Sep 30, 2014

Larry MacDougall: My new Mentor!

That's right! You read that correctly, folks. I am the proud new owner of a shiny new mentor in the exact shape and form of one Larry MacDougall. I can't tell you how silly excited I am about this. Well... I can tell you, actually, and at length...

So for a couple of months now, I've been putting some serious consideration into seeking out a mentor to help guide me through these complex artistic times I'm currently living in.
The main reason why I think I require the aid of a mentor is mostly to do with how I think I am failing as a productive artist. I think this year of 2014 has shown me many things, including the fact that I appear to be unable to walk the walk, whilst being splendid at talking the talk. In other words, I'm full of hot air and very little substance. With this hot air inside me, I often find myself bouncing around from one thing to the other, without really completing anything or delving deep into a particular subject.
So I need somebody to ground me; to sit me down and tell me to stop floating about and just get some serious, consistent work done on a single subject.

About a month ago, I put some feelers out there.
I had a very short list of artists who could be potential mentors. Larry MacDougall was at the top of my list, but it appeared that he was very, very busy at the time, so I didn't even dare ask him. I asked another artist who I thought might be a good fit, but he, too, was very, very busy and couldn't do it. He did say that I was well on my way though, which was rather nice to hear. Thanks Mr. Ejsing!
And that is where I left it. I'd put an open call out to any artists (I have a lot of artist 'friends' on Facebook) interested in mentoring me, and it wasn't very long at all before Patricia MacDougall (Larry's wife and incredible artist herself) put their names forward.
So back in about the middle of August, I contacted Larry and briefly outlined what I had in mind. He replied that we could discuss matters further at a later point (he was, it turns, very busy after all).

Cut to a week or so ago, when I dropped Larry another line and we organised a Skype chat for the 26th, the Friday just gone. Let me tell you, reader, that one hour Skype chat we had really cemented my belief that I was right in seeking out a mentor. Larry managed, in a proportionately tiny amount of time, to speak to the heart of what I knew deep down was wrong and he did it in a way that makes me feel empowered and optimistic about what lies ahead. But Larry didn't sugar coat anything. But he wasn't harsh either. And therein lies the reason why I think Larry is of a champion breed and that we are going to be firm friends- it's because we seem to think alike in many respects. There were several points in the conversation, to my mind at least, where we seemed to be in sync with our beliefs and views.
So, yeah, I'm pretty chuffed with how things have worked out.

I'm going to lay out some plans I have made in a future post here. But for now, all that remains is for me to thank Larry, my mentor, for setting me on the right path again.
Here's to the future!

Sep 23, 2014

Podcastiness & Sketchbookery

First off, I have great news! Gord and I recorded our inaugural podcast a last week and, amazingly, it wasn't a horrible mess of stutters, giggles and gibberish. It wasn't half bad actually.

Now all I have to do is put on my editor's cap and work out how to turn that raw file into a serviceable podcast, resplendent with music, an introduction and a bit of polish here and there.
Give us a couple of weeks to work out the kinks and we should have an actual, proper podcast on our hands. I'm excited about it and I'm really looking forward to recording future episodes with Gord.

And we decided on a name, too. We went with, after much deliberation, 'Gord & Jay Talk Art.'
We chose that name because we like the fact that it says exactly what it is on the tin. The podcast ain't trying to be something it isn't. It's a podcast that involves to friends talking about art.
So apart from the required editing, we still have a logo to design.
Here is my first swing at it:
I think I can safely conclude that I leave a lot to be desired as a graphic designer. But I'm okay with that. There are plenty of great graphic designers out there already.
Gord is going to be trying his hand at the logo too, naturally. He's really good with this sort of thing, so don't expect to see my above lame attempt anywhere else but right here!

When we get closer to launch date, I'll let you know.
Exciting times, these.

The other thing I wanted to talk about in this post is a subject I've been mulling over for a while now and I think it may solve some issues I've been encountering with my artwork in general. That thing being... sketchbooks.

I used to love working in sketchbooks. I always went for an A4 size one, hardback and with a green cover if it could be helped at all. Back then (we're talking the late 90's and early 00's), I wasn't the most prolific of artists, as I've mentioned before, so I didn't really fill that many sketchbooks really, maybe 3 or 4 big ones. I've still got them in a box somewhere, I'll have to pull them out and post some stuff here. Maybe one of those book flipping videos would be good too.

But anyway, somewhere along the way, I fell out of using sketchbooks and went for single sheets of paper in their stead. This was probably around the time when I started getting really serious about making a career in art. I think I took the conscious decision to stop with the sketchbook stuff, and just concentrate on making complete images.
I think this was like 50% a mistake. Sure, I created a lot of finished artwork, much more than I used to. But I think I should have continued with the sketchbook work AS WELL.

