Claire Harrison Art

Blog its all about art

I have been teaching both adults and children for over 15 years. I currently teach one-one from aged 8, to mentoring fellow artists. I have an adult class at the Guildford Institute and I do various guest lectures. I have just completed my first recording of an online course, which will be sold in China. I decided I would start a blog about art-related wisdom to compliment my tuition and for all to read, ponder, implement or totally disagree with – I shall leave that part up to you!

From Seed, To Plant, To Drawing, To Painting…

This month’s blog is all about process. Artists work in many different ways, but this blog is about my process and how one of my paintings has grown from it’s seed…

We moved to West Sussex 9 years ago to a garden that was a completely blank canvas. Since then we have grown most of it from seed and created 4 large perennial borders, inspired by Gertrude Jekyll, and a vegetable patch. The front garden has been turned into a wildlife sanctuary, filled with flowers and a pond (well, as I may have mentioned before a wildlife crammed puddle, is a better description). We also put in a path so we could navigate through the garden, although this is long overgrown, and when we attempt to struggle through, it tends to disturb the toads and frogs.
Each year I grow Sunflowers from seed, as their happy blooms brighten up the garden and their seeds feed several different species of birds throughout the Autumn and Winter.

Once these are fully grown and flowering I start to photograph my muse.

I have photographed Sunflowers at every stage of their lifespan from bud, through to flowering and finally to death. I draw and paint from the actual flower, but I always take a photographic record of what I’ve been drawing. I find that it relieves the pressure of capturing the flower at the time it looks its best as it curls and dies. There is often a very short period of time between a bloom in flower, to the petals curling and drooping, to it losing them completely. Often, I can’t touch these flowers in anyway as they are extremely fragile, and the slightest touch or breeze can make all the petals drop. Therefore, for me, the camera is invaluable part of my creative process. Since I was a child I have always found watching the lifespan of a plant fascinating. I have grown plants from seed since pre-school. It started with Mustard and Cress seeds on my parent’s shed windowsill, and I was thrilled that in 2 weeks I could eat it…

For me, drawing the flowers is a vital part of the research (see below), I really want to understand and capture the shapes of the forms. I like to accurately capture the flower, even though this may not translate exactly into the final painting. I want to truly understand the flower, from the botanical structure to the aesthetic value of the forms. The botanical form of plants and insects are very important to me and I will frequently study them under a microscope between 100x and 400x magnification. This reveals details to me that we don’t see through the naked eye or with macro photography. For example, the centre of both Daisies and Sunflowers are in fact minute flowers themselves that open and release the pollen. There are hundreds of tiny flowers within the larger flower head.

Once I have drawn the flowers, I start to experiment with the colours. I find shapes naturally draw themselves to specific colours, which generally are not the colours we see when we look at them. This tends to be very instinctive, and sometimes I see highlights or shades of the colour that I use in the actual plant. When I was studying Sunflowers, I was also reading an article and researching the colours that insects see. This tends to be in the ultra violet spectrum, which changes the yellows and greens in the Sunflower, and it is this what has inspired the colours in this painting.

The final painting below is of three Sunflowers in different stages of life; from bud, to bloom, to dying and has been inspired by several years of growing, studying and drawing these flowers, I have shown how the painting has developed,

This painting is currently on display and available to purchase at Ming Gallery, 27 Montefiore Road, Hove. The limited edition prints are available to buy here.

July 2018

Fading Blooms

From May’s blog you will be able to tell that I’m concerned with the environment.  This has been heightened even further recently when I received a beautiful book called “A Tribute to Flowers” by Richard Fischer.  Richard is a stunning photographer, who is capturing rare and endangered plants for posterity through his photography.  The introduction is by Dr Thomas Holzmann, who is the Vice-President of the German Envioronment Agency, and he states some shocking statistics,

              “Thirty-five percent of all animal species in Germany are in jeopardy; with plants, it’s twenty-six percent”

              “The dying of species is as much a part of life on our planet as its diversification.  For the past centuries, the widespread decrease, however has accelerated to such an extent that researchers are in the meantime referring to this dire situation as the sixth mass extinction in our planet’s history”

Dr Thomas Holzmann, p5, A Tribute to Flowers – Plants Under Pressure, By Richard Fischer

