Sunday 30 March 2014

A Pre Raphaelite stunner in the flesh and on canvas!

I am loving being back in the studio! At the moment Tuesday is studio day! As I mentioned in my last studio post I was going to share with you guys the Pre Raphaelite photo shoot I did with Grace Oni Smith my wonderful and gorgeous trans gender model and muse! I was SO excited doing this shoot with her as she looked absolutely amazing and it felt like all my dreams had come true as I had a true Pre Raphaelite stunner sitting right in front of me! Thanks again to Grace for being so great to work with and collaborating on costume and styling. (If you'd like to know more about how we put this look together let me know and I'll write about it)

These photos were taken in Grace's Manchester flat, so you'll have to excuse the kitchen background (not very Pre Raphaelite!) The poses were inspired by the paintings, Bocca Baciata, (The Mouth that has been kissed) and The Blessed Damozel both by Rossetti

 I had chosen the flowers Grace holds in the photos especially to reflect an aspect of her story and personality. The pink rose in her hair literally means 'grace', while the Daffodils, a Spring flower, represent rebirth and renewal and overcoming the hard times of Winter, a fitting sentiment since Grace had just weeks earlier undergone her gender reassignment surgery. The Gladioli posed a problem as they had failed to open in time for the shoot but in theory they represented strength of character. (I have since learned Gladioli are an August birth flower, and Grace was born in August! One of those flukey coincidences)

As you can see from the photos we arranged a selection of items in the foreground. These included, a magnifying glass, a mirror, some of the daily medication Grace takes, and make up brushes. Each item was chosen to represent a part of Grace's life and follow the Pre Raphaelite tradition of placing corresponding items in a painting to tell us something about the person we are looking at. (See the apple for instance in Bocca Baciata above, she's a temptress, a modern Eve waiting to lure you in!)

Now I have images to work with I am unsure about whether to use these items or not, or at least how to use them, I think this is something that will became apparent as I continue working on the project.

I've begun my first painting from the shoot  and in my last studio post I promised you guys I'd also share how my experiment on canvas board was going. So here's the scoop!....

I decided I wanted to recreate the feel of one of Rossetti's unfinished paintings, which just happens to be another version of The Blessed Damozel. He often painted the same subject several times, sometimes with slight differences. Here you can see the Damozel's gaze, hand placement and flowers are different to the original.

I find this unfinished painting more exciting than the actual finished version! I love how we can see the textured background and the raw edges to Rossetti's work. This is also my reason for painting Grace in this way, because as yet, she herself is unfinished, a work in progress, with raw edges.

To replicate the textured background I began this piece by painting the entire canvas board a deep ultra marine blue mixed with a little yellow to bring out a green tinge. Once this was dry I painted over it with gold. I am using acrylic paints instead of oils as I can't stand working with oil paint and hate waiting around for it to dry. So I will be trying my best to get the softness and depth with my own paints. The blue paint shows though the thin washes of gold and creates a metallic gold/green that looks mustard or deep green depending on the light and will contrast nicely with the softness of the skin and hair.

Once the gold layers (I put two thin coats on ) had dried then came the hard part of placing my image onto the board. I would usually do this by having a scaled down version to the exact dimensions and use a grid to transfer the outline onto the unpainted canvas. But for this work it felt right to do as much by eye as possible. This proved extra hard as I found it really difficult to draw out Grace's outline to the correct size! In the end I placed sheets of baking paper (a cheap alternative to tracing paper, plus you can use whatever size you need!) over the the board and drew onto that. It took a few attempts but I finally got the size and shapes I wanted.

I cut out the cartoon, as this kind of preparatory drawing is called, and placed it where I wanted it on the board securing it with tape. I then drew around this with chalk to fix where I wanted the image to stay. 

The gold paint makes it very hard to see where you are working and other acrylic paints do not sit on it well. I would have to build up lots of layers to get a purchase on it, so instead I filled in the outlines I'd created with white primer! Once I'd done a couple of coats I had a Grace shaped cloud floating on the canvas board.

