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As the Pastel Academy Online’s pre launch phase begins (see next newsletter) I have had many more questions put to me about ‘why’ I am starting it. Well maybe this blog adds a little to that understanding.
I can’t count the amount of times I have heard phrases like; The work of an artist is all about ‘Trial and Error’. It is a case of ‘Practice Makes Perfect’.
If anything is likely to get me frustrated it is those two phrases. Why? Because very day on my art Facebook groups, I see those phrases used more or less daily, and almost always they are used out of context. Potentially good artists diligently practicing methods which are to say the least – not the best or most productive ones.
So this blog is going to ask you a couple of questions – more on those later.
You have been practicing for what seems like forever.
Now you feel you are at least proficient with what you can do.
You have learnt the hard way – by trial and error.
I know because this describes me – the path I took and by circumstance I was forced to take if I were to learn what I wanted to learn in my art. But all I knew was that there must be a better way.
Did practice make perfect for me? Eventually yes – but I was pretty lucky in the choices I made. Very lucky in fact. So luck had a lot to do with it.
Having learned the basics of the head structure and perspective, this was a fruitful period of practice on self portrait drawings. I studied facial anatomy books – which is the hard way. Now I teach portraiture using the lessons I wish I had when I was developing. A good teacher will synthesize and condense the important lessons for you.
My Summer Portrait Seminar in the Ribble Valley; an annual seminar with a waiting list every year. The seminars were 7 days with studio live study work during the day and a lecture programme on portraiture in the evenings. Plenty of chance to pack in all the important basics which I wished I had been given when my learning began.
Then there is the simple fact that should have there been better ways for me to learn – it would have come at quite a cost. That cost would have been on a few levels. For one thing money was tight. When I started my studies in earnest, I was living in a northern town with no university, and no ‘degree’ courses possible in the area. I was also a young Mum, and to make matters worse I didn’t drive. So finding an alternative way of learning for me was – it seemed – impossible. Of course there was no internet either. So I went on a self-taught track, and supplemented my learning with evening classes in art history.
If given the opportunity – would I have done it differently?
Well put it this way, yes I would. In a heartbeat. The self-taught route can not only be lonely, it can lead you up the garden path – the wrong path. It can also take an age to achieve relatively little in the process..
Think about it this way. A musician goes to the Royal College of Music, or one of the other reputable musical academies. A painter is lucky enough to get a place in one of the top university art departments; the Royal Academy if they are lucky. A budding dress designer gets a chance of a place at the Royal College of Art. What have they all got in common? Well clearly even having been admitted they have their first real accreditation – they are good enough to have got a place. That knowledge is giving them a degree of personal and artistic confidence in the first place.
What else have they in common? They are lucky – lucky to have secured this head start – and they are going to get the specific education they need – what I call the recipes; the methods and techniques which are the best practices. The basic and fundamental stuff and when you have this quality input; specific focused knowledge – that is when practice makes perfect.
So you are at home – maybe with a young family, or looking after elderly relatives. No chance of a place at the Royal Academy. SO you ‘play’ and try and work out your medium and how it works, and it’s the trial and error game. Not so bad when you are young maybe, but as you get older ‘time’ takes on different meaning. There is less of it. So eventually you might get a result – develop a technique maybe – that you are happy with and seems to work for you.
On your personal artistic growth scale you might have gone from 1 – 4 (on a scale of ten). But how would you know? By your own judgement? You are not in a college with other students learning at the same time to compare your efforts to.
In as much as their praise and encouragement is given in the very best of intentions, you need to ask yourself this: How long has it taken me to learn what I know so far? Does my Mum or sister or Dad really know anything about what I am doing? My father had a massive influence on my young teenage art ‘career’, but his idea of art was making it look like a photograph. Did that help me? No it didn’t. But his views are widely echoed especially by those who have not read a book about art, and never intend to, like my father. What my father gave me was encouragement and support, but his opinion on my work had little value.
So I was destined never to have an objective opinion for a long time. And without that – we are back to our lonely position of doubt. No wonder so many self-taught artists are lacking in confidence.
All too often the answer to that is no. Why? Well the idea behind practice makes perfect is simply this; like the kid in music school – they are taught the musical scales – and told to practice and practice.
The key is of course they were taught the musical scales in the first place.
Having been given the tried and true recipe, yes practice will make perfect. Without the initial information that you need, you might well be ‘making do’.
‘But you shouldn’t be just making the best of poor or ineffective methods – methods that are probably holding you back – maybe a collection of poor habits you have become accustomed to and that is even worse for your artistic development.’
