31 December 2010

Festive Frustration

Even though it is just the beginning of winter, everything is melting. The rivers are full but there is still snow lying where the sun can't reach it and pathways are treacherous with a layer of compacted ice under a layer of water.

Today I stood at the top of a cliff that dropped 50m down to a rushing river; on the opposite side of the gorge, snow sat on ledges all the way up the cliff face, while enormous icicles dripped down like teeth. For Scotland this is such an unusual sight.

But it's all so beautiful. I am desperate to paint it just now but can't get near my studio because of commitments. Sooooooo frustrating, maybe more so because I am away from home and I can't even access the photos I took of the icicles. I must apologise for no picture to go along with this blog.

But, come the 5th January, I'll be back at it, splashing paint, listening to loud music, making a mess and having a great time. Woohoo!

Meanwhile, I'm gathering reference photos of snowy, misty fields, rust coloured bracken and ferns and ice covered waterfalls ready for my activities at the beginning of 2011.

Have a Happy New Year one and all.

26 December 2010

Getting Organised

Christmas Day, in case you didn't know, has been and gone. I invited 10 for dinner this year, and really, truly looked forward to it. I love cooking and having everyone over, it's just another form of creativity I suppose.

I meticulously planned the menu, taking into account the 1 vegetarian (who had a completely separate meal), designed and made the table decoration (sweetie and icing decorated gingerbread house centre piece with sprinkled marshmallows on a white tablecloth and white crockery) and timetabled (yes, with tick boxes too) exactly when I should be chopping, pureeing, baking, refrigerating, blending, drizzling, basting and most importantly, tasting (just in the hope that it tastes good).

I shock myself every year by how organised, unnerved and relaxed I am about the whole affair, knowing that I will calmly (well almost) serve dinner exactly when I said I would, fully cooked, unburnt, reasonably seasoned and eaten by all (and if I'm really lucky, they might have even enjoyed it too).

Why can't I do this in my working life? I feel so bogged down with all I need and want to do, ideas and plans that whirl about my head, and only seem able to achieve half of it. I think I need to take stock of my activities over the past 3 days and try to apply my kitchen common sense to my studio.

Image: My yearly planner, bereft of plans - for the moment.

19 December 2010

Royal Institute of Oil Painters

I decided to bite the bullet and apply to an open exhibition in London. It was for the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. I filled in the forms, panicked about my choice of painting, wondered if I should even be doing this, (oh God, am I even good enough), mused on the possibility that my entering meant that I was sufficiently arrogant in believing my paintings were of an equal quality to other exhibiting artists, and felt depressed as I wrote a cheque for the £10 that was being thrown away as my painting was probably going to be rejected anyway.

At the allotted time I took myself and my painting to an agreed meeting point for the carrier who would take my artwork to London. There were a couple of other artists there at the same time. We were all hugging our work so no one could see what was on the canvases. I was just worried that the others would see mine and start sniggering because they were so much better than me.

I paid a further £18.50 to have the painting couriered to London, and sloped off heart hammering and nervously wondering how I could possibly think I was ready yet to exhibit with proper professionals.

Needless to say, my painting was rejected today, and I'm going to have to fork out another £18.50 to get it back.

Amazingly, I'll enter another painting to another exhibition on another occasion. I seem to thrive on self doubt.

Above: Walk into Suilven (Tracy Butler's website)

14 December 2010

Exhibition Hanging Gone Mad

I have been dreading today, and now that it is over, I'm dreading the next time I have to do it.

I have my paintings scattered around the Glasgow area a bit at the moment. As well as in galleries, I have 3 semi-permanent solo exhibitions in an office building, a country club and a dental practice; but today I changed all my paintings round, introducing new ones, while moving older ones between the venues if you get my drift. Hanging an exhibition takes time, as there are so many considerations - you have to make it look good so that nothing detracts from the artwork. All the paintings in a row have to be level (either the tops or the bottoms), if they are hung in columns, the larger one goes at the top, then all centred. And before that, which painting goes where has to be decided. Never mind the physical work of packing the car (ensuring frames are protected), then carrying each canvas into the venue, then lifting it into place while struggling with ladders, chairs, hooks and picture wire, oh, and health and safety. Finally labelling has to be added, making sure it is clear, and unobtrusive all at the same time.

I took down the country club exhibition last night (late last night), leaving their walls bare. This morning I rushed to the dentist and cleared those ones out, dashing to the office block before 10am as they had a Christmas Carol concert at 12:00pm in the foyer, and I had be finished rehanging by then. With the help of the wonderful John, my largest work was hung in Skypark within the allotted time. I snaffled a sandwich and headed back to the Whitemoss Dental Practice in East Kilbride where I discovered their walls were crumbling and wouldn't accept picture hooks - eep! On solving that problem, I headed to the Parklands Country Club, staggered in with all that I had left, and realised that I was running out of energy; the paintings are up though.

There you go, all done 25 paintings taken down and 29 hung. Time for a very hot bath, but I have a 4 year old...

12 December 2010

Rannoch Moor Sketching

Rannoch Moor is my favourite place in the world.

