Archive for category Subject: The creative process

The Unstoppable Artist || Barbara L McCulloch

The premise behind this is that you can make your art attractive and irresistible to viewers. The words “spiritual” and “empower” appear in the cover blurb.

It’s fair to assume, therefore, that this is a journey through the mind as much as a lesson in practical art. Get in touch with your inner self, discover your creative spirit and then channel it into projects that express what we might refer to as your inner soul. Yes, it’s very New Age and, honestly, something I struggle with. The opening section, for example, is mostly words and, if this fails to connect, you’d probably give up. That’s fair enough – not everything is for everyone, but you might think differently and that this is the best and most empowering thing you’ve read. If so, Barbara certainly has much to tell you.

The second half of the book is devoted to the projects the first half promised and this is where things get practical. It is also, unfortunately, where the book gets hard to use. There’s nothing wrong with the instruction, which is clear and well laid out, but there is a lack of breaks in the design to indicate where one section ends and the next begins. That may be the idea – that this is a journey that extends out in front of you in a continuous thread, but I think the general reader, used to more conventional layouts, will have trouble following. I’m also a bit concerned by the colour reproduction, which looks out of balance – if these are the irresistible creations the blurb promises, something has gone wrong, maybe with the magenta. Where the balances are right, you can see that Barbara is actually a very capable artist and her line work in a variety of drawing media is superb.

All-in-all, I feel a bit underwhelmed, but that this has considerable promise that’s let down by the lack of a designer and by the method of reproduction. For once, though, in a book that has a self-published feel, I don’t so much get the sense of the lack of an editor.

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The Painter’s Book of Magic || Bob Brandt

Privately published books are prone to two problems. The first is the lack of an editor, the second the lack of a designer. Editors have that degree of remove from the author, as well as the professional experience, that allows them to spot over-writing and glib assumptions. Designers work in the book world and are up to date with current trends. You may not think that look and feel matter that much and are really so much froth, but the way you navigate the book and absorb information off the pages is entirely down to them.

All of which preamble is to say that Bob navigates these hazards well. True, the book does have the feel of being laid out on a word processor, but the type is readable and the illustrations are generally in the right places. You get nul points for making the reader constantly jump about. With regard to editing, the book reads well, so I think we can tick that box too.

The magic referred to in the title is the creative process – looking, seeing, observing and recording, and this is very much an illustrated thesis. Bob examines in some detail what makes a painting interesting – how not just the subject but the composition and content engage a viewer. This isn’t a book about how to put paint on paper or canvas, but rather where and why to place it. What makes the book compelling is that Bob understands the issues involved, rather than simply sensing them instinctively, and has the ability to explain the solutions simply and elegantly. It’s a worthwhile read.

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What Artists Wear || Charlie Porter

When this arrived, I felt completely unqualified to have an opinion about it. Fortunately, I have a friend who is a costume designer, so what follows are her words.

Artists leave behind traces of their existence through material created that is more permanent than themselves. The average person might be able to tell you the difference between a Van Gogh and a Monet painting, but could they tell you what each artist chose to wear to his studio?

An artist’s choice of clothing can become a further stem of their practice. A great example of this was in the section on Lynn Hershman Leeson. With ‘Roberta Breitmore’ the artist’s choice of clothing became integral to creating the artwork. Her costume, wig and make-up created the character she performed as for 5 years, her choices in clothes helped form a commentary on the treatment women within 1970’s culture.

Filled with an array of artists from sculptors to performance artists mainly during the 20th century, the book takes on an impressive amount of case studies. The text is sandwiched between images of artists in their studios, offering an often intimate window into their life.

Reading as a costume designer and performance artist, at points I wished the author, Charlie Porter, made a greater distinction between an artist wearing fashion or costume.

My personal preferences meant I was most enticed mostly by Porter’s sections referring to what artists wear during a performance. However, I feel a greater separation could have been made between an artist such as Basquiat, who wore designer clothing in the process of creating his art and artists like Louise Bourgeois who wore costumes as her art. Their intentions were entirely different, and I begin to wonder if this investigation could therefore have been split into two editions: artist’s clothes / distinctive clothes worn by artists?

This subject opened up a bees-nest of artists who would fit into this surprisingly intimate investigation. Grayson Perry and Rebecca Horn immediately come to mind and could have perhaps replaced some of the dryer sections discussing Nicole Eisenman, who is a wonderful artist but perhaps wasn’t the best choice for this book. That said, provoking the desire to add artists into this investigation suggests how rich the subject is.

The focus on what artists decide to wear daily and in performance art proves to be a window into the wider culture their art is born into. It situates where they fit or more commonly, resist pressure to comply with their contemporaries.


