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Tom Hughes by Tomhughespainting - 1M ago

When you’ve been painting for a few years, you start to see patterns forming. Cycles of interest, that keep coming back around. What at first seems like a linear path through various adventures and obsessions, one subject to another, soon ends up with you back where you started, albeit a little bit wiser and more skilful.

Ideas and processes long abandoned suddenly have relevance again – a bizarre thing to experience, especially after they were unequivocally denounced, 12 months prior. It seems that we have a sphere of interest that we explore through our lives and the only way to eke out every last drop from each area is to visit them multiple times over many years. What you learn in one place can lift you over the block you stumbled against in another, and when you realise this for the first time, it’s both baffling and comforting. “We’ve been here before…” you say to yourself, as you finish another lap of the globe.

Initially, I found this process disheartening. After the first lap, it really did feel like I was back where I’d started. “If only I’d just stayed put and thrashed it out longer, I’d not have wasted my time trying all those other things” But that’s the wrong way to look at it. Sometimes you have to hang out with a different friend to shed light on the behaviour of another, or leave a place you’ve had enough of, to appreciate it’s glory when you return.

Perspective, in all things, is good.

The post Cycles appeared first on Tom Hughes Painting.

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Tom Hughes by Tomhughespainting - 1M ago

Sometimes the studio actually does need tidying. Sometimes you should spend the afternoon doing your books, answering those old emails, shopping online for materials or doing an audit on your stock of frames.

More painting isn’t always the answer. Sometimes procrastination is underrated and it’s time to put the brush down.

The post Something Else appeared first on Tom Hughes Painting.

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Tom Hughes by Tomhughespainting - 1M ago

Creativity is terrifying. It’s a lonely place, not a soft, fluffy, familiar bed, but a big dark forest, with no friends and a lot of monsters. Your lizard brain wants to keep you safe and it’s done that job very well for tens of thousands of years. It doesn’t want you to take risks, stray out of your comfort zone or challenge any preconceived notions, but we must do all these things if we are to move forward. And if we’re not moving forward, if we are stationary, then in reality we are falling behind.

Stay too long out of the comfort zone and we become traumatised, paralysed and useless. But if we never leave it, we shrink, stagnate and become weak. Striking that balance is a big part of the work we are doing on a daily basis. Push and rest. Strive and recover. Reach and recuperate. The longer we spend out there in forest, the scarier it becomes, the higher the sunk cost and the more depleted our resources, but there’s gold in them trees. In them caves, in all the really dark places. We stay fit and capable by running regular sorties to search for it and claim it.

Balancing order and chaos is a theme that runs through many aspect of our lives, but it seems to be specially relevant to painting. if every mark is deliberate, and obviously so, then the piece looses humanity. The accidental scuff however, can speak to our subconscious in ways that defy explanation. Too many accidents though, and the signal can get lost in the noise. The intention can get murky and simply looking at it can become stressful. Deciding what that balance is and controlling it, that is the Art.

The post Fear appeared first on Tom Hughes Painting.

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Tom Hughes by Tomhughespainting - 1M ago

How many brush strokes went into your last painting? Each one a tiny decision, be it subconscious, deliberate, or happy accident. How wonderful to create a visual record of a silent, internal thought process.

Time-lapse films of paintings being painted are a wonderful thing to behold. Frantic in their sped-up appearance, they take us on journey rarely seen. Like a “making of” DVD extra, we get a glimpse behind the curtain to watch how the sausage gets made. In a way, this ruins the magic – knowing how a trick is done is fascinating, we yearn for an explanation, but there’s often a part of us that regrets finding out. Part of the pleasure of viewing a painting is the sheer bafflement of “How did they DO that?!”

People often assume painting to be a relaxing pursuit. It rarely is, if ever. There’s a certain transcendent bliss to be found when working “in the zone” consumed by creative tunnel vision and unaware of your surroundings, but acute concentration is never relaxing. You’re tuned in, not tuned out. Thinking, planning, making decision No. 987. The relaxation comes after, combined with satisfaction of a job well done and a day not wasted.

