Back to the Real World

So it is with great sadness that I come to the end of my current stint of training, I have created 6 paintings at the Sarum Studio, 3 of which are destined for the bin, and 3 turned out surprisingly well, including the one below. They are all of the same model – I was surprised that my teacher let us work together after the first one as we were really quite chatty, in a mostly quiet room full of concentrating artists, I am already banned from working with another artist for the same reason, we had far too much fun! (Whilst working hard of course)

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It has been hugely challenging , I feel as though I have learned so much from the tuition, and I am excited about putting my new skills into practice in future, I will definitely continue my studies when I have saved up again and already miss everyone there.

It is strange being back in Blandford again, and re-opening the gallery which was looking terribly neglected, but I return to many new exciting projects, alongside an attempt to get fit, oh and lots of paperwork.

I have had some interesting photoshoots over the years. I did an outdoor shoot for 2 good sized portraits alongside their dogs near London this February, brrrrr, frozen hands. One of the models – a huge Alsatian guard dog was definitely considering me for dinner. The people were lovely and welcoming and gave us a very tasty lunch, so a great day was had all round.

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After celebrating Easter at The Sarum Studio with a pair of bunny ears, four furry guests turned up at the gallery in the shape of the most adorable rescue bunnies. I was only expecting two, and the challenge of getting bunnies to pose together took quite a while, as they happily hopped around.
It was so enjoyable, I would definitely consider a career as a professional bunny photographer; I am looking forward to painting them and will post a blog when they are finished.

I completed another military photoshoot too, neither chilly or fluffy, variety is the spice of life!

The Brush Killer

In the depths of February I find myself once again back in Salisbury, at the wondrous Sarum Studio, studying the Old Masters techniques with Nicholas Beer. I have commenced my painting training, and have 5 weeks of full-time brain-melting studying of portraiture and the human figure. It is unbelievably challenging and my mind is full of exciting new information. On day 2, the portrait is transforming better than expected, the figure painting less so, it should be a 10 day project but I only have 3 days, so all a bit frantic, still it is a great place to start the learning curve.

The painting technique differs hugely from my own in many ways, the main one is regarding brushes – For the past 10 years I have worked mostly with soft flat acrylic brushes, or very tiny ones. I am learning to use hog bristle brushes which are flat but rounded at the end, so there goes my ability to create straight crisp edges! Small sable ones are used for detail and highlights.

I never throw away brushes, which means that I own hundreds and hundreds of them, most have been at some point left unloved and abandoned after a painting session with the best intentions of returning later to continue painting or clean them.

I searched through my battered collection and dug out large quantities of old and abused hog brushes, most of which were rock solid with old paint and varnish. I then remembered my 5 litre tub of non-toxic water based paint stripper which I have used for my house renovation. With a little patience and squidging, I brought them all back to life. Nick wasn’t quite as impressed, my paint collection and palette instil horror in most who set eyes upon them, yesterdays comment was ‘are you really planning to use that palette?’ It was caked in an unsightly rainbow of multiple layers of paint – I hastily turned it upside down and used the clean side.

There is a way of wrapping wet brushes with tissue paper to get all the bristles tidy and in good shape, unfortunately time ran out and I just let them dry, and many had wayward bristles sticking out in various directions. I just about found some usable ones in the pile.
The technique involves a limited palette of just a few colours, which were the only ones which were available way back in the past, not having a blue is strange, instead, ivory black is used (not the most obvious name for a black) a lead white and only 3 other colours. You would think that mixing flesh tones with what would seem like only a few options would be easy but noooooo, it is not.
Another major difference are the painting mediums and thinners , my Zest-it ones have been banished, and I now spend my days slightly high on turpentine and some other traditional substances, which I must say, are fabulous to paint with. I am very happy there!

Here is the latest official Queen’s Gurkha Signals portrait.

Military Portrait in Oils for the Queen's Gurkha Signals 2016 by Annabelle Valentine

My New Old Friend

I have a new (old) companion in the gallery in the shape of an enormous double sided easel. I had been looking to buy an upright one with a crank arm to easily raise it up and down for a while, as the one I had previously borrowed had returned to its owner. This one came to me in a strange set of circumstances – I tried very hard not to buy it from a kind friend, as it looked far too special for me to actually own, but thankfully my protestations fell on deaf ears.
Wheeling it up through town tied to an old sack truck got plenty of attention with a few comments along the lines of how it looked like the stocks used in the dark ages, and what was I planning to do with it!

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It seemed as though it would be too tall to set up in the gallery, and would be more at home in somewhere with a much higher ceiling but I have been innovative and screwed some kitchen drawer fronts together to sort that out, and can use one side for standing and one side for sitting. It is good to vary how I work when I do such long hours to avoid back ache.
Never buy an old easel, says my wise teacher, and his words echoed in my mind as I oiled up the impressive Victorian steel triple winding mechanism, which thankfully works like a dream. Although I had been assured that the large family of woodworm had been asked to vacate, I wasn’t taking any chances and retreated the whole thing, turning it upside down and rendering my gallery useless for quite some time while the fumes subsided. I returned a few days later to piles of dust underneath, where the wood had been totally annihilated by the little critters, it seems that there is less easel left than I had thought, but I think that adds to the character. Anyhow, once I have glued a split piece, I am guessing that it will last me out, despite only having 3 and a half wheels….

