Exhibition fest week for me

What an amazing week. My head is full of the most wonderful images. Somehow, I’ve managed to visit four exhibitions this week. Summer seems to be a great time for exhibitions – probably July more than August when people are away on holiday.

Two of them were openings I was invited to attend on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings (one of the advantages of working in London in the middle of the week).  Both were very different collections, and both by very talented artists. And on Wednesday afternoon, I managed to fit in an impromptu visit to the BP National Portrait Award (how did that come around again so quickly?), and the Armed Forces Art Society exhibition at The Mall Galleries.

Although I would dearly love to include photographs of some of my favourite paintings of the week so I could share them with you, there are copyright questions, so all I can do is show you the loot I brought back in the form of catalogues. Although I haven’t done so in the past, I’ve decided these are worth keeping as great references when they are for an exhibition of an artist I admire. Fantastic inspiration material.

exhibition catalogues are great for inspiration
Exhibition treasure this week

I have, however, put in links to specific paintings where I can find them, and links to the artists’ pages where I can find those.

The Osborne Studio Gallery is showing the work of award winning Russian born artist, Valery Koroshilov until the 4th of August. This artist paints in big bold oils and breaks the rules of composition in some respects. His collection is very personal – paintings of his family – and in many cases, the background isn’t included which has the strange effect of characters seeming to be floating in isolation. But it’s very effective in the way that he’s used it as a mechanism to ensure the focus is entirely on the characters. The collection consists of paintings of his very striking wife and of children at play in the summer. Painted at his summer home on the Island of Samos, they really capture the vibrant light of summer and the carefree feel of holidays at the seaside.

The exhibition of The Armed Forces Art Society is on at The Mall Galleries until this Saturday (July 20th, 2013).  Until this week I was unaware of the society so had no idea what to expect. That in itself seemed a good reason to go. The work was diverse in subject and medium. There were a few artists whose work I have seen in other society exhibitions (SWA for example) and there were some paintings I found quite compelling. I’m afraid I ran out of time on this one and didn’t get all the way round, but it was well worth a visit and I will be watching out for their exhibitions in future.

The BP Portrait Award on at the National Portrait Gallery was, as always, surprising in many ways. I have to confess to feeling a bit uncultured when I find myself looking at some of the works and wondering what the judges were thinking when that was included. Clearly, they must have found some merit in the work, but for the life of me, I can’t see what it is with some of them. But equally, I always see a number of works that are fascinating and wonderful in this exhibition. And I always come away thinking how brilliant it would be to be able to paint portraits well. (One day I will be brave enough to try). I’ve also come to the conclusion that I am getting very bored with paintings in which the subjects gratuitously reveal their intimate body parts. I’m not saying I don’t like nudes. Far from it. A well painted nude is always lovely. It’s the paintings that aim to shock that I find boring. They’re not shocking at all – they just don’t say anything interesting. In my view, the artist who has really phenomenal talent manages to show something of the inner person in the eyes, the posture, and the expression on their face. Three paintings really captured that for me this year and I loved every one of them. So much so, that I still want to look at them and have a very clear picture of them in my mind:

  • Getting Ready, by Eric De Vree so eloquently captures his son’s quiet determination on the eve of his departure for military service
  • Turning Point by Richard Geraint Evans shows the singer’s almost uncontainable joy at her new found success. It’s in her eyes and her smile. I can’t help smiling for her when I see this painting.
  • Kholiswa by Lionel Smit is big and bold and speaks to my heart. This is a true South African story of quiet dignity in the face of adversity. The hard life she leads is clearly visible, as is her tiredness. But I also see her love for her children and her willingness to labour for them. His use of blue in the painting is striking and brave. It isn’t something the average artist would do, but it works very well here.

