art projects and exercises, art ideas to try

Exciting news that my painting ‘Breakwater’ has been long-listed for the Secret Art Prize run by Curious Duke gallery. UPDATEVoting has now closed

Secret Art Prize Alice Sheridan

As always with a gallery display, this just shows the final painting and I know you like to see all the stuff that happens before I get to that stage….

abstract ideas become a paintingAs is my usual practice now, I started on four 20 inch paintings together which helps me to explore and be a bit free-er. At the beginning they are often similar; usually all pretty messy and jumbled until I have added enough to begin to unpick what’s there.

You can see in the bottom image there is no rhyme or reason at this stage. Anything which disrupts and changes the surface is a good start. I use water soluble colour sticks, and thinner washes of paint and next I usually bring in some really dark tones.

It doesn’t matter at this stage if it becomes too black or too gloomy.

In fact that can be good…

If it feels too dark, that tells me what I need to do next to bring the next round of changes.

There was no plan for these, but I had been working a lot in my collage sketchbook and was enjoying creating many small non-square compositions where the colour blocks of found papers seem to break into the white space.

With a fixed shape panel I have to work within the edges but I wanted to bring in this idea of the painting extending outside the edge of the square.

I added bold white shapes to create a superimposed framework. These immediately suggested space and sky alongside the more complex layers of paint texture.

Colour decisions here are also fairly subconscious. I wasn’t working from this sketchbook page in particular, but maybe the frosty image had settled in my mind.

It was early in the year and the light was cool so the cool blue start and stark black and white is reminiscent of winter.


As the painting moved on I added some translucent lime green. The unexpected combination of the white circular forms, the overlaid brightness and diagonal scrapes through the white paint started to feel like sunlight coming through clouds. The dark form had become a mountain and the blues made me think of water.

There is no direct relationship, but a few years ago we spent time in the Lake District. One day we climbed a mountain (well, it was a hill really but we only got the children to join us if we made it a little more exciting!) and when we reached the top, the sun was low in the sky and you could see all the movement of clouds and weather and sunlight on the land below.

I started to think about this moment when I had felt on top of the world. It was a little windy and everything felt alive and full of movement. Using vivid colours like the cobalt blue is quite unusual for me; the british landscape offers a more muted palette. But they bring a more urgent and lively sense to the painting which I enjoyed, it feels vibrant and full of unexpected marks and mini compositions.


Although the painting is not directly of that view, it feels that way to me; a mix of those impressions – the sideways sunlight, the bright and dark contrasts. For me the more graphic feel of the shapes brings a harder edge to such idyllic scenery. It creates a crossover of that outside expanse with manmade shapes and my life in London. It makes an exciting combination.

I often turn the paintings as I work on them; it’s one reason why I like a square format. At this point I was’t sure how much further I still had to go, but turning the painting around helps to be sure the whole image is working together, and means when you turn it back you can notice clearly any parts which still need clarity or attention.

The pace slows right down towards the end and I make very considered changes. Edges are defined, colours finely adjusted. I’m very careful to keep the loose feeling of freedom, bit some control is needed. A sharp slice of white against a rough or soft textured area is very satisfying somehow.

what started loose and bold becomes more carefully adjusted. It’s a fine balance!

And here is the finished painting. Next I seal and wax the surface to bring a soft lustre.  60 x 60cm and sits within an off-white handprinted frame.

This painting was a challenge but as often happens, those works which have the most confusion at some point led to the strongest paintings – where you have really pushed and tested and moved forward. ‘Breakwater’ is a bold vibrant and exciting painting. Some paintings feel like turning points and I will really miss this one so I look forward to seeing who chooses it. See more details about owning this painting here.



It’s just so good to take yourself to new places and get new stimulus. Sometimes we have to be responsible for filling our own idea ‘pots’ but it can also be great to be led by others.

I’ve really enjoyed three days in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales taking a course with Lewis Noble at Jack Beck house. He was very open with how he uses his sketchbooks to gather ideas which sometimes become leads for new paintings.

Watch and see what I will take away and incorporate into my own practice going forward.



As my own approach to painting abstract art has changed over the last year, this has left me wondering where sketchbooks fit in with the whole picture…

If sketchbooks help to plan alternatives, test compositions and colours, how does this fit in with a process where all that discovery, that excavation, happens on the canvas itself during the process of painting?

inspiration for abstract artist Alice Sheridan

Valencia graffiti and the sketchbook pages I worked on in the following week

I wrote about this in my recent newsletter (would you like to get the next one? you can sign up here ) and how my short trip to Valencia ended with lots of new experiences, but empty sketchbook pages. Jean Davey Winter messaged me “this is just so relevant to me at the moment. I’ve just got back from Cuba where I had planned to do lots of sketchbook work and came back with next to nothing…apart from photos, memories and a feeling that I now need to process this sensory overload both visually and mentally!”