The post 1000 decisions appeared first on Tom Hughes Painting.

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Tom Hughes by Tomhughespainting - 1M ago

Going outside is important. It’s what drew me to plein air painting in the first place. I loved being outside before I remember loving Art and drawing, plein air just seemed a good opportunity to combine the two.

Do you need to be with someone to enjoy it? I’m happy either way, but I can highly recommend some solo endeavours if you haven’t partaken in while, if ever. When there’s no one to talk to, you notice more. You feel more. Our attention, so easily diverted, can reveal wonderful things when focussed on simply how it feels to be outside, in weather.

Go walk up a hill. A big one, if you can. Don’t wait for a sunny day – this exercise isn’t about drinking in postcard scenes of normal pretty things, it’s about feeling light rain on your cheeks, or realising that maybe you should’ve worn that thicker coat, or brought that torch now the sun has gone down and you’re still 30 minutes from the car.

Our ancestors didn’t live under artificial lights in heated cubes. They took on the elements and connected to them, like proper animals. Get out there now and again and contemplate that, it does wonders for the mood.

The post Atmospheric immersion appeared first on Tom Hughes Painting.

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Tom Hughes by Tomhughespainting - 1M ago

Painting small is easy. There’s something about the length of the human limb, the angle of articulation of the wrist and the length of a standard brush that makes creating gestural, exciting marks on a small scale natural and intuitive.

Scale that up. You can’t. Not in the way you think you can. what once was a wrist flick, has now become an arm sweep. That little dab that left that perfect little cat-tongue-shaped mark now requires a brush many times winder, so the spring rate of the bristles is now stiffer, it feels different, the marks aren’t the same.

It’s interesting to look at artists only through the lens of scale. How many can straddle the small to huge and how do they tackle it? Do the big pieces still look like the work of the same person that did the smaller ones? Many seem to find a scale they are naturally comfortable with and stick to it, be that large or small.

I like painting small, 18×18 or 25x25cm is a wonderful area to work in. You see the whole painting when sat and working with your face at a comfortable distance from the canvas. No leaning back (or walking back) is required. Your peripheral vision can take it all in. New marks (every new one affects the composition at every stage) can be judged and deemed either fit, or not worthy the instant they are made. you see everything, all the time. Paint on a 90x90cm canvas and you better be taking regular steps back, or risk falling into the “chasm of assumption” where all new marks are assumed to be safe and worthy, just because your instinct and current sight cone deemed them to be.

There are, thankfully, a few approaches to mitigate against the “chasm” Here’s a few that spring to mind.

Thumbnails

If you want to see a composition in its entirety, sketch it as a thumbnail. Working ultra small like this (maybe 8x8cm) can be a super fast and consistent way to plot compositions that work. And trust me, if something looks good, solid and balanced at 8×8, it’ll still hold up at 90×90. Just grid up the scanned thumbnail in photoshop and grid up the big canvas with the same amount of lines and copy it over. You’re good to go.

Step Back

If you normally paint small whilst sitting down, ditch the chair, get a floor easel and start painting standing. Try putting a box on the floor in front of you to stop yourself standing too close to the canvas and force yourself to regularly lean back, or preferably walk back to survey the progress. The longer you spend Zombie-painting, focussing on that tiny area of wonder, the more likely you are to be ignoring the whole.

Acceptance

The sooner you see the large scale for what it is and all the new possibilities it represents, the quicker you will move forward with the process as a whole. Stop trying to do what you did, the way you did it when you painted small and use this opportunity to try new things. You may be pleasantly surprised with where it leads you.

The post Scale appeared first on Tom Hughes Painting.

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Tom Hughes by Tomhughespainting - 1M ago

I took a big step forward in my working practise recently. I’ve been getting frustrated for a long time with the limitations, constraints and drawbacks on painting from life, plein air specifically, and have been trying to work out a way around it while still maintaining some core principles.

