Bird's Eye View - North
So how does a new artist start to make progress in his painting career? Well how about a weekend in Thornwick Bay? That's what I did. Let me explain. You may recall that I was now exhibiting my work in several galleries but as yet no sales. That was about to change and the catalyst was the said weekend in Thornwick Bay. Now a friend of ours owned a caravan there and they offered us a weekend break so off we went. Passing through Rudston Merice noticed a brand new building in the grounds of a pub which bore the legend - 'Tony Hogan Art Centre'. We decided to have a look so pulled in and went upstairs into the gallery. There we met a lady and as ladies do, Merice and her got chatting. She turned out to be Eileen Hogan, the wife of Tony who owned the art centre. Anyway after a very pleasant half hour looking at some excellent art we carried on to our destination. Merice had given Eileen my email and a few weeks later Tony contacted me to say he was having a amateur artist weekend and would I like to participate.I said yes back to Thornwick Bay again. We called in and hung three of my latest paintings alongside a varied selection from other artists. Once again Tony was not there. But on Sunday when we returned on our way home he was. I was disappointed to see that my paintings were still there just where I had left them. There were several of the other exhibitors collecting their paintings and after about half an hour of chit chat we were all getting ready to leave. But Tony called me to one side and said he would like to speak with me after the others had gone. It was all very intriguing but at last there was just the four of us. He invited me into his office and told me that although I had not sold any of my paintings he had received a lot of very positive feedback about my work over the weekend and would I like to exhibit in his gallery on a permanent basis. Tony was so enthusiastic about his gallery and clearly knowledgeable about all aspects of the art business that I said yes there and then. This was the beginning of a life long friendship between the four of us - Tony and me and Eileen and Merice. Merice had supported me from the very beginning and she was willing to make any sacrifices that would be needed so I could follow my dream. She had been encouraging me for some time to try and make a living out of my art but it was Tony who gave me the final push and more importantly the means to make the move to become a 'professional' artist. The best was yet to come though. I had gone with Merice to one of our favourite haunts - Codbeck reservoir in the western edges of the North Yorks Moors national Park. It was a Sunday and we were enjoying a pleasant stroll around the lake when my mobile phone rang. It was Tony - "I've sold one of your paintings" he said which was the most fantastic news ever - my first genuine sale to a member of the public. Better still was another call about thirty minutes later - "I've sold another one!" said Tony. Can you imagine how I felt when I received yet another call to say he had sold a third. Would you like to see the first ever paintings I sold?
Looking at these it's easy to see why I became widely known as 'Treeman'. It was as if a dam had burst. I began to sell paintings on a regular basis and thankfully have continued to do so throughout my career. I spent a lot of time at the Art Centre with Tony and it was he who got me my first weekend workshop with an art club. Though very nervous I really enjoyed it and discovered I had a bit of a flair for it. I also liked demo paintings in front of the public or art clubs and have developed quite a 'show' that I still use today. But there was much more than my personal development to the Rudston Art Centre. It gave me a great camaraderie with a small group of artist friends that has lasted till this day. We were not a group in any organised sort of way - just a bunch of close friends who shared the same passion and interest in art. One of the group was Margaret Hockney. She took me under her wing so to speak and gave me the benefit of her lifetime involvement in art. For example she gave me sound advice on a universal question that all artists ask - "How much should I charge?" She advised to start low and if you sell put the price up a little. If you keep selling keep putting up the price until you stop selling when you reduce it a little at a time till you start selling again. This method certainly worked (and still works) for me. You might recognise the name because Margaret does indeed have a very famous brother who I was privileged to meet and spend time with but that is a story for another day. I also participated in my first ever major exhibition at the centre - our Venice Exhibition. How exciting that was as I had my first taste of being involved in the planning and setting up of an exhibition, the preview night and my first experience of dealing with the press. I could go on and on - how Tony helped me to become artist-in-residence at Burton Agnes Hall and the many happy years we shared together in the summer house, the joys of painting outdoors even in the freezing cold of a Yorkshire winter and so many more happy experiences which were especially memorable as so many were the first time for me. You will gather why I will always have a very special place in my heart for the Tony Hogan Art Centre and I don't think I'm alone in that. However life moves on and logically the next step would be to have my own gallery and art centre. So how was I going to achieve that. The answer is very surprising and involves a market stall and healthy living. Intrigued? Well all will be revealed in the next episode but in the meantime here's "Bird's Eye View - South" as another big thank you to a life changing trip to Thornwick Bay:
"Thornwick Bay. Bird's Eye View South"
Gallery owners are a weird and wonderful bunch. I can say that truthfully because I was one once (actually twice!) and there's the proof - my painting of our own little gallery in Bridlington's famous Old Town. But more about that later. I thought it would be nice to look back at some of the galleries I have had the pleasure to be associated with and hope you enjoy the trip down memory lane too. The first gallery I encountered came about while having my hair cut in the small market town of Easingwold. I grew up in a world where a man's hair was cut by a barber but by this particular time even I had been seduced into the world of unisex hairdressers. So I had sat patiently while Merice had her hair done and now it was her turn to sit patiently waiting for me. So Merice began leafing through some magazines and when I was all done and paid for she thrust one such under my nose just before we left. "Look at this" she said in the way a wife says something that you ignore at your peril so I did...look at it that is! "Wanted" it stated in bold type, "New Artists" followed by an invitation for new artists to submit work for consideration to exhibit in a gallery in Rosedale Abbey, a lovely village situated in the North Yorks Moors National Park. This was the moment of truth for me. I had been painting for a couple of years since my accident but apart from family and a few friends I had never shown my work. Merice had been (and still is) my most honest critic making all the right 'oohs' and 'aaahs' when I was first beginning and needed much encouragement to now offering very constructive and insightful criticism and suggestions. No matter what I thought, if she had decided I was now ready to take this next step then I would have to follow through.
