Interview with Hannah Forward Printmaker & Illustrator

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Tell us a bit about your artistic background and education

I studied Graphic Design at Brighton University, then became an illustrator kind of by accident – an illustrator friend passed on a commission to me when she didn’t have the time to do it. It was for a charity so I didn’t get paid, but it gave me a lot of confidence as they loved what I did for them. I did a few more illustration commissions but generally found the experience quite terrifying – the tight time pressures and having to meet the expectations of a client just wasn’t for me. I landed at Lawrence’s about 5 years ago, and through working here I’ve discovered printmaking. I now have my own fully-stocked printmaking studio, where I can experiment and create whatever I want, whenever, to my heart’s content. I think my work is very informed from what I learnt about design on my BA, with the very ‘human’, hands on, lo-fi aproach of relief printmaking.

 

What is it like working for Lawrence Art Supplies?

Working here you get to know about all sorts of different art materials, perhaps in mediums you’d never considered trying before but always wanted to. This knowledge is so useful for an artist – and I think it makes you bolder about trying new things out and pushing your work further.

 

What inspires your work, generally?

Making documents or social records of current times, in order to understand them better, think about them, be fascinated by them, and in the future look back at them.

 

Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.

I spend quite a long time turning over an idea for a subject matter in my head. Once I’ve settled on it I’ll begin scribbling out composition ideas in pencil. Composition is a huge part of what inspires me to create a print – I always like it to be quite unusual, not go with the obvious. Next I’ll think about colour, and usually experiment with swatches, over-laying colours to see what new colours I can make. Once I’ve decided on composition and colour, I’ll divide the image up into about four or five separate layers of lino, each a different colour. Hopefully, if I’ve worked it out correctly, once they’re printed one on top of the other they’ll create the image I want. Usually things go differently to how you plan, but this is usually a good thing.

 

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What does your typical day in the studio entail?

I like to start early – about 9.30 – so I can start printing and get a lot done at once. I’ll stop for lunch then maybe work on another project while the prints dry, perhaps drawing up a new composition for a print idea I’ve been thinking about. About 5.30 I’ll stop for dinner then a walk. I’ll almost always have something to listen to when I’m working in the studio – music, podcasts, radio shows, audiobooks – to help get me absorbed in whatever I’m doing.

72What is your favourite colour and why? There is not one colour I do not like. Colour is so fundamental to an artist…I could never pick just one.

 

What is your favourite product and why?

The set of Japanese woodcut tools Lawrence’s sell is excellent value for a beginner and really helped set me on my road to printmaking. The Lawrence linseed oil-based relief inks are brilliant too, endless colour experimenting fun.

 

 How has your artistic knowledge helped someone else?

I’m always keen to talk to people about relief printmaking – how rewarding it is, how you don’t need expensive equipment and anyone can have a go at home. I don’t have a huge breadth of knowledge to impart yet! Only what I’ve picked up as I’ve gone along – I think that’s the way that works best for me – get an idea of what you want to create then try and figure out how you can get it to work. I’m usually quite unorthodox in my approach to things – I like to make it up as I go!

 

What inspired you to become an artist?

A life-long steely determination to be completely myself, completely free, and therefore completely happy.

 

Who is / are your favourite artists and why?

Picasso, for taking on every medium and doing it completely differently. Hockney for his inventiveness.

 

What is the most valuable piece of advice anyone has given you that you still use today?

Don’t give up! Self-belief is paramount.

To see more of Hannah’s work see her website www.hannahforward.com

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An Interview with Karen Keogh

We recently interviewed artist Karen Keogh about her work and studio. Karen predominantly works with a three plate etching technique; inspired by the colours and patterns found in cities and landscapes.

Something Old Something New‘Something Old Something New’ – Three plate etching

Tell us a little bit about your artistic background and education
My artistic background is rather eclectic. I trained to teach art at Roehampton University in the early 1980’s, specialising in ceramics. I first discovered printmaking at Putney School Art. I taught ceramics at secondary school level for a few years. In the mean time I was studying printmaking at Morley College in London under the amazing Frank Connolly. I also studied at the London College of Communication.