The last of my four exhibition visits was to the opening of the Danielle O’Connor exhibition at Clarendon Fine Art. Danielle’s work caught my eye some time ago when I was walking past the gallery and was so striking, I had to go in at have a closer look. At the time, there were only two of her paintings in the gallery so it was a real treat to go to the opening of her exhibition and see her collection en mass. Toronto-based Danielle manages to fuse her Irish, Canadian and Japanese influences into her big bold abstract florals in the most joyful and extraordinary way. I could write screeds about her work, but I think it’s far more impactful if you simply click this link and have a look at her work yourself. It’s a real immersion in colour and exuberance. Even better, if you can get to London before the 27th of July – go and have a look for yourself.

Repeat visits

I’m writing this blog post in between Open Studio visitors (Yes! I have actually had some. That made me smile). We’re almost 10 miles from the centre of Saffron Walden – possibly the furthest out of town of all the exhibiting artists, so I know we won’t get as many visitors as those who are centrally placed. But that’s OK with me. We spent last night setting up and can now be relaxed and take our time talking to visitors about the how and the why of my painting, and loval art in general.

For every artist, Open Studios is a different experience, and the goal is also very different. For some, it’s important to sell paintings because that’s how they make their living. I am in awe of their brave commitment to creating art full time. I just get a thrill seeing all my paintings displayed in one place. I’m always amazed at how many I have produced :-D.  It’s a good way to get a perspective on a range of your work, and a sale is a wonderful bonus. I do have the occasional crisis of confidence as well, but I think that’s all just part of the creative process.

I read a quote by Billy Connolly today that resonates with me:

“my art is pure and un-judged, I am creating for myself, it is personal and private”.

I can see why he says that.  While I get huge enjoyment from sharing my paintings, I find it’s important to remember that the fundamental point of painting is the creation of an image for it’s own sake.  I think the pleasure of art from the artist’s perspective has two distinct stages: First the thrill of watching the image emerge, and then you get to experience it again when someone else sees and enjoys the painting.

The process of preparing for Saffron Walden Open Studios has given me the opportunity to reflect once again on what I love about painting, and on how much I love seeing people get enjoyment from my work. That’s the real thrill of a painting sale too – you really know the painting is loved when someone buys it. Even more so when someone who already has one of my paintings comes back for more.

Road to Nowhere (watercolour - 38 x 20cm) SOLD
Road to Nowhere (watercolour – 38 x 20cm) SOLD
Flyaway Tree (watercolour -  39 x 29) SOLD
Flyaway Tree (watercolour – 39 x 29) SOLD

It absolutely made my weekend when I got the request from someone who wanted to buy these two paintings on the night before Open Studios. The lovely thing about it that they are going to join one of my other paintings already in the same house.

Today’s seems to be all about return visits. I tweeted a comment about how strange it is that Facebook page Likes seem to come in waves, rather like buses: a flurry and then nothing for a while. And got a lovely response from Susan  (@EarthWhorls) who tweeted back “your work is startling & beautiful – I would think you’d get lots of return visitors.”  (Thank you, Susan)

Open Studios in June

Where did the last three weeks go?  If feels like ages since I picked up my brushes. But there is good reason. In the interim I have had no studio days at all. I’ve been working in London and then whisked off to South Africa on a business trip so it’s been a bit difficult to get into the studio. For some reason I find it incredibly difficult to get my head into painting when I am working intensely, so the creative side of my life seems to get put on hold at those times. Ah well – it means I have something to look forward to when I have a break.

The next exhibition I’ll be doing is the Saffron Waldon Open Studios weekend of 22nd and 23rd June. We’ll simultaneously be opening out garden and serving tea and cake in return for donations to Care for Casualties. Fingers are firmly crossed for good weather. So if you’re in the area, do pop in and visit.

And if you’re further South, here’s the list of other artists taking part. I only wish I could go and visit some of the other studios.

Saffron Walden Open Studio page 2Saffron Walden Open Studios leaflet

The garden is looking marvellous just in time for Open Studios. Now we just need to hope it stays dry and sunny.

Blooming border in early June 2013.
Blooming border in early June 2013.

