Some Goals for the Coming Year

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No matter how experienced and skilled we are as artists, there is always room for improvement. Most of us, at sometime or other, feel that we could do better, and the beginning of a new year is a good time to look at some ways in which one might make a few changes.

Being realistic . . .

As with any other new year’s resolutions, it’s important from the outset to not take on more than you can realistically manage. Even the smallest of steps, taken often enough, will eventually lead to improvement.

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”

Vincent Van Gogh

Finding time . . .

Without doubt, one of the most widespread complaints from artists is that they never seem to have enough time. Other commitments so easily get in the way of artistic endeavour, often to the point where we simply give up and put away our brushes, pencils, paper, paints etc. In reality, almost everyone can find some amount of time to draw and/or paint, but if it isn’t already part of your daily routine, it may require some effort and adjustment.

Some suggestions . . .

Painting regularly will only happen if you set aside time specifically for that purpose. Saying you will use your leisure time means that you will only draw or paint when everything else is taken care of . . . and by then you are too tired!

Decide on how much time you can realistically set aside – 15 minutes, an hour, a morning or afternoon . . . and make a commitment to include that in your regular routine. For me, it works well to set aside time in the morning, before I work on more mundane tasks. Ideally, I like to paint/draw for several hours, but sometimes that isn’t possible, so I spend as long as I can. Even 15-20 minutes spent on work in progress will bring me a little closer to my goal. As far as possible during that time, I avoid telephone calls, emails etc.

“Do not wait: the time will never be ‘just right’. Start where you stand, and work whatever tools you may have at your command and better tools will be found as you go along.”

Napoleon Hill

If you can only manage a very short time each day, set aside a ‘painting day’ now and then. It can relieve some of the frustration caused by lack of time if you can look forward to an extended painting/drawing session every now and then. Write it down in your diary and stick to it as you would any other appointment.

Make sure that you have a spot set aside where you can leave your work in progress, so that you don’t have to waste precious time setting up. At the very least have a box/bag/drawer where you can keep all your art materials together. Using fold-over palettes or palettes with lids will allow you to have colours already mixed from one session to another.

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Choose your subject matter according to the amount of time you can afford to spend on a daily basis. If your time is very limited, look for small subjects – seedpods, a single flower, a leaf etc – or something that will not wilt or decay in a hurry.

Finding inspiration . . .

Sometimes it is hard to feel inspired, and lack of motivation can result in just not bothering to get out your art materials. Some days we feel more motivated and creative than at other times, so a little forethought can help on those days when the muse just doesn’t seem to be with us.

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If you use a computer, keep a folder of images that inspire you – it might contain a mixture of work by other artists, stunning photos you come across on-line, photos that you have taken yourself etc. You might find it useful to join www.pinterest.com, where you can find endless inspiration and also store your own images. Boards on Pinterest don’t have to be ‘public’ – you can set them up so that only you can access them.

If you feel more at home with ‘hard copies’, consider setting up a scrap book or a series of folders that can hold your own photos, images that you find in magazines or that you have printed out from the internet.

 

Other sources of inspiration . . .

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Books about art can be very helpful in stimulating creative juices. Read about some of the great botanical artists of the past and present – Marianne North, Margaret Mee, Maria Sybilla Merian, Mary Delany, Franz Bauer, Rory McEwen etc – or spend time reading one of the many excellent ‘how-to’ books that are available. But don’t limit yourself to botanical art – read about Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, the Impressionists, John Ruskin, David Hockney . . . the possibilities are endless.

Inspiration can be found in many places – art galleries, botanical gardens, garden centres, woodland walks, a visit to the seashore. Do make sure when you are out and about to keep a little notebook or sketchbook for recording ideas. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to do some sketching, take photos and make note of any ideas that may come to you. It is amazing how easily these are forgotten once you get home if you have no written or photographic record!

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”

Vincent Van Gogh

 

‘Jewels of Autumn’ Botanical Art Workshops

A few places are still available for these two botanical art workshops being held in Moycullen, County Galway on Saturday 26 September and Saturday 24 October 2015. Even if you are a complete beginner, you are very welcome to come along and spend the day (10.00am – 4.00pm) painting some special autumnal subjects, such as chestnuts, blackberries, coloured leaves etc. Cost for one workshop is €40 per person, or €75 for both workshops.

Botanical Art Workshops Autumn 2015

AUTUMN 2015 BOTANICAL ART CLASSES AND WORKSHOPS

September is almost here and botanical artists look forward to the wonderful autumn foliage, fruits and seed pods that provide endless possibilities for new paintings and drawings. It’s also the time of year when classes begin again after the summer break. I am looking forward to meeting new students as well as ‘veterans’ of previous courses.

Thursday morning classes begin again on 10 September in An Fuaran, Moycullen, Co Galway, with the first course running until Thursday 29 October, inclusive. Another eight-week course will begin in mid-November. Details are on the poster, but if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me by phone or email. An eight-week course costs €140, but a €20 voucher towards the next course will be given to all students at the end of the course.

Saturday workshops will also begin in September and will be scheduled roughly once a month. These have been extended by one hour and will run from 10am to 4pm with a short break for lunch. The price, however, remains the same as before: €40 for the day.

Do remember to book early as places are limited.

Plans are also underway for a number of informal workshops at Claregalway Castle during the autumn and winter, so watch this space for further information on those.

