Friday, February 20, 2015

Special Guest Artist Ian Garstka

I am happy to introduce a new friend from over the sea in Swainsthorpe, a small un-spoilt village just south of Norwich in Norfolk, England, Ian Garstka.

Ian is a (former) Mad Man, Designer and a current full time painter. His work can be viewed and purchased here on his Etsy site.

Hello Ian and welcome! 

Please tell us a little about what you create:

Oil paintings mostly, although I like to work with Conte Crayons on occasions, especially when experimenting with new surfaces and textures. I have also played around with new technology by using detailed high-res scans from small sections of my paintings, making use of the paint texture to create entirely new images with a view to archival printing. In it’s infancy at present but a Mac is a wonderful piece of kit to play around with. If it’s good enough for Hockney it’s good enough for me.

Where do you do your creative work?

Inside my head. All creativity starts with the thought process. If I can’t visualize a finished picture I have problems painting it. I feel that whatever an artist does, be it painter, photographer or writer they have to have that initial image of the finished piece in their head. I will always find a space to work although fortunately, I have a nice studio at the end of the garden.

How did you get started?

The same as everybody else. Drawing as a child. I was seven or eight when my Grandfather took me on an outing to the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth, London. I was so excited by the outing and could not wait to see all things military; Tanks, Rifles, Field Guns, Howitzers, Warships, Fighters and Bombers – you name it, it was going to be there (typical bloodthirsty boy of the late fifties). What actually happened steamrollered me like an advancing tank.

His painting of ‘gassed soldiers’ during world war one, all 20ft x 7ft totally bowled me over. I could not grasp that this was a painting. It put the viewer there, right in the middle of the scene, like the cinema, only with all the time in the world to absorb its sheer scale and beauty. From then on I wanted to paint. Of course circumstances often intervene and although illustrating and design within the advertising industry was to be my career, I knew at some point I would eventually paint.

How do you define art or creativity?

Sorry, I have genuinely never thought about it. I leave it to others to fathom out. What I will say is that billions of people wake up every day and, without even knowing it, are creative in one form or another. For example, an accountant may be adept at depriving the Revenue of taxes owing to them, they are said to have got the process down to ‘A Fine Art.’ You can’t hang it on a wall but it is creative none-the-less, although I’m not sure the Revenue people would  agree. Creativity surrounds us all.

What did you study and where, or are you self-taught?

Self taught, kind of. I wanted to study painting at art school but my father worried that it might be a precarious way to make a living. The compromise was advertising and design (little did he know, health wise, even more precarious). As a seventeen year old in London in the late sixties the opportunities were endless. After two years of working in what were known as ‘Sweat Shop Studios’ (it was sink or swim as you had to prove yourself or you were out!) I progressed to become a visualizer and went on to work at many Ad Agencies throughout the capital. I have to thank all those old pro’s who constantly gave me good advice along the way. Drawing all day with Magic Markers was a great way to earn a living even if, at times, a tad stressful. The recent TV series ‘Mad Men’ really brought it all back to me. It was a wonderful period of my life. We worked hard and played hard, so much so, that in the early eighties I really did feel burnt out and on a sudden whim, much to everyone’s surprise, I upped sticks and left London for Norwich in East Anglia. After my wife and I started our family and our design practice in Norwich I began to paint during the odd bits of free time that were available, until the present when I am pretty much painting full time. So yes, I have really learnt as I have gone along, whilst having great fun at the same time.

What motivates you?

The sheer pleasure of painting.

Do you find drawing or sketching to be an integral part of your process, why or why not?

Sort of. I love drawing and sketching but they are separate entities. I tend to paint straight onto the canvas with a brush once the picture is in my head, although at times I might draw small references before transferring them to the canvas, especially if the object is unfamiliar or requires detail, as in some of my aviation paintings. It is just nice to jot down things you see that might be of use at some later time.

Are there any particular artworks or artists that surprise you, inspire you or repulse you?

The amount of art and artists that inspire and surprise me are endless. With the Internet you can spend hours looking at art. Etsy is just one example of how many talented people there are. Yes, there are artists whose work does not gel with me, as there are paintings that I am indifferent towards, but to use the term ‘repulse’ is far to strong an adjective to describe an artist’s endeavors.

Who are some of your favorite artists or artwork?

LS Lowry, Lucian Freud, Stanley Spencer, Francis Bacon, CRW Nevinson, Andrew Wyeth, Norman Rockwell, Edward Hopper, John Singer Sargent and Uncle Tom Cobley and all. So many.

Can you tell us about some of your successes and challenges?

My biggest challenge was my first one-man show at ‘The Millennium Centre’ in Norwich. It is a very public venue and I was petrified at the idea of standing alone to all the criticism and flak that would come my way. I was pleasantly surprised by all the kindness and constructive views that were put forward which boosted my confidence no end, plus the added bonus of making several sales and commissions.