Scientists are likening humanity’s impact upon the environment to the extinction of the dinosaurs.  It took me a while for the consequences of that statement to sink in.  That is HUGE.  More worryingly, I still believe that ultimately, we are also putting the human race at risk.  There is a fabulous series of books by an ex-NASA scientist called James Lovelock called “Homage to Gaia”, which is a brilliant read.  It explains that the Earth is itself is an organism and the global cycles work in harmony, for example the rainforests are the lungs.  I am obviously shortening the theory here, somewhat crudely… but It is humanity’s impact upon the Earth that is disrupting the harmony within.  Rainforests have been vastly reduced in size over the last 20 years, the Arctic is shrinking and we are affecting the world on a global scale.  You may ask, so what does it matter if Arctic melts and we lose a few plants?  Rising sea levels even by a few centimetres will obliterate vast areas of land on many continents and the loss of plants will impact upon the insect population.  So, who cares about a few insects?  Well we should do, from bees to hoverflies because these are our pollinators, without which our crops will suffer.  Crops that feed humanity.  The potential of the “sixth mass extinction” will not just affect a few animals becoming extinct, but each loss of species impacts on the ecosystem in which it exists.  There are a few specialised orchids that are pollinated by a specific moth.  If we lose the orchid, we lose the moth.  What birds will we lose feeding on the moth?  What eats the birds?  If the moth dies out, then the orchid loses its only pollinator and dies out too.  This is an example of a niche rare orchid and moth, but what if we lost the honey bee in Britain?  Think of all the crops, all the wildflower species, birds, other insects and animals that will be affected?  Suddenly one small element of the ecosystem has a massive impact.  We need to save the little things, because small elements of an ecosystem can have a huge cascade effect. 

These are all the things that my art work is about when I create it.  For example, the Fading Bloom series, is about dying flowers, not rare ones as Richard Fischer photographs, but ordinary everyday ones that I see all around me both in the garden and in the landscape.  Why is a dead flower so important?  As with all nature, with death there is life, from a decomposing corpse to a withering bloom.  Flowers produce not only seeds for their own reproduction but also for the nutrition of many birds and animals.  Perfectionist gardeners are eager to cut off all their “dead heads”, which, at the beginning of the season, this is fine because you want them to flower again, more food and pollen for the insects.  However, at the end of the season, many gardeners do it to “tidy up” for winter.  I never do this.  Any seed dropped will produce more plants around the garden and it becomes a vital larder for the wildlife during the Winter months.  I love the fact that my sunflowers throughout the Autumn and Winter feed numerous birds and the Teasels encourage flocks of Goldfinches into the garden.  Many might look at my garden and be horrified at its “messiness” which endures all year round, but it is full of wildlife.  The front garden is home to toads, frogs and bees among other species.  We get a number of hornets, to the point that they are becoming a problem, so we may need to buy fake hornet nests to discourage them coming in the house!  This love of the decaying and dying flowers and plants has inspired my Fading blooms series….

This series of paintings is about showing how beautiful decay can be.  Dying flowers create life by dispersing seeds for both birds and animals to feed on and to make more flowers grow.  As the petals of flowers die and dry out, they start to twist, creating beautiful shapes.  It is this which has inspired this body of work.  I love to observe the shapes created by the dying flowers which I leave from summer in my garden throughout the winter.  I had always left the old flowers from Summer in the garden to feed the wildlife and I always admired the structures from the tall Rudbeckia and Teasels covered in the Winter frosts.  However, it was in fact the drooping Amaryllis blooms (shown below) after Christmas in my lounge, which is when I really started to see the beauty in these dying forms, and it was this that started to inspire me to research dying flowers further and their importance in the natural world. 

Amaryllis flower Amaryllis flower

Echinaceas below, shows a bird eating the seeds from their centres, providing a vital food source.

echinaceas flowers oil painting

Fading Blooms #3, (shown below) shows an Anenome flower dying; just as the perfect bloom starts to die, the petals begin to over extend and the centre appears to be bigger.  These flowers are over at the start of the season, they flower in Spring and only last a week.  When the Anemones start to flower you see the first butterflies; some of these have hatched recently, but others have over-wintered and look somewhat worse for wear.  The last thing they do before they die, is lay their eggs, so the dying, tattered butterfly gives life when it dies, as does everything else in nature, because death is vital in the cycle of life.

anenome butterfly oil painting

To find out more about this series of work, you can view it here,

June 2018

Art, Plastic and the Environment...

