Year Fifteen - Nervous Energy, Death and Taxes
2015 started with me returning to my old design days, painting and . . . writing. Somehow, during the past year, I had been co-opted to help with the graphic design – posters, certificates etc for the AAA exhibitions and was now a non-trustee member of the committee (I am still not sure how that happened as committees are really not ‘my thing’). I was also designing new banners and publicity for my stand at Bramham.
I have a belief in ‘ask and you will receive’. I had been talking about writing with Les Packham and a client/friend who I had met through Bramham and other horse trials, Dr Richard Collier. Both had encouraged me in my ambition, with Les discussing art teaching, demonstrating and writing with me and, while his publishing experience was in Academic Papers, Richard and I had long discussions about what topics would be interesting for people to read about, regarding my art and a career as an artist.
In March, my first article, a three-page demonstration piece was published in ‘The Artist’ Magazine, and documented the process of my watercolour painting ‘The Reader’. The painting was referenced at Badminton as the horses were grazing
in-hand after cross country day, and the article featured the location sketches I had made at the time as well as notes on the 'Z' composition, and the use of long shadows to show the time of day. Most of the grooms were on their mobile phones, but the lady reading caught my eye, and because it reminded me of reading as I walked to catch the bus to and from school I gave her red hair!
I wasn’t just writing for magazines in 2015, but also being written about, and was a featured artist in ‘Visual Language’ Magazine’s May edition (published in February). Two paintings from previous years were also working hard for me this year. I started the year with my painting ‘Chuckle’ (see 2013) being exhibited in January at The Mall Galleries in London, as part of the Artists and Illustrators Artist of the Year Exhibition. I had made an online entry for the award late one night after seeing it on social media, and then promptly forgot about it, which is best really, bearing in mind nerves and anticipation. The magazine emailed to say that it was one of fifty paintings short-listed from, as the email said, ‘many thousand’ entries, and gave instructions on when and where to deliver the painting. Having forgotten even submitting an entry, I (rather embarrassingly) had to phone and ask which painting I had entered! Usually my record keeping is pretty good, and that has helped me a lot in writing this history. I keep an inventory of my work, take photographs of trade stands and exhibitions, keep my financial records etc, but I fell down in this instance. I attended the Private View in January at The Mall Galleries, and while I had learned to deal with (or at least suppress) my nerves and anxiety on a trade stand, I was alone and this was a different setting with different rules, so I had to start all over again.
Further accolades followed when ‘Oil On Water’ (see 2014), was placed 4th in The International All Watercolors [sic] Award (fortunately, this time I had kept a record of the entry). It was also fortunate that the chosen pieces were exhibited online as ‘Oil On Water’ had also been selected by an International Jury as one of fifteen paintings to represent England at Acquarello in Fabriano, an exhibition of watercolour artworks from 75 countries, which are exhibited in public buildings all over the famous Italian paper-making town. I felt I had made a bit of a break-through in 2015, because my work was being accepted by exhibitions, awards and publications that covered all genres, rather than specifically animal or equine art.
In April I gave my first radio interview for Canadian radio show and podcast: Straight From The Horse's Mouth. Paula Slater had seen my work on, and contacted me through, business social media channel Linked-In. I was very nervous to start with, but had time to settle as it was a half-hour show! You can listen to my interview here and also see other online interviews on the /interviews and publications page of my artist website at www.ruthbuchanan.co.uk.
In 2013 I had returned to formal Life Drawing classes, at Leeds College of Art, after a 27 year break. When talking to people, they sometimes express surprise that, although a professional practicing artist, I still attended a class. I find it odd that people would not question a professional rider having a trainer, a ballet dancer attending group class every morning or a concert pianist practicing scales, but don't apply the same to art. Life Drawing (drawing nude models) is the best drawing discipline to improve proportion, speed of working (which is crucial when drawing horses from life) and gestural pose as well as an unpressured chance to ‘play with’ and explore techniques and natural ‘style’. Note: artists do not find their style – that is an affectation - instead their style finds them and that only happens through at least 10,000 hours of practise or practice. I had spent most of my student days in the Life Drawing room and had even done some ‘Death Drawing’, as we students grimly called it, spending a term in the dissection rooms at the Leeds Medical School. However, these later classes were expensive and had to be paid for in advance, even if one was unable to attend all the sessions and the tutor was also unsympathetic to my line of work.
So in May I started to attend some untaught sessions run by East Street Arts. One of the models suggested to me in conversation, that I go to Andrés Jaroslavsky in York, and I started at his ‘drop-in’ Life drawing classes in 2015. Though he uses multiple Life Drawing exercises, the main thing that Andrés communicates is confidence, and that is a crucial thing in drawing and painting.