Jean originally trained in printed textiles and has been course leader of a BA Hons Fine Art programme so you would think she is well placed to avoid sketchbook angst, but it seems it gets to us all! But for abstract artists where work is not representational, what do you actually put in those pages and how do you use them to inform your work?

abstract art sketchbook

mark making by Jean Davey Winter

Jean says “these are all from an A6 sketchbook – a size I really enjoy working in. None of them ended up as larger paintings – but I do find I can free up and be more inventive when I’m working in a sketchbook – just frustrating that it doesn’t happen in quite the same way when I get onto a larger canvas…”

composition drawings in the sketchbook of Jean Davey Winter

“these are ways of thinking about compositions – this is sometimes helpful, especially as a starting point, but the problem is when I come to translating what I like about a line drawing into a painting the whole thing obviously changes completely.”

Line is immediate. It’s a direct and subtle translation of how you interpret what you see and over time your own personal language of mark making emerges. But as preparations for paintings it sucks. It can be almost misleading… it just delineates form without any information about the relative tonal density of the areas. We both agreed that adding tone or colour afterwards then just feels like colouring in!

If we break down the elements of design (and consequently any image on a flat plane) perhaps this helps:
• point
• line
• space
• color
• texture

Once you refocus on these, it doesn’t really matter what your subject matter is – there is plenty there to get you going. Colour alone can be a lifetime of exploration and understanding.

Add in other design principles like balance, proportion, emphasis, movement, pattern, repetition, rhythm, variety, harmony, and unity and you have a full tool box of potential.

Ideas come from mysterious places; they can well up without warning.

One thing I have noticed is how often an idea begins in the pages of a sketchbook and then stays hidden. I may be working on something and then suddenly see recognisable fragments emerge from a note I first made many years previously.

Or the opposite happens: the pages shown here I made one day, seemingly at random and then later I looked back through my photo roll and noticed the shapes and colours within this image of Dartmoor. Later in the week I was waiting for the children at the climbing centre and took this photo: the yellow against the dull green, the glowing light against the grey, the fine lines of the netting next to the smooth dark grey.

All these elements link together and could be the basis for an abstract painting. Can we define what the source is? Who knows! Does it even matter?

Making connections between the outside world and our inner reaction to it is what abstract art is about for me. That need for exciting variety and times of calm reflection which is essential both for art and within life.

Having an ongoing sketchbook practice can be so helpful as a way to allow ideas the time they need to emerge; if you are looking for ways to reinvigorate your own work how about these tips…

Be selective

think about separating out and exploring the different design elements. Maybe you just want a mark-making book to explore different mediums, maybe you do want to practice your life drawing or create a book around still life and abstract shapes? Mix and match or have one book for each practice.

Find a medium which works for you

I’m currently loving collage, but anything which has a low barrier to getting started is good – coloured pencils, different pens, pan gouache can all be great

It’s Ok to have some downtime

It’s not a race. Ideas can develop slowly or in a rush but often when you’re NOT thinking directly is when the best, or most distilled ideas come to you. There are many who advocate daily practice and while this can be great ti get you out of a rut, it can also end up making you feel forced and disengaged. Go with the flow instead.

Use technology

Using your phone to take photos still counts. You are raising your visual awareness and making selections as you photograph. Even if you then delete them all! Jean: This is why with the colour ones I tried working from a photo on the computer screen, trying to simplify and look at shapes/colours and marks.

Sketchbooks can also be places for words. I’m amazed at how much writing helps me to formulate my ideas and I do more writing now than at any tie in my life, but that’s a subject for another day!

If you are a creator I’d love to hear how you use your own sketchbooks. If you are an art collector do you enjoy seeing in to artists’ books? Please leave a comment below or add a photo over on this Facebook post.

On Instagram you can follow my studio practice and sketchbook pages here, or see more of Jean’s ongoing process here where she is currently sharing photos of her Cuba journey and loving the vibrancy of the new colour palette.

Thank you Jean for our conversation and for sharing your work with us 🙂


It seems as soon as I have a rhythm to my day, it changes!  When I first started painting again when my children were younger I found the day could so easily get swallowed up with the luxury (? I know! ) of doing domestic tasks in peace and quiet…

These days I try to be more disciplined about making time for what’s important to me.