If you are environmentally conscious like me, you are probably feeling a little guilty right now, with all the heightened awareness in the press about plastics.  Something which hasn’t received the same level of coverage, but is still an issue is Acrylic paint; many artists, students and amateurs happily wash this water-soluble paint down the sink, but… it is still a plastic.  As many of you know, I’m not that overly keen on acrylic paint and I use oil or watercolour.  Does this absolve me of guilt, you may think? Sadly not, because watercolours still need brushes cleaned out and good quality paints contain elements such as Cadmium (this was going to be banned by the EU), which is bad for both our health and the environment.  Pastel artists can’t feel smug either I’m afraid, as these can also contain harmful pigments, which is washed from hands and enters the sewage system.  Oil paint is even worse for the environment, as you need to clean out brushes in turpentine or white spirit, and I diligently save up all my “dirty” white spirit in an old (sorry) plastic container and take it to the local municipal waste site for the appropriate disposal.  Last time I did this I took my toxic waste to the attendant and I was horrified to find that I was told just to throw it into the household waste skip which will go to landfill.  Surely that will eventually leak out into the ground where it is buried?  I thought the whole point of taking it to be disposed of properly meant that it wouldn’t be able to link leak into the ground? 

The purpose of this post is not about how non-environmentally friendly art can be, because I know many artists who strive to environmentally neutral or friendly, even when it is exceptionally hard to achieve.  My point is whatever industry you work in, whatever you do in your daily life, we could all do better and any small changes we can make will help the environment.  There will also be a lot of problems, wasteful things we do that we cannot resolve, but hopefully we will be mindful about things we can change.  For example, a friend told me the other day about someone they knew drove 45 minutes to go and purchase herbs and spices from a store that sold them loosely, so that they could fill their own containers without purchasing in plastic bags.  It took me only a few seconds to enquire the type of car that they drove, and if they had considered this implication?  Their idea may have good intentions with regards to plastics as waste, however, it didn’t resolve the issue that they had driven several miles in a petrol car polluting the local air.  Sadly, I don’t think this person had chosen the best of the two evils.  So why are we in this position where whatever we do potentially harms the environment?   I think it is a combination of economics and us not being mindful of our actions as a human race.  No individual industry or person is completely to blame, but collectively we all are.

Thirty years ago, I used to subscribe to the RSPCA magazine and like most children I was all consumed about the welfare of animals.  To be fair, this feeling hasn’t changed much, except now I am more conscious of the ecosystem and helping the less attractive animals and insects that are ignored but vital too.  Back in the 80s, I remember many campaigners trying to get the plastic rings that keep a set of 4 cans together banned, because they were causing both animals and birds to be caught or horrifically strangled by them.  That was THIRTY years ago, but we all still go into the supermarket and buy fizzy drinks cans with these plastic nooses.  This was before we knew that plastics were contaminating the food and water that the human race is consuming.  Now that this has become known, there has been a swelling of pressure on social media to stop using plastics.  So why now?  They have been damaging our environment for the last 40 or more years, which we have KNOWN about?  It feels to me that this is all a bit too little too late, and there is now only overwhelming concern because it is now definitely known to be affecting our food and water chains and impacting upon us directly.  My feeling to all this, is we need to ALL be aware of the impact on the nature surrounding us whether large or small; should we not attempt to make as little impact as possible?

I once went to someone’s home to where the deer were eating the flowers in the garden and the child there asked their parent and me why were the nasty deer ruining the garden?  I was a little riled by this question, and answered before the parent could, that perhaps the deer were wondering over this land before the house had been built there and in fact it had been built in the middle of their home?  Hmm, I must try and learn to keep those controversial thoughts to myself!

