Part 2: Preparation and Installation

I applied to the Oxmarket Centre of Arts in early July 2015, submitting a proposal of work along with a sample portfolio, hoping to get approval and permission from the art directors in charge of the gallery to exhibit with them over a year later, showing a body of work that had no yet even begun.

The Beautiful Everyday painting project ran from 19 July 2015 – 18 July 2016, finishing the day before my 24th birthday with over 700 hours of painting.

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Portrait of an exhausted and delighted artist. Check out that stack of paintings!

But of course, even after all of that my work had only just begun. I sourced and ordered a pallet worth of unfinished plain wooden frames with the professional help and support of Jackie Matthews at Co-Prom, and the mountain of boxes that arrived several weeks later should have been my first clue that the logistical element of the exhibition would be more of a challenge than I had anticipated. These frames would then be sanded, treated and painted before the exhibition. This was, clearly going to be a big job and I would need a much bigger space than my studio shed to complete this in.

I was enormously lucky to be offered the help and support of a family friend Judy Stewart, who opened up her home to me as her ‘resident artist’ for a couple of weeks. Not only did she hand over her dining room to me; she gave me a bed and provided my meals with a freshly baked loaf of bread every few days! As if this enormous generosity wasn’t enough, she did more than her fair share of painting, and worked with my mum and I as the decision panel as we chose the framing colour options for each of the 366 miniature paintings.

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Judy hard at work being my framing saviour

A partial stack of my four painted frame options and a snapshot of some paintings being sized for their mountboard.

As I was working on my PhD at the same time, this project had to be very part-time, and so I had left the framing and organisational tasks later than hoped. It took two weeks of solid daily framing, painting, and trimming mountboard to get them all ready in time, and there were many many late nights for all involved. I even roped my poor boyfriend in to the framing mania for the weekend before the exhibition.

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Smiling through the stress.

Before the framing had even begun I had designed all of the literature for this event, sketching out some posters and fliers in Photoshop before getting them printed by the excellent team at Express Printing in Chichester.

Front and back of the fliers and the A2 poster design.

Framing finished the day before the exhibition was due to be installed – just in the nick of time! I typed and printed the collection lists and we had everything packaged up in boxes with stack of bubble wrap to keep it all safe and damage free.

On the morning of Monday 12 September my mother and I packed all the boxes into the car and made our way (very slowly and carefully) to the Oxmarket Centre of Arts ready to begin installation at 9.30 am.

All the boxes set out and ready, and rows of wonky paintings when they first started to get hung.

We were hanging, rearranging and straightening the pieces in the gallery from 9.30-5pm, and I was extremely grateful to have not only my family but the assistance of the Oxmarket staff as well to take on such a mammoth task. It felt a little impossible at times, but we managed to get everything ready before the private viewing at 6pm with just enough time for a quick shower and wardrobe change.

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Installing…

Finally ready for the grand public reveal!

Read part 3 for pictures from the gallery opening night, throughout the two weeks exhibition, and from the regular live painting demonstrations!

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Part 1: The Origin of the Beautiful Everyday Exhibition

I have been meaning to write a round-up from my exhibition in September since….well, since the exhibition in September. And here I am finally getting round to it in early November. Better late than never I suppose…

A lot of people have asked me why I decided to paint a watercolour everyday. What gave me the idea, why did I do it the way I did, and how (dear god how) was I driven to the point where I was willing to commit nearly 1000 hours of hard labour into an artistic project that could have been doomed to failure from the very start. So I though I would explain the origin story of the project, along with an overview of the processes involved in putting together an exhibition in a short series of blog posts.

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Advertising Fliers from the Exhibition

The Beautiful Everyday project started as a way to expand my creative horizons. I had finished my Undergraduate and Masters degrees (English Literature and Eighteenth-Century Studies respectively), and was left feeling frustrated, bored, and without focus in the six month interlude between the completion of an internship and the start of my PhD studies. This creative frustration wasn’t particularly new to me: I have always been a creative by nature, and thought nothing of filling a sketchbook from cover to cover in a matter of a few months. I lost a lot of my artistic focus during my late teens, which came hand-in-hand with a decline in motivation. My earlier work towards the end of my school career and the start of my undergraduate didn’t help either – I was in awe of Georgia O’Keefe and produced massive botanical paintings which took up to 25 hours a piece. It is hard to retain motivation when you’ve got to write off your weekends to produce a painting that feels unoriginal and like a hollow imitation of someone else’s voice.

