Thursday, October 29, 2009

Nude - Variations on a Theme

Hi There

For some reason I prefer painting on canvas rather than the computer. It seems too easy sometimes and having a thing you have made directly in your hands gives me a bigger kick.

Photoshop can be handy and interesting though. (Interesting for you too, I hope)

Yesterday I had a painting which looked more or less like this. (I have "reconstructed" it with a bit of help from photoshop.)

I was of two minds as to where to go from there.

(A) Do an Abstract Art version

(B) Continue on towards Realism. My Muse suggested the latter. So I took another look at the original photo, Used Curves in PhotoShop to darken and increase contrast, took a look at it after doing a Poster Edges Filter.

This is what I was more ore less aiming for

This is what I now have on canvas: A rather unfeminine muscular female body builder!

Thank heavens for Photoshop. At least it can help me visualize what might have been or still may be.

Anyone wantta be my Virtual Muse?

Monday, May 25, 2009


Part of working to commissions is the way that negotiations can change your plans. Talking with fellow artists or even simply delays can also cause you to take a second look at things.

All of these figured in my deciding to modify the pose I am using in my latest portrait. See above.

Friday, May 15, 2009

My First Review

Hopefully, this may be a post I will look back at and laugh later.

Here is my first review in today's Chronicle (which featured my court sketch on it's cover again yesterday, this time as a mirror image.) :

Bon Amici [Coffee House]in Margaret Street is featuring the work of Des Howell in the exhibition Faces and Figures.

Enthusiasm seems to over-ride any firm selection criterion in this over-crowded and sometimes difficult to see show.
[Next time, I show in a properly set up gallery!] The work ranges from competent [such fullsome praise!] stylized and detailed pencil studies to colourfully exotic female subjects, some [actually one] brandishing lilies, and others adopting sultry latin poses.

This is alongside other reviews, one of which contains lines like

This exhubriant exhibition of colourful abstract statements uses spatters of paint and fluid shapes, some reminescent of forms from nature, to express an internal journey through the corridors of an artist's poetic imagination.

I am still trying to figure out which of my paintings feature "sultry latin poses" and I put the lilies there because I thought poses of implicitly naked ladies putting an empty hand on their head look silly unless you emphasize the "Art Noveau" connection. Anyway, someone loves her. I have been told they are racking up a deposit to buy her.

Ah, it is all in the eye of the beholder!

As for my diversity, my "signature" is If people say you are always going off on a tangent, it probably means they are still going round in circles.

My experience of academia suggests to me that lecturers often impose narrowly defined assignments with a view of making them easy to rate later. Their students get into the habit of working within narrow themes to meet their memories of academic critics' expectations. I tend to agree with the artist who said that if they understand you, you might be doing something wrong.

Anyone like to comment on their own reviews?



Monday, May 11, 2009

My first commissioned nude portrait

Someone has just asked me to paint some figure studies of her "before she gets too old to look good" and I have agreed to take up the challenge.

The young (late twenties I would guess) lady in question particularly liked a couple of paintings I currently have on show. These feature women standing draped with strategically placed scarves.

When she phoned, I made a silent "guessimate" of her age and sincerity of motives. I specifically made sure she would have a friend there when I called to discuss things further with her. As it turned out, it only took a couple of minutes face-to-face for both of us to feel comfortable enough about trying out some poses. I also felt good about having her friend there to help with the posing and arranging of draperies, etc.

I took a few of my life class sketches along. These not only demonstrated and reassured her about my skill level, they aided our discussions about poses, media, styles, costs, etc.

This is roughly the pose I will be working on first. (I agreed not to post any images of my sketches or artwork she has commissioned, particularly as she has a realistic portrait in mind.)

One of her other girlfriends arrived in the middle of all this so it turned out to be quite a relaxed, giggly fun sort of experience. I will let you know how it all turns out later.



Saturday, May 9, 2009

Art and Culture

Judging by this cartoon I did in the late 1950's, there were quite a few things affecting my psyche. None of them, if my more mature judgement is correct, were leading me to produce any great art.

Well, I am still looking around and reflecting on what ideas and influences might inspire me to greater heights.

One of the fascinating things about memes (ideas passed from one generation to another and dispersed in a variety of ways) is that, like genes, they can have surprising origins.

We often accept our notions as original because they seem so right. For example, I am very keen on the idea that art is only completed when the viewer participates in it. Now I find that there is an art movement called Relational Aesthetics, whose proponents pushed this notion to its limits in the 90’s.

The fellow credited with recognizing and promoting exhibits of examples of this Relational Aesthetics is a Frenchman named Bourriaud. I suspect that his writings are rather like a good speech at a Toastmasters Club. They simply articulate better what you might be contemplating anyway. All credit to hime, however, for being a mover and shaker.

Bourriaud has now proclaimed the latest art “Ism”, even though the label he uses “altermodern”, does not end in “ism”. Altermodern is the new art of the post-economic apocalypse, he claims, arising out of negotiations between different agents from different cultures and geographical locations.

