Thursday, 19 February 2015

Why Cyclists should wear white

Want to be seen on the road?

Being seen and being safe is a prerequisite for any cyclist. I write this only the day after I witnessed a young woman knocked off her bike by a car pulling out of a side road. The conditions were clear, bright and dry, yet the driver just didn't see her. Luckily she was ok, but it goes to show that drivers are not in the mindset for looking out for cyclists at the best of times, so when the weather turns in or it is getting dark, how can you best make yourself stand out?

I am a professional artist and a keen cyclist in my spare time and I always make sure I wear white if I'm hitting the roads, especially in the dark. There are so many variants of high viz available but in my opinion they are not always as 'high viz' as you would like them to be. The other week I noted how a cyclist riding at night in a yellow high viz shell blended in so well to the street lighting, yet today from my studio I watched a cyclist in white pass by on the road and I really noticed how visible he was.
On a recent visit to my local bike shop I was surprised at how much dark winter clothing was available, probably created more for fashion rather than visibility. If you wear darker clothing and you cycle on dull days, at dusk or in the dark, one important aspect to look for is how much reflective material is on your kit. This has far more impact than the yellow or orange colour of high viz. Note that reflective strips are also white.

So why white? The answer is simple - it is the brightest colour in the spectrum. Don't confuse this with light physics or colour wheels or anything like that and please don't be pedantic and tell me that white isn't a colour. As an experienced artist and colourist, I am acutely aware that white is the lightest element of our daily lives. To our visible eye there are 8 basic colours that range from dark to light. I have listed them below in their order of the spectrum with my views on their visibility against a darker background. You may also note how visible the words are against their backgrounds.
White, yellow and orange stand out the most but white will always be the brightest colour you can wear. Enjoy your rides and stay safe!

White - The brightest colour of the spectrum and will be seen against any landscape or low light.
Yellow - A light colour but as a derivative of green it blends with landscapes and yellow lighting well.
Orange - Quite a striking colour but a great disguise against street lighting.

Red - Approaching the darker end of the spectrum. Not good especially as its often combined with black material.
Violet - Wooah. A very dark colour. May look great in the mirror but think of a fleeting glimpse from a motorist at night.
Black - Nooo. Why do companies make so much kit in black? You will be invisible in most cases!
Blue - Be careful of blue. It is still dark and may blend with roads and dark skies from the perspective of a car seat.
Green - If you ride through pastoral countryside, leave the green kit at home, but do put something on!!

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Is painting set to become the new TV hot topic?

Down by the bridge capturing patterns and winter light, Paul Talbot-Greaves 2014

Are we poised on the edge of a painting revolution?

Here in the UK we are currently treated to an over saturated wealth of programmes based on house renovation, house hunting, house building, antiques hunting, antiques selling, antiques competitions, cooking, baking, dancing and even just voyeristic existence. There may be one subject though that is about to be added to the list. Painting.

Back in 1997 I was invited to take part in a brand new programme to be screened on channel 4, called watercolour challenge. For anyone who didn't see it, the programme consisted of three painting contestants battling it out with brushes and paints to be the overall winner of the 12 part series. The programme was a phenomenal success, with over 2 million daytime viewers tuning in to watch the first series. Businesses reported increased trade in art materials as viewers were inspired to kit themselves out and have a go themselves. The success of the programme seemed to be growing and in the second series a book was produced to compliment the competition. Then, without much warning the show was axed, never to return.

The fact is, as I travel around the country giving hundreds of presentations to art groups, people still talk about it as though it ended yesterday. Such a memorable show must have had the content just right, so what was the recipe for its success? In my opinion it is quite simple. The show comprised a number of elements in which viewers could find mental escapism - art, poetry and countryside. It was a gentle programme interspersed with fitting poetry, painting and great shots of the countryside surrounding the painting locations.

Since then only a handful of art programmes have been made but all have aired with huge success. I believe there is an undercurrent of interest boiling in art in Britain and it will only take a little persuasion from the right programme to encourage people to have a go themselves. Are we poised on the edge of a painting revolution?