To vary this I had a handful of commissions, drawing and sketching for friends, which I hugely enjoyed. But this work only brought home my insecurities that I had no voice of my own, and that I lacked the technical ability to tackle any variety of subject matter competently. This mood of artistic stagnation gave birth to my daily painting project. I wanted to make art an integral part of my everyday life. I wanted it to be un-intimidating; broken into small manageable chunks, but also to feel like I was making a monumental commitment to myself, that I would embrace and stop neglecting that creative side of my character. I also wanted to stretch my technical abilities, by working with subjects that I was uncomfortable with or that might never have occurred to me ordinarily. I could afford a few hours everyday, just the time it took to watch an episode or two of the latest BBC drama, or listen to a radio podcast. This meant my paintings had to be reduced in size, to be miniatures. It also meant I didn’t have the time to learn about new mediums and materials – I was relatively comfortable with watercolours, and I knew they could give me the high level of detail I would need to bring to such little pieces. I practiced a few miniature paintings to check I had the technical ability, and that I was prepared to take this on.

I also wanted to ensure this project would be completed – the whole point was to do a painting a day for a whole year to force myself into a routine and to build up enough pieces that I would really challenge my knowledge and confidence in composition. It also wouldn’t hurt to have something to do with all of these hundreds of paintings when I was finished. So I applied for and booked a gallery space for the following year, crossed my fingers and started painting on my 23rd birthday in July 2015.

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Day 1/365 – Birthday Cake

I have written elsewhere on this site about the joys and challenges of these miniatures paintings, so I won’t bore you with it again here. The project grew beyond my wildest hopes and gave me the freedom to try subjects I had never been brave enough to tackle before, and it demonstrated to me that a little work everyday adds up to a colossal number of hours.

Each piece took around 1-4 hours, with the majority taking around 1hr 30 from sketching out to completion. But of course, with the exhibition in September as the culminating finish line to this project, painting wasn’t all the work I had to consider.

You can find all the unsold paintings from my exhibition, along with other work, my portfolio and images from the exhibition on my website www.amycclarke.com.

Read part 2 for behind the scenes pictures from the preparation and build-up towards my exhibition; and for a tale of long hours, exhaustion and extremely patient, long-suffering and magnificently generous friendship.

Learning About Landscape

The great thing about my ongoing daily painting project is the freedom it grants me to try new things. Before beginning these mini paintings in July I hadn’t painted a landscape since I was seven. It is one of the painting genres I really wanted to tackle during this year, and as the paintings are all limited in size I haven’t found it too daunting a space to experiment in.

Here’s a selection of some of the approximately 5cm square landscapes I’ve done so far.

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Day 90, Halnaker Windmill

Day 100, Chichester Cathedral

Day 102, The Trundle

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Day 116, In Flanders Fields

Day 174, The Falls of Glomach

Day 205, Arundel Castle

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Day 206, Starling Murmuration

Day 208, Chichester Market Cross

Day 228, Boxgrove Church of St Mary and St Blaise

You can find my daily paintings as I post them on my Facebook page or on Instagram! I also now have a swanky new website, www.amycclarke.com, so go check it out!

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Becoming Real

“When you’re an artist, nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand. And you feel stupid doing it.” – Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help

Imposter syndrome and I often walk hand in hand. I love my art, but I sometimes feel like a selfish, self-indulgent idiot for spending any time on it and – even worse – for having the audacity to put it out into the world so other people can see it and, if I’m very lucky, even take it home with them.

I think guilt is particularly common in the creative community. Generally we make things because we enjoy it; and when you start to sell your work something which began as a hobby slowly grows and develops into legitimate career (even if not a particularly lucrative one). But the journey from pastime to work is not smooth. It is fraught with frustrations and the endlessly recurring question: ‘How dare you?’

‘How dare you claim that your hobby is worth the time you spend on it?’

