Artboxes in London

There’s a tendency in big cities to keep your head down and just get to your destination as quickly as possible. I remember well being given the advice, “whatever you do, don’t make eye contact!”  In some places I suspect that’s very good advice. But, if you keep your eyes open, London quite often delivers some fabulous treats.

About a month ago, walking past Hyde Park at around 6pm, I encountered Pete Bishop. He was winding up a clock on top of a telephone booth and talking passionately about his Artbox. (See the video below)

Just that day I’d started noticing amazingly decorated telephone boxes dotted all over London – I’ve included photographs of three I found in Covent Garden. I did a bit of online research and discovered the BT Artbox. This project celebrates the 25th anniversary of Childline. Artists from around the world have been asked to design replica telephone boxes – and 80 of them have been placed around London for members of the public to enjoy.

Harvey Nichols’ Artbox

More photos of Artboxes can be seen here

Peek-a-Boo by Cosmo Sarson

 And here

The Cure by MM

And if you’re in London and want to find some – check out the map.

On the 18th of July, the Artboxes will be auctioned to raise funds for Childline so if fancy one – register your interest on the website. In the meantime, enjoy hunting for Artboxes around the city. London can sometimes be the coolest city.

Can you spot C3PO on Pete Bishop’s Artbox?

Stopping in interesting places

watercolour. art. water

Paul Gardener said: “A painting is never finished. It simply stops in interesting places.”

watercolour. art. water
Downstream. Work in Progress. Watercolour

That quote just jumped off the page at me when I first read it, because it so aptly describes the way I work. Perhaps its a result of doing the marvellous 100 Wash Challenge, but I think it’s as much an intrinsic part of my mental make up. More often than not, a painting will reach a point where I don’t want to do any more to it for the moment. I’ll then keep it visible while I work on other things and ponder it for a while. Sometimes a very long while. As a result, I frequently have many paintings on the go, at various stages of completeness.

The joy of this method is that when I’m stuck for inspiration, I usually have a couple of dozen part-painted pictures to choose to work on.  The down side is that it’s a tad short on planning. It’s almost completely intuitive, and often produces fantastic surprises.

This work in progress is currently on my easel. It was one of the 100 washes, and has been sitting quietly waiting since last October for it’s next steps. I’ve picked it up countless times, but the inspiration didn’t strike. Then I saw dappled sunlight on water and reed banks in it. So it’s currently moving on to it’s next staging point, where it will no doubt, stop in an interesting place.


An unintended consequence of violence

Today I received a link to this video of the story of the 9/11 boatlift – something I hadn’t even been aware of until now. If you’ve got 10 minutes to spare, this is worth watching. It’s an account of a remarkable response to a crisis. There’s no denying the horror of the events that took place that day – but good to focus on a positive aspect of the events as well.

It makes me think there’s an unintended consequence of acts of terror. In the process of trying to invoke fear, the perpetrators of violent acts manage to also strengthen the inner resolve of their targets. An attack from outside, brings members of a clan together to protect and support each other, and in the process, reinforces their bond.

Apps for Artists: Evernote

Continuing on the notebook theme – while I love my paper notebook and will always have one for the ideas that have to be captured in real ink, pencil and paint, Evernote an electronic version, has also become part an integral part of my kit.

I use Evernote for all sorts of notes – not just for my painting references. From business notes to shopping lists, it’s a useful way of gathering and organising the information I need in my life.  Notes are grouped into virtual notebooks so I can make individual notes within books about specific work projects, or general categories (like ‘painting ideas’, family history research, information for an upcoming trip).

There are some specific features that make it great as an app for artists. In Evernote I can:

  • type in text notes, add audio, or video to my notes,
  • add a plug in to my web browser which makes it easy to copy entire sections of a web page, just the URL, or clip an small part of that page,
  • attach a file from my computer to any note,
  • take a photograph directly from the Evernote app which automatically goes into the notebook I allocate it to,
  • synchonise Evernote on my phone, my laptop and my iPad so I can use it on the go.
It’s not just a text or sketch repository – it can be filled with visual references too. That flexibility is the key. I find my work notes tend to be predominantly text, tables and web links, while my painting reminders are filled with photographs and sections of web pages which include images.

I’m using it to build my own reference library for my painting. I have lists of artists whose work I’d like to spend more time viewing. I have images and ideas I’m considering using as subjects for paintings one day. I’ve started a section on colour notes based around Maggie Latham‘s series of blog posts on exploring colours. 

So often in the past I’ve found myself reading a blog post or a website and thinking, “I must remember to go back to this” only to find that when I do need it, I can’t find it.  Either its lost in an endless list of bookmarks, or if I can find the page, I spend ages trawling through it to find the specific nugget of information I wanted. As long as I remember to clip it to Evernote, I don’t need to do that any more.

I had Evernote downloaded on my computer for ages and just didn’t get into it. Finally, the need to collect images for a commission persuaded me to try again – and this time I really found it useful and I’m using it more and more.

Oh, and one more thing – it’s free, which means its not going to bite into the paint budget.

Business and art – never the twain shall meet …

Last wednesday was leapday. For me and a group of adventurous businesspeople, it was #Leapday.

Organised by Doug Shaw, the day was set up as an opportunity to try something new.  The brief was simply to bring your curiosity and an open mind.

We usually tend to operate in silos and it strikes me that we are the poorer for it. There’s a perception that if you are an accountant, a lawyer, a businessman – you can’t also be an artist. And conversely, if you make your living in a creative pursuit, well naturally you can’t possibly be any good at management or leadership. We seem to be surprised that someone like Madonna is both a singer and a talented businesswoman. We remember Winston Churchill lead Britain through the Second World War, but forget that he was also a talented artist,

If you believe the theory that exercising both hemispheres of the brain leads to better cognitive function, then business should be fostering creativity in their staff as much as possible.