When did you know you wanted to be and artist/printmaker?
I knew I wanted to be an artist from around the age of 11 years old after doing a week’s course in ceramics at the Chelsea Pottery in the King’s Road. My school in Twickenham had a fantastic art department, and that was where my passion developed. I was lucky to have grown up in London and visited galleries and exhibitions with my parents from an early age.

What does your typical day in the studio entail?
I share a studio with 4 other artists, a picture framer and an architect, in West Dulwich. It is a quirky building that used to be a bakery. We have wood burning stoves. It is still freezing for the first couple of hours, in the winter. I have tried fingerless gloves, but still can’t feel my fingers!

My typical day entails lighting the stove. Trying to warm my hands up! I am either drawing in preparation of making a plate, working on the plates or printing the images. I usually spend around 5 hours there daily.

I also teach art to children in my home studio, so have to be there by 3.30pm. Teaching has been an excellent way of extending my knowledge of techniques and art history. I am always on the lookout for new projects that will inspire the children. I recently visited an interesting show of African Prints at the British Museum, and the children are now making animal collagraphs for a Noah’ ark effect. Inspired by John Ndevasia Muafangejo

Karen Keogh's StudioKaren Keogh’s studio

Three plate etching, appears to be your predominant medium of choice, what is it in particular that draws you to this process?
I have been making 3 plate etchings for the last 15 years or so. Once I had mastered this technique, after my 10,000 hours, I was hooked! I can produce great depth of colour, and texture with 3 plates. The colour variations are endless. I quite often use the primary colours. I particularly like the Lawrence French 88 process colours.

I also enjoy producing painterly monotypes. I paint onto the back of a plate using oil paints thinned with white spirit. It is a spontaneous process, very different from the sometimes painstaking method of making etching plates.

First Plate and 2nd plate'St Pauls by Twilight'‘St Pauls by Twilight’ – First and second plate
'St Pauls by Twilight' ‘St Pauls by Twilight’ – third and final plate

As your subject matters are mainly landscapes and cityscapes, do you work from photographs, plein air paintings and drawings?
My landscapes are inspired by my environment. Most recently, I have been concentrating on London. I sketch and photograph my subjects. The finished image is often quite different from how I first saw it in my head. For instance my Battersea Power Station image ‘ After the rain’ was not a dark image to start with, more of a sunny day. That image was hung at last year’s Royal Academy exhibition were the image was made into to a card and a poster. The edition of 75 sold out.

What challenges (if any) do you face with your work and how do you overcome them?
There are many technical challenges working on zinc, particularly using 3 plates. I guess it is experience that helps me to overcome them. I usually make the first plate which is the key plate and the darkest. It will have the most information on. I then have to offset this image onto the second plate where I use aquatint to produce the tone. The first and second plates are then offset onto the third plate. The registration has to be perfect, which also involves lots of adjusting and filing of the plates. I love building up textures on my plates. Often I use numerous techniques on each one, including hard ground, soft ground, sugar lift, spite bite.

'After The Rain'‘After The Rain’ 

Which artists have inspired you the most and has your taste in art changed in recent years?
I have been inspired by numerous artists during my career. In the early days, Picasso –well, I still am. He was a master of all mediums. Raoul Dufy and his use of colour. I find all the Fauves inspiring. Of course David Hockney’s prints are amazing. The recent show at Dulwich Picture Gallery confirmed this. Peter Doig and his watery, icy images are wonderful.

What is the most valuable piece of advice anyone has given you that you still use today?
I have a mantra that started at Morley College, which is ‘ just one more print’. There is always time to print one more, even if there isn’t. You never know what this next one might look like. The joy of printmaking is, that you never quite know what you will end up with, even after all these years of experience. I have always felt, there is nothing like the thrill of opening the kiln or seeing what you have produced when you throw back the blankets on the press. I guess this is not quite the same if you use one plate, hence my addition to 3 plates.

Have you got any projects/ exhibitions coming up?
I will be showing some new work at the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers (RE) annual original Print show in May. I was elected a member in 2008. It will be at Bankside Gallery, next to Tate Modern. I will also have work at LOPF (London Original Print Fair) at the Royal Academy with the RE in April. Later this year I will be showing in a mixed printmaking show at Cambridge Contemporary art gallery.

Bankside Gallery BannerBankside Gallery Banner

To see more of Karen Keogh’s etchings, monotypes and paintings, visit her website
www.karen-keogh.co.uk.
Make sure you watch her brilliant video ‘A Glimpse of St Paul’s’.