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Fitting the handle and winding the whole beast up and down to precisely the right height to work at is such a luxury and will save me a lot of time previously spent adjusting and cursing the awkwardness of my other one whilst almost dropping canvases. No more reaching down at that uncomfortable angle to paint ‘just for a few minutes’ which inevitably turns into a lengthy and torturous ordeal for my back as I zone out, caught up in creativity.
It originates from an art supplier called C Roberton who set up a shop in 1810 near the Royal Academy of Arts in London, where my ancestor John Linnell trained along with Turner. Linnell had an account with the supplier from 1849 – 1887, who knows, maybe he saw it in there!

Time Flies

(edited as I initially wrote most of this in August…)
Summer has surprised me once again, by vanishing so quickly, I can’t believe how the time flies. I finished my training at The Sarum Studio for the time being, but have booked in to return in February to paint for 5 weeks. The aim this summer was to finish what I refer to as the “never-ending-renovation” of my house, and I have become a renovating hermit, traditionally lime plastering, wallpapering, putting up coving, sanding floors and decorating etc, as well as working on commissions in between. Needless to say that after 9 years, I still haven’t finished, and have had to scale back my rather optimistic finish date due to the 13 commissions currently on order, and 2 more on the horizon.
My father always used to say ‘work hard, play hard’ however he just worked – 80 or 90 hours a week. I do a fair bit of both.
I find that the busier life is, the faster time seems to pass, and the years zoom past at an unnerving rate. It is rare that I take time out just to chill out and relax, saying that, many of the renovating tasks, in a similar way to creating artwork feel like a meditation in one way or another.
As too many people have seen over the years, the house is a horrible chaotic building site.
The main part of the old and wonky listed building being completed will be a huge milestone, on a project which has already taken 9 years – I am sure most people would have been able to build a castle in that time…
Still, it is starting to look good, progress is a very satisfying thing and it was great to be able to move out of sleeping in the lounge recently. As I type this, I look forward to completing the lime washing of the hallways tomorrow and move the ladders which everyone has had to squeeze past all summer.
People ask what I will do when it is finished? I have it all planned – I am looking forward to dedicate more of my time to art, long walks, having friends round for coffee, yoga, reading books, watching films, I can’t wait for that to happen – next year…..
Happy equinox. Annabelle

Here is a charcoal of one of the models at The Sarum Studio.

Raised Eyebrows

The Old Masters training has been going well, I have graduated from working on cast drawings, and moved over to ‘the other side’ to work on live portraits. I have been greatly enthused by the Sargent exhibition in London, and recent visits to the National Portrait gallery, Tate Britain, the National Gallery and the unbelievable Wallace Collection which also hosted the Reynolds exhibition. Reynolds and Sargent both used the ‘sight size’ method for portraiture which I am learning, and it worked well for them!

The feeling of staring intensely at someone’s face, especially when they are looking straight at you is something that feels deeply uncomfortable at first. Like the life drawing though, it is amazing how quickly the model turns into a puzzle of shapes, angles and tones to be explored and translated onto the paper. The model pictured here was so lovely, I was teased by the group for making her look quite demonic after the first afternoons work… I always feel just a little vulnerable when models see my work in progress, which they invariably do with this technique. My teacher kept advising me to tweak her eyebrows up, to give the dramatic look which she emanates so well. I never knew quite how important the positioning of eyebrows can be for conveying expression and each portrait I have done has surprisingly benefited by raising them just a little.

I have made the difficult decision to pause my training for a month, partly due to an enormous amount of commission work – a particularly large order came in so I have been pretty much chained to the easel for some time now. I will go back for the last week of term, and then return for part of the autumn term, and of course next year again. The plan is to train on an ongoing basis as and when I can allow the time, I will progress more slowly than planned, but be able to rest at the end of each day and focus more when I am there. I was overly optimistic about my abilities to keep up with the commissions, and do the training at the same time…

I have demonstrated painting in public at the Harmony festival at the beautiful Larmer Tree Gardens, and also on my home territory in Blandford at the Crown Hotel for the Sudan Link charity event last weekend. This was quite busy and it was great seeing many of my friends who turned up.

There will be an Open Studio Evening where I train by Salisbury Cathedral on Saturday 20th June from 3.30pm. Enjoy croquet on the lawn, Pimms and nibbles as well as an exhibition of drawing and paintings, and an illustrated lecture on Sight-size Portraiture by Nicholas Beer, with dinner after.

Nick would like to know approximate numbers so please call him on 07793 135 963 if you are interested in attending. The website www.sarumstudio.com has more details. There are places available on his summer school, which is open to all abilities, I highly recommend that anyone interested should contact him.