Birds Series

by Simone Whiteford 17 Nov 2020

Background and development of the Series

In 2015, when I exhibited in Ayr as part of the Open Studios Ayrshire, I shared one of the stunning rooms in Rozelle House with a very interesting and experienced Artist, Ed Slater.

Although knowing art was always what I wanted to do, not knowing where to start, earning a living and moving country, all got in the way of becoming a professional artist. However, after joining the Open Studios Ayrshire in 2014 I was able to talk to other artists and started exhibiting.

In the end, Ed Slater was the one artist who gave me the most relavant and useful tips and advice. (If you want to know what Ed’s advice was, you have to wait for my next blog on art exhibition) For now, let’s go back to the birds. As mentioned Ed and I shared a room over the duration of a weekend and we had a lot of time to talk about art.

I showed some of my freestanding sculptures and various stone carvings. Amongst it was a white wooden board with some of my black coloured plywood birds on wire, no frame and all really a bit amateurish I have to admit.

Because of the way it was finished I just put it down on the floor and was still considering even exhibiting it. Ed saw it, took it and hung it on the wall. At first I was quite perplexed, but Ed being a big guy and all I kept relative quiet and left it hanging.

More and more people started to arrive and to my surprise, many seemed very drawn to the birds, so much so, that one person asked for a framed commission, which I happily made. Well, that was the start of the framed birds, I started with Swallows, which came about by playing around with Inkscape and some bird photos of mine (I love vector graphics).

Because I do not copy other artists including photographers, I got in contact with a local wildlife photographer, Jim Thomson. Jim was so kind to give me some exquisite photos of birds and allowed me to use them for further Bird Series. I added Golden Plover, Red Kites and Starlings for some bigger murmurations pictures. I am still planning on adding more species to the existing Series in the future.

The box frames for the birds are all done by my local framer (I do not use ready-made frames bought in shops).

As you can imagine, drilling holes by hand into each bird just deep enough, so that the wires hold and not too deep that the wires show and then drilling the holes into the mount is tedious work, very repetitive, but I do not mind. Each new piece is exciting to look at. No final work is the same, though all show birds in different movements & interactions, which creates its own dynamic for each new piece.

Before the Open Studios Ayrshire exhibition and before the Swallows I made this small sculpture of Swallows. However the Swallows looked more like an illustration and not silhouettes of real birds. But it was the start of the Series: Distant Birds (I actually found an old photo of it).

first version of Distant Birds

Soon I created some very large (height about 2m), refined versions of it in metal and hardwood base and continued to create smaller, more refined tabletop/windowsill sculptures.

What I find fascinating with my birds (and yes I quite like them myself) are the different dynamics they create and that just like in Magritte’s painting “The treachery of images” (This is not a pipe) all the formation you see in my bird pictures never happened, but could happen. These birds are created and taken from bird images, mostly in flight situations from a distance, however it is my interpretation of birds in the sky. Nevertheless, you can look at it (forgetting that all is wood, wire & mount) as the essence of a flock of birds and therefore these birds, which have been digitally copied from a copy (photo) of real birds, become again what they have been in the first instance – flying birds.

Art surfaces and painting supports

by Simone Whiteford 17 Sept 2020

Searching for the perfect “fit”

With the correct before and after treatment, almost anything can be used as painting support or art surface. It is relatively straight forward to make your own custom painting support. And then, of course, there is the abundance of manufactured ready to use, mostly specialised supports and surfaces for just about any media and technique out there.

The supports and surfaces I mention in this blog, have all been tried and tested either by myself or friendly fellow artists. Because there are so many though, I would also like to hear from your experiences with painting supports & surfaces, which ones are you using or have used in the past? How, why and which medium do you use on what?

For my artworks, I need to source many different surfaces. My work includes: Sculptures, Digital Art Prints, Drawings & 3D framed artwork.

My sculptures are mainly made of driftwood, laser plywood, metal wire, mild steel, sometimes oxidation paint or acrylic paint. In contrast to these, the physical aspect for creating my digital work is a breeze. All I need is a Computer/Laptop and Illustrator. However choosing the right surface to print on can be a bit more time consuming.