The reason I think I should have kept at the sketchbooks is for several reasons.
Firstly, sketchbooks are just fun. You can doodle little nothings all you want, or work out a difficult composition, a complex character design, or just let your hand make the decisions for you. The sketchbook is where an artist should feel uninhibited (not that they should feel otherwise elsewhere too, of course), an artist should let it all hang out in a sketchbook.
Secondly, you look cool walking along with a sketchbook in hand. I've heard that chicks dig it, but have had no experience with such a response.
Third, a sketchbook is considerably more neat and tidy than a bunch of loose sheets of paper.
Finally, there is something magical about a sketchbook. To look at an artist's sketchbook is to look, in a very real sense, into their soul. It's where ideas are born and problems are solved.

How an artist fills a sketchbook can vary greatly. I tend to be a fairly neat sketchbooker. I look at each page as a little piece of canvas itself. So my pages tend to be tidy and even compositional in quality. I like to work up the drawings to a degree higher than a sketchbook probably requires, but that is just me. I've seen many sketchbooks similar to mine in this regard. It's as if a sketchbook is a piece of art itself, and some artists, including myself, want to put on a good show.

The type of sketchbook used is another important element. As I said, I used to go with the A4 sized ones. But now, I find them far too big and clunky for what I want. I like to be able to fold a page, and page in the sketchbook, completely flat, to be able to fold it over, even. Hardcovers aren't great for that, especially ones with hundreds of thick pages.
I also like a more compactly sized sketchbook. One that can fit nicely into the smallish sachel I use every day. I've purchased many sketchbooks in the hope that they were the perfect fit for what I require in a sketchbook. But no matter how nice they all were, they all had at least one fatal flaw that I found too restrictive or even prohibitive at times. The main fault was in the fact that the sketchbooks I bought wouldn't fold out flat or over on themselves. This is a big problem for me and it stopped some truly lovely sketchbooks making the grade.

But I think, after much searching, I have found my brand. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, the Moleskine Kraft Brown XLarge Plain Cahier!

And it gave me a chance to use one of my Art Order stickers too!
These delicious sketchbooks come in packs of three, each with 120 white pages. The cover is made of toned cardboard that is very flexible, with exposed stitching on the spine. Each sketchbook measures 21 x 24.7cm, or 7.5 x 10in for those not on the superior metric system.
I really like them. I'm using one for my everyday sketching and another for the Dr. Sketchy sessions.

Now, they aren't invincible, mind. I haven't tried using watercolours on one of them yet, but I imagine it wouldn't hold up very well. I did find that markers bleed through pretty quickly on them too. But that's okay, I'll probably go ahead and use watercolours on them anyway, but mostly use them for pencil and pen.

Here are a couple of very recent pages-

Yes, the Faerie Stones are back!
Anyway. I'm really enjoying sketchbooking again. It's been far too long. I think that if I can be more consistent with the sketchbook work, in both the frequency and how I approach it, I think my bigger work can only benefit from it.
But the big reason for me getting back into using a sketchbook is so that I can really try and develop a mode of regularity with drawing. I want and need to draw more, using a sketchbook every day is part of creating that habit. I'll be writing about making an artistic routine in a later post, it might even make its way into a podcast (now that I have that awesome option).

But before I go, I wanted to say hello to my two newest followers. Greetings, CathyRae and Grandma Sandy! You are both most welcome here.

Back soon.

Sep 16, 2014

Galway Pub Scrawl turns 5!

Logo by the incomparable Mary Lillis.

On a Monday evening back in January 2012, I walked into McSwiggan's Bar in Galway for what would be my first of many, many Galway Pub Scrawls. It seems a long time ago now, but I do quite clearly recall the nervous excitement I felt as I introduced myself to the group of people already there.

Up until that point, I was one of those artists that was completely isolated from other artists, apart from through the internet, of course. But I was never really part of the cool art group at school, nor did I join any artistic clubs. I'd taken some short courses, but never really managed to find a clique that fit right.

But the Galway Pub Scrawl gang pretty rapidly changed all of that. Granted, I'd known the founder of the group, Donal Fallon, for many a year, and several of my fellow staff members at the bookshop, Patrick Gavin and Oisin Greaney, were already regular attendees. But apart from that, I was entering uncharted waters that first night.