#sketchjanuary

This month has #sketchjanuary and #thedailysketch we’d like to share what we’ve been filling our sketchbooks with and give some of you some ideas to fill your sketch books for the last few days of January.

Many of you will have made a new start for 2015 and used #sketchjanuary to give you some inspiration and drive. It’s a great new year’s resolution! A blank sketch book is one that is just waiting to be filled with ideas.

There are many benefits to having a new sketch book, to record daily observations and inspirations, to hone in on and improve artistic skill and to gain confidence are just a few of them!

See what Lawrence staff members have been doing with their new sketch books this January.

Don’t miss our Pinterest board http://www.pinterest.com/artshophove/sketchjanuary/

Aimee_Brigginshaw_sketchjanuary

Aimee Brigginshaw http://www.aimeebrigginshaw.co.uk/

“I have previously neglected sketching in recent years , but this January I have made a bit of a resolution to start a sketch book. I am an abstract painter predominantly, but feel it is essential to keep on top of my observational skills. I intend to keep going to life drawing sessions throughout the year, which will encourage me to draw compositions that I may find awkward and challenging. The sketch above was made at the Eggshell Life Drawing class at The Black Dove in Kemptown, Brighton.”

“Eggshell Life Drawing promotes the freedom of drawing and started in the eclectic Black Dove in Kemptown, Brighton, UK. You can  still find this class every Wednesday 7.30pm – 9.30pm for £5 including model and materials. Everyone is welcome to join Eggshell Life Drawing especially if you have never tried it before. Why not?”- http://www.eggshellstudio.com/lifedrawing.html

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Del Thorpe- http://www.delthorpe.co.uk/

“I’m a Brighton-based Illustrator of children’s books and similar things.”

Del_Thopre_Sketchjanuary_3 Del_Thopre_Sketchjanuary_4 Del_Thopre_Sketchjanuary_5 Del_Thopre_Sketchjanuary_6 Del_Thopre_Sketchjanuary_7 Del_Thopre_Sketchjanuary_8 Del_Thopre_Sketchjanuary_9 Del_Thopre_Sketchjanuary_99 Georgia_Flowers_sketchjanuaryGeorgia Flowers- http://georgia-alice-flowers.blogspot.co.uk/

“I work with black ink; from heavy black outlines to subtle dot work, from elegance to vulgarity. I am inspired by wildlife & nature, mythology, anatomy & biology, amongst other things.”

“Sketching is a routine when I’m at home. I make a cup of tea and get going. I jot down my ideas in a notebook as they come up. When I’m not working on a commission I work through my ideas notebook, just choosing any idea to work from”

“I tend to use paper rather than a sketch book so that I can easily make a print from the piece. Because my style is so detailed, sketch books don’t suit me as they often get scruffy quickly!”

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Hannah_Forward_sketchjanuary_1

Hannah Forward http://www.hannahforward.com/

“I like to keep a lot of different sketchbooks on the go at once – some are big watercolour books for neater work, some are for rough sketch ideas I keep scattered around the house, and some are small enough to fit in my pocket so I’m never without a book incase I need to get something down.

I like to take a lot of inspiration for everyday life and day-to-day experience so keep a book on me all the time to write down or make a quick observational drawing.

I think they’re a great way to help bring ideas to the surface, generally practise your mark-making and develop your drawing or painting style. I think sketchbooks become beautiful art objects in themselves as well once they get full of work and look nicely battered and well-used.”

Hannah_Forward_sketchjanuary_2 Hannah_Forward_sketchjanuary_3 Hannah_Forward_sketchjanuary_4 Hannah_Forward_sketchjanuary_5 Hannah_Forward_sketchjanuary_6 Hannah_Forward_sketchjanuary_7

 

Buy sketch books here: http://www.lawrence.co.uk/shop/Sketch-pads.html

Gamblin Glenn Brill workshops & lecture

Thank you to all that came to our Gamblin Lecture and workshops, presented by artist and Gamblin Education Manager Glenn Brill. Here is just some of what we learnt.1

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Glenn demonstrating the difference between traditional and modern pigments. Cadmium red medium is dulled with the addition of titanium white, where the modern napthol red is very vibrant. 