Painting on location, outside in the landscape is a wonderful thing. I maintain that there is no better way to learn. And by “learn” I mean everything – How to draw, how to pick a composition, how to see, judge and recreate the tones of reality with the limited range of paint, how to mix realistic colours with the correct levels of hue and saturation, and on and on…

Regular plein air painting builds skill, knowledge and confidence and was an essential part of my self-education as an artist. I owe almost everything to it. However, it can only provide the solution to a finite set of artistic goals. Here are the issues:

Time Constraint

The sun moves and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. I paint small when I paint outside, because I don’t like working for more than 2 hours on a plein air painting. The sun has travelled too far in the sky after this time for conditions to remain consistent, so what you’re looking at by the end, no longer represents what you were looking at at the start. This is a problem when your aim is capturing reality. If the sky is very overcast, this rule extends, sometimes doubles, but like it or not, you’re not going to have 6 hours straight to match those colours to perfection. Returning to the same spot at the same time in the same weather/light can mean a long wait. Too long (a few months) and the sun’s arc has risen, meaning potentially postponing for another year until you’re back where you started. Are you still going to care about that painting then? I wouldn’t. I’m impatient. I want it done then and there. I never do multi-session plein air pieces as the inspiration is gone after a few hours, it’s all about that intense window of “capturing the moment” for me.

Scale

This is much an issue about painting sight-size as it is the practicalities of working outside on a large canvas. I have always instinctively painted sight-size so everything on my canvas is the same height/width as it is to my naked eye. This makes drawing significantly easier than when trying to condense a wide angle view down on a smaller board. The only check needed to see if your drawing is off is a quick series of glances to and fro from board to scene – whatever “jumps” in your composition is either too big, too small, the wrong angle or in the wrong place. It’s a wonderfully efficient way to work. Truth be told, the drawing/sketching period of a painting can take as long as you like as it’s only when colours are mixed that the changing light really becomes an issue. The objects stay where they are however the light is hitting them. (yes, you can call a defined shadow area an object, but let’s not get too pedantic. You know know what I mean)

Carrying a big board or canvas out into the field can be a practical nightmare. Especially if there’s wind, never mind the weight issue.

So I like painting small then. Big pieces for me are out, which is a shame. I want to paint big. It’s another aspect of painting that needs exploring and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my career sticking to 10 x 8″

Light/Weather

The thing about nature is, is unpredictable. If I’m trying to capture some long shadows on a London street and the sun goes in after 40 minutes, this is a problem. If I’m painting some beautiful fluffy grey clouds and it starts hailing after 40 minutes, this is a problem. I’ve dealt with all these things over the years, many, many times. They make for notable memories and occasionally good stories, adding to the struggle and making the wins all the sweeter, but they are not conducive to an efficient working practise. You have to be comfortable with chaos to make a living working outside especially in the UK climate and as the years went on, that struggle has gone from acceptable quirk, to unacceptable irritation. I wanted more control, more time, less urgency and bigger paintings that I could plan. I wanted to start saying something specific, rather than recording whatever the elements threw at me that day.

Creativity

When I was a kid, I drew. A lot. I drew from my head and my imagination was a constant explosion, cycling on specific themes – Zombies, aliens, cyborg and machines, but all of it was made up with no reference, other than my memory of things I had seen or knew.

Plein air painting was the opposite in many ways. There was no imagination, there was just reality. That was the point. Could I capture it? Make an accurate record of that moment in oil paint and take it home? It was a technical challenge and a skill building exercise – how do I learn how to use these tools? Up until then I was terrible with colour. most of my work as an adolescent was black fine liner pen on white paper – colour was limited to a red felt tip to colour in the zombies guts.