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Spring Cannot Be Cancelled || David Hockney & Martin Gayford

“Hockney is not a believer in healthy living so much as in good living”. This almost throwaway remark could be a mantra for our times. Do you want just to exist, or to live life as fully as you can, even if that comes with a host of risks? Hockney, famously contrarian, is firmly in the latter camp and this book might be seen as his vituperative response to the situation we find ourselves in.

I say “might”, because this is not all that it has been billed, or reviewed, as. It’s probably simpler to start at the beginning: it’s a continuation of the ongoing conversation that Hockney and Gayford have been having for a good many years. This saga has centred around the role, meaning and position of art within the wider world, but has achieved a focus in the present as an escape from and antidote to many of the restrictions that currently face us. The claim of the blurb that it is “an uplifting manifesto that confirms art’s capacity to divert and inspire” is by no means untrue, but does also need to be seen in the wider context of these ongoing exchanges.

You may have seen reviews that describe the book as “lavishly illustrated” and I take issue with that too. It’s hard to damn Hockney with faint praise, but to me, “lavish” means not just “generous”, but “of outstanding quality”. The format of the book is upright octavo and the illustrations are mostly landscape, which constricts their size and obscures detail. It is also printed entirely on book rather than art paper, which dulls colours and obscures detail. Several press features have included some of the paintings, which are Hockney’s iPad works featuring the arrival of Spring in Normandy where he now resides, and which mirror the 2012 RA show, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate Woods. The problem is that the reproduction there was immeasurably better than it is in the book. Quite simply, if you buy this as a preview of the upcoming RA show The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020 you will, I think, be disappointed.

There is, though, no doubt that Hockney has mastered digital art. Whether you use a pen, a brush or your finger is merely a method of application – what matters is the result and, when seen at their best, these images are amazing. The 2012 exhibition showed a few, but here they are at the forefront and they are absolutely stunning and absolutely Hockney. Try to get to the new show, or at least buy the catalogue.

I don’t mean to say that this is in any way a bad book. Of course it isn’t. Anything which gives us the words and sentiment of the master, especially on the subject of creativity, is to be treasured. It is, however, what it is and not something else.

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Brief Lessons in Seeing Differently || Frances Ambler

This is that rare beast, a book which is as valuable to the artist as it is to the art consumer.

Under a series of heads – See things in a fresh light, Learn the advantages of a different angle, Give yourself time and be still, etc – Frances Ambler provides advice on how to improve the quality of your art. Each section is short, as the title implies, and provides an outline that’s effectively a model for further study. Go away and think about it is her message. Much of it could also apply to ways of looking at paintings, hence the convenient dual appeal.

It’s an excellent idea and succeeds admirably in its aim to be thought-provoking. The use of examples adds weight to the arguments, but you’d better hope you have access to the artists and works cited as there are only a few illustrations, and those are grouped together at the back. To be fair, including more would take this beyond the realm of the budget pocket book into a larger, possibly coffee table tome. To avoid it simply being a large slab of text, the designers have used typographic tricks which you might find annoying if you hang around too long.

For all that, it’s a fun book, which I think is what it intends. After all, as Frances says, “The mundane becomes special as soon as you pay attention to it”.

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DVD My Obsession – the life and work of Robert A Wade || Robert Wade

Making films in these improbable times is a challenge and understandably APV have not produced anything in their usual format. This tribute to Australian artist Bob Wade was originally planned to coincide with his 90th birthday, but the interviews were curtailed by strict lockdowns in Melbourne, where he lives.

Celebrations are often really only of interest to the subject themselves, and maybe those who take part and hope for a little reflected glory. This, however, is sensitively done and made with a broader audience in mind. At its core is an extended interview with Bob, who reminisces about a life devoted in one way or another to art. His greatest love is watercolour and his eyes sparkle like a luminescent painting as he talks about “the surprise and wonderment and magic that suddenly appear before your eyes”. Of what he calls visioneering, he adds, “[It’s] seeing with your brain, feeling with your eyes and understanding with your heart”. Can you come up with a better definition of both the physical and mental process of creating a piece of art? Thought not.

Interspersing this are tributes from many of Bob’s Australian contemporaries, who manage to say a great deal more than “he’s a wonderful artist”. “Underlying everything is sound, honest watercolour technique”, says Herman Pekel. The aside, “Bob is a storyteller”, is perhaps the greatest truism in the whole film.

To make sure the film isn’t just talking heads and still images, extracts from some of Bob’s classic demonstrations are included. These do not, it should be said, add new unseen material, but they do add a gloss to the words and remind us of Bob’s working methods.

As I implied, films like this can be dry as dust and self-congratulatory. This is neither and is gripping from start to finish. Much of that is down to Bob’s character. His joy in his medium is always evident and it’s enthralling to hear him talking about it more generally than he would in a specific demonstration. The tributes are heartfelt and it’s clear that he is a man genuinely loved by his fellow artists, as well as students throughout the world.