School days start too early for me; the alarm goes off at 6:30am. After a good breakfast and the children have left for school I may have a browse on Instagram to see new posts from people I follow in the US. I know wise advice is not to get sucked into social media early in the day, but I find it inspiring and joyful to be connected with so many creative people all over the world. When I began painting again it felt quite isolating, working alone with no adult conversation, so discovering this amazing online connection really does make a huge difference to my life.

Ten years ago I was suffering from depression. I had stopped my career in graphic design when my son was born prematurely and I wanted to be at home with him and then my daughter. Despite good friends, I still felt like I had lost myself. Going back to life drawing classes was such a great way to get absorbed in a creative activity.

We live in London and most mornings begin with walking our dog; one morning we have a dog walker so I can have a longer working day and one morning is a pilates class I’ve been going to for 14 years. Being outside wakes me up; nature inspires but even walking down the same street I notice colours in brick work, or light coming through the slats of the underpass can be rather beautiful. Noticing all these ‘visual sparks’ is what I love about making art. I take far too many photos, and usually delete them, but they are somehow in my visual memory bank and I’m surprised at how they resurface in my work.

It’s usually around 11am when I go up to the studio; a room on the top floor of our house. Of course, a huge studio would be heaven, even a sink would be good, but having space at home means I can dip and out more easily, even with short patches of time. The space has evolved with basic furniture, I used to have a large sheet of plywood as a desk, but last Autumn that became flooring and I fitted a false wall with a series of nails so that I can position and move around larger panels. It works well and helps me visualise how paintings will look hanging together. I tend to work in series and one can often inform the other.

Before I begin I may spend time looking at work I did yesterday, or writing in my studio diary as I find this helps me identify what to work on. Putting ideas into words really helps me clarify what I’m trying to do next. Other times I may work in my collage sketchbook, but I’ve found this often goes in waves… idea generating and sketchbook work over the holidays or working to make the paintings during school term.

Usually I listen to the radio – I enjoy the sense of other people working ‘live’ alongside me – sometimes a music station and sometimes BBC talk Radio 4 with it’s mix of factual programmes or plays which take my mind into another place.

Depending on what time I began I may stop for lunch or just keep going. My painting day ends with a bump at 4pm when the children arrive home and it’s definitely time for a cup of tea. The usual round of homework, laundry and cooking follows although I’m often now also trying to do other art related tasks – scanning images, tweaking the website, copying images for a blog post.

This business side of marketing your own art is hugely time consuming, but I enjoy the learning side of it, although the tech can drive me crazy! Often my husband comes home to find me growling at some piece of software or other which isn’t doing quite what it should. I’d like to be able to switch out of work mode, but that seems hard to do at the moment.

When the children were younger there was a more clearly defined routine – and we had an evening… now I’m usually the first to bed. Either with a good novel, but these days just as often it’s a business book or artist biography. I’ve just finished reading Clear Seeing Place by Brian Rutenberg which is about his life as an artist, and is full of wise insights about facing your creative challenges.

Ultimately that’s what I love about making art. It forces you to confront things. No one can paint this painting but you. If you procrastinate the only loss is your own work, and probably no one else would care. But when you DO make it clear, and make creativity your priority, the joy of seeing completed paintings hanging and knowing you made them, is just wonderful. And when you see that transfer to other people – so much that they want to live with your work, it’s an honour – and a responsibility I think.

During holidays we often spend time in Dartmoor – a rugged area of national park in SW England. The landscape is wild, rocky and open and I find it exhilarating! What I think I’m trying to do in my work is mix this sense of space and changing weather with the busy impact of city life. In the run up to an event there will also be taking the work to the photographer, testing print samples, arranging framing, writing and printing labels. I also keep an eye out for submissions and forward plan for event deadlines. I think many people think I just mess round with paint, but it’s a whole life of thought and emotion which goes into making art but I see this as a ‘rest of my life’ job and I’m not in a hurry.

Alice Sheridan working in her London studio

This article was first published as guest post for CYL collective in March 2017




There is nothing like sneaking things in at the last minute. The Robert Rauschenberg retrospective exhibition at Tate Modern ends on 2 April. If you’re reading this too late, I apologise – go and look up the catalogue which is a hefty almost two inch thick book jam packed with writings and images. (link here)

But, if you can, get yourself to Tate Modern this weekend to see the Robert Rauschenberg retrospective. Eleven rooms filled with work spanning almost fifty years.