I haven’t seen yet any posts on social media of pressurising people to stop using clothing made from plastics such as acrylic jumpers, because when these are washed they release small particles and fibres into the waste water system.  Every aspect of our lives impacts on the environment around us, we seem to have evolved into a consumerist society that does not think about our actions and think that we are somehow apart from nature.  We are a PART of nature and we need to learn how we can live in harmony and not pollute it.  We need to do this when we are aware of the impact we are making, not forty years after the realisation!  My intention is not to increase blame or guilt, but to make us all realise that we are a part of the problem, and it isn’t the manufacturers fault for packaging everything in plastic, it is ours for letting it happen for so long.  Humanity as a whole needs to change it psyche, so there are more environmentally friendly options on the market; from artists materials to selling alternatives to cans with their current plastic nooses!  Each person needs to be aware of their surroundings and think about the consequences of their actions to killing a fly or wasp trapped in their home to washing their clothing, don’t just get swept away by the latest social media campaign, because that is barely scratching the surface of the problem…

Humanity is a part of nature and their environment and we are just as vulnerable as other species to disease and climate change.  We need to lessen our impact upon our surroundings and be more thoughtful, before it is too late.  This is what I have in mind when I started creating my new series of work called “Secrets of Nature”.  The secret is…. Us!  I don’t feel that many think of humanity when they see the British landscape.  They marvel at the beauty of nature, but most of the British landscape has been crafted by man.  It is no secret that I love the South Downs, and I feel truly free when I walk over the hills, but these hills have been farmed for centuries.  There are paths where our ancestors have walked and there is evidence of ancient man using these hills.  These same hills that I enjoy recreationally.  I am privileged compared to those who walked the South Downs centuries ago, I do not have to go out and find my supper – I have a freezer and an oven, and I spend my day painting and writing blogs such as this one.  Man, long ago, knew he was a part of nature because the natural environment affected his everyday living.  We need to be reminded of that.  My first painting in the series at first glance is of the landscape, that beautiful rolling landscape which makes me feel so free; and camouflaged into this, in the foreground, are Irises.  But not all of them are simply Irises they are of man too…. Hopefully he isn’t obvious at first glance, and I was thrilled, when a colleague was shocked when I mentioned there was a person in the picture which they simply hadn’t seen.  

secrets of nature oil painting secrets of nature close up oil painting

This year I am working on this series further and am very excited to paint further ideas combining man with nature.  I want to create art that is both beautiful but also has a serious message, I hope you enjoy viewing my paintings as much as I love creating them.

Message me directly if you would like to know more about this art work by emailing me

May 2018



What Should I Paint???  - The Creative Process and Developing Ideas…

The question of “What should I paint” is something that I am frequently asked.  Both artists and students are challenged with the continuous question of what they should draw and paint, but, thankfully, I haven’t had with this problem myself since childhood.  Below, you will find my creative process; each artist differs in their approach, but hopefully, it will give you an idea on how to combat creative block.

1. Creating a Happy Work Area

Many would describe my studio as messy, and sadly this is even after I have tidied it up!  This working environment is a very personal space, but it should be designed in a way that inspires you, it doesn’t have to be messy (if you are a tidy person, unlike me), but it does need to be inspirational.  My studio looks out over my garden and fields, so I can watch the wildlife from my window.  I have put cork floor tiles on every available wall space, which I use as pin boards for anything that I like or which inspires me.  This ranges from images in old calendars, to my photos, drawings and nature guides for various insects.  To the untrained eye, this appears chaotic, but it means that I am surrounded by images all day long.  Once a year, I will take time to remove everything and rearrange it, so I can pin different and images that are relevant to my current work.  Whilst many artists may not have the luxury of a dedicated studio space, you can still collate images in a folder or scrapbook which you can browse through in a happy place and use for inspiration.

2. Work on More than one Idea at a Time

If you do have a workspace, then I would recommend that you have more than one painting, artwork or idea in progress at the same time.  I generally have 5 or 6 ideas that I am working on at the same time.  One reason for this is because I’m an oil painter and tend to be waiting for paint to dry on a piece of art, so I can paint the next layer!  I also like to work in this method when I do watercolour, for the same reason that you need to wait for each layer to dry.  The only time when this is not the case, is when I finally have to finish everything for an exhibition. 