If you have been frustrated when mixing colours, for example you can’t make a hot pink with your red and white, it is probably because you have a traditional pigment, try using modern pigments for more vibrant colour mixing. The clue is in the name. Anything that sounds like a chemical ie phthalo, quinacridone, napthol etc will be modern. Don’t blame your mixing skills!

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Here are examples of traditional pigments verses modern pigments. The old masters painted only in what was available, e.g. yellow ochre, raw umber, venetian red, ultramarine etc. The colours are more neutral. By the time the Impressionists were around colour technology had got much better with a wider and brighter range of colours; cadmiums, alizarin crimson, viridian etc. Today we have a vast collection of colours with the help of science we can achieve bright and vibrant colours the Old Masters could only dream about. Hansa yellow, napthol red, phthalo blue etc

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Glenn explains the colour wheel and how limiting your palette will limit the vibrancy of the colour you mix. Ideally having a warm and cool version of yellow, orange, red, violet, blue and green will allow you to achieve the best intensity mixing colour. If you stick with just the primary colours which is often what you are taught at art school you can only achieve more muted colours when mixing. In comparison the painting with fewer colours will look murkier3a

Glenn explaining how to approach mixing colour. He advises it will help if you start with the white. Try to imagine what percentage of white is in the colour you are trying to achieve, then slowly add the main pigments. More often than not you will need to mute the colour down to look more realistic. Try using a colour from the opposite side of the colour spectrum before you use black! 

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Muting a colour with a cool or warm white can vastly change the painting, demonstrated above. Gamblin have a selection of warm and cool greys and whites to help quicken the mixing process.

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Here is another example of colours Gamblin have designed to aid mixing.

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On to mediums! Glenn went through each of the mediums in the Gamblin range. Starting with Gamsol – An odourless and nontoxic mineral spirit. Very safe to use in the studio and reusable.

If you are looking to create glazing techniques or impasto textures Gamblin has it all. Galkyd is fast drying and self-levelling – great for the ‘Oiling out technique’ (will explain later in the album) it is quitethick and sticky but can achieve an enamel like finish. Galkyd Lite flows better than Galkyd which is probably the best one to try first when experimenting. It retains brush stroke definition and is fast drying. Galkyd Slow Dry is similar to Galkyd Lite but dries slower, which might work better with your style of painting. Galkyd Lite and Slow loosens the paint making it easier to be more expressive. All three are transparent and dries with a gloss sheen.

For impasto work Galkyd Gel will extend the colour and give body to the paint. It dries fast too. If you are worried about solvent content try Solvent Free Gel instead, this is made with oil so will try slower. Neo Megilp is a contemporary version of Maroger medium, it gives a silky feel to the paint with a satin gloss finish when dry. Neo Megilp like Solvent Free Gel will dry slower so workable for longer. Cold Wax Medium is pure white bees wax, used to thicken paint and has a matte finish. Add this to reduce the sheen in the other mediums and Gamvar picture varnish.

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8Gamblin Fast Matte oil colours contains an alkyd medium, this allows fast drying underpainting and dries with a matter finish. The pigment quality is exactly the same as the Gamblins Artist Oils!

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‘Oiling out’ is a brilliant method for a number of reasons. Mix 1 part Gamsol and 1 part Galkyd together (make sure is it Galkyd medium)

To ‘oil out’ brush your mixture onto surface and let it sit, then with a dry cotton cloth wipe in. This creates a thin layer of medium to be used in any of the following ways;

1) Sealing wood/canvas – acts as clear primer. Ready to paint on if you want to see texture/colour of the substrate under painting. 
2) Reactivates an old painting – acts like a retouching varnish. The oil out process allows the surface to be suitable to work back in to. Without oiling out the painting might have cured leaving the surface less likely to stick to the new application of paint in the long run.
3) Levels the sheen of a painting where there is a mixture of gloss and matt on the surface. You may find this distracting and the ‘oiling oil’ method will help with this.
4) Apply to your dry painting before vanishing with Gamvar. Test it is dry by pressing your nail into the thickest painted area, if it is hard it is ready. (try to be gentle!) The surface will be more even and the varnish will not be absorbed in to the paint.