I cannot think of a worse scenario than spending months practicing a method or technique that was doomed to fail in the first place. But you weren’t to know. Stabbing in the dark is just exactly that – sometimes you will hit your target – sometimes – most times you won’t. You might buy a book of another artists work and copy their style, and methods and you will make some headway, but at best you will only that one technique – and many practical art books are put out by artists who specialist in just one method – in one medium and in one technique, and very often using specified materials. What you are doing in fact is a little like attempting to learn how to fancy wedding cake – without having learned how to make a simple cup cake and measure the ingredients first. Trying to make a ballroom gown without a clue how to use a sewing machine.
More practice by way of my self portrait series and at this stage I was looking for ideas to bring something different to the sketches. I was particularly interested in expression as can be seen! All this was live in the mirror of course – it is the only way to develop real control over your portrait skills. When I need to or have to I can turn these skills to working from photography – and can do so without ‘copying’ an image as much as interpreting it with a view to breathing life into it.
Learn the best practices and the tried, true and tested methods, and yes – then practice can make perfect.
Well experimentation is a key principal of traditional art training. Picasso is the perfect example. But practice is most effective in the hands of the student who has learnt the basics and understands what they are practicing! When you are trying to learn the basics by trial and error – it is just an exercise in frustration and patience, and all too often, wasting time. So for many trial and error is a pain, and when all is said and done – how do you know what is working?
What are the best ways to learn and develop as an artist? Ways that don’t cost the earth and give more results for your money? Well to start with try very hard to get some training in the basics in art. That means stuff that isn’t medium specific – but applies to work in all mediums; composition, tonal values, colour theory, perspective. Unfortunately, all too many developing artists go for details and technical tricks first. And also they go to occasional workshops set up by other artists who don’t teach the basics – and frankly probably don’t even know them. This is the one method, one way, kind of workshop – where a group of people get together in a room to all paint the same painting. Fine – once you have learnt the basics! But often this approach is poor educationally.
I did, because I began as 13 year old who loved portraits. IAt that age I was basically just following one path instinctively. I eventually diversified, and wish I had done it so much sooner, but I got into the trap of trying to earn a living from my ‘art’, out of necessity – which works for a while. But I wanted to improve as an artist – not become complacent with a few techniques under my belt. Learning landscape has taught me the real important stuff I needed to develop my portraiture. Strange but true! (I later learned that this is why top university art departments take the same approach.)
Have your ultimate goal in mind but step outside that single minded frame of mind when you can – you will be amazed at what you learn. Whatever you circumstance and whatever your relationship to your creative art is – I hope that some of what I have written here resonates with you. And it is so important to push home the point – it is never too late to learn – and to improve and above all else to feel good about your work and how it is developing.
1. Have you ever questioned the idea that some practice might not be productive?
2. Are you also self taught? Have you been frustrated by lack of guidance? Have you learnt from books?
3. If you have attended college courses, have you this far managed to get some tuition on the basics? Colour Theory? Tonal Values? Basic Drawing? Composition? Perspective? Or did you learn them at school?
Please use the comments section below and I look forward to hear your stories.
Meanwhile I am on my own learning curve – finalizing the launch details of the Pastel Academy! News on the opening is coming very soon. The first step will be to invite some beta testers! So more on that in a couple of weeks.
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THE PASTEL ACADEMY
is finally becoming a Reality!
Twelve months ago the journey began, fueled by the knowledge that I needed a working tool to be able to reach out and teach all of you who want to learn, improve and advance in your artistic careers; in the belief that the end result has to be good for you, and equally as important for me; for the furtherance of the pastel medium. To me it always seemed a little futile in giving over my life’s creativity to learning and specialising in a fabulous medium like pastel – if not to find some way to pass that knowledge and passion on to others.
It has been an exciting, if a demanding dream – but now the months of planning and building are beginning to pay off. I have had little time to paint, but that was a necessary sacrifice in the short term. It certainly has been and remains a concentrated period of creativity in another way.
And without doubt I have been spurred on by your messages of encouragement. Thank you so much to those of you who have written to me and also those who have replied in the comments sections of my blogs. I was also pretty knocked out by how many of you took part in the survey earlier this year – your input was very important.
So now on to the serious subject of Beta Testers. What are Beta Testers? Well not only will they be the first members to enter the Academy (!), they will also be the first to test the Membership Site functions.