It is helpful on a Monday morning that you are not confronted with a blank white canvas, but instead a half-finished painting that you know exactly what needs to be done to continue or finish it.  This will help to remove the worry about what the next idea might be, instead allowing you to simply get on with your working day.  I think this is one of the very most important areas of keeping the ideas flowing, especially if you are a full time artist.  You need to work every day, whether you feel inspired or not, and sometimes it is more important to work when you don’t feel “inspired”, because it means that you keep generating work and follow a work ethic. 

3. Research and Document

Each person’s creative process will be different; for me it is observing the natural world and documenting what I see.  This may take the form of a walk, or watching the world through my windows and photographing the rural drama unfolding before me.  I then (try) to file the photographs in some logical order which I can refer to like a library.  Once I have observed, I then research my subject and write notes, this takes various forms from reading books, articles, visiting museums and listening to lectures on a variety of topics that all link with my overall interest of the relationship of patterns and organisms within the natural world.  I write notes on anything that interests me, which may not be included in my work for many years, but I find the influence is often there.  I have recently finished watching a series of lectures on Chaos theory by a physicist, in addition to reading a book about the shape of a snowflake written by a mathematician.

4. Keep Drawing and Experimenting

I draw everything that I have collected from the natural world, both from life and from my photographs.  I do microscopic research on the things I find in the natural world, so that I can see the patterns within nature on many different scales.  This process is never-ending, and it is this that keeps my ideas flowing because I am constantly re-examining my primary research.  I create an observational drawing at least once a week, as well as an afternoon in the studio for experimenting with ideas and techniques.  I feel this is one of the most important things that both the artist and amateur can do.  Give yourself the freedom to have fun and experiment; there is always a risk that this will not work out as originally intended, but take that risk and it will allow you to push your comfort zone and boundaries.  Without experimentation you won’t have the opportunity to create something wonderful, new and interesting; we are only truly creating and moving forward when we are outside of our comfort zone.

5. Keep a sketchbook

I have always been a sketchbook artist - all ideas, lists of things I want to research, experiments (both good and bad), observational drawings, colour ways and plans for paintings ALL go in my sketchbook.  These are then kept safely so I can refer to them and revisit and rework ideas.  I often find that if I don’t like my first resolution to an idea, I will revisit the idea again and again over many years until I’m happy with the outcome.

The nature of this creative process keeps the ideas forming.  I have the luxury of a studio and being an artist full-time, but even if you don’t, keep a folder, scrapbook or sketchbook of ideas.  Always go back and study from your primary research whatever it may be, and work in your sketchbook on a regular basis.  Enjoy your subject and read around it.  Art is more than a job to me, I adore my subject and am just as interested in growing seeds and plants in my garden, as I am in drawing and painting them.  Without that I probably wouldn’t paint the plants and insects that I do.  I hope this blog helps you find your subject so that you can have many ideas and you can share your passion with others.
If you would like further help and advice on this subject don’t hesitate to contact me about mentoring by contacting me here:

Please find examples below of my primary research for my latest painting Sunflowers also shown below,

sunflower charcoal drawing sunflowers in sepia sunflower drawing pen and watercolour

Charcoal Sunflower available to buy here,

sunflowers oil painitng

Sunflowers, oil painting available to buy here.

April 2018


Originality and Creating Art - March 2018

I realise that this title may lead some to think that I will be discussing Post Modernism and Contemporary art, discussing the well-worn argument that “everything has been done before” therefore there can be no originality. However, this idea probably needs a 10,000-word essay or book, which many art historians and critics have done before me. This blog is about finding your own source material and inspiration to ensure that your creativity is original (in this sense) rather than plagiarising others.

I always ask my students to bring inspiration to my classes to work or copy from; this can either be a photograph or object. As a student, they often turn to the internet and find either photographs or other artists work to work from and then worry about breaking copyright. As a student, they are working from these images for educational purposes and won’t be selling or attempting to sell their work, therefore they haven’t “stolen” plagiarised or broken any copyright laws (in the UK), as they are not trying to pass it off as their own or benefit financially from it. Instead they are learning, which I feel is invaluable for a student because by trying to replicate a masterpiece, they start to have a fundamental understanding on how the artist created the art work. For example, Constable would have painted the trees over the sky background rather than trying to fill in the background around the branches and leaves. Going to galleries and copying the Masters has been a conventional learning tool for centuries for the art student.