I tried to put something of “me” into the plein air work, other than my personal style of mark-making. I tried “pushing” colour in certain places to accentuate a light effect or focal point but it always ended in disaster. If I was looking at something, if I had reference in front of me, that was all I could see and that was all that was going to get painted. The sheer amount of info available when working outside was so over-whelming, there didn’t seem to to be room in my brain for any subjective opinion of my own whilst recording it. Interpretation didn’t feel possible in the way that I’d have liked to do it. There was just “copy it, or don’t”

Trying to reconcile this issue of having a career as an Artist but not actually feeling that creative became a real problem and it was beginning to have a serious negative effect on my work and mood, so something had to give. I started the Mini Collection as a way to break the deadlock and try and work more decision making and personality in to my paintings, but I soon found myself back in the same patterns or recording exactly what I saw, regardless of whether I was painting on location, or from a photo I’d taken on my phone while out with the kids. The Minis allowed me to rapidly iterate on content and theme, but not, seemingly, how those images were being made.

The breakthrough came when I sat down and drew 6 small square thumbnail sized squares on a piece of A4 paper and just started drawing a landscape from my head. No reference, no images, just trailing lines with a pencil and feeling my way around. It really was a lightbulb moment as I instantly felt completely at home sketching out field boundaries, rivers, hills and cloud forms. Some of my best memories are from being outside, looking at a view or taking in a landscape and it felt I was drawing from all these positive feelings and creating something uniquely me. And that’s what’s so satisfying about this method – these pieces are mine, 100%. No one else can claim the spot, or say someone else went there first or painted it better. I own this completely and can change anything about it as I see fit.

I remember certain plein air trips, over 2 or 3 days where I literally came home with nothing. I couldn’t find a painting out there. Something was always wrong – the light, the shapes, a partially obscured viewpoint and that drove me crazy. The wasted time, money and effort, all such valuable things, especially as a self-employed person with a mortgage and two kids.

So this new approach feels good. It feels like the right time and it feels like there is huge scope for development. I feel like I’ve done my apprenticeship and built my skillset and I now get to deploy it as I see fit, making the images that I want see. I get to create the things I wish existed. Now that’s a special thing.

The post Fictional Landscapes appeared first on Tom Hughes Painting.

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Tom Hughes by Tomhughespainting - 4M ago

I recently started a new project called the Mini Collection. I first got the idea a few months ago when I was drifting off to sleep (which is how 90% of my ideas are born) I had become frustrated with painting one theme for weeks on end, be it London or Bristol and wanted to find a way to stay motivated and excited about painting every day.

I get a lot of ideas throughout any given week and am constantly thinking “oh that would make a great painting” or “I’d love to explore how light breaks through trees at sunset” but I was always committed to doing something else, so had to put all these impulses on the back-burner. So, after my 4 recent shows were over, I decided to give it a go and paint one 18 x 18 cm painting every day and put it up online. This daily painting practise is not a new thing, it was first popularised online by Duane Keisar who sells small daily paintings on eBay. I remember looking at that work and thinking how lovely it must be to rapidly experiment like that, plus the work was good.

I made a wet carrier to hold eight 18 x 18 cm boards and went out to Severn Beach in North Bristol to start the project off. It was a windy, wild day and I had an absolute blast. I’ve always loved painting small, there’s something wonderfully intimate about a little painting. The small scale means you have more time to plan a composition and mix really good colour because you’re not worrying about trying to cover a large surface, you’re just focussed on making every square cm count.

Another reason I wanted to do minis, was it finally gave me a chance to capture all the day-to-day images I see while riding my bike, or out with the kids on a weekend. I can whip out my phone and grab a shot of a view in a few seconds which is great when I don’t have my painting stuff with me. I recently got a new smartphone that has a very good camera on it that shoots in RAW mode just like a proper camera, so I can edit the pic back in the studio in photoshop and get something incredibly close to what I saw when I took it to use as reference. I’ve always had a very good visual memory and have enough experience of painting outside, that interpreting a photo with oils is not a struggle.

Now, this isn’t painting from life, it’s not traditional plein air painting, but who said every painting has to be? These days, my main priority is producing images in oil paint that scratch my itch. I’m interested in making beautiful pieces that are love letters or poems to the visual world. I’m not obsessed anymore with doing everything on location. I want to interpret a scene more and use my creativity and skill to tell a more engaging emotional story which comes from me and from a state of empathy, rather from a place of mere literal recording.