Art work entitled 'Ace, 1962' by US artist Robert Rauschenberg during a press preview at the Tate Modern in London

Photo credit: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

What struck me most as we walked through was the sheer energy and exhilaration. You never knew what would be waiting in the next room – this man never stopped! He collaborated with dancers, with musicians, he used dirt and found materials. He turned comic books into paintings which were dismissed as irrelevance. He added found objects: socks, ties, window fans, bits of wood, a brightly painted quilt…

And just as you are getting used to this approach of using objects for their own sake rather than representation, we have a room full of the most beautiful, delicate and almost fragile drawings using transfers and quiet subtle colours. Except the whole series is based around Dante’s Inferno and the tiny figures taken from contemporary news images are highly political.

Rauschenberg Canto XIV Dante transfer drawings

Canto XIV: Circle Seven, Round 3, The Violent Against God, Nature, and Art, from the series Thirty-Four Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno


There is a strong sense of the era in which he was creating – JF Kennedy crops up repeatedly. Space travel, references to the Vietnam war and later the restraint upon citizens of China, our position within a consumer world all make their mark.

This is a hugely visual collection of work from an artist who didn’t restrict himself to any particular medium or approach. It also feels like work full of thoughtful consideration – a lifetime of opinions. It bristles with energy that never lets up. There is a record of a performance piece involving (from memory) roller skates, three dancers in wedding dresses, parachutes…. It seems a little out of context to me until I feel it is simply a lively reaction to what is possible.

No point in asking ‘why’ when the obvious answer is simply “why ever not?”

He seemed to move through relationships just as quickly. In 1949 he marries Susan Weil and they have a son, by 1951 he is in a relationship with the artist Cy Twombly and then another art contemporary Jasper Johns. At the time of the Pelican performance piece in 1963 he is living with the dancer Steve Paxton who talked about the idea of incorporating everyday action into dance “We began with this idea of Bob’s that you work with what’s available, and that way the restrictions aren’t limitations, they’re just what you happen to be working with.”

What did I take from it?

Think – take ideas from everywhere, it’s all valid. Don’t think – don’t be obsessed by proper materials or delicacies.

Be aware of your surroundings – use whatever you can. There is no limit. Don’t be precious. Some paintings were completed on stage and stopped when the alarm clock integrated into the canvas went off! Have fun!

Testing. From the early days he sets out to question what the role of art is. Is it new art if I just erase an existing drawing by Willem de Kooning, a process which took many hours and over 40 erasers?

Can I investigate the role of chance by creating two almost identical paintings simultaneously? 

Robert Rauschenberg Factum1 and 2

Left: Robert Rauschenberg. Factum I. 1957. Combine: oil, ink, pencil, crayon, paper, fabric, newspaper, printed reproductions, and printed paper on canvas, 61 1/2 x 35 3/4 in. (156.2 x 90.8 cm). The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The Panza Collection; Right: Robert Rauschenberg. Factum II. 1957. Combine: oil, ink, pencil, crayon, paper, fabric, newspaper, printed reproductions, and painted paper on canvas, 61 3/8 x 35 1/2 in. (155.9 x 90.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase and an anonymous gift and Louise Reinhardt Smith Bequest (both by exchange). All works © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation


It seems his work moved in clear ‘batches’ as he leaps in steady jumps from clue to clue. Almost scientific in approach by following the leads he has already uncovered; so, I’ve done these large brightly coloured ‘funfair’ paintings and combines, what happens if I now create 34 relatively small drawings with very limited colour – what are you looking at now?! 

If you’ve ever felt as an artist that you have to have a ‘style’ this blows it out of the water!

However there is a thread and an evolution. By the end of his life, his work using silkscreened images is refined further and the last pieces combine photographs from his own collection. It feels like a cinecamera on quick rewind – quick glimpses of the world, flash backs and always on the move. Isn’t that how we now see things? 




12,000 people apply to the Royal Academy summer exhibition each year. They limit the applications and the limit is often reached much earlier than the deadline so you have to be on your toes!

Back in January I chose two paintings I had recently completed, filled out the online submission and tried to work out all the terms and conditions. In the meantime life carries on as normal, work is on the website and someone chose one of the paintings as a birthday gift for her husband. I did mention I had entered it, but I was just happy she was excited about finding him something original and surprising. You know how hard it can be buying for the man who has everything!

The day before the Talented Art Fair, when I was eye deep in packing and labels I was reminded to log-on and check the results – and was super excited to see that BOTH paintings had been shortlisted. Thrilling news – now I just needed to work out what to do about that sold one – presumably it was easy enough to contact the Royal Academy and change the sales status to Not For Sale?

