Monday, December 30, 2013

Mangoes and stats

Mangoes, acrylic on canvas by Mary Adam (c) Mary Adam
Mangoes, acrylic on canvas, (c) Mary Adam

Mangoes was painted between May and September this year. 


End of year figures 2013

No proper statistics  since I didn't do an end of year post this time last year and am no longer using a hit counter except for Blogger's own minimal Stats.

Subscribers, email and RSS:  115 (about the same as 2011) (from Feedburner)
Posts in 2013:  35, up from 16 in 2012 (34 in 2011).
Page views -- the total is now 99,205 and is averaging about 2400 2200 page views/month.

Monday, December 23, 2013

ASTT Art Market 2013

The ASTT Art Market was a great success. It’s the second art market I’ve done, the first was last Christmas at a different venue. I’ve gained experience from it and have made notes of things to do for the next one. One of the things I will do is: take less stuff! I had 35 pieces, enough for a solo show in a small gallery and I had left all the bigger pieces at home. On the wall, the work was grouped into small oil paintings, linocuts and silkscreens, miniatures, and small acrylic paintings.

Traffic was steady all day. There were old friends and new ones. It was great for networking with fellow-artists. My mailing list has expanded and I sold a few pieces.

One odd thing happened. One of the visitors was a friend who had bought one of my pieces in 2004, which was before I started on the degree. I had thought that my work hadn’t changed all that much. In subjects it’s pretty much the same as before (Plumbago and Impatiens still appear frequently). The degree opened me up to more media and new approaches and that is where the main changes have taken place. But this friend said they didn’t recognise my work at all, that “this is someone I don’t know”. I was taken aback at first. It made me think. My palette has changed in that I haven’t used earth colours (umber and ochre) for a while now. I’ve been getting a good range and purer colour out of fewer pigments. This wasn’t something required by the degree, it just evolved from a decision I made to tackle colour in a systematic way.

I’ve heard artists who are more advanced than me say that collectors and galleries don’t like you to change. They want you to have and keep a signature style -- like a shrub that grows to a certain height and stays there. I can understand that. But . . . maybe my shrub hasn’t reached where it’s supposed to be yet, or something like that. I’ve also found that I make very different work in printmaking and painting, and it's different again in collage. For now I’m happy to observe and reflect on what happens and keep on growing for a while yet. 

Plumbago paintings pre-2006
Plumbago, 2011 onwards (four paintings plus silkscreen on right, collage second from right)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Drying an emulsion-coated screen

After coating a screen with light-sensitive emulsion, the next thing is to let it dry which can take a few hours or overnight. The place where it dries needs to be pitch dark. Any pinpoint of light getting in will send all the timings off and will make the screen much harder to wash out after exposure. My solution is a cardboard box with the chinks well sealed off. I put my head into the box and hold it towards the light to ensure I've got all the chinks. However you can't seal the front in this way, so after closing the flaps with tape, I put a heavy dark cloth over the box, making sure the front is well covered.

Another thing is that the screen should be dried with the screen side down. Therefore it needs to be raised so that the wet emulsion doesn't touch the floor of the box. You could put some blocks at the sides, but that's unsatisfactory because they can be pushed out of place as you are putting the screen in. So I add "risers" made out of cardboard and glued to the box, as shown in the photo below. It's rough and ready method but very effective.

A box for drying screens with "risers" on two sides

Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas shows

Left to right: White, Maracas Bay, Peppers (c) Mary Adam

  • I will have a table at the Art Market at the Art Society in Federation Park, Saturday December 21st, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with small paintings, linocuts and silkscreens. Hope to see you there.

Monday, December 2, 2013

James Kalm's video reviews

James Kalm is an artist who does video walk-through reviews of New York shows. Here are a few:

Raoul de Keyser at David Zwirner --

Agnes Martin, the 80s and the Grey Painitngs at Pace --

The 2013 Armory Show --


Monday, November 25, 2013

Philosophy course

mary adam christmas card 1 2013Just finished the last quiz in the Introduction to Philosophy course I've been doing, and watched the last lecture earlier today. There's an optional essay as well. I learned a lot from it, including what philosophy is, which (it turns out) is not quite what I had thought. I'm glad I did it, wish I'd done something along those lines years ago. It's like necessary orientation in any field of study. I will take some time to assimilate it. Meanwhile, I've signed up for another Coursera/University of Edinburgh course next year in the Philosophy of Science which was by far the most interesting section for me and I'd like to follow it up (aesthetics was not covered).

I think we had the same professor with steam punk goggles as A.J. Jacobs in the article linked below (from the New York Times, 21/4/13), an opinion on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). My previous experience of online learning in my art degree resembled his in many ways.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A new mother

This is nice ...



Newsletter #3 went out yesterday. If you are subscribed and you haven't received it, it may have gone into your spam folder or the "Promotions" tab in gmail. Feedback welcome.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Notes on a small caterpillar

Notes about the frangipani flower
and the caterpillar (c) Mary Adam
On an afternoon a few months ago, I brought a sprig of frangipani inside to look at it more closely. I used a loupe placed over it which gave me approx 3-4X magnification. That's when I saw a little caterpillar which had been carried in on the stem of the flower. It was no more than 1 cm long. It was walking along the stem towards the flower. I looked at it through the loupe -- it was still just a little caterpillar except the loupe made it bigger and easier to see. Suddenly the stem shook slightly. The little caterpillar drew back in alarm, startled, just as I might jump at an unexpected sound. There was something extraordinary about that movement. It could have been any animal. In some ways it was uncannily like a human reaction. Maybe it was the fact of witnessing it through the loupe that made it so vivid and human-like. Just a little 1 cm caterpillar. A while later it munched through the yellow pollen of the frangipani flower and after that I put it back in the garden. 