#Leapday was an experience of  breaking down the silo thinking, and getting business and art to converge and meld.

The setting was unusual – a group of tables at the back of a health food shop in South London. We started with a bit of poetry to set the scene.

Then had a chance to do a sketching exercise. This was followed by a minute of question-based coaching on the subject of he sketch, after which we sketched for a further 2 minutes. It was remarkable how much difference the minute of coaching made to our drawings.

Finally, we opened up the watercolour boxes and I spent some time talking about some basic techniques, and then everyone had a go at painting. For some this was the first time they had painted. I suspect that for everyone, it was the first time they had painted in a health food shop with a group of other business people.

At lunch time, a charming gentleman in a wheelchair joined us at out table to eat his lunch. Before he left, we’d discovered that he was an accomplished watercolour painter and he had sketched a small oyster catcher with some watercolour pencils.

By the end of the day everyone had explored colour, the mix of pigment and water on paper,  painted a grape, and most had tried their hand at a small landscape.  The conversation naturally turned to the question of how business and art could work better together. Hopefully, those of us who experienced #Leapday will keep on looking for ways to make that happen.

Here are a few blog posts from our #LeapDay event:

David’s thoughts on The Art of Business

David’s landscape

Doug’s post about his Leapday output

The Anonymous Artist

Doug Shaw’s Aspects of Spring

(If you were at #LeapDay and you posted something about it, please let me know and I’ll add the link to the list).

The Power of Introverts

This recent TED talk by Susan Cain has gained a following on the internet in the last few days. Her message resonates with many who spend time in solitary pursuits. Writers, artists and creators in all disciplines have a strong introvert streak.

Susan points out that no-one is an absolute on the introvert-extrovert scale. I think it’s all too easy to assume that someone who talks a lot and is outgoing when in company, is an extrovert. This is not always true. We learn to adapt our behaviour to social pressures, and a highly introverted individual can in fact appear to be the life and soul of the party at times.  When you hear someone described as an introvert or an extrovert – be wary. They may not be quite what they appear.

The true test of whether where we are on that scale is how we recharge our internal batteries. After taking part in a group activity for a couple of hours, do you just want to curl up quietly with a book, or do you want to get out an party? That should give you a clue.  Your learning style is also an indicator of your propensity to introversion. If you are drawn to spending quiet time working things out, and if you learn best by just getting stuck in by yourself – own that introvert label. It’s just the way you are. And you’ll do best by working with the style you feel most drawn to.

I think Susan’s talk is powerful and convincing.

Where science meets art

One of the major attractions of living in Cambridge, is the number of fascinating juxtapositions you encounter.

It is a city that attracts residents from all corners of the world, all here with a common ideal – knowledge: the pursuit of it and the imparting of it.

It is a city with a pervasive atmosphere of innovation. And also one of venerable tradition and history. In this city, the birth of new ideas is accepted as the norm – but each new idea still buzzes with excitement.

It is worldly wise, and at the same time, a little insular. You meet people with huge intellect, who are almost incapable of buying a postage stamp but will discuss complex physics with authority.  I love this city.

It has Science Week which I’ve heard described as one of the best science festivals in the world. It has Wordfest, now 10 years old, and although small, one of the festivals that attracts authors from all over the country. It has Cambridge Open Studios: four weekends in which to visit artists in their studios all over the city. Each of these is an opportunity to immerse yourself in a specific aspect of the arts or science. But none of them is specifically devoted to fostering connections between these areas of expertise, culture and innovation.

With all these wonderful connections and contradictions in one place, Cambridge is just the perfect place for a TEDx event.   So we’ve put together TEDxGranta:Alive & Kicking – “A celebration of restless innovation in the arts and sciences. Of survivors and creators. And of people who kick back against established ways of thinking.”

Just look at the great list of speakers. We’ll cover design, business, social enterprise, psychology, music, film-making, engineering and more. We’re even having a blindfold kung fu exhibition.  And that’s just on the stage. The delegate list is just as interesting.

We’ve still got a lot to do – and with only 2 weeks to the event, we’re in high-activity mode. I’m really looking forward to it – the buzz will be brilliant.

In Six Words

Donna Zagotta put out a challenge to artists to describe their life as an artist in 6 words. I love it. It’s such a great challenge. There are so many possible soundbites.

I couldn’t resist having a bit of fun with it.

What are your six words?

PS – The original six word memoir website is fascinating and dangerous. Dip in and you could be there for quite some time!

Painting again, and fear of failure

After a long break travelling, I got back into the studio last weekend. Being away gave me time to think about my work, about how I want to paint this year, and about simplifying my life to make more time for important activities.

I have a bad habit of accumulating projects which does tend to mean that life is lived at a fairly brisk pace, and that leaves little space for calm reflection. The idea of moving my studio to the summerhouse in the garden has been percolating for some time. This seemed a great moment to make the shift, but it has meant a further couple of non-painting weeks. I was a little concerned that ‘painter’s block’ might creep in. But the new studio setting is really conducive to painting and I’ve made a start again – with a theme in mind for the next few works.

And if I needed any further reassurance, two blog post today have helped to motivate and enthuse me for 2012’s painting. This morning I saw a pointer to this great post on fear of failure. I would agree with the author’s comment about the video of MIlton Glaser. If you only watch one – make it that one.  Donna Zagotta has also written a great post about pushing through the tough painting sessions. I rather like first and third of her five tips because they apply to life in general as well as to painting.

It feels wrong to publish a post without an image in it – so here’s a work in progress inspired by the drive across the vast Karoo in South Africa. The fore ground and background are working nicely – now for the bit in the middle …