Monday, 14 November 2011

The Story of a Painting

Sometimes you create a painting that has a complete story to it and my work Alan's Fido Express has turned out to be just such a piece.

It all began several years ago after a morning church service when in conversation with a friend of ours, called Alan, who was a train enthusiast. That morning he brought in his latest selection of photos from a recent days train spotting. There were many wonderful photos of trains shown to me but all of a sudden one stood out as being that little bit special.

It was one of those 'eureka' moments because I had before me an image that I just had to turn into a painting for the MFPA. It was a striking image in its own right but I was quietly confident that with some artistic licence applied I could develop it into a possible card design. Much to my relief Alan agreed to let me use his photo in my work.

Normally that would be as interesting as it gets, apart from doing the painting, sending it in and praying that  it would be eventually printed. But I was soon to find out that this painting would have more of a story to it than some. Shortly after beginning the painting I found out that Alan was suffering from terminal cancer. The question was now- 'could I finish it before Alan died?'
Despite my best efforts, this was not to be the case. But spurred on by his memory I was determined to do a painting that Alan would be proud of. Due to its complexity it was taking quite a time to finish but the further I went with it the more I realised that the extra effort would be worth it.

Many of my paintings these days are what I have come to call 'composite images'. In other words, I tend to use several photos as my source material and construct the final painting from there- and this turned out to be true for Alan's Fido Express. The original photograph had the train with two sets of tracks and lots of electricity gantries. As I went on it soon became apparent that one set of tracks would need to go as well as the gantries. The only question was what to replace them with.

Where the gantries was concerned it was not a problem because the existing trees and all the smoke would easily do the job. But when it came to the other set of tracks it was not so easy. The most obvious thing to me was to replace that area of the painting with a grassy bank on which the shadows from the smoke could play. In the end this worked very well but it still needed the extra note of interest. Originally I had contemplated putting in some workmen but after looking through some of our photos I came across a picture of Trixie, my sister's Springer Spaniel in full flight. Perfect, I thought, and even more so because it turned out that the sun was on the correct side for my painting too.

Once it was finished I sent it in and waited to see if my original artistic hunch would turn out to be right. To date it hasn't made a card but it has been included in a book in the UK, been printed as a book token in Japan and was in a calendar in Canada. But the story doesn't quite finish there.
For one reason or another Alan's Fido Express arrived back here with me rather than going to an exhibition as planned. But I'm so glad that it did. Whenever I complete a painting for the MFPA it gets put up on my website, and from there people can contact me for things like sales requests. A few months ago I received completely out of the blue an email enquiring about the possibility of buying it.

Within the general enquiry was put this- "I was visiting the Ian Parker Website to view Alan's Fido Express. I find it absolutely captivating and could spend hours just looking at it. A truly magical piece."

After sorting out the sale of the painting I went on to ask the purchaser how he had found out about my work, and this was his reply- "I receive an art calendar annually that included a reproduction of this original painting of yours.  I loved it from the moment I saw it.  So I looked up your website to see if it was available for sale."  And where did my painting end up going? Canada!
I love painting, and I love it when a painting is printed, but what makes me smile more than anything work wise is when the public buy a painting and respond like this- "I was meaning to email you prior to receiving yours as I wanted to show you the framing done for the painting.  Unfortunately the photo does neither the painting nor the frame justice but, needless to say, it looks exquisite." (Gary Carter- email, 2010.)

The Perfect Artistic Interaction (19.8.10)

One of the most pleasing interactions between a customer and the painting they commissioned happened very recently. It was one of those occasions that you dream about as an artist, particularly if you have to hold the brush in your mouth, as I do. The reason I say this is because this method of painting can sometimes be a stumbling-block to an 'honest' appreciation of the finished work. Sometimes it seems that people are afraid to say what they really think just in case they offend you- 'after all, it must be more difficult to paint with your mouth'.

This certainly was not the case with the painting mentioned above. The person who commissioned me to do the picture started off by exchanging pleasantries and viewing their purchase from a polite distance. Then they turned their full attention on the painting and moved much closer to get a good look at it. They scanned and scrutinised the painting for a good ten minutes, taking in the full range colours and details. It was a painting of the church where their brother was going to be married in so particular attention was paid to that.
As the time went on I began to think that they had found something which wasn't quite right- that they were not wholly happy with, which is what I wanted them to say if necessary. But such was their careful observation that suddenly they found a detail that clinched it for them as 'finished'.

Turning once more to me they said how much they liked it, that the church was just right, pointing in particular to the side entrance handrail- which is actually hardly any detail at all. Just a couple of brush marks. But I was very glad to have put them in.