‘How dare you ask people to pay for your art?’

‘How dare you ask people to look at the little things you made?’

‘How dare you. Who do you think you are?’

When I was younger I spent a lot of time wondering and worrying about what I would be when I became a real adult. The problem was that the goal posts kept shifting. I used to think that when I was 18 I would be a fully fledged ‘successful’ adult. Then when I became 18 I realised that this was possibly a very ambitious deadline, and anyway I was still technically a teenager, but certainly when I turned 21 the universe would smack me in the face, magically endow me with wisdom, self-sufficiency, and grace and I would emerge from my chrysalis of immaturity like some glamorously zen superwoman.

Obviously, that didn’t happen.

The transition from childhood to adulthood is a difficult one, because you are forced to realise that adulthood is more of a journey than a destination. I think the clichés really do ring true on this one. Working professionally as an artist is very similar. You watch other ‘real’ artists and set yourself goals and qualifying targets that can make you ‘real’ too:

‘When I sell my first piece, then I’ll be a proper artist’

‘When I get my first commission, then I’ll be real’

‘Ok, when I get my first commission from a complete stranger THEN I’ll be an artist’

‘Maybe when I have an exhibition…’

I have had all of these (well, the exhibition is not until September, but I still had to pass and be accepted by the gallery’s panel of judges to book the dates). And I still feel silly doing this. Even this blog post feels ridiculously pretentious, almost like I’m desperately waving at the world shouting, ‘Look – I’m a real artist! I have a blog! Come and see how authentic I am!’ I hate to feel like an attention seeker.

But I really do love my work, and art is a medium designed to be seen. There is something profoundly sad to me in a painting locked away from viewers’ eyes, or a book hidden unread in some dusty corner. Art is meant to be shared and experienced. It is an expression of human life, and human life is all about connection and being seen.

“There’s a difference between wanting to be looked at and wanting to be seen. When you are looked at your eyes can be closed. You suck energy, you steal the spotlight. When you are seen, your eyes must be open, and you are seeing and recognising your witness … One is exhibitionism, the other is connection. Not everyone wants to be looked at. Everyone wants to be seen.” – Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking

Art is just another form of human communication. It is a two-way street between the creator and the viewer. Shared taste, shared emotion, the shared experience of seeing a piece of art, of making something for someone, of putting a piece of your inner landscape and the way you see the world out there for people to judge is just another conversation. It says, ‘I see you. I hope you see me too.’

This is a conversation of vulnerability, because you open yourself to rejection and disapproval. I think it is like a magnified microcosm of all human connection. Not everyone is going to like you or share your taste, as a human being you have to live with that; and particularly as an artist you have to take this as a fact of life and not proof of your deep underlying inadequacy. Life is painful, which is why art can be. But it is also beautiful and wonderous and full of sense and joy and meaning. Margery Williams says it perfectly in her children’s novel ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’, a book which I read obsessively when I was younger, and a book whose lessons I am still struggling to accept.

Real isn’t how you are made”, said the Skin Horse, “It’s a thing that happens to you.”

“Does it hurt?” Asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” – Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

This quote always makes me a little teary. It is about so much; mostly about love and the acceptance of flaws and the hurts that come with love. But it is also about communicating and coming to terms with acceptance and rejection. You become ‘real’ when you open yourself to being seen as ugly, when you have survived being damaged and worn and changed. Becoming real is also becoming vulnerable. And it is accepting this and shrugging it off, and telling yourself that it is ok and doesn’t hurt and moving forward to enjoy your work and your life. It is accepting that you won’t be real to everyone, and that’s ok. Becoming real is becoming honest with yourself, opening your eyes to see the people around you and hoping they see you too. You can’t become real in this way (and by this I mean an adult and professional creative) by being precious, easily hurt, or giving up and breaking if things don’t go the way you want or if they feel too difficult. I find this very hard, but it is something to remember when I feel guilt overwhelm me, or when my internal fraud police start waving their batons and calling in the jury.

“Creativity takes courage” – Henri Matisse

Enjoying something doesn’t make it less worthwhile. I’m learning that you work professionally and become a Genuine Artist just by doing it. You have to do in order to become. Nothing makes your work legitimate – you have to legitimise yourself, and get up every day and work at it and let yourself enjoy the process, enjoy the good and the bad and stop worrying about whether you’re allowed to. Give yourself permission. It’s all a journey.