I have tried to estimate the approximate relative sizes of a small caterpillar and a human being. I can't guarantee the following calculation is correct as maths is not my best subject so please let me know if there's a mistake:


Caterpillar weighs  0.3 gm

Human being weighs 60 kg = 60,000 gm

60,000 divided by 0.3 = 200,000

Therefore a human being is about 200,000 times bigger than a caterpillar.

What would be 200,000 times the size of a human being?

60 Kg x 200,000

= 12,000,000 Kg -- twelve million Kg = 12,000 tons -- a large liner?

(10,000 tons = 10 million kg)

Therefore, 1 ton = 1000 kg

A ton is 2000 lbs (1000 kg).

A car weighs a ton, also an elephant.

12000 tons = 12000 cars.

Or 12000 elephants.

It's difficult to imagine that size difference.

Caterpillars have about 4,000 muscles (the human being has only 629). They move through contraction of the muscles in the rear segments, pushing the blood forward into the front segments elongating the torso. The average caterpillar has 248 muscles in the head segment alone.
Caterpillars do not have good vision. They have a series of six tiny eyelets or 'stemmata' on each side of the lower portion of their head. These can probably form well focused, but poorly resolved images (Scoble 1995). They move their heads from side to side probably as a means of judging distance of objects, particularly plants. They rely on their short antennae to help them locate food.
Some caterpillars are able to detect vibrations, usually at a highly specific frequency. Caterpillars of the common hook-tip moth, Drepana arcuata (Drepanoidea), produce sounds to defend their silk nests from members of their own species, by scraping against the leaf in a ritualized acoustic duel (Yack et al. 2001). They detect the vibrations conducted by the plant and not air-borne sounds. (New World Encyclopedia)
I should have mentioned that the Frangipani is the host plant for the Frangipani Horn Moth. I don't think the small caterpillar was one of those because the Horn Moth caterpillars are orange and black with yellow stripes and are very fierce looking. I have a photo somewhere...

Caterpillar of Pseudosphinx tetrio, the Frangipani Hornworm Moth,
my not-very-good photo 

There are better photos of both caterpillar and moth in the Wikipedia article --

Monday, November 4, 2013


White, acrylic on deep-edge canvas, 10 x 8" (c) Mary Adam
One of my paintings has received an award in an international online art exhibition. "White", a still life (above), received a "Special Recognition" award in the Light Space & Time Open Exhibition November 2013 in the "Painting and Other" category. I didn't expect it and am thrilled.

The ASTT Art Market 2013

The Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago is hosting an art market on Saturday 21 December, 2013 at their headquarters in Federation Park. This is the first time they're doing it. I will have a space (a table) and will have small paintings, linocuts and silkscreens on offer. It should be a pleasant affair amid all the pre-Christmas hustle and bustle so do please drop in.

Click to enlarge

Newsletter #3

My next newsletter will be going out within the next two weeks. If you are not already a subscriber and would like to be, please click here.

Introduction to Philosophy

A free 7-week course by the University of Edinburgh via Coursera. It's something of an eye-opener, not what I expected. So far am glad I signed up. It has changed my thinking in some ways. More when it finishes (it's just over half-way through).

Monday, October 28, 2013

A contour line leads to Illinois

A contour drawing (c) Philip Hartigan, posted with permission of the artist
Last week I was searching the internet for contour drawings and came on this one by Philip Hartigan, an English artist living and working in Illinois. It's a "blind" contour drawing, a slow and sensitive method in which the artist draws while not looking at the paper, instead concentrating totally on the subject and following with the pencil or pen every little bump and hollow as if touching the edge of the form with a fingertip. Contour drawing was one of the elements of the teaching of Kimon Nicolaïdes in the first half of the 20th century. Later, Betty Edwards popularised it in her best-selling book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

As so often happens, this one link led to a whole lot more. Philip Hartigan is a painter, printmaker and sculptor and he writes for Hyperallergic. His stop-motion animations are a delight to watch. He also does some university teaching.

Some more videos:
Hartigan briefly describes an installation of toy soldiers, 1 min 12 secs
A Google Hangout conversation with P.E. Sharpe, Philip Hartigan, Hrag Vartanian and Jillian Steinhauer of Hyperallergic. -- 35 mins.
A Google Hangout interview, 1 hr

Monday, October 21, 2013

My top eight

The Night Watch by Rembrandt, 1642, at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Public domain image from Wikipedia


This was intended to be my top ten list but I can't decide on the last two, there are so many I would like to include. So it's eight for now.

Picasso --
Rembrandt --
Paul Klee --
Alice Neel --
Andy Warhol --
Peter Doig --
Gerhard Richter --
Sean Scully --

P.S. I've added some sketchbook pages to my website --

Monday, October 14, 2013

An aesthetic sense?