Getting someone else's 'honest' opinion is very helpful to me as an artist because it is sometimes difficult to get that vital detached perspective. I am very blessed that my wife will do this for me on a day-to-day basis. She is a fellow artist and therefore probably has more confidence to express a forthright and 'honest' artistic opinion. But if a member of the paying public will do likewise it gives me, the artist, even more confidence to know that when they say 'yes' to a painting, that I have indeed done a good job.

MFPA Talk and Demonstration at Park Church (27.3.09)

Over a good many years I have done MFPA talks and demonstrations at various church groups, but never one at my own church. Many people in the congregation know that I am an artist who paints holding a brush in my mouth- several of my paintings have even been used in bible talks to literally illustrate a point. But most had never seen me working.

I had always hoped to do an MFPA event at our church one day but could not work out when to do it. A few weeks before Easter this changed when I was given the opportunity to do an MFPA talk and demonstration at the fortnightly Friday night meeting called Park Church Cafe, which is a social occasion when people invite friends to come along, and this proved to be the perfect opportunity to do the talk.
Despite doing many talks and demonstrations around Stoke and beyond I was actually quite nervous about doing one on my 'home turf', as it were. I think the main reasons for this were that many people knew me well and I wasn't quite sure what level to pitch it at, and I would also be using new technology for my slides- a laptop! This was something completely new for me.

Taking everything into account I finally settled on an itinerary for the evening- a slide talk without notes, so that it would be more spontaneous; this would be followed by a question and answer session; and the evening would finish with a demonstration by me showing how I work, while the audience would be encouraged to have a go at drawing holding a pencil in their mouths. This challenge was given further encouragement by the fact that I made it a competition, with a prize for the winner. The painting I did would also be an extra challenge for me by the fact that the canvas was blank, apart from being undercoated. Normally it would be a partly completed painting, but I wanted to show how I normally 'launch' into a new painting.

As things turned out, it proved to be a very positive evening and one that was enjoyed by one and all, myself included. As at other talks elsewhere there were people who had been receiving the MFPA Cards for many years but who hadn't met anyone who could actually paint holding a brush in their mouth, while there were others who knew nothing about the MFPA at all. Whenever people meet me as an MFPA artist and see me at work they always say that it helps to give the cards a human face, and this occasion was no exception. People were genuinely interested in the history of the MFPA, the work of the MFPA, and how I go about working as an MFPA artist.

I think three things which will particularly stay in my mind when I think back to the evening will be firstly, the murmur of intense concentration as people set about doing their own drawings by mouth; secondly the standard of the work produced which was so good that I actually had to award a first, second, and two third placed prizes; while the last thing was being able to watch myself painting afterwards because Holly, our eldest daughter, took a short film of me working. I think that it is always good to review how one is working, and to never take things for granted. 

By the end of the evening many positive remarks had been made by people and included things like "very good, informative, professional, enjoyable, interesting, well structured, and excellent." But the statement which gives me a smile even now is the one "I knew that you said that you were going to paint a picture, but I didn't know that you were actually going to paint a picture!"

Candle and Poinsettias (17.3.09)

Latest Painting Unfinished (5.3.09)

Snowman With Robin Completed (6.2.09)

Artistic Changeover (4.2.09)

If all goes well today, I will cross that bridge that I've called an 'artistic changeover'- in other words finishing one painting and beginning another, or possibily two. At the moment I definitely have in mind to do the latter. For once the energy and enthusiasm have come together. Even though, in some ways, such times can be slightly nerve-racking because one is never quite sure how the new paintings will go, they also hold the promise of something exciting. My latest painting depicting a snowman and a Robin is just such an example.

I've had this idea for a painting waiting in the wings for quite a few years now and as often happens with such projects it made its' presence felt following a very positive creative run, in this case just before Christmas.

Up until then I had not been at all confident about the outcome, and so steered away from tackling the subject for fear that it wouldn't work and would therefore prove to be an absolute waste of time. I am hoping and only time and my audience will tell whether my time was well spent. (I of course include in that 'audience' the Association of Mouth and Foot Painters, for whom it is primarily intended and for whom I work.) But I'm very pleased with the way the snowman painting is progressing and I look forward to seeing it completed today.

Once satisfied with the result, I must get myself together once more and launch into the new paintings each day to pick up that artistic momentum to see me through. Quite how they will look when finished, I do not know, becuase each painting has a life of its own, but I am looking forward to finding out. Hopefully the results will further spur me on to cross that new 'artistic bridge' which waits around the corner, and heralds the promise of new painting experiences.