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing” – George Bernard Shaw

I hope this post hasn’t been too confusing. I’m just throwing down my thoughts from the last few weeks, trying to grapple and come to terms with myself as a public artist. And to be honest I’m rather scared of putting this out there.

Thank you if you made it this far through. Even if you disagree with me, thank you for helping me to feel Real.

Art for 23 Progress

My daily painting project is slowly consuming my life…

I am already up to day 96! It feels amazing to look back on all the work I’ve already finished for this project, and knowing I have so many of the pieces already done is helping me feel more confident in my painting ability. Completing 365 miniature paintings doesn’t feel quite so daunting by day 96 as it did on day 1.

The idea of this project was to complete a series of A5 studies; stretching my painting muscles and developing my technical skills. Here is a run down of my favourite pieces so far. If you want to catch up with the rest of the project (and follow me into the depths of painting madness) you can see the full album on Facebook here.

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Day 11, ‘Glorious Goodwood’

day 17

Day 17, ‘Ice Cream Sundae’

Day 32

Day 32, ‘Guardian’

day 43

Day 43, ‘Vintage Bicycle’

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Day 49, ‘My Dream Pony’, inspired by one of the handmade rocking horses by  Stevenson Brothers

day 57

Day 57, ‘Fjords of Norway’

day 75

Day 75, ‘Autumn Harvest’

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Day 84, ‘The Majesty of Prehistory’

All of the paintings for this project will be shown in a solo exhibition at the Oxmarket Centre of Arts UK in September 2016. To reserve any of the paintings in this collection or to inquire about presales email me at amyclarkeart@gmail.com.

You can also contact me and see more of my work on:

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Colouring Pencils as a Serious Medium

For a long time I limited my range of mediums. Throughout school and my undergraduate days I really only had two options: sketches were done in a range of B pencils (2B was my preferred) and my paintings were rather flat blocky colour monstrosities in acrylics on canvas.

Looking back I think this narrow spectrum perhaps contributed to my lack of artistic interest. I had so little to play with, and such a poor idea of how these mediums could actually be used to create a range of different effects, that art felt quite boring. And this feeling definitely shows in the work I produced.

As I have started to experiment more with my work I have become increasingly interested in playing with different mediums. The skills learned to master a particular tool often lend new insight into another, and open the option to mix mediums and broaden the spectrum of possibilities still further. I am getting excited about art again, and I keep itching to try something new.

I hadn’t tried to use colouring pencils since I was a child – maybe about seven or eight. Until I came across the work of Marco Mazzoni I had no idea that this could be such a gorgeous medium. His work appealed to me in a compositional way at first: he has a fascination with animals and botanical illustration which very much mirrors my own interests. Added to which, his pieces hold a sense of depth and storytelling that I find absolutely entrancing and very much want to capture in some of my own work. I was astounded to discover that these glossy, vibrant pictures were all drawn and coloured with Faber-Castell colouring pencils. And of course I just had to try this myself.

I started with a very bare pencil sketch to lay out the initial details

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And then I broke out the colouring pencils and began to lay in the initial values

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From the beginning stages I could see the potential this holds for subtle shadowing. It encouraged me to start mixing in bright and unexpected layers of colour to the sketch in order to push the values further, and bring a sense of depth and coherence to an otherwise quite eclectic composition.

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I continued to add layers and details to push the values further…

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Mother of Monarchs (30x42cm)

*SOLD*

I finished this sketch off with a layered shadowy background. I really loved how this medium pushed me towards unexpected colours and lines, adding a sense of depth to my work and opening me to a more illustrative style.

I hope you enjoyed hearing about my experimentation and stylistic growth! Just a reminder that you can follow me on Facebook and Instagram for daily updates on my sketches and Art for 23 watercolour project.

Ambitious Projects and an Update!

Oh my goodness, I need to be more motivated. Not only to keep up with this blog (and you know, actually invest some time in it), but also to keep up with my hugely ambitious art projects.