Cue the BBC's latest attempt to get everyone painting in 'The Big Painting Challenge', Sundays at 18:00 on BBC1. The series is presented by Una Stubbs and Richard Bacon and takes ten amateur artists to stunning locations around the country. It sounds like it has borrowed the successful format of watercolour challenge from all those years ago, and done right, with the right backing and sustainability, it could catapult an interest in art right up there with house building and antique hunting. Well it is about time.

Monday, 28 July 2014

This course can be booked independently or used as a two part study course with part 2. In this day course you will learn from my colour knowledge about the relevance of the colour wheel, how colours work together, how and when to use complementary colour mixing and where to use spectral colour mixing. You will then be led through a painting utilising colour theory. Refreshments provided. Please bring a packed lunch plus your usual painting materials such as brushes, paints, pencils, palette, a pad of paper and a water pot. Reference photographs to work from will be provided.
When:     Saturday 2 August 2014, 10:00am-4:00pm.
Where:     Coley Sunday School, Coley Road, Shelf, Halifax, West Yorkshire, HX3 7SA
Cost:     £35.00.
Book a place on this course

This course can be booked independently or used as a two part study course with part 1. In this day course you will learn from my colour knowledge about the differences in mixing theories between watercolour and opaque mediums such as gouache or acrylic. Central to this course is the use of theoretical colour schemes and the employment of pleasing colour arrangements. Following some theory work you will be given the opportunity to tackle your own colour composition using either watercolour or an opaque medium such as gouache or acrylic. Refreshments provided. Please bring a packed lunch plus your usual painting materials (including the medium of your choice) such as brushes, paints, pencils, palette, a pad of paper and a water pot. Reference photographs to work from will be provided.
When:     Saturday 27 September 2014, 10:00am-4:00pm.
Where:     Coley Sunday School, Coley Road, Shelf, Halifax, West Yorkshire, HX3 7SA
Cost:     £35.00
Book a place on this course

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Painting in Dent, May 2014

Heading out towards the river from Dent Village
Each year I run painting courses near to my home town of Halifax as well as courses for clubs and art groups all around the country. As part of my painting activities I usually run a weekend course in a nice village where lots of painting matter can be generally found. In 2014 my painting weekend was held in Dent, Cumbria and thirteen painters enjoyed the spectacular scenery and beautiful summer weather that the month of May had to offer. Using the village hall as a base, the weekend kicked off with a short video presentation that I had made, which showed how I find designs through my own eyes - so useful and so helpful for everyone and of course it saved me trying to describe what I wanted to say. Afterwards we ventured out into the landscape on what was a glorious Saturday morning, looking for subjects to paint. I work mainly from photographs and I look out for designs that aren't always apparent or suitable to paint from an easel, so this is what I was introducing to the group. As we wandered away from the village and down towards the river, the bells of the church began to ring out for a wedding and a lone piper added to the whole ambiance. I did try to persuade my group that I had pre-ordered this, along with the weather but I don't think they were having any of it.
Along the Dales Way by the river
We spent a good amount of time looking at different subjects and we were so lucky that the sunshine provided those interesting shadows and contrast that are really important in a painting. So we explored a variety of subjects with our cameras throughout the morning before returning to the hall for lunch. In the afternoon we looked at modifying some designs by making a sketch plan. Participants were free to find and make designs of their own bit of Dent either outdoors or in the hall. For those working from their photographs we set up our own 'Max Speilmann' corner with a laptop and printer so that everyone could print something off to work from.

In the evening we regrouped in the Sun Inn in Dent to eat, relax and chat and this also gave any non painting partners opportunity to interact and learn about what we had all been doing during that day. Last year we had a fantastic time in Slaidburn in the Forest of Bowland and for a bit of a laugh, Chris, one of our regular painters set up a sweepstake based on what people thought I might be demonstrating on the Sunday morning. It was so much fun that in true style of tradition, he did it again this year. We set up a number of possible locations taken from the day that I might paint, then for a pound each the group could place their bets. I had already prepared my demonstration so there was quite a bit of banter about who might win the jackpot - but not to be revealed until the morning!