Does that make sense? It’s easy to get stuck in your own Dogma about how everything MUST be done. This was the case for a long time with me and initially it helped in a lot of ways. I painted from life for 5 years, forcing myself to learn in a lot of very difficult circumstances. But after I’d put in my 10,000 hours, I decided I could experiment with studio painting and it’s been a revelation. There are just things I would never have learnt if I had painted outside exclusively.

Drawing has been one new change to my working practise and it’s been so wonderful to get stuck into again. One 2B pencil and I’m in heaven. Coming from a background of illustration, the muscle memory just kicks in and I’m off, trailing lines around and varying the pressure and wobble. It’s another dynamic that just adds to the painting, as the pencil shows through the paint film and gives another layer to the story.

I’m planning many, many more minis, so keep and eye on the website and sign up to my mailing list if you want to be first to hear when new pieces are uploaded. They are selling well and the reaction so far has been fantastic. It seems there’s a lot of people out there that feel £200 is well worth a punt. Plus they really hang well as a set, so you can just keep adding them.

Making the packaging for the Mini Collection was also an integral part of the project. I got great satisfaction from designing a new logo and screen printing it onto my new boxes. Presentation matters and it just feels good to send work out knowing it looks awesome before they even open it.

Ive never been this happy as a painter.

The post Minis appeared first on Tom Hughes Painting.

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Tom Hughes by Tomhughespainting - 8M ago

I’m really looking forward to my show in the first week of October entitled “Painting the Bridge” at the visitor’s centre at Clifton Suspension Bridge. It’s going to comprise of around 10 new paintings of the Bridge and Avon Gorge showing the change of seasons and time of day. I’ve wanted to do a show dedicated to the bridge for some time so am pretty excited about this.

I’d love to see your there, so put it in your diary or simply join the Facebook group for live updates.

29 Sep – 7 Oct Clifton Suspension Bridge Visitor’s Centre

Many thanks.

The post “Painting The Bridge” Show appeared first on Tom Hughes Painting.

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Tom Hughes by Tomhughespainting - 8M ago

I’ve been focussed fully on London recently and sticking with the larger format. After many years of painting small pieces on location, its very refreshing to get stuck into a lot of bigger stuff in the studio. It’s a very different process but very engaging and interesting. It’s wonderful to have more time to plan things and think more about composition, brush work and layers. Here’s the work.

I love London in the rain. There’s a real magic to the gloom and reflections and it’s something I’m wanting to explore in far more depth in the future. This image looking up regent street had been in my head for ages. Its a wonderful road, so rare to have a continuous curve in the heart of a city. It was also begging for a wide format.

This is one of my favourite spots in London. The classic architecture, planted slap bang in the middle of the ultra modern glass towers of the city is just such a wonderful contrast. The Royal Exchange itself is an incredible building, hollow inside with high gallery walls over looking the cafe in the middle. Nice to have a coffee there.

This spot in Piccadilly looking down Regent Street St James’ always looks amazing when the suns blasting up it into your eyes. The headlights against the backlit vehicles just gets me going. The Xmas lights above the road also lend a strange “Alien Invasion” vibe…

I love Harrod’s. I really love Harrod’s. I’ve spent entire afternoons wandering its many floors looking wide-eyed at all of it’s wonders. There is no shop like it. It’s brilliant. I particularly like the food courts, the decor changes dramatically from room to room, its basically the Disneyland of department stores. I was in London for the day with my partner who had a painting in the Threadneedle prize. We were on our way to the Mall Galleries and decided to go via Harrod’s. Just as I was crossing the street the sun burst through a rain cloud and light up the building with late afternoon warm light. What a moment.

I spent the day in Hamsptead recently walking it’s many tree lined streets, looking for painting spots. I found this wonderful view at around 7:30am looking up Pond Street. Early morning and late afternoon really does give the best light, with long shadows and more dynamic colour temperature. I’d like to do more paintings in the late afternoon, but getting home to the kids makes it difficult!

The post New London Paintings appeared first on Tom Hughes Painting.

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