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Botanical Painting Course

For anyone in the Galway/Moycullen/Barna/Oughterard area, I am starting botanical art classes on 23 October. The first eight week course will take place on Thurssday mornings from 10–12.30 (see image for details). Beginners are very welcome. Even if you are not sure whether this is for you, come along on the 15th to learn more. Please pass this on if you know anyone who might be interested. Only eight places per class are available so that students receive plenty of individual attention. There are just two places left for this module, but further classes and/or workshops at other times may become available if there is a demand for them. Please contact me at laragan.hall@gmail.com for further information.poster_web

Learning curves

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Finally, after a winter of slogging away at freelance design work, I have managed to organise my time a little better to allow regular painting time. I have always felt that I should do freelance work first, and painting second (after all, it’s the freelance work that pays the bills at the moment!). As a result, I got very little painting done because by the time I found some free time, I was too tired, the light was gone, and it just seemed too late in the day to set up my drawing board. Having become thoroughly depressed by my lack of progress, I decided to make drastic changes to my daily routine, with painting my priority for the morning hours. Sounds like a simple solution, but it’s not so easy to change long-established habits! There is nothing like a little pressure to push one into making those long-overdue changes, and when the opportunity arose to submit a painting for exhibition, it gave me the impetus I needed to change.

This watercolour of freesias is the result of my new work habits. Painting in the morning when the light is good, before I get caught up in all the other daily happenings and demands, has made all the difference in the world! I have found that most days – even when I have deadlines looming in my freelance work – I can manage four or five hours to draw and paint. As a rule, any more than that becomes counter-productive because I start to miss details or get sloppy. The great side benefit of this new routine is that painting relaxes me and actually helps freelance design work progress faster and better – the creative juices flow so much better! I just wish I had done this ages ago!

Painting the freesias resulted in a big learning curve for me. To begin with, it is the first large piece that I have painted on hot press watercolour paper – 300lb Fabriano Artistico. Before that I used NOT watercolour paper, because I felt more confident working on a paper with a texture. However, I knew that I would never get the really crisp finish that can be achieved on hot press paper. After a few practice pieces, and more than a few mistakes and false starts, I started to feel more at home with this wonderful paper, and found that it isn’t quite as daunting as I had feared. I found it more difficult to lay down washes on the smoother surface, but detail was so much easier to paint. I found the granulation of the purples a little frustrating, and I have become aware that I need lots more practice in laying down washes with confidence. On the other hand, I am quite pleased with the colour and the composition. I sent off my entry for the art exhibition today, and now I have to wait until the end of April to find out whether the painting has been accepted. Whether it is or not, I feel that I learned a great deal from this painting, and I had fun doing it. Now I can’t wait to get on with my next painting!

  The opening…

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The opening and first two days of the Botanical Art Expo at Claregalway Castle were very successful, with a huge attendance. Holding an art exhibition at the immensely popular Galway Garden Festival at Claregalway Castle gave us the advantage of a very large footfall at the beginning of the exhibition. The weather was better than recent days – a little showery on Saturday, but plenty of sunshine on Sunday. The crowds at the festival were even bigger than last year and there was a wonderful atmosphere, with music, superb speakers, delicious food and lots more, all against the colourful backdrop of all the plant stands on one side and the beautifully restored castle on the other. Late on Sunday, I had the pleasure of showing TV gardening personality, designer and author, Diarmuid Gavin, and his lovely wife and daughter around the art exhibition. Diarmuid was one of the speakers at the Garden Festival.

On Saturday, I once more had the opportunity to listen to a talk by Dr Matthew Jebb, Director of the Botanical Garden at Glasnevin in Dublin. Dr Jebb is a superb speaker and one is always sorry when his talk comes to an end. He spoke about ‘hardwoods’ and ‘softwoods’, which perhaps doesn’t sound particularly scintillating, but Dr Jebb made it fascinating and very informative.

I also managed to get to the talk by Joy Larkcom, and how glad I am that I had the chance to listen to her talk about her life and the amazing work she has done in bringing so many new vegetables into common usage in Britain and Ireland. She is a most charming and unassuming lady, full of sparkle and enthusiasm, and I felt very honoured to be able to meet her. She and her equally charming husband, Don, now live in West Cork, where they have developed a marvellous garden despite the exposed coastal environment in which they live. Her latest book, ‘Just Vegetating, A Memoir‘ is a fantastic read – I bought a copy and then found myself staying up till the early hours reading it.

Getting back to the opening of the art exhibition, the speaker at the opening was author and art critic, Vera Ryan. She spoke so eloquently and with such feeling about the place of botanical art in the context of the art world in general, and graciously mentioned all the artists and their work in detail. It was a great pleasure to meet her and to listen to her – can’t help wishing that I could have had some one like her as my art history instructor in art college!

The standard of work in the exhibition is very high – with a wonderful variety of styles and media. The exhibition is divided between two rooms, with the larger focusing on botanical art illustration – ‘the area in which art and science meet’ – with the work of artists Grania Langrishe, Yanny Petter, Susan Sex, Sabine Springer, Lynne Stringer and myself. The other room featured the much-admired pastel artwork of Gordon D’Arcy and the stunning tree ‘portraits’ of Anne Towers, both of whom are residents of the west of Ireland. The entire exhibition is, we believe, is a new departure for Galway, where one seldom has the opportunity to view an exhibition devoted to botanical art. Hopefully this will start a new tradition, with the Botanical Art Expo becoming a regular feature of the annual Galway Garden Festival.