Dave accepting his winnings. I'm sure he said he was 
going to spend it on a brand new car.
On Sunday morning we gathered in the hall and I conducted my demonstration but before that, I had to announce the winner of the sweepstake, which this year was won by Dave Whitehead for choosing the angle from the corner of the cricket field looking towards the pavillion. Here he is accepting his winnings - somewhere in the region of twelve quid.

Rough design sketch
My demonstration showed how I had located the design, how I had composed it and adjusted it, then more importantly how I painted it using a variety of techniques to capture the essence of the bright day in May.

Afterwards everyone eagerly got on with their own work and I helped them out individually throughout the afternoon. As is customary with my courses we finished the weekend with an appraisal where I rounded off with encouragement and constructive comments.
Demonstration painting looking up towards the cricket pavillion at Dent, 2014
More great memories, a lovely group of people with a wonderful standard of work.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Newsletter November 2013

It has been quite a year this year. I entered three paintings into the Sunday Times watercolour competition at the last minute (I literally had ten minutes left to closing time) and was totally astounded when I had one of them accepted. The competition is the most pregistious in the UK so to be accepted was an honour and an achievement. The exhibition of paintings was shown at the Mall Galleries in London in September and is currently touring the UK offices of the exhibition sponsor, Smith and Williamson. Hopefully all the works will be going to the Guildford House Gallery, between 7 December - 3 January 2014. For more information visit the Watercolour Competition website.

At the time of entry I was also showing my work at Holmfirth Artweek, as I have done for the last fifteen years, but this year brought about a fantastic surprise. I was amazed when I discovered I had won the Pennine Wealth Management award for Best In Show. It's moments like these as well as selling work that give an artist a real boost.

I have been working hard at my painting this year which has culminated in a number of my works being exhibited. In September I took four new paintings to the Gallery at Bevere just outside Worcester. The gallery stock select artists along with fantastic ceramics and have a relaxing cafe, all situated at Bevere just outside Worcester.  For more information go to the Bevere gallery website.

This year I have been invited to exhibit my work alongside 12 other artists in an Autumn exhibition at Millyard Gallery, Uppermill, Saddleworth. The exhibition is running now, so if you would like to visit or find out more, check out the gallery website.

My main exhibition this year is currently at Harrison Lord Gallery in Brighouse, West Yorkshire. This time the gallery have teamed me up with Catherine McGrath who paints beautiful industrial compositions in heavy body acrylic. On the opening preview night I sold a third of my show so a big thank you to everyone for making it such a success!  The exhibition will continue until 30th November, so again if you wish to visit please visit the gallery website for more information.

My courses have continued to be popular again this year with every event over subscribed. I have conducted forty-four demonstrations, from Morecambe Bay and Lytham St Annes in the West, to Horncastle and Pickering in the East, from Gosforth and Church Brough in the North, to Bedfordshire and Stevenage in the South. As well as all this I have run sixteen workshops along with forty-two course sessions and a weekend in Slaidburn. I spent a weekend gathering subjects in the winter mountains of the Lake District in February and went back to the Lakeland mountains again for a weekend in April. We walked the Nidderdale Way in August and I was back in the mountains again, this time in North Wales, in October. Somehow, in between all these events, I have also managed to paint around fifty new works.

Coming up
2014 is looking to be just as busy. Already I have twenty-six demonstrations booked, eight day workshops and I will also be running my usual course dates throughout spring and then again from September to the end of November. Details of my courses and booking facility for 2014 will be online soon at
As usual I will be painting throughout the year and I am really looking forward to developing some new ideas to push my work a bit further. Recently I have been invited to run a painting course in Provence in the South of France in July 2014. I’m really excited about this as it will be lovely to be able to paint outside without the difficulties of the UK weather.