Like most people, I guess, I hope that in the long term the current economic crisis is a going to be a mere blip on the radar, but anyone, let alone an artist, would have to be culturally brain-dead not to have noticed it and be somewhat affected by it . That insidious beast Globalisation with its godfather Economic Rationalism is also bound to get a bit under your skin too, so thoughts about it are likely to be expressed in Art in a variety of ways as well.

Here is an example of "Altermodernity"Bare: Aleph Null Head by Charles Avery

If you want to know more about Altermodernity and see some more images of its expression, I suggest you follow this link.

Comments are welcome.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

One-Man Shows Aint One-manned

We had the official opening of my first one-man show today.

Why "we" not "I"? No royal plural here, just an aknowledgement that a lot of other people were involved in this "one-man" show besides the bloke with the pencil and brush.

My dear wife, for one, who helped to sort out what to hang and helped me hang 'em. She also kept reminding me what her friends had said about the hand in one of my paintings and cooked up a storm last night for lunch today. Only two friends arrived. Thank God they did I guess.

Then there was Shannon, who provided the venue and Alan Bruce, President of the local Art Society and friend who runs the life classes I go to. He gave a lovely little speech to open the show. One of the things he said was that he thought I should focus on doing portraits of people who will sit "live" for me. Having spent some time during the last week trying to remember what the bottom of our model of two weeks ago looked like (See below) I could not have agreed more.

Howsoever, A great bunch of friends and relatives and friends of friends and relatives of friends and friends of relatives turned up for the actual opening.

And I sold three paintings! I consider myself a fairly unemotional guy but when the first one sold I got a bit wet around the eyes and Mary took me outside for a hug.

None of the pictures taken with my little camera came out clearly (See below) but hopefully Mary's cousin-law took some photos which will come out okay. If so, they could get into a local high class magazine.

Here is a picture of me and the people who bought the first painting. (I am the guy nearest the mermaid) Besides the blurring (which suitably expressses my feelings at the time) you may notice that the formerly conspicuous hand of the mermaid is now lost in the murky depths.



Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hanging this afternoon

Mary and I are going to Bon Amici, a local coffee house this afternoon to hang my first "one-man" show. I never realised there would be so much "non-painting" work in being an artist.

There was, however, a lot of looking at what I had to hang. tidying up older works, trying to do some quick works to round things out, etc. One of my main sources of art income (such as it is) is doing caricatures, and Shannom, my friend who owns the cafe, expected me to hang some examples of this type of art. The nearest thing in that line I will show is a pencil sketch transfered by hand to acrylic on stretched canvas and titled "Theo".

Wish me luck!

Friday, April 24, 2009

The drawing I can't let you see

My latest adventure has found me mentioned on the front page of our local newspaper after my involvement in a murder case

Don't panic! The Toowoomba Chronicle suddenly found themselves in need of someone to do a quick sketch of someone in court (where no cameras are allowed). So they Googled and found me.

I had only 30 minutes to shower, get dressed in my suit and tie and drive to the courthouse. I did not get a really good view of the accused. There were two door latches in the glass doors between her head and mine. I had only about five minutes, as she had to make only a brief appearance. )The poor man she is accused of attacking had died overnight and they were upgrading the charges against her.)

Anyway, the reporters said I had done a good likeness and the newspaper Editor said he might get me to do a portrait of his wife. (presumably under different circumstances.)

However, to satisfy all my fans here is one I left to dry this morning.

It is based on a photo I took of one of my fellow sketchers at life class, It was done in acrylics on stretched canvas. Like most of my art that I photograph, it looks like I have a bit more work to do on it. Maybe I should put a brush in her right hand and hide her left with a palette and put an easel in the background or maybe I should get on with my next one!
Cheers Des

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Serendipity was originally a fictional place where everything turned out for the best. Real life is not like that. We all have failures and even real tragedies from time to time.

Things can seem to happen serendipitiously, however, if you keep grabbing any opportunities that come along. like Ning social networks , for example.

Without actually realising it, I was already a member of a couple of Ning SN's when I clicked on the hot spot for "Create your own social network"a few weeks ago. Honestly, I was mainly motivated by curiosity and an urge to explore possibilities. I also had a hunch that maybe, just maybe, a social network focused on the Arts in and around my home town might help local people find local, up-to-date Arts-related information on the Net. So I created Arts Toowoomba.

As a result, the past few weeks since then have been rather busy as well as exciting . Getting focused on other people, however, rather than myself, has somehow turned to my benefit. My starting my own social network has surprised and impressed some of my older friends and even relatives, particularly my very savvy darling daughter.

I have also made some new friends (about 25 so far) including ones that tell me Arts Toowoomba is exactly what they have been seeking for a long time.

Last but not least, one of the local television people is planning to feature Arts Toowoomba and one of its members in her Arts segment later this month. Maybe the Green's slogan "Think globally, act locally " actually works.

And all this is happening while I have been working madly on my first "one-man" show. Who knows what will happen next!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Taking your art out there

I am a firm believer in Art for the people, rather than for some clique.