Deep roots

Deep roots (watercolour sketch)
Deep roots (watercolour sketch)

The RI exhibition’s theme for this year’s exhibition is Trees and Landscapes. The society chose this theme to cast a light on the plight of the UK’s shrinking woodlands and tree species under threat.

I had some studio time late last night and sat down to play with colour to get my painting  mojo starting flow before the weekend’s painting time. This little abstract emerged while I was thinking about trees. Somehow the concept of deep roots appeared on the page.  I’ll be putting this on the wall to remind me to explore the idea further later.

So many ideas – so few hours in every day.

On a different subject, yesterday David suggested he introduce me to Catherine de Ryck who is one of the organisers of the International Watercolour Biennial in Belgium. Unfortunately, time ran out and I had to leave to catch my train back to Cambridge. By coincidence I came across Catherine on Facebook today and we connected.  I had one of those big smile moment when she said in her comment, “I already know your blog”.  [Waves to Catherine]

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Exhibition Review – the RI at The Mall Galleries


With David Poxon at the RI exhibition, Mall Galleries
With David Poxon at the RI exhibition, Mall Galleries

A year after we met online via blog and Facebook, I finally got to say hello in person to David Poxon. David very kindly sent me an invitation to the preview of the exhibition.

This show is really inspiring. The standard of work seems to me to be higher than in previous years and there are some memorable pieces on show from members and aspiring members:

Shirley Trevenna has a number of paintings on exhibit.  Her unmistakeable markmaking and colour use make her works attention-grabbing from across the room. There’s something about Shirley’s relaxed style which seems to infect people looking at them.  Standing in front of a group of four of them, I found myself drawn into a discussion with a gentleman standing next to me who turned to me and asked, “So which one is your favourite.” We differed in our favourite of the group, but agreed that they were all exceptional. I was quietly smug to see that the one I had pointed out was in fact the catalogue illustration choice of Shirley’s paintings.

I was pleased to see two sketches by George Butler in the exhibition. I discovered George’s website some time ago. This young artist has the ability to capture the essence of a place and his sketches from conflict areas in the world are remarkable. Have a look at his series on the Syrian conflict if you want to get a real feel for the place.

Ann Blockley is one of a few artists under consideration for membership this year. As usual, her Foxgloves and teasels have wonderful depth and texture. Ann is another artists whose style is unmistakable.

David’s four paintings (two of which can be seen – just- in this photograph) won the Windsor & Newton award for the group of paintings by a member which are judged to be the most outstanding contribution to the exhibition.

Inevitably, there were some paintings on show that just didn’t do it for me. Some were too stiff, and a few just made me wonder what the artist was thinking. But I prefer to highlight the works I found inspiring. Those I really enjoyed seeing. Naturally, these are a just a few of the many artists whose exceptional works will be on show at The Mall Galleries.

This exhibition is on until April 18th and is a must-see if you can get to London in the next 2 weeks.

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An invitation to celebrate watercolours

Harvest Days by David Poxon (Watercolour 26" x 18")
Harvest Days by David Poxon (Watercolour 26″ x 18″)

One of my sources of inspiration is the annual exhibition of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours held at The Mall Galleries. I make sure to visit every year.

Last year I wrote a post after my visit and mentioned a painting by David Poxon that was one of the exhibition high points for me. David very kindly sent me an invitation to the preview of this year’s exhibition which takes place next Thursday. Harvest Days is one of the paintings David has on exhibition this year. I’m looking forward to finally meeting him in person.

If you’re in London between Friday 5th April and Thursday 18th April, drop into the Mall Galleries to see some of the best watercolours on show this year.  I’ll be there next Thursday.

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Advertising your exhibition

The success of an exhibition is partly due to the advertising and marketing. Naturally, the purpose is to get as many people to see the exhibition as possible. But in addition that, it’s also worth considering who you want to be in that group. Ideally, you want to be targeting people who are interested in original art, and likely to:

a) buy original art

b) spread the word about work they like (word of mouth can be the most powerful marketing of all)

c) provide you with valuable feedback on the work.