Sadly, during the last few years I have noticed some artists selling work in galleries that they have copied from a photograph that is not their own. I know this because they have not changed the riginal photo sufficiently, and I recognise the photo in which they have copied it from! Now there are two issues here; if artists change the original image enough, they can sell it as their own (this is important for collage artists). However, I don’t believe the artists I have seen have changed it enough to comply with copyright law, because I have recognised the photo in which they have copied it from. Secondly, photographers need to be paid for their efforts and artists should not simply copy for financial gain. For those who are reading this and have an understanding of art history, you are bound to point out that artists have been copying images from the media for years, and yes that is true. For example, Andy Warhol comes to mind, but, he was making a statement about pop culture. The artists I am referring to, are not doing this, they are merely copying a pretty picture which they think will sell. This makes me sad, not only for the photographer who has often sat in the cold and wet to capture their perfect image, but also for the artist who is doing the copying.

What is the point in simply copying a photo and then selling it? No creativity has gone into this. Technique, in how to use the materials, yes, and a demonstration of observational skills on capturing the composition and drawing the detail. Worse, if they have gridded up (split the photo into small squares and then draw the image a square at a time), or used a projector then they are not even demonstrating observational skills. I do believe artists should have a concept and share their passion/ideas/philosophy with the world. For me, art is communication, there is something not quite tangible about my passion for the natural world, that cannot be described with words and therefore I paint.

buddha lotus

I was asked to do a commission of a Buddha and a lotus, so I spent a whole day with my model, sketching and dressing him in Buddha poses. When I drew the human form in a Buddha pose, I needed to know where and how the muscles tightened. It was also important to see how the limbs were foreshortened and the foot twisted at the ankle. To me this is essential research, not only to make the final artwork my own creation, but also to be accurate in my representation of the human form. Artists that get one photo and copy it directly are not experiencing this.

For the past 4 months, I have been researching birds. I’m not sure when and if they will appear in one of my paintings in the future, but I am currently fascinated by them. It is not simply I record their behaviour with my camera, but I sit and watch their interactions, watch them ruffle their feathers when they have a wash and aggressively chirrup at each other when fighting over the peanuts. I want to capture their characteristics, and I am guilty of anthropomorphising them, as I watch them I imagine their little personalities and what they may say to one another if they had words – silly I know! (My current research has successfully documented blue tits, great tits, but the robin, evades the shutters of my camera at every turn! The robin is a fond friend, and a daily visitor to our garden during the Autumn and Winter months, he is also fairly tame as most gardeners will attest to as they hop around your digging to capture the odd unearthed worm. BUT! Even though my robin is fairly tame, he is extremely camera shy and I have been debating for many years to put a small camera trap in our garden to capture the wildlife, but sadly I haven’t got around to this yet. Each time I reach for the camera the robin either hops away or seductively turns his head across his back which of course is turned towards the camera! Now this little game has been going on for months, I have finally got a nice side shot this weekend of him, but for so long I have only had the rear view…

robin pen and ink

I have found the cat and mouse game with this robin, quite frustrating but I have also enjoyed the “tete-a-tete” and even as I write this he is teasing me through my office window. To me, it is this process that adds to my work. It isn’t just about capturing the fleeting bird as it leaves the garden, but it is observing it and enjoying watching the robin’s behaviour. To me it is this research that adds to my art work. I have a fairly long process before primary research reaches my final paintings, which I will be discussing in my blog in April. It is this research and experience that I hope gives an extra dimension to art work, which sadly those artists who simply copy the photo published in the newspaper or on the internet are not adding to their work. For both themselves and their own integrity I urge them to spend some time experiencing the world and documenting their own primary research.

If you would like to know more about mentoring and creating ideas and keeping ideas flowing please contact me on For regular updates on my art work, tuition, special offers and other arty info please sign up to my newsletter by clicking here.


Attending Art Classes – Being an Art Student - February 2018

If you have ever attended one of my classes or one-one sessions and then asked to describe me and my teaching technique (and you wanted to be polite), you would describe it as a ‘different’ experience. For the majority, it is a positive experience, however, my radical technique is not for all, as I never tell a student what to do… This blog will explain what I mean by that statement, but it is also a blog for everyone, whether you are in mainstream education or not. I hope my advice will help your approach to your creative career, both amateur and professional.