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

However another artist warned me I had made a silly error – you can’t mess the RA around, and indeed I couldn’t find any information within their terms and conditions or by searching online about what to do if you have submitted to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and the painting has already been sold…

Surely I couldn’t be the first artist to, deep breath, actually have the nerve to sell their own work!

So, slightly heart in mouth I contacted the RA to ask if it was possible to amend the details, and the buyer to give them the good news about the shortlist. I felt it was cheeky to ask for the work back, after all, it belongs to them now. But, then again – the chance to see something you own hanging in the Royal Academy? Surely it was up to them to decide.

I was genuinely happy either way.

And you know what? The RA can change details if they know swiftly and the buyer was thrilled at the news and totally happy to see what happens next with the submission. So if you’re an artist in a similar situation I hope this helps!

‘Unearthed’ is the SOLD painting, but it is also available as a print in different sizes >> see here

‘Chasing the Window Seat‘ is the other painting which has been shortlisted. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

art at home Alice Sheridan



I find working on more than one painting at once helpful for a few things:

• it stops me becoming obsessive and overworking one endlessly (hopefully)
• it helps me to see an overall view of my work and how it’s developing
• working on one painting can often inform another – if you do something new or exciting, then you can learn from that and it may help you take risks on others.

Spotting differences…

I’m also very aware that I want each painting to be unique. There be a cohesiveness to a group of work, but each painting must stand alone. My biggest fear as an artist is becoming formulaic. I am developing a preferred way of working and we each have our own personal sensitivity we respond, but each painting moves with its own personality.

As I’m working I need to be aware of how that’s developing and ‘listen’ to what the painting is trying to say. This can mean time spent in the ‘thinking chair’ and I also keep a studio journal of notes. This is useful, particularly if a painting is stuck and I don’t know where to go next but it also helps me to identify what I am picking up within each painting, and what I may want to hide or develop…

I thought you may like to see some of my thoughts as I started work one day which I shared live on my Facebook page, which should play directly below:

So I’m looking out for what may have arrived by chance and guiding those discoveries into a painting which works. Informed intuition if you like. Keep in touch if you would like to see how these paintings ended up, they will be shown at the Talented Art Fair in 17-19 March 2017 and information about them will go out first to those on my mailing list.

To catch more live video and join in the conversation you can find my Facebook page here or see this video on FB by clicking the image below:






what to do when you are stuck with your painting

Right, I’ve got to the middle stages of a painting, and I’m stuck…

These days my paintings begin with no fixed idea of outcome. I may make early choices about colour or bold shapes to get the surface active, but as the layers build often the marks and decisions are fairly random. Occasionally I glue things in, I choose colours I really don’t like – just to rock the boat! And there is certainly a stage where it all looks a complete muddle and I wonder if I have any idea what I’m doing. Keep going. Keep adding, change scale, use hands, use glazes…

Next comes the most crucial part of the process

Early spontaneity is essential if a painting is to have a sense of life. Actually, keeping a feeling of freedom and spontaneity is important right until the end. But, if you only have spontaneity then you can all too easily end up with a painting which simply looks a muddle.

At some point you need to bring in a more conscious assessment. Don’t get me wrong – many of those early processes have thought involved, although perhaps these were more subconscious or intuitive. As my painting experience grows, the more I build an understanding of what is likely to work and these become almost instinctive.

My own personal response is changing all the time as I learn how I want to deal with the paint, but there comes a stage where I need to take charge over the so-called random marks.

At times it can be clear what I want to do; certain elements may stand out to me and I know what I want to amend. Other times, this involves a fair amount of sitting and looking – just sucking in the information already within the painting. It can help to turn the painting, or to reduce a photograph of it – anything which distances me from my experience so far and lets me take a more analytical approach.

Unfortunately at this point one thing usually becomes clear… some of it has to go.

That beautiful part where the yellow and blue overlap just so? It’s just in the wrong place.
The section with all those delicate lines – just too distracting.

This is one of the hardest things I’ve had to come to terms with in this more fluid approach to creating a painting. The loss of parts you love.

So a few things help:

Take regular photographs as a painting progresses

Sometimes I prefer how it was yesterday. Ouch. While I can never recreate (or should try to) what has gone before, it does help if I know I have a visual record. I can use this as a scrapbook of ideas, or just a reminder. Often it’s hard to identify HOW something was actuallycreated and I know I’m not alone in the feeling of looking at a painting and thinking “I made that?!” and next… “Can I even do that again?” But having photographs helps remind me that good things come from trying something new. Often a painting jump steps up a gear just at the point when you do something drastic.