11Varnishing with ‘Oiling oil’

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Gamvar varnish can be removed easily with Gamsol. Picture varnish can get dirty in time, being able to remove the varnish allows you apply the varnish again.

Sarah Shaw interview

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We visited Brighton artist, Sarah Shaw at her studio recently. It is an exciting time for Sarah at the moment, with a host of exhibitions and a TV project on the go. Sarah Shaw is a painter whose work hovers between figurative and abstract, where the subject matter is inspired by a varied collection of imagery. Sarah explores ways of depicting time passing on a canvas by building up and stripping back images, composing painterly snap shots like memories.

Sarah’s studio is situated in a court yard in the centre of Brighton and Hove. It is in a wooden clad building with a corrugated tin roof; which was originally used as an old fire station.

Upon arriving at her studio we squeezed past another artists’ project which was being worked on; a giant boat sculpture made with shingle. We followed Sarah up a slightly precarious stairway to her space on the 1st floor. It is quite an idyllic setting for an artist, but Sarah assured us it is not so romantic in the cold, rainy months of winter.

Sarah’s wonderful paintings were hanging on every wall, some completed and some drying waiting to be worked on. The desk is covered in a multitude of curled up paint tubes and a vast mixing palette coated with years of colour. Pots of brushes of every size congregate on all available surfaces, with post cards and print outs of inspirational images taped to the walls, and an armchair in the corner for contemplative moments. It is a well-used and well-loved studio.

Here is our interview with Sarah Shaw;

 Sarah_Shaw_01aSarah_Shaw_01Sarah_Shaw_01b

What is your artistic background/education?

I studied at Falmouth College of art; three brilliant, tumultuous years which were some of the best in my life! It was a massive privilege to indulge my love of painting for those years, being taught by incredible tutors, who, importantly, were still practicing their own art, and alongside some brilliant artist friends.

What is your favourite medium and why?

Oil on canvas or linen. Something about wonderful oozy, glossy, pungent oil paint that gets me every time.

Sarah_Shaw_03a Sarah_Shaw_03 Sarah_Shaw_03b

What inspires your subject matter?

Everything.

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Your work takes on a figurative and an abstracted style, is the subject matter as important as the abstraction?

I always find it weird when people refer to me as an abstract painter! I suppose there is an abstracted element, but it is only because I feel so dissatisfied when an image I have created stays on one plane. I always feel the need to disrupt, to fracture, dis-assemble, re-assemble, to have the painting reflect something more true about the subject than a straight forward depiction would. Something more human, something that reflects different facets of a mental state, or the different dimensions we live through. The subject matter is definitely more important. I’m not purposely abstracting things just for the sake of it. It’s a personal thing but I think that kind of incompleteness reflects something about how I feel about existing in this world. It’s how I make sense of my place in this world.

Sarah_Shaw_04 Sarah_Shaw_04a

Tell us about your process and do you strictly stick to it with all your work?

I’m an image/idea magpie. I collect images from different sources, from newspapers, magazines, internet, posters, personal photos etc etc etc and place these around the studio with notes usually scribbled on them to remind me of what has provoked my interest. Not all these images, ideas will make it into a painting, but I select some that have some relevance to my thinking and kind of start to make a painterly collage. I then take this into Photoshop and mess around with different combinations, and generate more information to paint from. I usually then print this out and mess again with it, cutting and changing elements which are superfluous. The initial painting process is usually quite a speedy affair, quickly establishing, hopefully, the sense of dynamic that I’m envisioning. The paintings will go through a hundred different changes before I’m in any way happy with the results. The final result will, inevitably, retain nothing of the initial collage but may retain the markings of the journey of the painting. And no, I don’t stick to it with all my work, sometimes a painting just happens without all of the above. One of my favourite paintings happened because I had an image in my head I just wanted to get down on canvas and bring into existence. Three blissful hours later, it was there, tangible and real.

Which Artists’ work has influenced you the most?

That’s a very difficult question. The most? As an adult I would probably say Peter Doig, but I think an artist/illustrator called Kit Williams, author of the famous ‘Masquerade’ book had a massive effect on me when I was a child, and made me want to paint. In terms of Kit Williams it was his subject that fascinated me, not so much the execution, in terms of Doig it’s both his subject and his incredible application of paint.

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What challenges (if any) do you face with your work and how do you overcome them?