I am a completely self-taught artist. I felt discouraged during my art lessons at school and so gave the subject up in favour of more traditionally academic subjects. I have a BA in English literature, an MA in Eighteenth-Century Studies, and I am starting a PhD in History next month. During this I have struggled to find time for my artwork, and only really started doing more than one-off random scribbles in October last year. Art has never felt like a priority. It was time I felt guilty about spending, time I *ought* to be using to study or do chores rather than paint.

But art makes me happy; and I am a saner more bearable person when I give time to it. Creating art is my meditation time.

With this in mind I decided it would be beneficial to me, not only as an artist but as a sane human being, to commit a segment of time each day to art practice. Which is how I came up with my newest and grandest project to date: ‘Art for 23‘.

11231082_1616466825293391_981937774566349116_nFirst piece in the project: my birthday cake.

Everyday during my 23rd year I will be creating a new little painting or drawing. The pieces are limited to A5 in size to ensure I can complete them in a couple of hours, as I can normally only spare them an evening or my lunchbreak. So far I have only done watercolour paintings, but I am keeping the medium options open in case I want to branch out later on in the year…

day 11A little impressionist landscape painting of Goodwood racecourse.

I am allowing myself to be quite open with the style of paintings as well, and using this time as an opportunity to explore the different techniques and styles available to me.

Day 31Realistic miniature study of a banana.

I was heavily inspired by the Everyday Original project, which I absolutely adore, where a collection of artists contribute a new piece everyday. I thought I could try producing a new finished piece each day too. I was also influenced by the collaborative nature of Neil Gaiman’s Calender of Tales and Lorraine Loots’ artistic projects, where they were guided by the suggestions of their audience. I really like collaborative art. Often as a writer or an artist, you are all alone, working on a single vision and struggling to dredge up ideas. But life isn’t always such an isolated experience. We influence one another everyday, and the desire to share our work is partly what drives many of us to create. I want to share that experience (and make sure I get a variety of subjects to practice) throughout this project. With that goal in mind, the paintings themselves are all based from prompts off my Facebook and Instagram pages.

I am 39 days into the project so far, and I am really really enjoying it.

Day 39 Day 39: A victorian cameo, currently enjoying its moment as my favourite painting in the project so far.

I get to make art everyday and not feel guilty about the time I spend doing it, because it is a public project involving other people too.

I get to practice a variety of subjects and improve my technique.

And I get to take myself seriously as an artist, and make whatever tiny steps I can towards working commercially part-time. I love sharing art; it’s what it is meant for. So if you haven’t already, come and join the art explosion with me all over social media!

Starting Small

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I have long been a fan of the fabulous miniaturists on Instagram, Brooke Rothshank and Lorraine Loots. Recently I have been pushing myself to try out new skills and techniques, and to make art more frequently. It seemed only natural to give miniatures a go myself, as I love tiny paintings by other people and, quite simply, a small project takes less time (and less emotional investment) than a larger one.

It will also surprise no one who has met me or glanced at the picture above to hear that I am also a huge Jane Austen fan, and have been since I first read Pride and Prejudice as a 14 year old. I was utterly enchanted with the blue cover of my Norton edition of Emma and with the inset painting of a regency woman walking through a flower garden, so I decided that this would be a beautiful piece to start with. If I’m honest, I was also thinking of a quote from Austen’s letters about working on a small and detailed scale:

…the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush as produces little effect after much labour…

So I set to work with my 0.35mm mechanical pencil to sketch out the design.

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As the picture itself is so small I worked on an A5 piece of watercolour paper, with the image centered. Working with 0 and 00 brushes I built up the colour values and details, before adding some final touches (ie. the Title) with super sharp charcoal and chalk pencils.

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I was really pleased with how it turned out and I so enjoyed doing it that I couldn’t resist doing some more miniatures. I plan on painting some more tiny books, to complete my Austen collection, and to build up a ‘Miniature Library’ collection.

I’ll be posting more of the collection on my Instagram and Facebook pages, where some originals are available for purchase.

I am also going to be running a giveaway competition on the week of the 29th, where I will be giving away a tiny painting of your favourite book – I’ll post details on how to enter soon!