Isaac Levitan (Russian, 1860-1900), Over Eternal Peace, 1894. Image from Wikipedia
Do we have an aesthetic sense? I mean, in the same way as the senses of sight, touch, hearing, taste and smell. There are other senses in addition to the famous five such as position sense; and I have blogged about a sense of balance which I believe exists.Certain animals have a built-in sense of direction which helps them to navigate; and plant root cells contain particles that enable them to sense gravity and to grow downwards. So ... I’ve been wondering: is there in our make-up a built-in aesthetic sense that leads us to make judgments about whether a thing is beautiful or ugly or somewhere in between?

I believe it’s a valid question because it seems likely from observation that we do have such a sense. If so, where did it come from, how did it evolve? Would it mean that species other than humans also have some sort of aesthetic sense?

I remember a dog we had once, a German Shepherd. She was a stately and ladylike dog, "fair-haired in her gracious manner". She would come when called, never gave any trouble. When she was about four years old we moved to the house where we are now. Behind the house there’s a strip of garden, and then a steep hill which is high enough such that at the top you can see right out to sea. This dog went up there one day and didn’t want to come down. She sat down in the grasses in her stately way and refused to come when called. It happened many times. I’ve often wondered ... what did she like so much about the top of the hill? ... could it have been the view from up there ... the space, the far horizon?

Aesthetics is an issue of philosophy. However, even in art college the philosophical topics under discussion are more usually politics or advertising or linguistics rather than aesthetics as such. As an artist I find the topic of aesthetics interesting in its own right and I'd like to understand it better.

It so happens that today I'm beginning an 8-week philosophy course (online). I'm hoping it will help me to think about questions like this in a more structured way.

To be continued. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Michael Kessler at work

"Michael Kessler (born October 23, 1954) is an American artist. He currently lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Kessler's works are characterized by large fields of diaphanous color that are activated by organic linear structures that have been visually and physically woven into a grid structure which consists of thick slabs of paint. These organic linear structures are overlapped and punctuated by dendritic growth patterns that suggest the bending of time and space" (from Wikipedia). 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Brendan Cass, one in 4.4 million

Journal page on Brendan Cass
There must be millions of living artists in the world. In fact I just looked it up and it turns out there are 4.4 million active artists in the USA alone, of which 3.2 million are recreational artists, 600,000 are professional artists and 122,000 are art-degree-seeking college students (

The figures are mind-blowing, or maybe disconcerting, but that's not what this post is about. In this crowded field, how does one choose artists to look at or to focus on, those who can answer questions one might have or give one ideas? Mostly, for me anyway, it's luck or serendipity. Usually wherever I land up turns out to be instructive or inspiring in some way or other. In this way, while reading recently about Donald Baechler, he mentioned Brendan Cass (b. 1974, American) as a young artist to watch. So I followed that lead and it proved to be a good one to share. The image at left shows some of Brendan Cass's paintings, and below that some journal notes from a video interview at a show in Lars Bohman Gallery in ?Stockholm, Nov-Dec 2009.

I'm not sure if this artist has hit the big time yet but he's certainly heading that way. The paintings are large to very large (e.g. 6' x 12') and are loosely based on photos. They seem very free and spontaneous but he takes a long time over them. He uses store-bought small canvases to try out colour combinations. Often he works from the photo first and goes to visit the place/country afterwards, and he has a particular liking for Northern countries and winter landscapes. He uses bright, even fluorescent colours, saying he likes to load a painting with as many colours as possible. The paintings are very gestural and loaded with texture and yet they don't look messy. They remind me of Peter Doig in their evocation of mood and space. He has done at least one of Ireland (Glendalough) which I would love to see but haven't been able to find it.

In a video of a studio visit filmed in 2012 by New Art TV, Cass's studio is an old railway station on a disused train line near a river in Connecticut  -- idyllic really. Here it is ...

Monday, September 23, 2013

Julian Opie, finding the poetry

Everything I've seen by Julian Opie has been well made. There's no sloppiness, no rough edges. If his work looks simple it's because he spends innumerable hours simplifying it. Take the beautiful walking figures ... (Scroll down until you come to "Continuous computer animations" and click on the images.)

The video below is of an exhibition being installed in Italy. There are some fascinating images in it -- portraits with blinking eyes, a portrait where the background clouds are moving, another with a moving second hand on a watch ...

Much of the work is digital, done on computer, but he also draws and paints by hand. Drawing is where he's coming from. In an interview with Art World magazine in 2010, he talks about drawing:
Q4. How come the idea of representing people and landscape in a monochrome and uniform motion way? For instance, the album cover for Blur, the animation for the Expo.
Well that is what I do - I draw. Drawing is a process of making equivalents  - of engaging in the world physically and emotionally - of casting your mind out and grasping what you see. To me it's as natural as walking or talking - I have been doing it since I was 11 - every day - I cannot explain any one drawing as it depends on the one before. I suppose this is the way I see the world - it's the closest I can get to reality. (
My first experience of his work was during a visit to the Tate Modern in London in, I think, 2006. There was one of his life-size cars made of painted plywood (1996) which made me smile and lifted my spirits, I don't know why. Perhaps that's how he wants the viewer to feel. But thinking it is one thing, making it happen is another. The car forms are a marvel of simplifying and yet transforming the object into another kind of reality. I've found simplifying in general much harder to do than it looks. Julian Opie makes it look easy.