Here are a few ideas you may want to consider:

Develop a mailing list

These are people who know your work and would like to be invited to a preview event.

  • When you mail them the news of your exhibition, ask them to forward the news to others they think will be interested, or bring friends along to the event. People sometimes need to be reminded that they are welcome to do that (and in fact that you actively encourage it – it’s a good way to build your mailing list).
  • Keep track of who has accepted so that you can cater adequately at the preview event, and also so you can;
  • Send a reminder email out 2 days before the event. Include map and parking information in this one, as well as any other last-minute information
  • Expect at least 10% to drop out at the last minute. Stuff happens in people’s lives.


Put out a press release about the exhibition and send it to the local press (newspapers magazines and online)

  • Include a photograph of a painting that has great impact. The more attention-grabbing, the better. We included Girls’ Best Friends on the event poster and that resulted in it being used by a number of publications to illustrate their piece about the event.
  • Compile a spreadsheet to track the publication names, contact person and email addresses of all your local media. This will make it easier to get in touch with them for future events.
  • Think about the demographic of the readership of the magazine, particularly in light of the audience you would like to attract. If a publication has a high proportion of readers who are interested in the arts, it is more likely to publish a piece about an art exhibition. Double bonus: better chance of publication, and the opportunity to reach a higher number of the people you want to attract.
  • Be mindful of deadlines. In particular, printed publications often have quite long lead in times for publications. It’s worth finding out what they are. We left it a bit too late for some of ours and missed out completely on getting into a few key publications.

Cambridgeshire Journal, March 2013

 Look out for local ‘what’s on’ websites and e-bulletins

  • Get in touch with them to get a listing in at the right time. For the weekly editions, a couple of weeks run up to the event should be sufficient.

Put up posters in the local vicinity if you are allowed to do so by councils

  • If you can’t get them onto pavements or public spaces, ask a few people who live close to the venue if they would mind having a temporary sign on their gate or fence. This may only work in villages. It certainly worked in ours.

On the exhibition days, make sure the signage is good

  • People will give up and go away if they can’t quickly and easily work out where you are.
  • It is also a good way of attracting serendipitous visitors. People who have a bit of time to spare and see your signs may well want to pop in for a browse.

Social Media

  • Set up a Facebook Event and invite the Facebook friends who are based in the area where your exhibition will be held.
  • Tweet your event when you announce it.
  • Post news on Facebook and Twitter as your plans develop and things get done.
  • Post news about event publicity. The publications get additional exposure so they love it too.

Get creative

  • Partner with local businesses where you can.
  • Think about what public holidays are taking place during your exhibition time and see if you can take advantage of them some way.

exhibition invitations

What other ways have you advertised your event? Please share them in the comments.

The more people get into the habit of buying original art, the more they will buy original art in the future.

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Exhibition weekend

Friday morning found us carting loads of paintings, ceramics and wooden boxes to the gallery and starting the process of setting up the display.

– Clear the space

– Lay out the paintings

Exhibition setup
Exhibition setup

– Sort and group,

– Re-sort and re-group,

– Hang paintings (For anyone who hasn’t done it before – this takes a long time)

– Label the paintings,

– Print final painting list,

Exhibition: Ready for the preview
Exhibition: Ready for the preview

Sort out catering, pour drinks, print last minute labels, set out leaflets and cards, (and a million other little things) get showered and dressed up.

And breathe!

Exhibition preview
Exhibition preview

Exhibitions are hard work, but when they work well, they are a lot of fun.

Our weekend in numbers:

Preview night guests: Over 100 (based on acceptances)

Outside temperature: Sub-zero

Logs burned on the stove: Many

Paintings sold: Eight

Paintings commissioned: Two (and a further possibility)

Worthwhile? Oh yes! We all had so much fun with this, and based on their feedback, so did the visitors.

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