Possibly one of the main attractions of becoming an Academy Beta member, is the fact that as the earliest members, your feedback could actually shape the features of the Academy, by giving your input honestly and with an appreciation of the mission of the Academy in mind. To be in on the birth of something like the Academy can be exciting and productive! And I will be in there testing it all too, so for me it is also a chance to get to know my first members who are helping me to polish the site.
Beta Testers are in fact Charter Members: first members of the Academy, there will be a special enrolment price for you.. You will be offered the membership level of your choice with a large discount off (either the Silver or Gold Membership – Platinum membership opens later in 2017) – and that fee will stay the same for the duration of your membership! The beta prices will be forwarded to you in an email in a few days.
So what do the Beta Testers Actually do?
Well they join the Academy prior to the Launch and they make themselves familiar with all the pages and resources. They are of course also the first to test out the payment structure. That really is an important test. If there are any problems the Beta Testers will find them.
What Else do they do?
They test all the links between pages – check out that all the buttons take them to the place they should do. They check all videos and resources. They should run up a ‘snag’ list. It is amazing how many little glitches or issues I might not be able to ‘see’; which is natural considering how close I am to the site, so your fresh eyes will be valuable.
But equally as important – and this is the fun bit – you get to start the Community Forums. With me. The Forums are an awesome feature!
Oh yes and they are awesome!
There are a few Forums in the Academy but first of all let me explain why I have chosen Academy Forums over a Facebook page for instance. As a friend of mine recently experienced, Facebook can at any time change their rules or even worse (as happened to her) they can close groups down, with no warning and even less reason. And then of course there is the simple fact that a properly set up Forum is far better than a Facebook group, and private from the public gaze.
So the Academy Community is an important part of the academy experience. There are many sub forums which make up the whole community experience, including:
In addition, you will each have your own totally customisable Profile page where you can add all your weblinks and social media info.
So to be the first to populate the Community Forums is a great thing – and the Beta members will be doing that.
Now this is interesting.
I need Beta Members who are both familiar with computers and some who are not particularly computer savvy. In fact, I estimate a good percentage of people I am writing to right now – might not be computer savvy. You are equally as valuable to the Academy as Beta Members.
So if you want to be in the Academy at ground level, and would like to be a Charter Member of the Academy – this is your chance.
I am also looking for beta members who take the aims of the Academy seriously and respect the job it is being designed to do. And from these Beta members there might also be some Academy ‘positions’ which develop – eg Forum moderators, customer service. etc
So How Do You Become a Beta Tester/Member?
I am looking for no more than 15 Beta members. So this really is a ofgne and only time opportunity.
So if you are interested in being a Beta member simply send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. (or click reply on the newsletter that provided you with this blog link). In return I will send you a mail with beta enrolment information and more information about the beta tasks.
It is estimated that the Beta Group might be invited to join in late November/early December 2016
More news soon.
The work continues!
The Academy Website is beginning to look exciting and I am reaching the stage where I cant wait to get you all involved with the content and training which is currently taking all my time.
I always knew that to take on the challenge of the Pastel Academy – it would take time and I know that when you are eager to learn and to be involved – it is eagerly awaited. That is what I am doing this for. But when you have over 40 years of pastel knowledge to pass on it is mind boggling!
This month I have heard that I am to have an operation on one eye – thank heavens I will be unconscious for it! It isn’t massively complex I am told but I need it and as an artist it panics me somewhat. Anyway I shall be called in for the operation sometime in the next three months (sooner rather than later I hope). So some of my video training may well be coming to you with a black eye!
Questions are coming through to me all of the time about what the Academy training will cover. It is also coming through to me via the pastel articles I write on a regular basis for the Artists Publishing Group in the UK (Leisure Painter and The Artist magazines).
Watch out for the next Leisure Painter pastel article about backgrounds to portraiture (out in September). The first ‘background’ article was int he March issue.
The training I am concentrating on this month relates to the use of Pastel Pencils. I know that many of you use pastel pencils – some for odd details or close detail work and some use them as your main medium. So I have a few questions you can help to clarify for me:
If you have any other questions relating to pastel pencils please add them and answers to the questions above in the comments below.
Landscape is the subject which contains the most basic painting lessons – all the important ones like aerial perspective, tonal values, colour theory, composition, design. I have two basic questions:
Please add any other questions you have about landscape and the answers to the above two questions to the comments section below this post.
In early August I should have a launch date – and the next time I write I shall be outlining plans for a Beta Testing membership – a group of keen Academy members who will form the basis of a group who will test the Membership site – all the pages and forums, and all relevant check in and login in functions etc. Beta testing is the step prior to opening the Academy for all to join.