In an interview with the Journal of Contemporary Art, he said:
"One of the elements I am balancing is the degree to which something is generic and the degree to which something is specific. For instance, a real car: I don't think I could use this because it is too specific and then you have specificness: Whose car is this? How much does it cost? Do I want this car? All these questions would come in. And yet, if it is totally a symbol for a car. In terms of cars, you get to a point where you can't symbolize any further: when you symbolize a car as a hatch-back, you rule out sedans. There are some cars, and you see them on the street, usually it is an old sedan car, which have to changed eventually, because they don't look right anymore. Like telephones nobody uses anymore. They have lost their relationship to experience. Children will never use that telephone, although they will recognize the symbol. When it becomes only a symbol, it no longer seems to be useful to me. There is this double relation." Journal of Contemporary Art
And in a catalogue for an exhibition at the Tate, he said:
"I think my work is about trying to be happy … I want the world to seem like the kind of place you'd want to escape into … Mundane things are just as exciting as all the things you might imagine escaping into." -- 
His body of work is huge as seen in his website. He has also made public art for cities around the world on commission. Calgary is fortunate to have the one in the video below.

The figures have been described as "cartoon figures" -- I can't see them that way. To me the movement is marvellous, the way the heads bob just a little and the way the gait of each walker is different despite being pared down to essentials. This is easiest to see where a couple are walking together, such as Kris and Verity Walking, 2010 (in the Barbara Krakow gallery, link above). It reminds me of something in Shakespeare ... "Great Juno comes, I know her by her gait" *... and how amazingly true that is.
'It's difficult, modern life,' [Julian Opie] says. 'Everything is to a certain degree, spoilt. We're left with the choice of being appalled and trying to look away, or finding a way to take it all on board. Sometimes I cross Old Street roundabout and try to imagine that it's a river, and that these are boats passing by and isn't this nice, and we're waiting for a gap where I can cross the bridge… then the lights change and across I go. I find it amusing to do that. Not only that, it helps me, in a way. Trying to find the poetry.' -- from a Telegraph interview 2008. 

* (The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1)

Note: The link to the second video has been playing tricks. If the wrong video appears please let me know and try reloading the page. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Maracas Bay

Maracas Bay, pencil,  © Mary Adam
Saturday was the ASTT paint-out at Maracas Bay, part of the Worldwide Paint-out event. The weather was  dubious and I was unsure whether to go but since everything was packed from the night before and it wasn't actually raining I decided to set out and to turn back if it got worse. I took acrylics and one of the 8 x 10" canvases. Luckily the rain held off. When I arrived no other painters were there ... looked around and then parked in front of the hotel and set up in a narrow strip of shade at the side of a red shark and bake hut. It was calm, overcast with little breeze and the sea was flat. There were some birds – pelicans. I'm not a beach person but there's something about Maracas that gets to me. Peter Sheppard and Beverly Fitzwilliam came along as I was finishing. Peter took a photo of my little piece. They said it was the first for the paint-out because yesterday at the Savannah was rained out. Uneventful drive home although there was some sinister-looking rubble on the road by the big cliff and further on a tree or large branch had fallen across the road and had already been chopped and cleared. I don't remember seeing it earlier.

Maracas Bay, acrylic on canvas, 8 x 10",  © Mary Adam

Change of frequency for the newsletter

Based on the result of a survey in Newsletter  #2, I will be changing the frequency of the newsletter to quarterly. Therefore the next issue will be in mid- to late November. If you didn't get the last issue and you're on Gmail, it may have gone into the "Promotions" tab. This happens even to me when I'm testing it, and to other emails that I subscribe to, so I have thrown out this Gmail feature. I don't know if there's a way around it.

Result of the poll:

Monthly -- 3 votes
Bi-monthly -- 4 votes
Quarterly -- 6 votes
Other -- 0 votes

Monday, September 9, 2013

The butterfly incident

What happened wasn't enough to call it an "incident" but that's the word that comes to mind. I will try to relate it.

This morning I went outside to draw the plumbago. I do this often and have been doing so for years. I'm still getting to know it and trying to understand the way it grows which is extremely odd and unusual. As I was drawing, a little butterfly came along, a very tiny one. It fluttered around the plumbago, stopping on a leaf now and then. Then it fluttered off elsewhere. A few minutes later it was back. I had seen it yesterday too and noted that it seemed to choose the plumbago over the other plants in the area, and that in some ways it resembled the plumbago flower just a little -- it was about the size of a single petal and pale-coloured with a hint of blue. So I put down the pencil and decided to observe it a while.

Drawing the plumbago and notes on a butterfly © Mary Adam
It would flutter away over a taller bush and disappear from sight and then return a few minutes later. When it landed on the plumbago it didn't land on an open flower, instead it chose a leaf or a head of unopened small green buds. I don't think it was feeding but can't say for sure. At any rate, it seemed as if it was landing intentionally on the plumbago, that it wasn't just chance. After ten or fifteen minutes of coming and going, to my surprise a second one of the same kind came along. I was pretty sure now that it was no accident. They moved very quickly so it wasn't possible to get a good look, fluttering around and around, up and down, settling for a second or two and then off again.