So the fateful day arrived. Arrangements had been made and off we set heading out to the marvellous splendour of the moors with seven paintings in the boot. Although seven is supposed to be a lucky number my choice was based more on the fact that the more I took the more chance that at least one might be deemed worthy...and crucially this was the sum total of my framed pieces anyway. Normally I enjoyed the drive from York but not this time as I was extremely nervous of what awaited. Rosedale Abbey is a small hamlet built around, not unsurprisingly, an abbey. But it was one of the buildings that King Henry 'knocked abaht a bit' and there is very little that remains of it now. The gallery was situated halfway up the hill heading out towards Lealholm and was an old decommissioned Methodist church. It was called 'Windows on the Moors' because of the splendid stained glass windows on the upper floor. The upper floor was where the gallery was. We went up the stairs and met the owner Monique. Monique was a Belgian lady who loved all forms of art and was especially supportive of new artists. Although she talked a bit like Hercule Poirot her enthusiasm shone through and she made us very welcome. The light in the gallery was fantastic with the clear moorland light reflected through the stained glass windows. Of course to me every painting on the wall seemed like a masterpiece and I was cringing inside as she explained her mission to promote new and established Yorkshire artists
Finally there was no getting away - it was time to show my offerings to her. With the help of her daughter in law we carried all seven up those steps into that splendid light. We laid them out side by side on large sofas and stood back in silent contemplation. There was lots of murmuring between Monique and her daughter in law who managed the gallery. Tempus definitely did not fugit! It seemed like an eternity before the decision was reached. "We can sell these" said Monique in her lovely foreign accent, "Would you like to leave all seven? We won't put them all up at once but keep three in reserve". I had only ever read the phrase but yes - my jaw did indeed drop right to the floor! I signed up there and then and left for Whitby in a complete daze floating not on cloud nine but many levels higher. When I returned to the gallery a few weeks later and saw my paintings on the walls alongside all the other 'masterpieces' it was a most thrilling sight. Sadly Monique became ill and returned home to Belgium where she passed away. The gallery eventually closed and the building is now a private home. But I will always remember Monique and her gallery with great fondness and gratitude for giving me the confidence to carry on painting. After that first initial surprising success I was accepted by several more galleries. However it was my first gallery rejection that probably did me the most good. The gallery owner asked me if I wanted to know why he had not accepted my work. I can't honestly say I was overjoyed but I decided to hear him out reasoning that if I wasn't able to accept advice and criticism from someone who knew what he was talking about I might as well pack it in there and then. What he told me enabled to see my work with fresh eyes and he was dead right in what he said. I have to confess to never returning to that gallery to resubmit my work but I did take the advice on board and within a couple of years from starting to paint I was now exhibiting in several galleries throughout Yorkshire and had even had three pieces accepted and shown in Scarborough Art Gallery at the biannual East Coast Open. Now going to all these places and seeing my work on their walls was all very well and good but there was something missing - like sales. I had yet to sell a painting but by chance I was about to meet a gallery owner who would change all that. You will have to wait for the next article to find out who and how.
I recently posted an old painting on Facebook. It was called “Gulls on Filey Brig” and attracted a lot of comments…so much so that I was commissioned to do another one in a similar vein. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I approached the subject as well as curiousity as to how it would compare to the original. More importantly I suppose - would I be able to see any improvement after all these years? This sort of painting can only be done with watercolours. But first - the most important part - careful (very careful!) masking of the white paper you want to preserve for later. Here's the painting all 'masked' and ready for action:
It's not a brilliant photo but you can see just how much masking fluid I used. Once it's dry I can paint with total freedom knowing the essential structure of the piece is safely protected. Then remove the mask and paint in a few details to produce an exciting and dramatic seascape. Despite my misgivings I am very pleased with the way it turned out and my gulls have definitely improved!
Professional artist now semi retired and enjoying being eccentric!