Oh, lack of confidence, over thinking things, eternal dissatisfaction. It’s a constant challenge to overcome these, but I think it’s an important part of being a painter and the journey.

Have you got any interesting projects/ exhibitions coming up?

It’s all a bit crazy at the moment! Y’know that saying you wait for one bus for ages and three turn up at once? Well the equivalent of ten have turned up in the last couple of months!

I’m currently showing work in the ‘Pushing Paint’ exhibition at Ink-d Gallery, Brighton alongside artists I really respect, and in the Cork Street gallery as part of the UA Open competition. I have two paintings selected for this year’s East Sussex Open at Towner Gallery in Eastbourne, work in the Lawrence Alkin gallery in Soho, London and my own solo show coming up swiftly in July at the Naked Eye gallery in Hove. Oh and the BBC are following my painting progress for a project I’m not allowed to publicise yet…

What is the most valuable piece of advice anyone has given you that you still use today?

Believe in yourself. And keep a well stacked fruit bowl.

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Please visit Sarah Shaw’s website www.sarahshaw.co.uk to view her online gallery and see exhibition information.

 

Gamblin Torrit Grey

If you took all the pigments in the colour spectrum and mixed them together, what colour would you make?

Every spring, Gamblin Artists Colors collects a wealth of pigments from our Torit® Air Filtration system. We filter the air around the areas where we handle dry pigments so that our workers are not exposed to pigment dust. Rather than sending any of our high quality, expensive pigments into the landfill, Gamblin paint makers recycle them into “Gamblin Torrit Grey”.

“Pigment dust should not go into the earth, water or landfill, but into paint,” says Robert Gamblin.

Gamblin Torrit Grey on CopperThe mix of pigments is different every year, so Torrit Grey is always unique and will never be repeated. Torrit Grey tends to have a greenish tinge because of the great strength of the Phthalo Green pigment, which is a dark bluish green. Torrit Grey varies from a medium dove grey to a dark earthy grey.

We are now dating the tubes, so artists can collect them from year to year and enjoy the unique qualities of each edition. Whatever you create with these popular limited edition colors is solely up to you and your imagination.

Our Torrit Grey store promotion, which runs each year through the end of April in celebration of Earth Day, not only recycles pigment dust into paint but focuses artists on the importance of recycling, studio and environmental safety. Complimentary 37ml tubes of Torrit Grey are only available while supplies last through Lawrence Art Supplies alongside any order of a Gamblin product! Last year, we distributed more than 11,000 tubes of Torrit Grey! Limitations are often your greatest creative assets and it is remarkable what talented artists can achieve with a color palette limited to white, or black and Torrit Grey.

The Torrit Grey Painting Competition, conducted annually in the Fall, attracts more entries every year. In 2008, we received over 160 submissions from painters willing to take the challenge of making a value based painting using only Torrit Grey and any black or white oil paint. The competition is judged by Robert Gamblin and the winners receive a supply of Gamblin Artists’ materials.

You can see the winning entries from the 2008 contest at Torrit Grey Winners. Torrit Grey Painting Competition entry forms are available from your local fine art materials retailer, and from our web site at Guidelines & Entry Form.

“We invite you to enjoy the paint today—to capture its subtle monochromatic excitement – because this special color will only exist next year as paintings,” says Robert Gamblin.

Donaldson® Torit® has been improving industrial air quality for over 90 years. To learn more about the their various air filtration solutions, visit Donaldson Torit.

Baize roll tool kits

Take a look at how our tool kits are made:

Red is the new green! Here is the material used for the baize roll.1

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Tim uses a template to punch the holes out that hold the tools.

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Student lino tools ready for wrapping.

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Kit includes G3, G5, G9 gouges and V4 and V6 V-tools. Great as a present for someone who is getting about their lino printing.

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Buy here

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An interview with John Picking – oil painter, watercolourist and printmaker

 John Picking- Oil painter, Watercolourist and printmaker

John in northern Studio 2010 John Picking in his studio in 2010.

Lawrence Art Supplies: Tell us a little bit about your artistic background and education. What inspired you to become an artist?

I did my first oil paintings at fourteen. On Sundays a friend and I would paint the landscape around Wigan. My efforts were terrible, but I was fired with enthusiasm and decided I wanted to study art.