This reminds me of how the Pre Paphaelites achieved their vivid colours by painting onto a white background, so I feel this is a good start! Next I had to add some loose detail as a guide line so I went back to the cartoon I'd done and drew on it's reverse. I then taped it back into position over the white shape and drew over the lines to transfer them onto the canvas board.

Now I have everything set up to begin painting Grace onto the board. I have begun by blocking in her hair for now. I have put in roughly the pattern of her curls and I will finish her hair after I have finished painting her face.

I'd run out of time by this point so I'll be continuing when I return this week. So far I am loving working on this painting! I am hoping to get some more free time in the next few weeks so will be able to make more progress. I'll be documenting the whole thing so will let you see how things are coming along!


Sunday 23 March 2014

Achievements beyond the dressing table and words beyond prejudice

Hi everyone!

Last week I chanced upon a recent video with the catchy tag line, 'The woman who stripped her dress off while onstage in the name of feminism'. So of course I clicked on it to see who and why...

The woman in question is Tracey Spicer, an Australian media personality and journalist. The video was her address to an audience in which she began by saying, 'I'm Tracey Spicer and I'm a vain fool'. Her reason soon became clear as she ran through her morning's routine of exercise to stay in shape, and personal grooming, involving a myriad of products, which she claims aren't exactly good for us. Tracey Spicer it seems resents every moment of this pampering and refinement stating, 'Imagine what we could achieve if we weren't beholden to society's unreasonable expectations about how we should look.'

To an extent I agree, but I knew this lady and I weren't on the same wavelength as she continued to pull apart and demonize the act of female grooming, to the point of actually removing her makeup on stage and then dampening her blow dried styled hair. 

The finale of her speech was the removal of her dress to reveal a relaxed shorts and vest combo underneath. This is the real me she proudly said as the audience cheered.

While I accept that this act along with her speech was a brave thing to do, I have a HUGE problem with her attitude towards the issue of female appearance!
The main thing Tracey Spicer does not acknowledge is that not every woman takes time to groom herself because she is trying to fit society's expectations. For many women self grooming is called self respect.

I firmly believe that women are genetically prone to take pleasure in decoration, whether that be of surroundings or of themselves. Of course some feel more strongly about this than others, however, I do not think I get giddy over lipstick and nail varnish because society has told me I should, I think it is a basic female trait. I also believe there is nothing trivial about this and that grooming can be a bonding experience between women.

 When Tracey Spicer calculates the time it takes women on average to get ready she says it as a negative, claiming we should be doing something more productive or important with our time. However, for many women this IS productive AND important, it can be empowering, pampering, and in some cases a creative opportunity. Secondly, I don't know any women who take the time to groom themselves who don't also achieve great things well beyond the dressing table.
Tracey asks us to think of all the things we could be doing if we didn’t spend so much time getting ready, like writing a book, learning how to surf, learning how to sing, meditating, doing a Masters, or doing a PhD, but does she think no women have ever achieved any of these things while wearing lipstick and high heels?

 This kind of sweeping generalisation riles me because it is so outdated and the kind archaic feminist diatribe that only serves to divide rather unify. For a woman to claim she is a 'vain fool' because she took time to attend to her appearance (beyond hygiene) is also branding the millions of other women around the globe who take pride in their looks.
While grooming can be taken to extreme measures and abused (especially by the beauty industry itself) I think many of us are intelligent enough to distinguish between social pressure and personal enjoyment and fulfillment.

I would have been much happier to listen to the valid points (and there were some) in Tracey Spicers speech if she hadn't been so black and white in her approach.

Last week also saw another lady speaking in front of an audience about womens roles in society; The brilliant lecture called 'Oh do shut up dear!: Mary Beard on the Public Voice of Women', which aired on BBC 4. 

This insightful essay explored the public voice of women throughout the ages, and explained how public speaking has been a prominently male activity since ancient times. Professor Beard spoke of how women throughout history have been silenced or marginalised in order to dilute the impact of their words and how we have learnt to emulate this behaviour right through to modern day. 