These are warm-up drawings from my first session ever with Andrés. Every session starts with short warm-up drawings and these are two or one minute poses.
All that aside, ‘The Show Must Go On’, and I had a change at Bramham in 2015, when Julie Cross shared the stand with me at Bramham. We moved to stand number one – a double fronted pitch at the top of the avenue, which had been vacated by artist Terry Kirkwood (she had kindly come to tell me the year before in case I wanted to apply for the space). When hanging any exhibition of work there is a choice whether to section or gallery hang. We chose gallery, where the works are intermingled, and were both pleased with the way our work, while very different, was complementary when exhibited together.
My next exhibition was The Art Show at The Great Yorkshire Show in July. Again with Les and Judy’s support, I demonstrated - actually painting this time! There I also Michelle Clarke-Stables, who was exhibiting in The Art Show for the first time. Again, Michelle’s work is dramatically different to mine but, in talking, we found a suprising amount of common ground and shared experience.
Later in June, I attended an Association of Animals Artists organised workshop with UK born, but USA based, equestrian artist, Lesley Humphrey. At The Art Show, I had exhibited another ‘eye’ painting, ‘Hawa My3a’. Pronounced ‘Nasha Muza’, Hawa My3a is Russian for ‘Our Muse’ and is a painting of my husband’s horse, Boris, who was imported from Russia as a three-year-old. While looking at it on the wall, I felt it was unfinished, and after Lesley’s workshop, I removed it from the frame and re-worked it based on what I had taken from the day. While the painting follows on from works like ‘Chuckle’ (2013) and ‘Conquistador’ (2014), in Hawa My3a,
I found a new freedom and confidence in my work, and it remains a very special piece. I was therefore delighted when it was later acquired by Richard Collier, who saw it at Bramham in 2016. Richard walked onto my stand and stopped as though he had hit a glass wall when he spotted the painting. Such a visceral reaction to something that I have produced is profoundly moving and affirming for me, and I am pleased that such a special work found a truly appreciative home.
As artists, we tend to work in isolation, and indeed I had done that for the whole of my career aside from the five years that I was teaching at college. I did not know it at the time, but in the past few years, and 2015 in particular I had met other artists who would be crucial to the direction and execution of my work. Les Packham, Julie Cross, Michelle Clarke-Stables, Lesley Humphrey and Andrés Jaroslavsky have all contributed to my artistic development.
“When the student is ready, the master will appear.”
Back in April I had visited Newmarket for the Society of Equestrian Artists’ Annual General Meeting weekend, which included workshops and drawing/painting/referencing opportunities at studs, yards and on the downs. The previous year, I had attended one day of a workshop in Wales with another Northern-based artist, and as most of their events were in the South, a discussion about a Northern workshop was instigated. I had agreed to assist in arrangements, more as a back-up really, but then found out that the other person had pulled out, so I was in the line of fire! Workshops co-ordinator, Jenny Bell, agreed to make the arrangements if I could provide some possible contacts ans locations, and I would maintain my back-up assistant role. The weekend workshop, tutored by Malcolm Coward HSEA, went ahead in the first week of August, and was hosted by Charles and Annie Dent at Ribston Hall, near Wetherby. Charles proved a very generous and gracious host, allowing us access to horses and providing wonderful ‘studios’ in the coach-house and, late 18th century, stalled stable block, as well as a garden room for meetings, discussions and lunch. Charles also arranged for the York and Ainsty North Hunt to bring horses and hounds for us to draw, then gave the artists a tour of the house, its artworks and the chapel originally built by the knights templar in the 13th Century.
The end of 2015 was tinged with a double sadness. Les Packham died on 28th Nov after never fully recovering from his stroke in 2012. While his speech, co-ordination and concentration had been affected, he still managed to hold conversations with me about art and life as an artist, and was a deep influence on my career. His photograph watches over me in the studio to this day, his art hangs in my home, and his wife Judy is still a great supporter of me and my work.
Only two days after we lost Les, we also lost our beloved Jack Russell terrier, Riley. In May, he had been diagnosed with cancer, and the prognosis, even with intervention, was only three months, so we declined putting him through surgery and chemotherapy. He lived a happy and active live for a further six months, but went downhill quickly in late November. His final visit from the vet was on 30th November.
My Christmas card in 2015 was based on another favourite painting from this year, ‘Buckle Up’ (see next post).
My printer did some computer magic to make the image the side saddle rider only, and added snow for the card titled 'Christmas Aside'.
And the taxes of the title? well, like death and, in my case nerves, they are simply a fact of life, even for artists.