Quite a while back (as you may be able to tell from the painting - I like to think I have improved since then) I was sketching there on a particularly dull day. Kate Bush's The Kick Inside was my album of choice; and I make no apologies for the music I listen to when I work.
I had a large A2 sketchbook with me and my usual supplies, a jar of water, sable brushes ranging in size, watercolours, water soluble felt pen (black), pencils and my camera.

I did a few not so great drawings and watercolours, but the star of that day was the sky. It had been a nothing grey when the clouds thinned and suddenly more and more sunbeams broke through, highlighting everything they hit. Then the clouds, now outlined in silver light, split to show bright blue cloudless sky before closing up as if nothing had happened.

It happened too quickly for me to draw the moment, but I managed to get my camera out on time. Thank heavens for photography.

These photos lead to a number of paintings. It's amazing how a few seconds in nature can lead to inspiration that lasts years.

Above: Sunshine on Rannoch Moor (www.tracybutler.co.uk)

5 December 2010

Winter Weather Blues

It's been snowing pretty heavily here in Scotland, unusual for this time of year. Go on, laugh, I know you think Scotland is always freezing and we are used to snow up to our ears, but funnily enough it's normally cold, rainy and windy in November and December, snow normally doesn't feature.

As a result of the weather, though, everything is being cancelled. Craft fairs (where I advertise my paintings and sell greetings cards, prints, fridge magnets and key rings) that I depend on at this time of year are not going ahead which is incredibly frustrating and very disappointing. I have spent a fortune preparing all my stock. And with no income from the craft fairs, I cannot advertise my online shop for the Christmas season; mind you I have to ask myself if that is such a bad thing as I can't get to the post office to send out any orders - and the painting carrier I normally use can't get here either.

On the rather bright, sparkly side, as the sun begins to set, the snow starts to glow a golden pink that I can't wait to start painting.

Image: Possible painting subject as it is too cold to paint outside, but the photo will do for just now.

29 November 2010

Running Cheetah

I finished working on a cheetah today; I've even given it an inspired title – Running Cheetah – just in case you can't guess from the painting. OK, you are welcome to argue with me on that point. I used chalk pastel on mount board.
     I love pastel; it makes me feel very connected to my work because I'm hold the material directly, getting it on both my painting and me, using my fingers to move the colours about on the board.
     When I finish working on one of animals I'm always surprised that I am the one who painted it.
     I tried a light background for him first but he lacked drama, and I've used some wonderfully sparkly whites and golds (they really do have sparkles in them) that lift his coat. I'll have to find excuses for using these pastels again.

Image: Running Cheetah (www.tracybutler.co.uk)

21 November 2010


I decided to try experimenting today and have been working on MDF (I had it cut to size at B & Q).
     In my studio, I coated it with purple acrylic (no reason, really, it was to hand) and then drew a landscape with a pastel pencil; I then blocked in colour with guache, putting details  in with chalk pastels and pushing the colours around in both media with water. I liked the effect but decided the textures created by the initial acrylic layer are too rough and took sandpaper to them.
     I worked for a while longer into the sky, and now think I've ruined the painting altogether. The only answer is to use water to effectively rub out the clouds and start on that bit again.  
I wrote that yesterday and when I came in this morning, having allowed time for drying, I was relieved to see the sky looking much better.  A little bit of fiddling about, and I think I have a finished painting.  Chalk pastel mixed with water is rather fun.  

Above: A rather messy table with an experimental painting, guache, chalk pastels and pastel pencils (www.tracybutler.co.uk)

18 November 2010

Time Constraints

Time limits seem to have an effect on my sketching, a positive one. Maybe it's not having time to think that forces me to put down on paper exactly what I'm seeing. I wish I could do this more often without needing to have a clock ticking. Maybe I should start wearing a watch. Below is a drawing of a sleeping child, I knew I had moments before he woke up.

Image: Sleeping Child (www.tracybutler.co.uk)

Painting Outside in Korea

Sketching or painting outside can be a very relaxing experience, but it all depends on where you decide to plant yourself.
     Until recently, I lived in South Korea and I used to love painting in Gyeongju, Korea's ancient capital.  On this occasion spring was at it's height and I had completely misjudged the crowds after a harsh winter which were out walking or taking photographs (both national pastimes).  Even though it was early in the morning, the only westerner with an easel and chalk pastels was fair game.  I was jostled, photographed (as was my work - a big no-no without permission) and I have Korean fingerprints on my painting as pastels had not been seen before.  I have never been the centre of so much attention - it's rather difficult working with a camera lens resting on your shoulder.
     My advice?  Be careful where and when you choose to set up for en plein air painting, but be very grateful to the temple's monks who go out of their way to feed and befriend you with a life time's supply of coffee and boiled sweets.

Image: Temple Doors (www.tracybutler.co.uk)

17 November 2010

Brilliant Day

What a brilliant day today.

I have been dancing about in my studio while working on a painting that is going well. I really like it - at the moment anyway - but we'll see how long that lasts.

I have a playlist on my iPod that I put together especially for listening to while painting. All of the music and songs are upbeat. I did have to stop splashing paint when The Importance of Being Idol by Oasis came on. Holding a brush to a canvas while doing kicks like Rhys Ifans in the video is next to impossible. Paint is everywhere, but who cares if you're having fun?

Image: Fallow Fields (www.tracybutler.co.uk)