A fine mixture today. Let’s begin …
Edward Burne-Jones and Pricing
Everyone knows something about the pre-Raphaelites in general and Edward Burne-Jones in particular.
But did you know this? That Burne-Jones wrote beautifully and also under-charged.
Yes, I had to smile when I found this entry in Burne-Jones’ diary:
I make my usual charge – a charge so ludicrous and inadequate that, for the sake of old associations, for the sake of the morality of friendship, for the sake of public decency I do sincerely trust that no accident in the future will bring to public light transactions which are chronicled only in these pages – and which, for my wife and childrens’ sake, I lament should reflect so little credit on my business capacity
You can hear his frustration, can’t you?
A “charge so ludicrous and inadequate”.
I’ve felt this same anguish myself. Maybe you have too.
Anyway, if you under-charge, take comfort from your illustrious company.
But don’t use it as a precedent.
There’s more on pricing here. It’s not as exciting as Burne-Jones’ fine prose, but the points are good.
A few weeks ago, I visited Kent, a lovely (occasionally over-crowded) country in the South of England, where I passed several hours in All Saints’ Church at Tudeley.
This church is famous because Marc Chagall designed the windows, and Charles Marq made them.
Now, aside from All Saints’, there is only one other English church with a stained glass window by Chagall and Marq: namely, Chichester Cathedral:
And I was reminded of this window at Chichester, not so much by its common authors (Chagall/Marq). Rather, because there is a particular text which is forever associated with the window’s meaning.
A text associated with the window’s meaning?
You may know this already, I am not normally someone who tolerates talk about art. I say: if art’s meaning were reducible to words, we wouldn’t need the art.
Indeed, artists’ statements induce in me a violent reaction. I am therefore barred from than 13 London galleries, 12 of them in Whitechapel.
But this text “about” the Chagall/Marq window in Chichester I do not mind at all.
Quite the contrary. It lifts my heart and helps my understanding. It is Psalm 150. Here it is. Treat yourself, and say it out loud, or find a translation and say that aloud (it makes no difference what your Faith is, or isn’t):
Praise ye the Lord Praise God in his sanctuary:
praise Him in the firmament of His power.
Praise Him for His mighty acts:
praise Him according to His excellent greatness,
Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet:
praise Him with the psaltery and harp.
Praise Him with the timbrel and dance:
praise Him with stringed instruments and organs.
Praise Him upon the loud cymbals:
praise Him upon the loud sounding cymbals.
Let everything that hath breath, praise the Lord.
Praise ye the Lord
Now, what do you think about this as guidance for our thoughts and feelings when we contemplate this window? Or (if you don’t know this window), what would you think about the artist who suggested this kind of commentary on something he or she had made?
Myself, I love it; yet artists’ statements I absolutely loath.
My view is: artists’ statements are crass because you can go to an exhibition, re-arrange the artists’ statements (so that no exhibit is correctly labelled), and no one will know the difference.
I know this is true because I’ve done it.
That’s how useful artists’ statements are; or maybe many viewers don’t know what to think and just accept whatever they’re told.
So if your work absolutely must have a written meaning (and it is up to each of us, how we lead our lives), I gently suggest you make it more like the quotation some novelists put at the start of the books they’ve written, where, just like the psalm, it works as guidance only (not instruction or analysis). Don’t waste time with statements – you’re better off just twizzling your tracing brush thoughtfully around your palette.
Which reminds me …
Pace of Tracing / Strengthening
Forgive me if this is obvious to you but this is so important yet many people overlook it.
When you trace or strengthen lines, what you’re after is the feeling that the paint is being drawn from your brush by the surface on which you’re painting. Here I am talking to you as a teacher, not as a scientist: what’s important is the feeling, not the literal truth. You see, when people trace or strengthen badly, it’s usually because they paint too fast. And they paint too fast because they rush. And they rush because their paint is runny so it forces them to move their brush too quickly. And when they move their brush too quickly, the line is blobby or out-of-place. But you change all that when you put a different picture in your head. Instead of concentrating on mixing paint which flows, get it into your head and imagine it as vividly as you can that what you want is paint which can be pulled and drawn.
If anyone is struggling with their tracing or strengthening, this is the thought they must hold in their head: you can’t rush tracing, because you can only go as fast as your paint is drawn down by the surface on which you’re painting.
When you flood, it’s altogether different: that’s when the paint well and truly flows. (And once it’s flowed, you just wipe and spread it around.)
But when you trace, then your paint shouldn’t flow by itself: you could hold your brush tip-down all day and not a drop would fall.
No, it only flows because it’s pulled.
OK: I exaggerate. But only a little. Just a little. If you trace already well, you already know this (consciously or unconsciously, it doesn’t matter).
But if you want to improve your tracing, your copying, you must change how you think about your paint. When you understand your tracing paint must be drawn (it mustn’t pour), you’ll prepare a drier mixture – and twizzle it more to keep it mixed and in good shape: that will work wonders for you.
These are things we’ll demonstrate this weekend because …
Techniques in Holland
Tomorrow we fly to the Holland to give an intensive two-day workshop called “Paint Better, Fire Less”.
We’ll be teaching all weekend, exhausting our students but (I hope) leaving them with new-found confidence and skill.
In case you’re wondering: I didn’t announce it here because the places all sold out before I could.
Here’s the trailer – it worked:
This time it’s not just softened lines and oil-based shadows on the agenda.
This time people will also experience for themselves the extraordinary shading delights of Propylene Glycol.
We’ll also film two full-length demonstrations.
I’ll tell you when they’re ready.
Thanks for reading this: I hope you’re well and happy and as busy as you want to be.
Now to pack my bag and get ready for my flight …
All the best,
P.S. Ever tried to get through airport security with a badger blender in one pocket and a glass cutter in the other? I have. Never again.
P.P.S. I’ll join in with and reply to all your comments in a short while – and be assured: I do want to hear from you – so I will start writing back the moment I have disposed off the finger-tiring and eye-straining amount of tracing I must do this month. (I’m not complaining – it’s all part of studio life.)