Accept there is no one right answer

At any point a painting has so many options open to you. This is what makes creating art so challenging, and what makes looking at it so invigorating – hopefully you have a sense of what has been and an immersion just at the point the painting stopped…

Knowing that if you sacrifice one part, it will usually benefit the painting as a whole

Just knowing this helps. At first this was something I had to force myself to do because it is so hard to do something risky when you have already put so much time and energy into a painting. But if it’s not working as it is – then what do you really have to lose?

Visualise some alternatives…

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This can be as simple as squinting from a distance and simply using your imagination to project what impact changes might have. Would this dark area be better light? How about if this green shape was much larger?

Hopefully this gets easier, but I have three practical ways to help.

I often use sections of paper to overlay certain areas as a first stage test to see “will this work better?”  I can use coloured paper, pages from magazines or painted paper, or even torn sections from old paper palettes.

The other trick I learnt from the Nicholas Wilton course is to use Photoshop to make some adjustments. There are some limitations to this – you can’t ‘copy and paste’ whole sections of multi-layered paint. If only! That really does only exist in Photoshop world. But it does allow you to troubleshoot if you feel the whole paintings is not working and perhaps work out some ways forward.

This screen shows a recent change I thought through in this way. On the left you can see how the painting was. I had reached a stage where I had this off-set composition which I liked, and the bird shape had materialised. I don’t paint birds, but I rather liked the slightly surreal nature of the bird on the hill. (It reminds me of a Beatles song for some reason. I’ve googled “Beatles song bird on the hill” and it doesn’t exist so there’s another strange subconscious link!) Anyhow, I liked the bird but he was too obvious.

On the right you can see the changes I tested out. My aim was to let the complexity of layers in some areas show clearly – if it’s all complex, it’s all just too much. I wanted the soft green to be key, so I enlarged this area, I introduced some deep reds as the complementary colour to the green and I darkened the ‘sky’. This could have been deep blue or red, but I chose a warm mushroom brown. The destaurated colour lets the other colours take centre stage and the bird becomes slightly hidden.

Of course this now needs to be taken to the studio and created in paint! But having a clear idea helps me make adjustments with a similar clarity of approach. Is this part small and controlled or am I creating a large textured ares with subtle gradations of colour. Either way, better not to be tentative, but decisive.

This painting has now SOLD but you can see current available originals here.





When I first decided I wanted to commit to making art full time, instead of going back to my graphic design career, one of the first things I investigated was whether I should be applying to do an MA in Fine Art. Because that’s what you need in order to be a ‘proper’ artist. Without that, no one would take me seriously and I would have no idea what I was doing.

So, I looked into all the options and realised that an MA wasn’t going to give me what I needed. I spoke to students who spoke of little interaction with their tutors, lack of studio space due to  increased student numbers, the cost… and I realised that instead it was better to set my own intentions. To develop my own working practice. To decide for myself what I wanted to learn.

And I wouldn’t have to write a dissertation again!

Setting your own course

Since then I have made a continued practice of reading endlessly: artist biographies, books by art historians and others in the art world, books about the creative process.

I’ve also been building my own creative network of other working artists and looking for people I can learn from. I think I first came across Nicholas Wilton’s blog in the summer of 2015 and enjoyed his whole approach to art making. He was open about his practice, his struggles and his practical solutions and that is rare in the art world which can be very closed and sometimes secretive.

In April 2016, in the middle of packing for a holiday I somehow realised he was just about to run a 3 month online programme. At the start of that year I noted how much I would like to do a workshop with him – but getting to Mexico from the UK could be a bit of a problem. So here was the perfect alternative.

The most expensive course I had ever taken, but put in comparison with an MA it was a bargain. Still, I was nervous about signing up.

It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

If you’ve been following me for a while you will have seen how my art has changed in this time. Initially it disrupted my ongoing work as I could see what we were learning was too powerful to be ignored – I couldn’t just continue with what I was doing, but I needed time to integrate it with my own path.

The connection with other artists restored my faith, and everyone worked hard on their art and behind the scenes to make this the most helpful and response place to be learning. Truly inspiring.

For the first time, I didn’t feel like I had to play a game. Simply keep working, but this new framework of ideas helped to give me confidence, understanding and a structure. I had a way to review my own work, which is invaluable as you get so close to what you are working on it can be hard to be objective.

When they asked if I would give a testimonial I agreed without hesitation and you can see it below. (Look how much I wave my hands around!)