Using examples of misogyny from her own life and that of ancient myths and historic figures such as Elizabeth the First and Margaret Thatcher, Professor Beard examined the role of women not just in the public eye but also their place in history as recorded through words, those of the speakers themselves and their contemporaries.

I found this a factual and clever speech in which Mary Beard came across as an intelligent and well knowledged individual speaking up for women and championing a subject close to her heart with charisma and thoughtfulness. I immediately started to follow her on twitter and I've been thinking about her lecture ever since, especially her ideas on how to overcome this imbalance by re-adjusting our own prejudices and thought processes in everyday life, such as those she mentions in this clip:

You can see Professor Mary Beard's full lecture HERE

Mary Beard was speaking about women as a woman, and as a feminist but she never once stereotyped or generalised either of the sexes in order to get her point across.
So to take us back to the beginning of my week, on one hand I saw a woman speaking about the ancient world in order to make her point about womens place in society today, and on the other hand I saw a woman speaking with ancient ideals to make her point about womens place in society today. Only one of them managed to convince me.

I'd love to know what you think!


Tuesday 11 March 2014

A Day in the Studio: Pre Raphaelite project continued!

Last week I finally got back in my studio after a two month unplanned break. It felt so good to be back and it was like the studio felt the same way as sunlight flooded through my window and made everything look just that little bit more wonderful!

I began the day by popping along to Fred Aldous, one of my favourite shops in Manchester! It is a bit pricey but is a wonderful emporium for art and craft materials. While there I indulged in a mini haul of goodies; New paint brushes, some coloured paper and a canvas board. 

I bought a pack of brushes rather than individual ones as I think they are just as good and a lot less expensive, and if I do ever need a specific brush I can always go and get it separately.

The coloured paper is for a chalk study I plan to do for a painting of Grace Oni Smith, the brilliant model I have been working with to investigate and celebrate transgender femininity. As you might remember we have been working towards creating art work for this project in the PreRaphaelite style. Grace is the perfect muse and a fascinating person. (You can read more about her in this interview I did with her last year)

I worked on a separate chalk study from a photo shoot we did a few weeks ago. This shoot was a major part of the work we've been doing together in that it brought together many elements from over the past months; Make up trials, colour and style investigations and different parts of Grace's personal story. I will write more about the shoot in my next art work post and put some pictures up!

While at the studio I also blocked in the canvas board I'd bought with layers of deep blue/green. This is for an experiment I'm working on as part of the project and I'll also write more about this as I get further along with it and added more stages.

I really enjoyed my day at the studio and I'm excited to get to continue my project. Hope you'll join me next time to find out more


Sunday 9 March 2014

Inspirational women for International Womens Day

I just realised that my last post for International Women's Day didn't really celebrate any women, so I'm going to remedy this right now by listing some of the women whose ethos and personalities inspire me:

Joan Collins: I love a lady who knows what she likes. Joan has strong opinions and isn't afraid to air them. Plus she's ultra glamorous, I really admire her for never being anything less than 100% immaculate. 'How you look is a reflection of how you feel about yourself, and I feel very happy with myself'

Joan Crawford: Simply because she never thought of herself as anything else but a star! 'I feel I owe it to my public always to look good. When you're young, you can get away with the careless, ungroomed look. But not to bother with grooming over the age of 40 is a mistake.'  
My bellydance teacher, Pat: This lady is in her seventies, she looks about 15 years younger, and has moves women 50 years her junior would love to have! She's a great teacher and has great energy. 'Keep thinking those happy thoughts!'

 Kylie Minogue: She's classy, talented and innovative, a true creative and natural born performer. She always makes me feel good! 'I think if you're not being inspired by the things around you now, not aware of whats been before and what's coming up, isn't that called dead?'

Elizabeth the First: An amazing woman who survived and thrived in a mans world despite the numerous plots against her and calls for her to marry. She made England great and her rule was known as the Golden Age. 'I would rather go to any extreme than suffer anything that is unworthy of my reputation, or of that of my crown'

My Mum: For always supporting my artwork and for telling me ever since I can remember that, 'You can achieve anything if you put your mind to it' .