More on this next time I write. More also on the Academy Community forums! The perfect Pastel Hang out!
Meanwhile the work continues…………!
But on a Lighter Note – I have had some wonderful students over the years – and John the cartoonist was one of them!
I am planning to open the Academy doors for enrollment within a few months. I would love to be more specific but there are so many elements to bring together.
So watch this space! There will be a discounted Launch program for those on my Academy list.
All is about to happen pretty soon.
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The Academy train is rolling along, with still so much to do but at least it is on the right track!
Without doubt it is a massive undertaking but all the best things are worth waiting for. One of the things that has not helped me is the fact that there is nothing out there in internet land, like the Academy, so I am more or less breaking new ground with this project. It is exciting for sure but without doubt the Academy is pretty unique. Why? Well I’m an artist at the top of my game, but rather than further career building, I am more passionate about my medium and mentoring the next generation of pastel artists, and for good reason. So my time is now taken up with the Academy, and I am more excited about it than I would be putting together a new one woman exhibition. In fact I’m very excited about the fact it is online rather than a real world brick built building housing a pastel school. Online, you can all participate. Offline pastel tuition of this calibre would be down to access and affordability – travel, accommodation etc.
So the upside is – potentially you can all participate. The downside – there is a limit as to how many enrollees I am able to take in. More on that later.
At the moment the website is in full construction mode, and will remain in that mode for as long as it takes to complete of course. I have looked at different kinds of models for the Academy and in the end chose the simplest and most effective solution.
The choices I had to make centred on whether it would be best to complete each course and then put them onto an online teaching platform – costed basically on their length and content, or, to house all the courses on a platform (website) of my own at a similar cost, or – not to charge for the courses individually, but to house them all on a website of my own on a membership basis.
After some consideration there was no contest: The Pastel Academy will follow the membership site model. The reasons are simple:
The best and most efficient way to deliver all of the Academy’s services is via what is in effect a private Membership Pastel Club online. Then when you enrol on a monthly membership (or a discounted annual one) you have access to the Academy resources.
So now the Academy looks something like this:
.I have been thinking about this for some time having been asked by artists over the years how I have built my career.
This is something I am pretty passionate about and which is also in response to my survey questions last month. Yes, I do have a lot of experience in marketing myself and yes I will be giving advice and adding that into my course content. (What you might not know is that I was accepted into Lancaster University back in 1990 as a mature student, on an Arts/Marketing ticket).
This is something that is of great interest to quite a few of you. For me it is yet another way of putting down in course form, my experience as an artist from a business level, and how to survive as one lol! It matters particularly to me that I should be passing this information on to pastel artists of course, but this is one section that applies to all visual artists.
***This last Academy function will come under a separate membership level – a Platinum level membership. It is something that might be of little interest to beginners and learners – at least until you are confident in your abilities – but something available to you down the line when you are ready to upgrade to platinum level. (Of course Platinum level will also have other exclusive features).
The is a really important consideration. First of all let me outline my commitment; Obviously I have been living and breathing this project for over a year now and in fact when the Academy goes live I shall be even busier. The Academy will in effect become my art school. I shall be on duty in the Community forums, setting up a beginners program and providing Live Training every month. In addition to bringing in some interesting ‘guests’ into the blogs. I shall be running the content creation program (courses PDF’s ebooks etc.) and running the online functioning of the Academy – the Membership site software itself – and I’m not a techie!
I am doing this because I know I can make a big difference, and I want my life’s work to be of value when I’m no longer around. Pastel’s reputation and standing in the art world is my motivation, and the Academy’s role for me is in training the next generation of pastel artists – who will get the chance to hit the ground running because I am mentoring them.
There is a limit to the number I am willing to take in. Some of course will need more guidance than others, but I don’t want a mass of students who are not going to get the full benefits of Academy Member ship because they lack commitment.
In fact the Academy will be open for enrolment three times a year, following its initial launch. (This figure may change but it is the one I am working towards at the moment.) This is particularly important to the beginners program, and there may be a more flexible enrolment policy for more advanced pastelists. The people on my email list – all of you reading this – will be offered the chance to enrol first.
So how do I get word about the Academy out and still attract the right students? Well one way I can do this is with your help. I shall be running an;
Which means that if you refer (recommend) the Academy to someone you know who you think will benefit from it, and they sign up, you will receive a commission. More on this later, but it is a good way to participate in the growth of the Academy and earn something towards your fees.
At the moment I am planning just two levels – gold and platinum and I am working on the membership level fee structure at the moment. There is an option of a silver level should that become a requirement.
