What we all want from art is much discussed… Is it something ‘to go with the sofa’ or something that makes us feel rested, or something that challenges us and makes us see things in a new way?

Perhaps all of these.

Certainly it’s different for different people, which is why it’s wonderful that there are so many different artists in the world.

Sometimes people feel nervous about what they ‘should’ look for in a piece of art they are going to buy – they think they need to be an expert in order to be able to judge. But after my recent art fair, I’m more convinced than ever that there is only one way:

What do you feel?

It doesn’t matter if you know what you are looking at, how it was created, how long it took to make or where it started.

All these are questions that people ask – and I understand why.

WHAT DO YOU WANTMaking art can be a mystery –  even to those of us who make it! We have to learn to trust in the process. If it’s all set out at the beginning then you are just painting by numbers.

As a viewer you can learn to trust too. If you know what to listen to, it’s not that hard:

You know what you are drawn to, what intrigues you, what feels good but also exciting. Like a dress that fits really well and makes you feel wonderful anytime you put it on.

Look for what lights you up. Listen to that feeling that makes you stop.

At any art show some people pass on by and that is absolutely fine. I don’t take that personally – we don’t all like the same thing after all and art is no different. But those who ‘get’ it…

visitor to Alice Sheridan at Art Fair

photo credit Becky Young

…well, they stay around – they get excited, they share their own experiences, they tell me what they are thinking, how it makes them think of a place that’s familiar… it brings them alive!

It’s such a pleasure to watch… to be responsible for offering people that experience.

Considerations of cost and size will often come into your decision if you are looking for art for your home.  You may need to be a little practical and think about where it will go. But, please, make the decision with your heart and you won’t go far wrong.

I know buying original art isn’t a cheap option but it brings such life and energy into your home.

Having something that you look at with love each time you see it is, in the words of a fairly famous advert, priceless.

Please comment below with how you choose art for your home, and what you think it brings to your space… And if you’d like to come and visit me at home in London you can find out about Artists at Home here.

black & white duoMaking two paintings just using black and white as a tonal painting exercise seemed a natural progression of my new contrast project, even if it is way outside my normal colour comfort zone.

What did I hope to learn?

Our eyes see high contrast shapes more swiftly so how can we use that to lead the viewer’s eye around a painting in a pleasing way, using differences? Strong tonal difference is seen first, often from across the room and getting this structure right is essential to the overall impact of a painting, but you can be more playful within areas that are closer in tonal value so that there is interest when you  notice things that aren’t so immediately obvious.

Using differences in mark making, scale and shape can also help in the ‘design’ of your painting.

Beginning and adjusting

So starting with just simple marks and then reacting each time we add more to the painting is a good way to play with what impact we can have. This seems simple, but it was hard!

I wanted to avoid all my usual forms of reference – no allusion to landscape, just using simple forms.  I was prepared with different size brushes and I started with black… It felt very harsh!

When it felt like enough I switched to the second board so it didn’t become too repetitive. The aim was to avoid using mid tone greys as these can too easily become indistinct.

I tried to take photographs throughout so I could keep a record, but inevitably there were times things moved pretty fast. I thought might be easier to show in a video:

At the end of the first session I stood back and looked what I had done: two big bully boy scribbly eggs and some awkward lines that were similar in length which just emphasized the same shape. Not a great start.

Printing out the images at 2 inches square four times on an A4 sheet meant that I could add and subtract tonal areas just using a pen and tippex. This felt slightly like ‘cheating’ as I was avoiding resolving the issues I had created by using paint. But it allowed me to explore alternatives more quickly by expanding the darker shape on one panel and by covering it over on the second.

Different painting adjustments

It feels really good to obliterate things by painting over them! This in itself is a great lesson – too often I can feel wedded to a certain area of a painting too soon and the wish to preserve it can be so strong  I want keep it – even if it’s in the wrong place and doesn’t fit the overall composition. Seeing how a painting can be improved by painting over what isn’t right felt like a revelation. The improvement is more satisfying than the loss of what has gone. And it hasn’t completely gone – there are always traces left behind that add interest and texture.

If you know my work you will recognise these are VERY different from what I usually do. I was trying to keep away from anything representational on purpose. No landscapes, no tricks of lighter tonal value receding into the distance of a landscape. I was treating the surface of the painting as a flat plane and aiming to create balance rather than any illusion of three dimensions.

Black image adjustmentFixing in Photoshop

After I had finished I took one of the panels into Photoshop and made some further adjustments:

It was a painting of two halves, which can work, often where you have a horizon of land and sky but I needed a way to make it easier for your eye to move from left to right across this painting.

By breaking up the line between black and white and adding more lighter areas to the right hand side, this gives a way for your eye to travel over more easily.

The three white areas in the top right were similar in size so I made one larger.

That small white dash in the middle of the black area? Placed rather centrally between top and bottom? I elongated that and pulled it more towards the top.

The bottom area felt quite heavy so I broke into the black space and increased the whiteness of that light patch at the bottom so it pulls your eye downwards.

All these changes could be made with paint but I think they give more variety and liveliness. You ‘move around’ within the space so you find new things to look at in all areas of the painting. There are some similar shapes (where did the boats comes from?!) which means it feels a bit cohesive.

You could also make similar changes at a smaller scale using pen and tippex as I did earlier. Or by photocopying your black and white image and then using the second copy as source material to collage over the first image to ‘try on’ different possibilities and see what makes the design feel stronger.

But I’m not painting in black and white?!

… and neither will I be usually. 🙂 In the next post I’ll show you how doing this exercise has already helped me identify elements of a painting I’m working on which could be improved if I paid more attention to the value, rather than get carried away by colour!

Is tonal value something you consciously think about in your work, or notice when you look at paintings? Let me know…

After a bit of a break over Easter, there’s nothing like a challenge to get you kick started on some new work so when I saw the 100 days project was about to begin again I was ready. This idea was started by @ElleLuna on Instagram: do something consistently for 100 days to build a habit.

Last April I set myself a 30 day project of painting daily with just three colours so I knew that I was going to have to build in a degree of flexibility and find a subject that would keep my attention for 100 days AND be inline with new work I wanted to pursue. Hmmm….

Many people are joining this challenge with projects as diverse as cooking, health goals, even writing the story of much loved items they now wish to declutter!

I decided on #100daysofcontrast as a broad topic that is open to going in whatever direction I like. I can look at mark making in different ways, focus on colour or texture or spend time thinking about how to strengthen compositions. I won’t be following a set pattern of materials or producing a set series of work like last time. Instead this may include photographs, sketchbook pages and discussions of how to include these design elements in paintings so they become stronger.

I’m also making it slightly easy on myself. The aim is to post daily but I’d rather go for thoughtful rather than rushing something in at 11.58pm so there may be the odd day missing or caught up. What I can promise is that I will keep going until I reach 100.

The helpful gallery of images below should update every 24 hours but to join in with some of the discussions this is prompting you may like to come over and > join me on Instagram < or if you are taking part, please feel free to add your personal hashtag in the comments below and let me know how it’s going for you…