Rain was threatening so I packed up and went inside and looked out the Butterflies of Trinidad and Tobago by Malcolm Barcant (1970, Collins), with its wonderful colour plates. There wasn't much to go on except the small size, and when it closed its wings the undersides were pale beige with dark spots. Quite nondescript really, not easily identified like the Morpho. But Plate 9, No. 20 looked like it could be it -- Leptotes cassius? Also known as Meadow Blue, and belonging to the Lycaenid family. It's a common species says Barcant, "a common beauty ... lover of wide open spaces, abundant sunshine and low-growing ground shrubs with flowers." (p. 84).

Googling the name brought up lots more, it has its own entry in Wikipedia:
Leptotes cassius, commonly known as the Cassius Blue or Tropical Striped Blue, is a butterfly of the Lycaenidae family. It is found in Florida and the Keys, Texas south through the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America to South America. Strays can be found in New Mexico, Kansas, Missouri and South Carolina. The wingspan is 20–35 mm. The butterfly species has an important role in Marisha Pessl's 2006 novel Special Topics in Calamity Physics. The protagonist, Blue van Meer, is named in honor of the Cassius Blue. The caterpillars feed natively on Fabaceae. Foodplants on record are Amorpha crenulata, Woolly Rattlepod (Crotalaria incana), Galactia regularis and Lima Bean (Phaseolus lunatus). It can also successfully develop feeding on Cape Leadwort (Plumbago auriculata) or Doctorbush (P. scandens), which (among the eudicots) are not closely related to its usual foodplants.[1] (Underlining added).

This last was a surprise as I've looked up Plumbago many times and have not previously seen it identified as a food plant for any butterfly. So that explained it ... the two butterflies were checking out the plumbago as a place to lay eggs where its caterpillars could feed. THE END. Sorry if it's a terrible anti-climax, the "incident of the butterfly" was a simple little occurrence that gave me pleasure and that I wanted to share.

Cassius Blue, image from Wikipedia
Used copies of the Malcolm Barcant book can be found on Amazon. And a refurbished butterfly room housing his collection was reopened at the House of Angostura in April this year (Newsday, April 18, 2013). [Newsday says, For more information or to book a tour, call 623-1841 ext 255 and  257.]

Monday, September 2, 2013

Artist at work

Contemporary abstract artist Martin Wohlwend of Liechtenstein working in his studio. That's oil stick he's using. He does sometimes use colour but not in this video, it's an all-black work. I found it fascinating to watch.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A drawing of trees

Mary Adam, Savannah Trees, pen & ink on acid-free paper
This drawing was intended for a linocut but so far I haven't been able to make it work in that form and have used (i.e. spoiled) two lino blocks or is it three? So for now it's a drawing on its own, in Indian ink on acid-free paper.

Note: Newsletter #2 will be going out in the next few days. If you would like to receive it please sign up here.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Drawing ellipses

Ellipses are everywhere, natural and man-made. An ellipse is a circle seen in perspective and drawing them is a challenge. When an ellipse is "wrong" or "off" or "hokey" it's obvious to the trained and untrained eye alike; and when it's right it can be a thing of beauty.

Lubin Baugin (c. 1610-1663), Le Dessert de gaufrettes (c. 1631), Musée du Louvre, Paris, image from Wikipedia. Many perfectly-drawn ellipses here, seemingly effortless.
Many people chafe at any suggestion of "right" and "wrong" in art, including me. There's a difference though between doing it "wrong" intentionally (e.g. Picasso and other masters), and lack of skill. I guess it's all down to the individual and his or her intentions in a given instance.

I've scoured books and the internet for methods and techniques. One method is the perspective method. That is, draw a square in perspective, mark various points around the square, then draw the ellipse around that framework. Even with this method there's potential for inaccuracy and besides, a square in perspective is not in itself the easiest thing to construct. It's no harm though to work through some examples because if nothing else it develops one's eye for the finer points of ellipses in general. A simpler variation is to draw long and short axes as a guide.

Using pins and a string is a mechanical method that is not usually practical for fine artists, but it's interesting to give it a try. Another way is to draw the ellipse on the computer and transfer it to the drawing.

Many artists draw the ellipse freehand without guides while looking at the object. When it comes out right it can be beautiful in a way not achievable by more painstaking methods. It may help to turn the paper upside-down while drawing.

The following advice is from Drawing for Art Students and Illustrators by Allen W. Seaby, 1921:
"Some students construct the ellipse on its long and short diameters, but these aids ruin the feeling for the curve. Sometimes the ends appear pointed owing to the fact that arcs of circles have been drawn. As a matter of fact no progress in object drawing is possible until the straight line and ellipse can be drawn freely in any position with a single movement of the hand and arm. If the student lacks this facility five minutes practice at a blackboard every day for a week at squares, circles and ellipses will set him free of these forms for life. One may observe that beginners are apt to draw the lower half of the horizontal ellipse flatter than the upper--to notice the defect is to cure it."
Practice, practice. Some methods for checking an ellipse:
  • Look at the drawing in a mirror. 
  • Turn the drawing upside down.
  • Draw the ellipse as you see it. Then take a photo of the object, trace over the ellipse and compare it with the one you've drawn.
  • Measure the depth and width of the ellipse (which depend on eye level/horizon), also check verticals and horizontals. (poor audio)

P.S: Issue #2 of my newsletter is due out soon, sign up here to receive it if you're not already subscribed.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst – what do I think of him? He’s a special case, not easily assimilated into my art-world view. The first works that come to mind are the animals in tanks. In medical school we dissected human cadavers, it was all in the day’s work. So, a shark suspended in formalin is kind of, so what? I haven’t seen any of Hirst’s whole or sliced animals in real life and perhaps that experience would bring about a change of attitude. But I don’t think so. The fact is, most conceptual art needs verbal context or backing in some form, whether a title or a label on the wall. In the case of a sliced cow and calf, the title “Mother and Child, Divided” is enough to go on with, and likewise the shark titled “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”. Many people can do without the verbal prompt but I need it as a clue to the artist’s intentions. After all, he has been accused of all sorts of shallowness, emptiness and worse. One appreciates indications of good faith.