Finally - What do you see in art?

A short take on the human perception of art...
Which way round is it? perhaps the most insulting question you can ask an artist, but then again are you really supposed to know which way round it goes? In some cases, does it matter? At one of my exhibitions a long time ago, a customer was interested in buying one of my pieces and right on the point of sale the gallery manager thought he'd jolly things along by declaring that he "preferred this one upside down", followed up with a loud bellowing laugh. It was like one of those awful gags in the middle of a formal dinner that has gone too far and instead of achieving uproarious laughter from his audience, we were left open mouthed in disbelief at what he'd just said. I didn't let him sell another piece of my art after that.

Snobbery is unfortunately part of the art world too. If you are not in the current who’s who of art you’re not worth bothering with. On the contrary most artists who don’t cut the mustard to this level are actually much more proficient than those that do. I remember not long ago I was delivering some work into a well known exhibition and the assistant (who is also an artist), rather grumpily took it from me, looked at it, turned it round, looked at it again, frowned and asked in a rather forthright manner "what is it?" It was plainly obvious what it was so I answered "it's a painting". Well what else was I supposed to say? You ask an insolent question, you get an insolent answer.

So what do you really see in art? Well for a start we are all different, we all have different tastes and we all have different likings for a whole myriad of subjects. Artists sort of muddle all that up with their own interpretations and personal styles. Edgar Degas famously once said 'Art is not what you see but what you make others see'. He was right. A true artist will take a subject and bend the rules a bit, change the colours, add something, take something out or make something bigger.  We exaggerate, show you a new world from a different angle, share unexpected colours, infuse atmosphere or light into a scene and even then, in the end result, you may see something different, something that wasn’t intended.

At the preview of my exhibition this year one client pointed out a lake in one of my paintings and asked "how the hell do you paint water like that with all the ripples in it?" There were no ripples or I certainly didn't intend to paint any. But who am I to correct his vision?

The worst 'visions' though usually come from hecklers at painting demonstrations. "Now that you've done that, all I can see is Jimmy Hill in that tree", or "Is it just me or can anyone else see the outline of Italy in the sky?" They are sort of ‘Mary Magdalene appeared in my toast’ moments and it’s probably why most artists are rather reserved about the process of their own creation. Sometimes you feel like barking back, "It’s not finished yet!", but professionals rarely get critiqued and there are no better judges than hecklers in audiences, so I find the best way is to actually listen. One spectator once loudly asked me at the end of my demonstration, "And what are you going to do with that wall? I mean it looks awful. It's like breeze block or something." The remainder of the art group around her looked shocked and embarrassed and I even received a written apology from the chairman later. But was that really necessary? I mean, in all honesty she was right and all she was doing was expressing her view, albeit in a forthright manner. There were probably other people thinking the same but not daring to say it, so she was rather brave to express her thoughts out loud. It certainly made me think and I did alter the painting, not to please her but because she made me see something that I hadn't.

But art is not just about seeing things, it is about having ideas and having the courage to put those ideas down on paper or canvas. This is often a quality that sets artists apart and I see it all the time when I am teaching. I call it the fear of failure factor. But fear of failure can only be overcome by experience. Fear is also brought about by the sheer amount of techniques that the artist needs to use. One simple application of paint might involve brush handling, the way the paint is applied, the speed of application, never mind the strength of colour used at the time, the level of saturation, the timing of all those processes, the way that shapes and values are interpreted, the emotion of the artist in the moment and, of course, the courage used in the way that the paint is applied.

So next time you look at a piece of art I hope you look a little deeper and involve yourself a little more perhaps in the background of the work. A creation is far more than just a nice picture or a piece of sculpture or a piece of pottery. It is a moment of an artist's life, captured forever like a fly in the amber, a fossil of feelings, of emotions, of energies that convey to you a set of qualities that you admire and cherish and through that admiration comes enjoyment, the end of the line for the process of creation.