So I regularly take my pencils, paper and easel out to markets and shows and do demonstrations at art exhibitions. I do quick (ten minute) sketches, mostly caricatures for fun with occasional attempts at "fine art".

I will let you guess what I tried to do for this lovely lady.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

How to Paint a Face

I use PhotoShop quite a lot in my efforts to create traditional art, mainly by putting photographs up on my monitor and zooming in and out when I draw on paper or canvas. Generally speaking however, I find Copmputer art either "too easy" if you do simple things and "too difficult" if your needs are more demanding.

At the same time, computer programs can provide a great way to "doodle" and explore ideas.

Here is how I drew the "Tango Lady" shown above using ArtPad:

Have fun!


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Seeing the Bigger Picture

One thing about my ups and downs, though some of the problems that prompt them are long term ones, if you leave yourself open to change, nice little things can brighten your day.

I did not do any painting yesterday. For a while it looked like the only good thing I had done was to mow the front footpath (sidewalk) The day befire, I had found a website of a guy who was described as being an expert in the Mische, Sfumato and sgraffito (often spelt without the "s's") techniques. So I thought I would try the mische technique of the Old Masters. I used acrylics to speed up the process. One of the problems with this is that the only White I have in Acrylics is Titanium White which is hard to use as a glaze unless you dilute it a lot with water and medium because it is not transparent. To remedy another problem I had to remember exactly what I had done previously and could not remember, so I ended up painting what I had done over to star again . So I am resolved , yet again, to try to remember to take notes of what I do. (It is a bit of a Catch 22 - like the Johnny Cash song where he forgets to remember to forget.)

Anyway, back to the inspirational bit. Mary got sick of watching Australia get beaten yet again by South Africa in the One Day Cricket Series. So she switched to the ABC channel which was showing Philip Glass's bio in twelve parts. Glass is not a composer I have heard a lot on ABC Classical FM. Much of his story and comments resonated with me, however, like making lots of little repetitive bits that become a pattern on the larger scale.

To me this is the the way the world is made in the Great Chain of Being with all it's differently scaled levels. Turn the tap on when you have detergent in your sink - the chaos of water molecules produces a nice larger scale pattern of bubbles.He is very eucumenical (open) in his religious beliefs and practices. Something I like a lot.

He also mentioned suddenly realising what an artwork (your own or other's) is about, but he also added that you have to keep working on it till it happens. This is rather like Edison's formula - Genius= 1% inspiration+ 99% perspiration.The results of what Glass does are awesome, notably in cooperation with other creative people.

I do not know how to embed Video here, but look for him on YouTube at something

(Do this with a friend to hold your hand.)

Seeking Inspiration in Melbourne


Mary and I have literally just driven over 3000 km to Melbourne, Victoria and back to Toowoomba, Queensland. Our main purpose was to deliver our eldest grandchild back to her mother.

I also tried to see some visual art there. Melbourne is a very active centre for the Arts, but it is not so easy to find things when you do not know your way round town and have less than whole three days to do it.

Mary wanted to rest, so I spent the first afternoon walking through the city. I found that a gallery recommended to me had closed down. As I walked towards the Ian Potter gallery I wanted to visit. I talked with some street artists doing on-the-spot portraits. Technically, they were a lot better than me but their artwork did not turn me on. Daylight saving tricked me into being too late for the Ian Potter Gallery which focuses on Australian Art.

The next morning, I ventured forth with Mary in our car. A private gallery in fashionable Toorak had samples of all the famous Australian artists on show, but nowhere nearby to park our car.

At a small arts and crafts market there was an artist selling postcards and prints of her works. She is very accomplished, I liked the colours used and the poses of her nudes, for example, but again (this is not sour grapes) her work otherwise left me cold.
My daughter was more successful in meeting my artistic needs. She took us (plus grandchild and friend) to the National Gallery of Victoria's main site.

NGV has an international collection on this site so I had a pleasant stroll, walk mainly through European Art from the 14th to 20th centuries. It was nice to see familiar artworks in the flesh for a change rather than as prints or in books or on computer monitors, much larger or smaller than you might expect and with the brushwork textures clearly visible.

This Breugel, for example is less than A3 size, so the detailed figures are actually very tiny.
The next day, Maria had us stop at a small gallery located in Brighton, the suburb where she now lives. I found myself particularly interested by the work of Barbara Tyson. She produces a nice mixture of realism and abstraction and utilises some interesting techniques. In "Soak" the oil painting shown above , for example, the water area is covered with clear resin, so that the experience you get seeing the original is quite different from what you would get from a print or photo, Check her out at

So there in Brighton, I found quite a few artworks I could relate to and, hopefully, do something in a similar style.

Where do you get your inspirations?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My wife Mary found her favorite old photo of her dear sister Trisha sitting in their front garden. She loved to sip coffee and listen to recorded music back in the 1960's. Mary suggested I might use the photo as the basis of a painting.

The garden plants around Trish in the photo were pretty, but I decided to eliminate them and create a different background for a more sparse, carefully composed look.

Acrylics on stretched canvas 60x50 cm