Starting to paint was a huge challenge. After years of visualizing in the agencies, my style of work was ingrained in me. However, it was not how I envisaged my paintings to look but good fortune led to us living in Cornwall for two years, a beautiful county steeped in artistic history (particularly The Newlyn School of painters) and the images and how I would tackle them soon materialised in my head.

When and why did you decide to start painting full time?

2007. The concept of painting full time is something that had been building up over many years. It was as inevitable as Spring following on from a long, hard Winter.

What is your most treasured possession?

My half litre tin of Flake White. Because of health and safety gone mad Great Britain has banned its sale due to the heavy lead content. It can only be purchased for restoration work with written government authority. It has a wonderful iridescent quality and over time it yellows slightly, something I have tried to re-create but up until now, unsuccessfully. As you can imagine I use it very sparingly.

What artist either currently living or from history would you most like to have dinner with, where would you eat, what might you order and what would you talk about?

LS Lowry. Sitting on a bench overlooking the River Thames eating Fish ‘n Chips in the only way they should be eaten – out of newspaper.

I wouldn’t talk I would just listen. There has been no artist like him since he died in 1976 and there was no artist like him before he was born. He was his own man, belonged to no school of painting, just totally original in his approach and how he worked. He painted where he lived and loved and what he saw, often with great humour. It was as simple as that. I have seen many wonderful paintings in my life, both moving and beautiful beyond description but none compare to the originality of a thundering Lowry industrial landscape.

Mind you, I wouldn’t mind popping down to the local Trattoria with Vincent or Pablo either.

What are you currently working on or have recently completed?

We only moved to our new house in autumn last year. Fields and woods surround us and whilst taking my Cairn Terrier, Jimbo for long walks I am beginning to see potential subjects that I would like to paint ‘en plein air’, something I have never attempted before. As well as some new London Docks scenes in the sixties I am going to revisit my passion for early aviation. Last year was the Centenary of the outbreak of World War One so I am planning a series of paintings depicting the early flyers and flimsy bi-planes of that period. I do like my history and nostalgia. 

What is the most interesting thing about you?


Is there anything you would like to add or talk about?

No, just thank you for taking the time to read this.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Collage a Day (or week!)

Continuing my personal challenge to try to complete small collages as sketches, very regularly, here is one I finished up. It had once begun as a watercolor sketch and went through a few changes to become this. I was particularly drawn to finish this one as it had part of a vintage map of Nigeria and I am now rather obsessed with all things African!

Monday, February 09, 2015

Simple Collage "Sketch"

Another snow's like a free day to lounge in the studio and work on things.  I have another artist interview on the way, but until then, here is a quick collage I made.  Trying to make at least one a week along the lines of #acollageaday or #apaintingaday but without the pressure of having to actually do it every day!

Monday, February 02, 2015

Accepted as an Artist in Residence in Ghana for 3 weeks in August!

While we are waiting for our next artist, I thought I would share some exciting news of my own.  I have been selected as an Artist In Residence for August at a small fishing village in Ghana!  The organization is Cross Cultural Collective and they are a small arts and education organization looking to promote collaboration between cultures.  I am SO excited!!! More information to come...

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Special Guest Artist Lora Shelley

Lora Shelley:

Red Wine - mixed media on clay board 16 x 20"

I first met Lora back when I had my restaurant upstate in the Hudson Valley.  Each month, I would feature a different artist and, being the Hudson Valley, there was a lot of great work to choose from!  

Lora came in off the street one day, a pretty and personable girl armed with her portfolio filled with beautiful paintings of lovely women in kitchens and restaurants.  The work, called "Diner Series" was lovely and perfect for the venue in so many ways.
Diner Series, Scrambled Eggs and Bacon - oil on museum board 38 x 34

I reached out to Lora and asked if she would be willing to share some of her work, thoughts and history and I am so happy she obliged!

Lora, tell us a little about what you create: 

I consider myself a painter primarily but I explore many mediums.

Paintings, hand-pulled print work, small hand built pottery, 3-D soft sculpture sometimes. I pretty much love all media and want to try everything! But I always come back to my true love, painting. All of these explorations serve to give me a fresh perspective.

Where do you do your creative work? 

If you ask my partner, he’d say, EVERYWHERE! But I have a room in my house, which I converted into my studio but I confess I’ve pretty much taken over every other room at different times with various projects. In a basement rec. room I weave on my loom, roll out my small press (which I have put onto a metal cart on wheels). There I make my woodcuts, etchings or linocuts, and also it triples as my sewing room.
I find that I’m happiest when I’m creating something, so I usually am.

How did you get started? 

I’ve always been this way. All small children paint and draw, I just never stopped.

Last Night I Dreamt I Rode a Giant Bunny - etching 5 x 6

How do you define art or creativity? 

Good question. I suppose to simplify it — it is a different way of looking at things. Some people have an artistic mind but don’t have a medium or maybe not yet. Some people apply their creative thinking to numbers or scientific research. To a point I believe that maybe we all have that instinct to make something and leave our mark.

What did you study and where, or are you self-taught? 