I started at Wigan School of Art when I was sixteen but my drawing was the worst in the group. Anger with myself made me stay every evening for extra classes and after two years I won the Intermediate Course Prize. It was in that period that I first attended etching classes.

After the Diploma in Painting and Lithography, I went into the third year of the Painting School at Edinburgh College of Art. My dad sent me £2 a week and for six months I survived on egg and chips. Eventually I had to tell the Principal that I would have to leave the college, so I returned to my parents in Wigan. Shortly after I returned, I received a letter from Edinburgh College offering me an Andrew Grant bursary to complete my course. I was also given a Post-Diploma grant with my own studio in the college and this led to a further grant, a traveller for a year. I decided to paint in Spain.

Lawrence Art Supplies: Your more recent work predominantly deals with geometric shapes and space, who or what has influenced this particular interest?90307 Macro e Micro II oil 120 x 80cm Macro e Micro II- oil painting

Amongst the ruins (from my past) there was a painting, a relief/collage/painting, the kind of thing that I did at Goldsmiths’ College many years ago. A friend/collector asked me if that painting existed. I explained that exactly like that, it didn’t. He commissioned me to paint it.

The return to a kind of painting I had abandoned years before gave me a strong sense of nostalgia.

In 1969, when I made my first trip to Italy my work had returned to be a kind of metaphysical landscape. Now I jump from one path of my work to the other. Why not? I speak English and Italian. Why can’t I paint one minute in one language and the next in another? I could be called eclectic, but I get bored if I risk repeating the same technique all the time.

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When Picasso was a young man he moved through different periods. But if you notice by the dates on the work, from the late twenties onwards, he did a cubist painting in the morning and a neoclassical drawing in the afternoon.

Lawrence Art Supplies: You also paint figuratively, do the two interests relate to each other?

I have always been very keen on Rennaisance and neo-classical painters. I once read a book called The Hidden Geometry in Art. The best paintings for me have a powerful underlying structure, the thing Cezanne found in Poussin. It’s a short step from Cezanne to Braque’s first cubist paintings. More than thinking figuratively I think of forms and colours, even when I am doing a portrait.

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Lawrence Art Supplies: What is the most valuable piece of advice anyone has given you that you still use today?

There are two pieces that come to mind;

The first was at Edinburgh in a composition class. James Cumming, our teacher and well-known Scottish painter, sat down beside me. He mixed a middle tone of grey on my palette. Then he asked me to do two paintings: one where the grey was the darkest tone and the other where it was the lightest. I realised just how relative tone and colour are.

I say to my pupils, imagine a black and white chessboard on a window sill touched in part by a ray of sun. The white squares in the shade can be darker than the black squares in the sun!

The other advice was also whilst I was a student at Edinburgh. They gave me a small traveller to visit London but as I often went there I proposed something different; I was keen on Palmer and Sutherland and decided to investigate their landscape sources, Shoreham in Kent and Pembrokeshire in Wales respectively.

I wrote to Sutherland asking him where precisely he found those motifs. He very kindly invited me to his Trotiscliffe studio saying if I visited him while I was in Kent, he would mark his sources on a map. I took a folio of my drawings and etchings to show him and he encouraged me to follow my personal researches even when my teachers wanted something more academic.

Lawrence Art Supplies: You live in Italy, would you say your environment heavily influences your work?

Yes, it’s to do with the light amongst other things. One of my early venues for a few months painting was Cornwall, where I met other painters at St Ives on the same quest. Later I discovered the Mediterranean, first Spain and then Italy. The terraced hillsides first built by the Arabs in Spain and Sicily gave a geometric structure to the landscape which appealed to me.

90301 Iso Piazza, (oil on panel) 2013 Iso Piazza- oil on panel

At Goldsmiths’ our teacher Anton Ehrenzweig proposed a project Organic v. Geometric, dividing the world of forms into two categories. This apposition of the two elements helped me appreciate those classical paintings and the various elements in a landscape. The combination of vines, olives and fig trees, for example, with the terraced landscape, has always been in the background of my work.

Lawrence Art Supplies: How do you approach a blank canvas, do you see in your mind how the finished painting should look?