So that updates you all on the Academy and how it will work. I know that you will have many questions and this is what you can do for me.
Please add your questions in the comments section below or if you wish send them through the email address on the newsletter. I will read and answer them all – and I look forward to reading your comments!
This post is not about pro or against a style of painting. There are far more interesting issues. Photography is very much a part of our world and our use of it is important as artists.
Quite a few people have messaged me about this and I said I would explain it better in my blog.
All these things are part of the life of a modern day artist. That and a lot more besides. All that and for many – you can add being a Mum or a Dad, running a house, weekly shopping, keeping a job, a carer, or caring for family……the list never ends. Conclusion: Your artwork is often difficult to fit in to you daily lives? Sometimes you feel annoyed about that? In my last post I asked , ‘When did you know you were or wanted to become an artist?’ The response was wonderful, and heartwarming and many of you shared your personal stories. For some of you I think it might have been the first time you had shared your thoughts and feelings about your work, and for others it was probably the first time you had even thought about the question. But it is important that you do think about these questions – in particular if you are trying to carve out a career as an artist. ( Even if you are just what you regard as a ‘hobby painter’, you probably care about your work enough to want to give time to it; learning time and developing time.) So now is the real big question:
Lets be honest here – trying to earn your living as an artist is hardly a good game plan if you are looking for a regular income. Some of you reading this right now are probably wondering the same thing – and yet – for what ever your reason, your art is a part of your life, and a part that you most likely treasure. And what if you are not interested in earning an income from your work? Let alone a living wage. What makes you want to be an artist?
I grew up with a multi talented (or skilled – whatever you might call it), Grandmother – you know the idea – whatever my Nanna Ada did – she did beautifully. During the 2nd World War she was a busy lady; making clothes for the family, and wedding dresses for those who could get enough clothing coupons together to buy enough fabric to make a wedding dress. Ada was also a knitting pattern designer, and an expert in knitting and crochet. (for those of you who dont know what rationing coupons were – Google wll keep you busy for weeks! ) Special clothes -even for men. She was an talented florist (the ‘go to person’ for a wedding for sure – she covered it all) – and spent hours ‘wiring’ flowers for lapels and bouquets. Her cooking was renowned – a real home cook of course – eating out was not something people she knew did during those years. Come Christmas – her artistry made the festivities memorable – special pies and Ada’s tarts, and her Christmas Trifle was something the whole street came to see before it was eaten. (It was made in a punch bowl). Her Christmas house decorations were amazing and cost nothing. On top of that – she was a Cap and Gown Pianist (in other words she was capable of pursuing a career as a professional pianist and did in fact have the opportunities offered her – but as the oldest sister of a large war time family it was not to be an option – she had to look after her siblings or go to work).
It was second nature to her to give rather than charge for her skills. Now of course part of that is because women had for centuries been expected to give rather than charge, and the idea of a woman having a ‘career’ in working class Britain back then was a bit ‘far fetched’. Boy have things changed some 80 years later.
Of course the real issue here is ‘Was she happy’, giving and providing and helping and ‘saving the day’ on many occasions when she sat up most of the night sewing a special dress for a special friend. I don’t think she would have even questioned her role back then. It was rare that women did. But this much I do remember – she felt she spent her time wisely – she loved to learn, and of course back then it was the done thing for women to stay home and she never felt the pressure of having to go out for a wage. Now that is a freedom many people today would value.
Well there are a few things:
Above All Else: I learned that to be an artist is to value the nurturing role. This is true of me but may not be for everybody. Maybe it is because of the wonderful role model I had that I link creativity with nurturing. It is what makes me a passionate teacher. I absolutely thrive in the teaching role and seeing others develop and progress. And true to say the older I get the more I realise that the wealth of knowledge I have may not be ‘passed down’ if I don’t take positive action.
So it means that for the forseable future I put my own work to one side and get on with the development of the courses. The emails I have received from those concerned that what I am doing is career suicide (yes one mail actually put it that way and I understand her point). But there is no other way and what I have planned re tuition needs time and focus to get it done properly. A few select commissions I would never refuse, but those apart my studio has morphed into a recording studio.
In a way it is exciting were it not for the sheer size of this project. But Onwards and Upwards, and if I am lucky I will have a few well trained and passionately dotty pastelists to show for it all in the end.
And that is what this blog has been about. My Grandmother has been a lot on my mind lately.
SO please let me know if any of this resonates with you. Did you have an Nanna Ada in your life? Share your story – it will be much appreciated by many if the last blog response is anything to go by. Comment below.