Goodness me, am I glad I went in though. I think I can safely say that Galway Pub Scrawl has changed my life, in lots of ways.
Firstly, some of my very bestest friends are Pub Scrawlers: Mez, Ger and Anita to name but a few. I totally wuv you guys.
But in all seriousness, I do feel as though Galway Pub Scrawl has been hugely beneficial to not only my personal life, but also my artistic growth. Through the many and varied challenges that we manage to sign up for, I have created some pieces that I would never have thought to do if left to my own devices. And it's all been done in the company of like-minded friends.

So it was with great delight that I was there at the most recent Pub Scrawl which just so happened to be its 5th Anniversary!
Fellow Scrawler, Kieran (or is it Ciaran?) and I came up with the idea of having a sort of art swap meet where revelers bring along any art they are happy to give away and it can be thrown in the communal pot. Anybody was free to give and take whatever they wanted.
My reasoning for it was to treat it as a sort of token of my humble and heartfelt gratitude for everything that the Galway Pub Scrawl has given me over the last nearly three years. And, you know, if you're a friend of mine, you're gonna get some free art from me whether you like it or not!

So here are my friends and the pieces of art of mine they chose:
Dermot Canniffe made a late charge for this piece.

Gerard Coady. Joy bringer. Food eater.

James Newell. He has all the cool pens.

The lovely Katie Creaven. I grabbed one of her drawings too.

Kieran got greedy.

Linda was in quick for the G-Gnome.

My pal, Mez.

Mo, provider of high-brow humour.

Philip Barrett. He teaches how to make comics.

Yolande and her kewl earrings.
You wouldn't think it with this picture, but Donal Fallon is actually a massive fan of
mine and he hangs on every artistic stroke I make.

It was a really great night spent with wonderful friends, delicious food (thanks to Mez, Yolande and McSwiggan's), lively conversation and art being created in all directions.

Who could ask for more?

Sep 9, 2014

Life Drawing

I'm absolutely loving the Life Drawing classes I take at the moment. I feel as though I've come a long way, artistically, in the three or four months that I've been doing it. Which is precisely why I took the classes in the first place! After all, I'm not there for a haircut...

I am a big believer in the notion that life drawing increases your skill in a more refined way and far quicker than any other form of artistic learning or practice. It's difficult, I find, to discern or conclude why this is so, though. I mean what's the difference between drawing a model in front of you as opposed to painting a landscape? Or a still life? Heck, something from your imagination!?

I think the answer lies in this: when you have a live model in front of you, there are many contributing factors you have to address to make a convincing picture, especially if you're a realistic representational life drawing practitioner like myself.
First and foremost is the form of the figure. The human body is endlessly fascinating to study and draw; the way the muscles move, stretch and bunch, how the skeleton contorts limbs, compacting parts and elongating others. An artist can spend a lifetime in the pursuit of anatomical knowledge. It never gets old!

On top of the form, you have many other elements that contribute to the whole. You have:
  • lighting how light and shadows play on the form.
  • atmosphere and other surrounding factors.
  • style how developed you are with how you draw.
  • perspective on the form is a difficult thing to master.
  • foreshortening is perhaps even more so!
  • media what you depict the figure with.
  • technique similar to style, but less naturally achieved. It's more conscious too.
  • time how long do you have to achieve your desired result.
So while other methods of artistic learning/practice/application might cover some, many or even all of these areas, I just don't think any of them can cover it all in such a clearly refined way.
Personally, I prefer a long session with limited poses.
If possible, I prefer to just dive into a single pose. Many artists need to do those quick one- and two-minute poses. I think they're a lot of fun, but I do okay without them. I'm a slow going sort of artist. I like to build up tone and layers over time, and in my own time.

But saying that, I do enjoy the variety of the classes I currently attend. I have my regular Wednesday evening class that usually involves a single long pose, examples of which are the first and last images in this very post. I also have the once-monthly (not nearly frequent enough, Scarlett!) Dr. Sketchy Burlesque/Life Drawing class that entails many different poses at a variety of lengths.
I've just had another one of these the Saturday just gone (the theme of which, almost custom-designed for me, was 'Magical Creatures'). Here's an example from that session-

So while I do love the Wednesday class and its sustained poses, the sheer fun and exhilaration of the Dr. Sketchy classes are also more than worth the entry fee.

I think that the way to artistically look at the two different events is to perceive them as just that: two different events. With the Wednesday class, I can feed the classical artist in me and really knuckle down to some realistic drawing and painting.
With Dr. Sketchy's, I am only just starting to get a grip of what I should be doing at it. Because of its set-up, the classical and 'realistic as possible' way isn't going to be very effective. There's just not enough time, I find, to do this justice in any of the poses.
So I tried, at the Mythical Creatures show, to try and be more stylistically inclined toward simple line, with less detail and rendering than I would normally do. I think the results worked, with the promise of further refinement and success in this method.

