emotionally (it's what people like, I'm learning that, deadness) I was impressed by the quality of the presentation, to the extent that I've already secretly decided to make my frames larger in future.

I'm also toying with reproduction options, prints I mean, not children. My current system is imperfect but I've got problems... What if a print costs more to make than an original? Can a reproduction cost more than an original? Should a reproduction cost the same price as any other? What if some frames are more expensive? Should reproductions be limited then? By how much?

Most of the time I simply want a cheaper alternative, so I'm toying with the idea of keeping my current reproductions series as just that, then having a second series of well framed expensive giclees. Commercial art publishers have an odd way of working to me, but they all seem to work the same way; selling prints with editions of 400 or 500 for £400 or £500.

That musing can wait.

My main task of the month is to assemble props and put together the Love Symphony Performance. Initially this was, and still is, due to be set at the Axis Arts Centre, the M.M.U. campus. Five students were there at the original contact, then two at the second (the first "real") meeting. Not enough really, and in between other friends and friends of friends were drafted in to help, but not students, and no students mean no free facilities at the MMU because they understandably need this to be a useful educational experience. Now, some students couldn't make it for different reasons, so I'm hoping that more will come on board now that we have a script. If not, then I'll move venue and buy, beg or borrow my some equipment. That will make things harder and more expensive, but it will mean we could do more than one show in more than one place with more ease.

The script has been pencilled in and consists of lighting, fan, scent, explosion, balloon, smoke, video and other effects. I've ordered willow and tissue paper to make the large stage props, and bought silvery white cloth for use as a general backdrop.

I have two exhibitions to plan this month, and three oil paintings to begin. My novel is approaching 4000 words and at the end of the first chapter. All is in hand.