Most professional printing companies, however, offer paper samples, which are really great, as they show the printed colours nicely and I can touch it to examine the weight and finish. Therefore I also introduced samples of some of my printed digital art. (Samples are available through my etsy shop)

For the canvas prints I always go with 100% cotton (hemp would be great, but I yet have to find a company who offers it) and for the paper prints, heavy paper (ideally archival: acid & lignin free for longevity), if possible recycled or partially recycled, FSC certified & soon from eco-materials – very exciting! I do favour the papers from Hahnemühle (Fine Art papers) and will use these more in the future, especially the eco papers. The inks for the prints depend on the company I work with and are either archival pigment inks or durable and long lasting inks.

I do not know about you, but I find myself spending almost as much time looking for suitable materials for my new projects as on the actual project itself, although this can be costly and time consuming I think it is necessary. Unfortunately, often the new projects stay concepts because I cannot find a suitable material. I have a checklist in my head and materials, manufacturers & suppliers need to tick all or at least most of the boxes, they do not often do but I am hopeful for the future.

  • Material – what I am looking for, has it been developed yet?
  • Health – are there any health concerns using this product?
  • Quality – overall quality and longevity – wood and canvas needs to be sized and can then be primed with gesso primer for example, if the wood is not sized, the oil or acrylic painting can discolour over time
  • Price – at what point do I make a profit and can still pass on an affordable price to my customers, are there bulk buy savings or wholesale prices available
  • Green – all green, all the time: the production process, factory, materials, just everything as green as it can be
  • Fair – who is the manufacturer, the grower for the raw materials, who are the workers, does everyone gets a fair share? At the moment I only use UK based printing companies and try to stay local for many services like the laser cutting.
  • Future – availability, how much and quickly can I order, how long will it take to make and deliver and how much is the delivery cost, will the product be discontinued soon?

One artist who uses very interesting materials is Caroline Borland – www.cborlandart.co.uk – here she used alcohol ink on white glazed ceramic tiles (25x20cm/15x15cm) with fantastic results.

Whenever I do have spare time, I like experimenting with painting supports, I tend to go for the cradled wood panels, unstretched but sized linen canvas or stretched and gesso primed cotton canvas. I size and prime the panels myself and stretch the canvas on stretcher bars or use (twice sized) plywood. For the size I use Golden GAC 100. The three online shops I tend to use the most are: Greatart.co.uk, Jacksonsart.com & Artdiscount.co.uk

Or I design whatever I need myself, like these small frames (22.5×17.5cm) included with 3 frames are 3 reversible painting supports, 3 x sized wood panels, 1 x sized linen canvas board, 1 x sized & gesso primed wood panel & 1 x sized & gesso primed linen canvas board (all 13x18cm).

I call them: Easy Instant Stick-it frames.

The artist Peter Tudhope – www.petertudhope.com – mentioned to me that he buys his canvas fabrics from Mandors in Glasgow. I will see if they stock hemp canvas and give it a go.

So, that’s it, thanks for reading, I leave you with the wonderful comment by a recent award winner at the 132nd PAI (online) exhibition Lys Stevens – www.lysstevens.co.uk – “I will always swoon over a stretched and primed canvas, taking me back to my student days, but if I’m going to push the paint around and scrape it back looking for texture I really need the solidity of a board. So the compromise is canvas on board, medium or fine grain though I have in the past flirted with some of the roughest canvas you could imagine! I also many years ago preferred a black gesso but now always use white.”

Colourvision of numbers & letters – Synesthesia

by Simone Whiteford 17 Aug 2020

Are you a ColourVisioner – Synesthete?

(Thanks to a fellow artist, I now know that the phenomenon is called Synesthesia and quite harmless, however very interesting. Simone 10/09/20)

Do your numbers and letters have specific colours when you think of them? Since I can remember I can see a colour for each number & letter and funny enough the colours never changed. Some numbers can have the same colour and most colours correspond to different feelings. I like some colours and some not at all. So the corresponding number or letter is liked or disliked proportional.  

So I wonder if it is learned from experiences while growing up or if it’s from birth. My colour like or dislike can on a very, very rare occasion change and therefore also the feeling towards the associated number or letter. Even experiences or situations can trigger a colour association and if it is a dark blue moment, it’s not such a positive one.

In order to see what my numbers/letters and anybody else’s numbers/letters look like in a row or scattered on canvas I created the digital artwork Colourvision. So let’s see what your numbers and letters look like…

It is available on my etsy shop where you will find a colour chart to select your colours and different styles to choose from.

Let me know via social media if you are a ColourVisioner, I am curious of how common this is! #Colourvision