I went to the Rhode Island School of Design, where I received my BFA in Illustration. I have not followed that path immediately. I started showing in cafes and galleries after school.
I learned just as much from my fellow classmates and artist friends. 
My Junior year I was selected to participate in RISD’s European Honors Program, which was a year of study and travel based in Rome. I learned a lot that year seeing other cultures and having experiences. It was there where I developed my voice as an artist.

What motivates you? 

I’m miserable when I’m not creating. So that is a big motivator. 
I get inspiration from everything around me, nature, people, books, films. I love getting lost in a movie or a book, both old and new. I love learning about the way the mind works.

Do you find drawing or sketching to be an integral part of your process, why or why not?

Oh yes! My sketchbooks are what keep me going. I find that if I’m not sketching regularly then I’m not creating in my studio either. They go hand in hand. When I am drawing I’m working things out in my head and developing new ideas.
At one point I was jumping right into a painting without any preconceived idea of what it was to be. But even then I sketched in my books. Now I like to use my sketches as more of a map to the painting.
Day Dreamer mixed media 16 x 20

Is there any particular artworks or artist that surprises you, inspires you or repulses you? 

Artwork that is all about technique and has no soul really depresses me. 
I would rather view an ‘outsider artist’ or a child’s artwork over strictly technique any day. I admire a lot of self-taught art. When I find a piece I like by an “outsider” artist, it’s always full of surprises, there are no tricks. It’s genuine and real. There are things that can’t be taught, but can be explored within. A lot of it is just letting go but still having control — and not judging your work as you are working which is a tricky thing. 

Can you tell us about some of your successes and challenges?  

Professionally - I was honored to have a US Ambassador purchase my work twice. 
My paintings were part of the Art in Embassies Program in Kinshasa and also in Malawi which was an honor in itself to be selected. 
Professional Challenges … well, unfortunately their are always financial challenges for artists. The recession in 2008 hit artists hard.

But successes and challenges come everyday in the studio. Artistically I’m constantly fighting the urge to tighten up, become more detail oriented. But I find my best work comes when I can let go of that control a little and let the painting tell me what it needs.

Who are some of your favorite artists or artwork?

I’m inspired by many artists old and contemporary. The list is endless but to name a few: Gauguin, Bonnard, Munch, Kathe Kollwitz, Charlotte Salomon, Van Gogh, and on and on.

What is your most treasured possession? 

I tend to be sentimental about certain items. Especially ones from my childhood like my two Steiff animals that my Aunt Loie gave me. She unfortunately is no longer with us. She had ALS and lived so long and bravely with it. She was a really special person. The tiger and dog were always on her bed when I would go visit. I loved to play with them as a child. So she gave them to me as an adult, before she passed away.
Carousel with Tiger - mixed media on panel 22 x 30

What are you currently working on or have recently completed? 

A scruffy little dog, a pet portrait commission. He’s adorable. I am a big fan of animals (more than people at times.) So painting pet portraits is a real pleasure for me. It incorporates my two loves, animals and art. I do a lot of them.
This Summer I got involved with a new museum here in Stone Ridge. It’s a Steiff Museum (also a boutique B&B.) It was a perfect fit for what I was doing at the time. I just happened to be chronicling my collection of vintage stuffed animals from when I was a child, by painting small portrait studies. Nan Bress and Steve Ferri, the owners of The Den, were generous enough to lend me items from their collection.
I borrowed animals all Summer and painted small portraits on wood. About a dozen of them are on display at the museum along with a shelf featuring the animals that modeled for me —‘Lora Shelley’s Muses’ - (Nan and Steve made a sign) which makes me smile.

What is the most interesting thing about you? 

Depends who you ask. I don’t feel qualified to answer that.

Is there anything you would like to add? 

I’m a vegan and animal lover. I stopped eating meat back in 1985 when I was in High School. I’m not preachy about it (I don’t like it when anyone is preachy about anything). It’s just what I do. I’m the only one in my family so yeah, the Artist and the vegetarian. I guess I always felt different.

I like it when I can use my skills to be part of a greater cause — like donating a custom pet portrait to the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, or a painting to raise money for my local SPCA.

After Dinner oil on museum board 24 x 22

Bather with Cat - diptych mixed media 30 x 60

Crouched Figure by the Sea - monotype mixed media 8 x 10

Red Moon Dance -monotype mixed media 8 x 10

Spring Green mixed media @ 34 x 32

Train Ride - mixed media 38 x 32

and some of Lora's pinch pots check out her Etsy shop - TigerHeadDesigns and also contact her for Pet Commissions!

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

So…with all my spare time (smirk) I began another blog a while ago, really just posting education articles I find interesting and think might make for valuable discourse…here is a link to it -

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Arrgghh! Last full day of break…sigh

Here is a piece that I am about to list in my newly restocked Etsy shop…wish me seller's luck, I need to make some space to create more paintings!

I have had such a fantastic break from work, it is going to be very challenging to get up two hours earlier every day again, and having to find time to be making artwork.  Maybe a snow day is in my future so I can continue with my momentum?