Damien Hirst has given many interviews, both print and video. My take is that he’s a brutally honest sort of person which gives me confidence in his art. This is not to say it’s good or bad art (who am I to say anyway), merely that honesty is high on my personal list of criteria.

“Anything done well – super well – is art. I don’t believe in God but my belief in art is almost religious. It’s like a mathematical sum where you can miraculously make 1 + 1 = 3. You can do something like a diamond skull and it can be s**t or it can be 1 + 1 = 2 and that’s not good enough, or it can be 1 + 1 = 1 and you can wish you never did it and it never comes out of the studio.” 
“The diamond skull ... artists make art from what’s around them. We had these boom times with everybody buying art with loads of money. I had no money as a kid and to be in that situation was kind of nuts ... the diamond skull was the only thing I could come up with to make. It kind of scared the hell out of me ... it dawned on me that I was in the position of emperors and kings where you spend millions on fabricating something, you know ...?” 
"Making art, good art, is always a struggle. It can make you happy when you pull it off. There's no better feeling. It's beauteous. But it's always about hard work and inspiration and sweat and good ideas. I don't believe it's about God-given genius, but I do believe somehow in the magic of art even though I don't want to. I believe in science. I want clear answers. [...] I want to make art, create objects that will have meaning for ever. It's a big ambition, universal truth, but somebody's gotta do it."

Reading some reviews of recent exhibitions of his own paintings (i.e. not done by assistants) I was amazed at the mud that was slung ... he was even likened to Hitler by one writer. I thought the paintings were pretty good. Perhaps technical flaws might show up with direct viewing rather than seeing them online, but they looked strong and distinctive to my inexpert eye.

My bottom line after this brief acquaintance with his work is that the quality of Damien Hirst’s ideas is exceptional, and I don’t believe that any artist reaches where he has reached without talent and hard work.

NOT art by Damien Hirst , this is octopuses preserved in formalin.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Donald Baechler

A few weeks ago I watched a lecture by Donald Baechler to students of his alma mater, Maryland Institute College of Art. It took the form of slides in chronological order. The early paintings were large, an image of, say, a chair floated on an abstract ground. He used enamel house paint on canvas and says they are pristine after thirty years, adding that sometimes we get overcautious about longevity.

Some images

His influences were (are) Warhol, Cy Twombly and Giotto, and I think he mentions Rodin too. 

The black line around the central image is one of his trademarks, he just likes it. Some of the background elements such as the patterns of dots are silk-screened and then collaged on. He doodles obsessively with markers and also draws on his huge collection of images, selecting one that he likes and then blowing it up in a projector to transfer to canvas. He uses ladders and long brushes for his very large paintings. 

Some recent images are representations of money, cartoon wealth, iconic images of moneybags and dollar signs, and he notes that the background images are unrelated, he is disrupting one thing with another thing.

Someone in the audience asks about the white outline. He explains it’s not an outline. Rather, he overpaints the whole central area of the superimposed image with white so that what is underneath will not interfere, then paints on top of the white with a black outline and the white is just there because of not painting up to the edge.

Even though the lecture was almost an hour long and split into five parts, it was absorbing and full of interest. Previously I had found Baechler’s work puzzling and this answered some of the questions. 

His use of screen-printing is interesting because I do it myself, and have used it for the same reason, to incorporate a drawing in a painting. It’s a way of getting a detailed, intricate drawing the way you want it before committing to canvas. Baechler’s use of the medium goes far beyond mine, however. In an exhibition in New York he has used as many as 23 different colours in one painting, each requiring its separate screen and process.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A timer and a still life

This "count down/up" timer is useful for two things. First, the "count down" function is great for timing poses with a model. You set the time (e.g. 1 minute, 5 minutes), press Start and it rings when time is up so you don't have to be watching the clock. Second, the "count up" function is great for keeping track of my own time at work. It's especially useful for me because I'm incapable of keeping track of painting time in any other way. This method works and I use it every day in the studio. All I need to do is press the Start button when I go in and note the elapsed time when I wind up for the day. I'd like to have another one beside the computer.

The little oil painting below (7 x 5") is on eBay for the next 7 days: view it on eBay

Mary Adam, Still Life with Plumbago, oil on canvas board, 7 x 5"

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mailed out

The first newsletter was mailed out this morning to about 150 recipients. Just to say, it doesn't duplicate what's in the blog and I will be continuing with the blog as usual.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


I'm starting a newsletter which is intended mainly for new work instead of posting new work here. Initially it will go to email subscribers to my blog, and to many existing email Contacts. If we have not been in touch for a long while I may instead send you an email with an invitation to subscribe (some have already received this). Clicking the link will take you to the subscription form where you can enter your email address. This is to ensure that people don't get unwanted stuff in their mailboxes.