I endeavour to teach a technique, idea or theory and then the student has the option on whether they wish to use that information in their own work or not. This helps students create their own style, technique and way of working. I want to empower the student to be independent in their creativity and give them the confidence to create what they want, how to correct mistakes and be brave enough to challenge themselves and create their own artworks rather than copying from others. This is not a technique I use just for adults, but children too; you are never too young to learn the fundamentals.

I am distinctly different in this way of teaching, as I do not dictate but show and encourage. This is therefore not ideal for those students who simply want to be told what to do and how to do it. I will demonstrate a technique, but it is up to the student on what they want to draw or paint. I want my students to take a playful approach to their work and experiment with the technique I have shown them. There is no right or wrong. Many art classes show how to create a drawing or painting from start to finish and deviation from the technique is not encouraged. This is not a bad thing, but it won’t help to develop a student’s creativity, they will learn how to draw/paint a specific subject using one technique in a specific material. If you are a complete beginner this can be useful because you need to collect techniques; the more the merrier. It is not that I don’t teach techniques, I do, but I teach them the traditional way and I cover how various artists make and break the rules, and deviate from the technique that I am teaching. If artists did not break the rules art would never progress, and new quirky ideas wouldn’t be found (to the extent in which they can be). I refrain from discussing post-modernist theory here, as that is a whole separate blog!
My advice to the art student is absorb, but don’t follow religiously. Each and every art lesson you attend is a benefit to you. You are collecting ideas, viewpoints and techniques for your art technique arsenal. Same with “how to” books, they are all great for the same reason. BUT! All this information you accumulate, none of it is gospel, it is merely a demonstration of an idea, technique or theory. Artists (can be) a little opinionated and of course we need to be. We have developed our own style, we know what we like, and dislike and we have essentially created a body of artwork like a brand, and we need to stand by our brand to sell it, that is the way of the world. Artists tend to be very passionate about their opinions and what they believe in, which can make them very persuasive. So, the eager student is in danger of turning up to a lesson and believing everything and going along with everything the tutor says, and ultimately they shouldn’t, they should question, and realise that this is just one viewpoint in a multitude of many. For example, when I teach pen and ink, I only teach one technique at a time, this is mainly due to time constraints and giving each session a focus, however as you will see from all the images below (these examples are not exhaustive of all the pen and ink techniques), the pictures are vastly different because they are using many different techniques.

bumble bee pen and ink landscape dragonfly

woodpecker peony scabious

I tend to use the pen only technique the most, as shown in the Bumble Bee picture, but this is for ease because I tend to draw from life once a week. This allows me to explore the form and the detail within the subject, with a view to developing it into a painting. I find a 0.25mm Rotring pen is fine enough for me to include detail, which is not so easily achieved with pencil or a fibre tip pen. I love working with just my Rotring pen, but this is my preference and part of my creative process which I go through to create art works. As part of my creative process, I like to spend half a day a week in the studio experimenting (not always possible due to time pressures), as I believe it is important for every artist, whether professional or amateur to have the freedom to play. Now, using the term ‘play’ I do not mean that it isn’t work and has no benefit, because I believe it is crucial to the creative process. The idea is that you go and make for making sake. Don’t worry about the next exhibition or the next assignments deadline where you have to do specific things to reach your target. Give yourself the freedom to experiment, take a technique you have recently learnt and mix it with another, try it in a slightly different way and have some fun. On these half days, sometimes I create utter rubbish which the bin is too good for, and on other days I strike creative gold. Importantly, I let myself take the risk, because without this, I wouldn’t create anything new, or move forward. As an artist, if you are not experimenting outside your comfort zone, you are static and not moving forward. If you are not moving forward, you are potentially boring yourself and your audience.

In summary, be brave, don’t take everything you learn as gospel, it is only one way to do something not THE way. Experiment, have fun and remember, being out of your comfort zone is progressing! Most of all, love what you do, if you don’t love and enjoy it, you won’t achieve anything at all and remember a tutor’s viewpoint is only one point of view, if you don’t like it, find another! Happy creating!

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