As an artist the moment you stop learning and exploring is the moment your art dies.

There are many ways you can continue to develop your approach. Later this year I shall be taking a residential course with Lewis Noble which I’m looking forward to. But this CVP course I know I shall always see as a turning point. If you are interested in enrolling in CVP for 2017 you have until 8th Feb to make your decision. You can find out more about it by clicking here.

Let me know below if you have any questions about it, or if you decide to go for it!

PS. I seem to have replaced a dissertation for blog posts, but I know which I prefer!

Sorry – this isn’t a post about using Instagram filters! Just a view on how we choose to see the world, and why that’s so important (especially these days)

The beauty of a misty morning seems to appeal to everyone and recently we have had some wonderful misty mornings. In Chiswick House they currently have an installation of Chinese lanterns. Last year some of these were rather incongruous; cartoon ducks against a Palladian mansion anyone? But through the mist there was something quite beautiful about the display this year as the colours were softened but glowed against the greyed out landscape…

no filter used – only what nature provided…

When I shared it on Twitter this photo was noticed and used as the changing daily photo for our local website; it seems we all enjoy the mystery in such images. When things remain a bit hidden it allows more of our imagination perhaps. Seeing the sharp details, all the detritus of life can become distracting; instead the mist draws a partial veil across reality and lets us get lost in the space.

Against what we might expect, removing some of the visual information makes it easier to see the overall impression. The mist gives us a filter for what we see. Once there is a restriction in place we notice other things about what we are seeing.

Through the mist, nature allows us to see things differently. In painting, it’s the role of the artist to choose what restrictions they put in place so that the focus of the painting becomes clear.

Sometimes the idea is strong from the outset and at others it develops as the painting progresses, but you can bet that in any successful painting there have been a million considered decisions about what to include and what to draw a veil over.

This painting began simply as colour forms on the panel, and although it’s far from being finished, as I continue to add forms and marks, it’s beginning to make suggestions to me. Of perhaps a coastline, the way the land cuts into the sea. I’m not painting a specific place, but of course I’ve been to the sea many times. Places become part of our history – we can’t cut off from memory. All these are part of me while I’m painting and I’m learning to allow them to influence me, rather than control them.

As I was working on this painting I became aware that there were links between the colours I was using and this view I had noticed earlier in the week as I dropped my daughter at school. I wasn’t thinking about painting at the time (it was too early to be thinking much rational thought to be honest) but I looked and saw a certain stark beauty in something as simple as a pile of dirt by the roadside. That soft grey blue mist and the fragments of rusty orange netting. The birds flying across at just the right moment were a chance occurrence that was simply the icing on the cake!

This is what I love about making art. It all comes together somehow. What we feel, what we see, what we remember. Paul Klee wrote “Art does not reproduce what we see. It makes us see.” If art sharpens our perceptions and makes us more aware of the world around us, that’s an important role!

But sometimes we also need a filter. I know I’m not the only one finding the current political climate difficult. I don’t believe the answer is to shut ourselves off. I want to be aware. I want to do my best to see things clearly, to be observant and ultimately to make decisions about what I can do to make a difference. I don’t want to reproduce without trying to check the source is accurate, but I also need others to be a reliable filter. That’s what we have journalists for, and editors, and writers and people prepared to be out there and keep us informed.

I can’t take on world leaders but I can choose what I read and support whoever is trying to provide a balanced and considered view. However there are also times when I want to filter out the news and remind myself that there are still wonderful things in life, even in a pile of building rubble.

If you’d like to visit and rejoice in a rather magical mixing of history, different cultures and spaces, you can see the light festival at Chiswick House, London until 26 February 2017 more details here







To create art you have to accept that a certain amount of the time you spend will be wasted. You have to show up and do the work anyway, knowing that the first three hours you may spend going in circles. But you also know that those hours may be necessary to get you to the point where you make a series of decisions in ten minutes which can turn the whole painting.

By it’s very nature art can be elusive – if we knew in advance which things would work then it starts to turn into a bit of a predetermined factory line of production and takes away all the excitement of surprise.

So a certain amount of exploring time is essential. But how much?

“When I work I work very fast, but preparing to work can take any length of time.” When I posted this quote by Cy Twombly on Instagram it had a huge response from people who recognised this feeling of preparing to work – the act of being ready. It became clear there was big distinction between procrastination and preparing. Procrastination will see you do almost anything to avoid doing what you know you should be working on. Often from a sense of fear or doubt or self judgement, or – let’s face it – sheer laziness!