In spite of these precautions, because it's a mass mailing the Newsletter may very well end up in your spam folder or under the new "Promotion" tab in some email providers. Considering how fabulously interesting the newsletter is, this seems unfair, but that's how it works these days. So if you don't receive it and you thought you should, check your spam and/or Promotions tab.

The frequency will be maximum once a month; but it may be less, possibly every two months, certainly not less than quarterly.

I'm aiming to make it useful for people who are interested in art, whether making it or enjoying it or collecting it; something concrete to make it worth your time. The first issue is written and almost ready to send out. If you would like to be added to the mailing list, please click here.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

No name

Mary Adam, Monoprint of an unidentified plant

An unidentified little plant which grows abundantly in my only flowerbed. It's no more than two to three inches high and very delicate though it covers large areas. It must have flowers but I can't see them, maybe it needs a microscope. The roots are superficial in the soil such that it comes out in handfuls, the easiest weeding ever. Without a name that's all I can say about it for now. When one knows the name, I've found, vistas open up ... Google it and it turns out there's tons of information available. Which family it belongs to, its history, where and how it grows, whether it has medicinal value and so on. It's not comfortable not knowing the name. I don't know enough about it to go to the Flora either, one needs flowers for that.

But I can think about it in other ways. It has many tiny rounded green leaves ... the green indicating that they contain chlorophyll which converts carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and sugar. Whenever I think about this, it blows my mind, it really does. How did it come about? The equation looks simple but it's an incredibly complex process.

Photosynthesis equation, image from Wikipedia
The chlorophyll is contained in microscopic structures called chloroplasts, and the chloroplasts in turn contain sub-structures called thylakoids where the complex reactions of photosynthesis take place. Worlds within worlds indeed, my mind is perpetually boggled. Is there something to be said for not knowing a name after all?
Electron micrograph of a chloroplast in an Anemone leaf, image from Wikipedia
Diagram of a thylakoid membrane from Wikipedia

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sean Scully's monumental moments

Sean Scully has studios in Germany, New York, London and Barcelona, at least. After an intense period of painting he feels nervous, strung out and emptied. He goes walking in the mountains to replenish. (1)

“Art is a little like the donkey and the carrot and the artist never reaches the carrot .. haha .. you never get to nirvana ... it’s not possible because your concept, your ambition, is always greater than what you’re able to achieve ...
  [...] It should be something that is happening all at once ... that’s inhabiting you and that you are doing ... and you have one way or another managed to get yourself into that space ... and there’s an angel on your shoulder. That’s how you should make art. If you’re plotting art ... and trying to make something to get something, you’re not in a state of creative innocence – you’re not making art, it’s something else.” (2).

These are snippets from two terrific videos I watched over the last few days. The first is a conversation in 2004 in front of a studio audience at the Tate, while the second was made in 2011 and includes some footage of Scully at work as well as glimpses of the spectacular landscape around his studio in Germany. 

He is evidently generous with his time as there are numerous published interviews to be found around the internet as well. And he rarely repeats himself, which means there’s always something new to discover. I get the feeling he doesn't think much of artists who delegate the actual painting:  
“I’m not a pimp artist. I make all my work myself.” (1) 
He mentions that when many oil paintings are drying together, the air can become toxic and he needs to leave for a while.

More quotes:
“We like to think we are what we are. But we are tremendously defined by context. We’re in a relationship with the world.” (1)
 “You learn a lot when someone writes on your work” (referring to critical reviews). 
 “A painting is a compression where everything is made, thought, felt at the same time – a monumental moment.” (1)

And to wind up, an authentic statement of his aim: “The enterprise [painting] has a sense of the absurd about it. I don’t think about risk. I’m trying to make something that moves me even if it’s like something else already made.” (c. 45 minutes in the Tate video).

The links:

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Some recent work

For the past year or so I've been working on several projects at once. I think of the projects as lines of enquiry, or planks, and they're all related though seemingly very different visually. Basically I'm exploring the mysterious world of plants through different media -- drawing, painting, printmaking, and collage. Here is some of the work:

Mary Adam, Apple with leaves, acrylic on stretched canvas, 8 x 8"
Mary Adam, Blue flowers, acrylic on stretched canvas, 8 x 8"

Mary Adam, Mind and body, collage

Mary Adam, Heart of the matter, coloured pencil 

Mary Adam, Plant Life 1, mixed printmaking techniques
The second-to-last one is based on a drawing of an Acalypha species from my series of wild flower drawings done in the 80s. A previous post on the series might help to explain some of the things going on here ...

Friday, June 7, 2013

To post or not to post?

One of the things that limits how often I post on this blog is whether posting my new work constitutes "showing" the work. "Showing" usually means showing in an exhibition, that's how people generally interpret it. Does showing on a blog count the same as showing in a bricks and mortar gallery? And does it matter, you may ask? It turns out it does matter, because juried group shows may require the work that is submitted to be "not previously shown." So if showing on a blog counts as "previously shown", that work would be ruled out of certain juried shows, depending on the rules of the particular organisation. Recently when I asked the organisers of an upcoming exhibition about it, the answer was a definite yes: posting in a blog or website counts as "previously shown".