There never seems to be a blank canvas. Your question brings to mind that film of Mr Bean who strokes his chin before a blank canvas wondering what to paint! Most of my ideas originate from drawings. During the day at the studio I work on a group of oils, in the evening I do scribbles of ideas, studies and watercolours. There is probably a theme running through them.

When I finish a group of oils I take the drawings to the studio, there may be fifty or more. I spread them out on the floor and choose between ten and fifteen and I attach a PostIt label on these allocating a size of canvas.

I often start with acrylics on a coloured ground for the first sitting. I probably start four or five in a day. I like to establish the linear structure of the painting but I can’t say what the colour will be like in the end. That’s a matter of changing and balancing as I go along. As I develop the works in oils the pace slows down and I may work on one canvas for a whole day or more before moving to the next. Having a group has technical advantages; I can leave time to dry between painting layers by moving on to the next which has been drying for a week or more. After about two months or so, I finish the cycle.

I never wait for inspiration; ideas arrive at odd moments, like when I’m at the supermarket. When I get home I do one of my scribbles.

Lawrence Art Supplies: What does your typical day in the studio entail? 

I go to the studio at about 6am and answer e-mails and make notes on the day’s work etc. Usually by 7 I’m at work on my canvases. Lately, I have been doing more commissioned art work and less for dealers, this means I may work longer on one thing.

Sicilian Studio August 2013John’s Sicilian studio

When I have a commission for an etching I have a different day. I have a friend assistant who helps me with an edition (he’s the one with clean hands and I do the dirty work!). After lunch I have a short siesta (a habit I learned from my hosts in Spain). I work in the afternoon until 7pm.

Assistant Alessandro pulls the print for Corte Franca John’s assistant Alessandro

I remember many years ago seeing a programme about Ronald Searle, the great cartoonist. He said he hated going out in the evenings because he would miss the fun. It was as though his hand was doing the drawing and he was the spectator.

Lawrence Art Supplies: What is your favourite colour and why?

That question is like asking a musician which is his favourite note. As I said earlier, it’s all relative. In music you may have a favourite key or chords, in painting there may be various combinations of colour. I like to balance harmonies and contrasts, perhaps around a pair of complementary colours.

91076 Cilindro Stratificato watercolourCilindro Stratificato- watercolour

I use quite a lot of Indian yellow suggesting the dry cornfields of Sicily, but that makes me want its complementary violet in the shadows. I also need my catalyst, i.e. a colour outside the scheme which is like a joker forcing changes. After the changes he may be eliminated.

Lawrence Art Supplies: Who is/are your favourite artists and why?

I have always advised students to visit as many exhibitions as possible.

Everybody robs previous painters as they do their research for a personal project. I have robbed many: Poussin, Claude, Botticelli, Velasquez, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Klee, Picasso, Sutherland, Bryan Wynter (a friend at St Ives), Sam Francis, Rothko, Escher, etc.

Each day my enthusiasms change according to what I see in others’ work. The reasons I like them may also be different each time. For example, in the National Gallery of Scotland there is a large Claude- “Landscape with River God” which I first saw in 1960! Every time I go to Edinburgh I drop in to see my old friend. It seems to change with the years and I have different reasons for appreciating it each time- I’m obviously the one who has changed.

John Picking

www.johnpicking.com

Derwent Inktense printing set experiment

Inktense printmaking set box

We had to try the set out as we haven’t used anything like this before. Similar to using quickprint and a biro, but the foam is far more durable. The ink blocks make the printing experience much more clean!

Inktense printmaking set 1

Here are the contents of the set. Foam, needle with 2 different sized tips, water spritzer, roller and Inktense blocks.

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We just drew a design free hand to test it out. When using the ball point needle you need to press into the foam quite hard and repetitively, but you get the hang of it. It means a light touch wont effect the print so there will be less mistakes. You can also faintly mark out the next part of the design which is good.

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We cut out the design from the foam which was extremely easy!

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Lightly spray the surface with water using this fine mister.

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The inktense blocks are then applied over the surface. The pigment comes away very easy, and you can apply as much or as little as you like. You use lots of colours at once, layering to mix.

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Roller the back of the design on to paper…

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and here you go, our first attempt! You can re-wet the foam to release more ink. We kept adding colour afterwards and rewetting. We learnt don’t be shy with the blocks and bold designs will work the best. Altogether quite a fun set, brilliant as a gift for budding printmakers!