The system I am using for the long poses at the moment, and what I am quite enjoying too, is drawing onto a grey paper with a variety of graphite pencils (usually an HB to begin with, then moving up to a 2B and 6B) and a white pencil for highlighting. It's a low-tech system that can have great results and has been practiced for literally hundreds of years by artists. I do plan on changing it up in the future though.

One of the other Wednesday nighters, Kathy, broke out some watercolours the other night and the results were fantastic. I'd like to give that a go at some point too. Getting some clay going might be fun as well!

For far too many years, I fell out of attending life drawing classes. I really wish I hadn't done that. I honestly believe I would be a far better artists now if I had have regularly attended classes.

But I plan on making up for lost time.

Sep 6, 2014


Okay... Podcasting.
I mentioned briefly a couple of posts ago that my old buddy, Gordon Mackay and I are in the planning stages of doing an art podcast together.
Well, I can happily say that things are moving along quite nicely with it.

It will be some time in the next couple of weeks that Gordon and I get to sit down and actually record our first podcast. That first one will really just be a bit of an introduction episode, for listeners to learn a little about us, what we do as artists and where we plan on going with the podcast.

We still have some kinks to work out and some technical things to overcome/learn, but the biggest thing I am finding trouble with is what we should call the podcast!?! I'm usually pretty good at coming up with names for things, but I'm encountering some serious name-creating block at the moment.
That said, here are some of the names I have come up with so far-

The Artistrators
Gord & Jay talk art
Gord & Jay make an Art Podcast
The Angry Giant Podcast
The Fantastasists (or, alternately, The Fantasists)
The Artist Path

I guess any of those would be sufficient, but we're also happy to hear anybody's ideas for names too. So leave a comment if you can think of something better!

We'll be coming up with a logo for the Podcast, whatever its name ends up being, before the podcast is launched.

I'd like to apply some small musical elements to the podcast as well, mostly for intro's, outro's and breaks. I had lined up my brother, Ryan, to produce some guitar pieces especially for us, but he unfortunately doesn't have the recording apparatus or the time. A shame, that. So I guess we'll just have to use some open license stuff, unless anybody reading this would like to contribute music?

The podcast will get its very own blog to post show notes and various affiliated items onto, and once I work out how to do it, the podcast will be available free on iTunes, naturally.

So I'm hoping to have everything up and going, including the first podcast recorded, edited and released, in the first couple of weeks of October.
I'll bring more news on this closer to the launch though.

And I'll be back here in a couple of days with a post about Life Drawing.
See you then.

Sep 2, 2014

World Art Drop Day

I know, I know... I was supposed to be writing about Podcasting in this post, but that is simply going to have to wait until the next post!
Because today, I want to talk about a fun 24 hours I've just had.
It all began, as so many cool things do, at the Galway Pub Scrawl. Our fearless leader, Donal Fallon, mentioned on Facebook yesterday that today is World Art Drop Day. WADD is this nifty event where folks create a piece of artwork and leave it somewhere for somebody to find and keep for free. People can simply stumble upon artwork, not knowing anything about WADD, and get some free artwork. Artists can also initiate a sort of treasure hunt by giving clues and images as to the artwork's whereabouts.
It really is a fun event; where generosity, goodwill and sharing are the order of the day.
So I drew up a couple of quick pieces at last night's Galway Pub Scrawl.

And then this morning, before work, I planted the pieces around Galway-
Each picture came with a little official WADD note with a brief explanation and where I can be contacted. I also included a business card and put all of the contents in a sealed plastic card sleeve so that the elements didn't get to the artwork.

I left the first piece on a sculpture of Oscar Wilde, the second was on the windowsill of Charlie Byrne's bookshop. And then I went off to work.
I can tell you, the idea of somebody 'discovering' the artwork was a really fun feeling. I had to wait several hours before I could go see if the art had been taken. I posted on Twitter all of the details and a clue to the location of each piece, and waited...
When my lunch break finally came, I dashed about Galway, only to discover that the artwork had, indeed, been taken.
Now, of course, somebody might have just picked the package up and threw it in the bin. Maybe somebody scrunched them up and kicked them along the road for a while, until they were rolled over and finally destroyed by a bus. Sure, things like that could very well have happened! But I like to think that some lovely person was simply minding their own business, spotted one of the drawings, picked it up, turned it over, read all about WADD and the finding of the artwork really made their day. That's what I hope happened. Maybe the people that found the packages will get in contact with me, maybe they won't. It's cool either way. I really didn't do this to gain a fan, it's all about the random act of sharing that attracted me in the first place.
So here I sit, writing this post, keeping an eye out for that magical little indicator number that tells me I have a new email. Could it be...?