There are different forms of preparation too – practical time spent cutting paper, preparing grounds, cleaning materials. All valid, time consuming tasks, and a necessary part of preparing, but still not really the main task at hand.

Many times we prepare for creating new work by drawing pre-studies or reflecting on the painting that exists so far; sometimes this is necessary but too much advance thinking can stop you in your tracks. Instead I wonder if Twombly is talking about the preparing which happens actually on the canvas or within the drawing?

Is the sense of preparation Twombly is referring to, the time needed to sink into the work itself?

In life drawing I always take time to allow my arm to move across the paper without the charcoal or pencil actually touching the paper. No marks are made. Is this wasted? There is no evidence of the thought involved… but this is a helpful way to feel out the confines, to reach towards the edges, to anticipate the stretch and feel how you will fill the page. It’s a familiarisation which allows you to make stronger marks once you do begin to draw with more confidence.

Now we’re onto something that’s definitely not procrastination!

I’ve moved through all of these stages – first using my sketchbook to simply create marks. Using drawing materials alongside paint allows for an immediacy of choice. With painting there is always a degree of forethought as you must first select and mix the paint, but using other materials gives space for a more instinctive choice, especially of colour and I was interested to see combinations emerge which were certainly not planned.

Then I scaled up to some more fluid drawings with paint. Using black first means whatever marks you make will be bold from the start and that’s a strong starting point which encourages braver moves. There is no point in tinkering with details at this point…

I don’t know the answer to how much time needs to be spent preparing. Whether you call it planning or just thinking. I do know that whatever marks you make on a page have an inherent energy. You can see the speed in which they have been made and that brings a certain energy which I find essential to bringing the surface to life.

This is the preparing made visible. In a full painting many of these earlier marks may be covered as the painting progresses but they give you a sense of where to go and become an inherent part of the overall painting even if they get covered up.

This year I’m trying to keep track of work. I know that there is no predictable relationship between studio time and how many ‘finished’ paintings are actually produced, although it would be interesting to find out! So instead I am simply noting how many hours each week I spend within my studio.

Last week I told a friend that on one day, even though I had been in the studio for 4hrs I was only going to make a not of 2hrs because for some of the time I had been faffing… her response (she’s a writer) was that it ALL counts.

Faffing, procrastinating or preparing? The only answer is to be honest with ourselves – we know it in our hearts which is which. Don’t you?

I’m not going to lie – getting back to school routine this week has been hard. Getting up in the dark is not my idea of fun. Add a bit of a cold wintery weather into the mix and I would far rather be tucked up under the duvet for a gentle start to the day with my book and a cup of tea. Even better if someone else has made it!

The restful time over the holidays must have softened me up and I felt sorry for my daughter so I have been driving her in the mornings. We start off scraping the ice from the windscreen in the dark, and by the time we get to school, the car has warmed up, the radio had played at least once decent song and the car heater has kicked into gear. Not so bad.

By the time I’ve dropped her off and the dog and I have arrived at the park it’s starting to get light. There are a few crazy people running and trying not to slip on the icy pathways. Must be some kind of new year resolution going on – I prefer an easier start to the year; something that might guide me. In the past I have chosen ‘scale’ and this year I’m toying with ‘clarity’. It hasn’t quite settled into place yet but it has a gentle definition which appeals. A softer form of decisiveness.

The sun is trying to shine, but my fingers are still frozen when I take off my gloves to try and take photos. I’m not sure why I bother – I know my phone camera can’t capture the colours I see or the details which are starting to wake me up… the steam rising above the buildings on the skyline, or the gently changing blue.

It’s frustrating but also becomes a challenge to try and capture some of the things I’m becoming alert to. I find myself crouched down to change my viewpoint – what I want to record is different from the way the camera ‘sees’ it. Often it picks up too much and I need to simplify what is within the shot and decide what the focus is going to be.

As ugly patches of grafitti become a thing of beauty it gets me lost in looking at the world I can see and working out what is of interest. Most of these photos get deleted as my phone crumples under storage issues, others I never look at again for months, if at all.

But the simple act of waking up my eyes and tuning in again stays with me. If I look back through old sketchbooks I can see ideas and visuals resurface. They feel familiar and yet it still surprises me how the things which appeal are so intrinsic to each of us.

Noticing these random connections is essential in making art. It’s like working out a puzzle without a guide. I have no idea how this year will develop or what I will create. There is no clarity yet but somehow it’s all connected.

So congratulations for making it through the first week! Ease into your new year and start as you mean to go on.