After thinking about it for a while, I've decided to post new work as I go along, especially the smaller pieces. Otherwise it has to be kept under wraps for too long a time. If an exhibition prohibits works shown on blogs or websites, I will refrain from submitting that work. As it is, my studio is full of new work done over the past 18 months that is waiting to be seen, somewhere.

Taking a position on this became more pressing for me recently because of listing work on eBay. There are other sites too which I've been looking at, each with its own strengths -- DailyPaintworks is one (I'm not on there yet, will be soon), and I've had a page on Saatchi Online for a while and need to build it up. All of them need to be fed regularly. Therefore I think it's best for me not to be worrying about possible rules and restrictions (which could change at any time), and to feel free to post work here and on other sites. It signifies a slight change in direction which I hope will be interesting for readers of the blog.

Mary Adam, Anthuriums, oil on canvas, 20 x 16" (?)

This one was a case in point, it was submitted to the Art Society of Trinidad & Tobago for the May "Belle Eau" exhibition, and will be touring to Point Lisas in (I think) July. I'm not certain if it's 16 x 20" or 18 x 24" and am unable to measure it right now.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

New feed reader

Google Reader will be closing down soon and after looking through the alternatives I decided to try Feedly. It integrates perfectly with Google Reader such that the two of them are now running side by side in sync. I like Feedly, in fact am beginning to prefer it. It gives you a straightforward list of unread posts and also allows you to keep a post unread after reading it and to save a post for re-reading later. It may be that Google Reader had these functions too, if so I didn't find them. I also find the absence of scroll arrows in Google Reader (and other Google pages) highly annoying -- I wonder if this is just in Chrome or is it the same in other browsers? The only thing I haven't figured out is how to delete a feed. I have way too many and need to prune the list.

Mary Adam, A sketchbook page

Sunday, May 5, 2013

What is drawing?

Today I went looking for a definition of drawing on the internet. I knew deep down that it was a futile task: there is no satisfactory definition of drawing, and no two people have the same idea of what it is. I have my own idea but will save it for later.

Here are some of the definitions I found:

Wikipedia: "Drawing is a form of visual art that makes use of any number of drawing instruments to mark a two-dimensional medium."
[Too vague for me and needs a definition of "drawing instrument"], Marion Boddy-Evans: "In a narrow definition of the term, a drawing is an artwork created from lines or areas of tone created with a dry medium on a piece of paper. For example, graphite pencil, charcoal, colored pencil, pastel, or silverpoint. In a broader definition of the term, a drawing is a two-dimensional artwork created from lines or tone that is dominated by a dry medium but can include wet mediums such as ink, and washes of paint."
[The definition implies that drawing is a function of the medium used which I don't agree with but that's just me]

Merriam-Webster: the art or technique of representing an object or outlining a figure, plan, or sketch by means of lines
[Drawing is not only a linear medium, tone is an important part of it as in the drawing by Piranesi below]

Piranesi, Helmets, dagger, quivers, poker,  signs from the pedestal of the column of Trajan, 1756

Britannica Concise Encyclopedia:
"Art or technique of producing images on a surface, usually paper, by means of marks in graphite, ink, chalk, charcoal, or crayon. It is often a preliminary stage to work in other media." (from
[Again, this implies that drawing is a function of the medium used]  to create a picture by making lines with a pen or pencil
[As above] produce (a picture or diagram) by making lines and marks, especially with a pen or pencil, on paper:
[ditto] a graphic representation by lines of an object or idea, as with a pencil; a delineation of form without reference to color; a sketch, plan, or design, especially one made with pen, pencil,or crayon.
[ditto] The art of representing objects or forms on a surface chiefly by means of lines.

And finally the Google definition:


A picture or diagram made with a pencil, pen, or crayon rather than paint, esp. one drawn in monochrome.
The art or skill or making such pictures or diagrams.
design - draft - sketch - picture - draught

By this time I was getting the picture. In fact I'm beginning to think that there is no such entity as drawing after all, or that the word has lost its meaning in the 21st century; or at the very least, that it's not useful to separate drawing from painting. However I do feel that there's a thing which artists do, me included, for which it would be useful to have a word. That's where my idea of drawing comes in: I think of drawing as the art of representing three dimensions, usually but not always on a two-dimensional surface. That's the essence of drawing. The medium and surface are immaterial. The  greater the skill, the more convincing the three-dimensional effect will be. But this is only my personal understanding/definition of drawing, it's of no relevance otherwise.

Prehistoric drawings in Lascaux caves
Piranesi, interior view of the Parthenon commonly known as the Rotunda

It was a relief therefore to leave definitions behind and read the following. I love how this is put and the rest of the article is equally good.

"Ancient and timeless, the practice of drawing cuts across all art disciplines and has a broad and crucial role to play. It exists outside the constraints of fashion and art history, making startling links between the past and the present and reminding us of the continuity in our common humanity. Drawings from the past can look surprisingly modern because, technically and conceptually, we recognize in them qualities that are respected in our own time: spontaneity and simplicity, directness, rawness and expressiveness."
Anne Howeson at;/

[And three dimensions].

Some more links:

TRACEY: What is drawing for?

Some more drawings:

Giacomo Quarenghi, Design of a triumphal arch, 1814

Hokusai, Cranes from "Quick lessons in simplified drawing", 1823.
The minimal marks show the orientation of the birds in space. Not as easy as it looks.

Egon Schiele, View from the Drawing Classroom, 1905

MC Escher, Hands, 1948


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