There are so many amazing and inspirational women out there, and I've only named a few from a very small clutch of my many favourites. I hope there are inspirational women in your life!


Friday 7 March 2014

The things Carrie left behind

Hey Guys!

As this week hosts International Women's Day I thought I'd talk about something women's TV and films ; The other day I finished watching the entire box set of Sex and the City. I've always enjoyed this show, but at the same time it's recently begun to make me feel frustrated! This is something I've only come to notice as I've got older.

Now, just like Carrie, looking thoughtfully into the distance I poise above my keyboard and ask, 'Why do women like Sex and the City?'

Lets forget the film and the dreadful sequel for a moment and focus on the TV show.

Sex and the City's huge selling point when it burst onto the scene was that it gave women the platform to talk about sex freely. It became a landmark in the evolution of female representation in the western world. It focused on the lives of successful fashionable exciting women and taught more about shoes than any other show I can think of!

The show was new and fresh and told us it was ok to be single, and having a career, or a family or both was fine. It celebrated self expression and took pride in looking good for yourself.

The show still has an appealing sophisticated clever and polished feel to it even 10 years after the last episode was aired. I for one love the quirky fashions, and the funny one liners (Samantha being my personal favourite character).
There are also undeniable touching moments amongst the female characters which get to me every time and I find myself getting a bit glassy eyed.

But there's something else that's been getting to me too, and recently ran parallel with all of the above. A little feeling of unease.

Why had I never noticed before that these fabulous independent women were utterly fixated with men? Almost every conversation was about them. I know there's a clue in the title of the show but somehow that doesn't excuse it for me.

Is this really how women speak to one another? Do we not have ambitions or interests outside of our relationships? I certainly would get tired pretty quickly of a highly neurotic friend who over analysed her every fling. (I know there are some women out there like this, but mercifully I don't know them).  
Maybe the biggest bugbear I have is that this show about women, for women was written by a man, yet women craved every word he wrote. With not much else on offer aimed solely at females, were we being spoon fed a male ideal of what modern women were supposed to be like?

Now in an age where feminism is gaining strength and exposure once again, and we are encouraged not to marginalize our outlook, why does entertainment tailored to women still mainly talk about romance and relationships? Sex and the City was at the beginning of this revolution, but did it backfire?

There seems to be a duel thing going on here; Whilst on one hand women do enjoy fashion, love and friendship, which is absolutely fine, there should be more than that on offer to us in the media, because according to one of the most powerful sources of influence in the modern world, that is all we want.

Recent 'chick flicks' (a term I detest, almost as much as the genre itself) have tried to redefine women's as 'just as funny as men', which in itself is patronising. 'Bridesmaids' for instance brought forth gross out humour proving women can be 'just as disgusting as men', but the core of its story was ultimately about a women finding a man and having a relationship. It just did nothing for me.

It seems most female roles in films are marginalised to fit a pattern. She's either after a man, in need of saving by a man, or has her character reduced as the male lead takes the reins. 

There is a real lack of female driven stories out there that talk about adventure, discovery or achievements, when half the planet is populated women, many of whom are outstanding, clever and inspiring.

So whilst I still appreciate Sex and the City as an important and fun step for women, championing successful career females and empowering us to talk about sex and experience sex in new ways, it's legacy hasn't opened up any new doors for general female entertainment. The opportunities it pointed to haven't really lead our films and TV shows anywhere beyond the shoe shop or the home.

Ok so on the back of this post I have thought of a couple of recent films and TV shows that do represent women a bit more favourably. Although not aimed solely at women these examples do at least expand our horizons a bit, see what you think:

Sandra Bullock as the female lead in non rom com Gravity
The female directors of The Walking Dead TV show
Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady
 Jane Goldman's screenplay for Kick Ass

If you can think of anymore examples I'd love to know!

Happy International Women's Day