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Shaping The World || Antony Gormley & Martin Gayford

Artists are not always the best people to talk about art. The creative process is intensely personal and can be driven by forces that even the practitioner does not fully understand. Equally, those who talk and write about it, are not themselves creators in visual media and have to tease the artist’s inner workings out of their own perceptions of the finished article.

However. There are times when these two worlds align, and Martin Gayford is usually one of the parties. He is one of the most cogent writers about art and the creative process there is and understands it in a way that few non-practitioners are able to. Even on his own, he is able to provide the reader with the sense of being an insider rather than simply a viewer – and this while that reader is looking at the page rather than the artwork.

Gayford is also a very effective collaborator and his conversations with David Hockney have illuminated works, the artist and the creative process all at the same time. This book takes the same approach: it is a discussion between Gormley and Gayford that covers three-dimensional work in stone, clay and metal from prehistoric times to the present day. Yes, it is substantial and it’s worth adding that the quality of production does full justice to the superb content.

If you asked a random member of the public to name a sculptor, the chances are that Antony Gormley would be the one they’d come up with. Not only will they know his name, but they’ll also be at least broadly familiar with his spare and idiosyncratic figures – the large public works such as The Angel Of The North that are impossible to ignore. We already know from other publications that Gormley can be eloquent on the creative method and he and Gayford here spark ideas off each other that are more illuminating than either of them writing alone.

A book such as this requires careful editing. All discussions include diversions and side-tracks that obscure the central point, but heavy-handed attempts to keep them at least appearing to be contiguous can easily leave the language stilted. Not so here and there’s a strong sense of a continuous narrative driven by shared enthusiasm and common, though not always parallel, ground.

This lands on you like a major work. It knows it is important, but it wears its learning lightly and, even though we probably expect it, it’s a pleasure to find that this is so.

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The Unquiet Landscape || Christopher Neve

This isn’t a book about art. Rather, it’s a book about how art and the landscape interact and the way in which places and philosophy work together to stimulate the creative process.

Does that sound complicated? Well, just imagine you’re painting a landscape. You could just sit there and make an exact representation of what you see, but that wouldn’t be much more than a photograph. Even the least pretentious artist would want to put some kind of expression into their work – as Edgar Degas reminded us: art isn’t what you see, but what you make others see. Study a landscape, maybe for years, see and understand it in all its moods, make sketches and then – only then – start work in the studio, and you have something completely different. The result isn’t a representation of what you saw, it’s a map of what was going on in your mind as a result of this contemplative process.

So, you see, it is all about art after all, but also that much deeper process that underpins a great work. Christopher Neve writes about artists from William Sickert to Stanley Spencer , Eric Ravilious and John Nash. He had extensive conversations with Ben Nicholson and others that get behind what appears on paper or canvas.

This is a new edition of a book that first appeared in 1990. Frustratingly, the preface doesn’t reveal what has changed, but the blurb hints at the addition of the illustrations and of additional text. If you have the original, it would be useful to know whether that justifies a second purchase.

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Artist Studios New York || Marco Anelli

If you like peeking into artists’ studios, this is a treat. Marco Anelli is a photographer who specialises in projects and this one is exactly what you’d expect from the title. The quality both of the photographs, which include the artists themselves as well as their spaces, and the reproduction are superb and this is an absolute delight to look at. I’m not that bothered by studios myself – I prefer the artist’s work – and yet I’m saying that. The generous format of the book helps a lot.

Not all the names will necessarily be familiar, but Marina Abramović and William S Burroughs stand out. If I was going to be picky (when am I not?), I could have done with some text. However, Marco would probably counter that he’s a photographer and that, if the images don’t stand for themselves, it may be me who’s missing something. The overall quality here would suggest that he’d be the one who’s right.

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Paint Yourself Positive || Jean Haines

This is the successor to 2016’s Paint Yourself Calm and is ostensibly about mindfulness and working with your imagination rather than a visible subject.

Does that sound unbearably new-agey? You bet it does and in less skilled hands it could be a mess, both in terms of concept, presentation and results. However, Jean is a very capable painter who already works on the edge of abstraction and the illustrations here are very little different to her more conventional work, as seen in books such as Atmospheric Flowers in Watercolour. For her state-of-mind work, she uses imagination to control what appears on paper, but that doesn’t mean unintelligible blobs, but rather images that capture the essence of their subjects – flowers, fish, buildings and animals.

It would be perfectly possible to use this as an aid to mindfulness, but it’s also a very worthwhile guide to a rather different approach to painting. If you already love Jean’s work, this is another pearl of wisdom to treasure. If you’re new to it, it’s no bad place to start.

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