Tuesday, 26 June 2018

New Illustration Direction

Over the last few months I have made the decision to concentrate wholly upon illustration once more, and to this end  I have conducted much research and worked to develop a new body of work. Every illustrator knows that a portfolio of 10- 12 pieces of a coherent  'Style' is necessary, before marketing your wares. I began by searching myself for the approach that would fit within my own doctrines, and creative bias. Figurative artwork has always been a major part of my practice, and although I have occasionally deviated into semi and total abstraction at times, I have generally maintained a figurative approach. My research offered a number of alternatives for the direction of my new work. In the end I have chosen to revisit a traditional approach reverting back to a naturalistic, semi realist style. I recently read that due to major trends and fashions within the illustration industry, such as the proliferation of computer aided manipulation techniques, that prospective clients within the industry are finding it difficult to find practitioners that can actually draw the human figure. As I have mentioned I  have spent the majority of my career perfecting figurative drawing and painting. I have also noticed that the middle ground between full blown realism and a painterly naturalism that may make apparent an artists true style, is also rare. The majority of illustrators figurative work is clearly stylised to a point of unnatural representation.I have also produced work of this type while searching for a definitive style. I feel a lack of a definitive style has been a major problem for myself as if I have been looking too hard. A close look at any illustration agents artists portfolios indicates that all artists have a distinct style that they remain faithful to. During my last MA Illustration, I succumbed to completely producing digital work, although this has been a necessary step in my development of technical abilities, I now realise the wholly digital approach has no future for my work.

During the last few months I have produced 3 new works that serve to illustrate how I may pursue my practice. The work is born out of many years of practice and development, I feel that my true style is somewhere represented in this work. During my MA I developed ideas concerning  the juxtaposition of form and differing elements. Cartoon iconography  the manipulation of scale and exaggerated colouration has been a great influence, along with Simplified forms and parred down effects. My new work as representationalism has a traditional feel with a modern twist. I have combined abstracted elements, minimal line, and convoluted creative mannerisms  to create a new approach, that I am happy with.Although there is still much room for development. The work is produced in oil with some acrylic, along with fast drying mediums to speed up the oils use. The work is quite large, over 4' square. They take up to 3 weeks to produce, however in actual hourly time more akin to 10 days on average. If they were an actual illustration commision this time could be substantially reduced. (depending upon the complexity and size of the original work) I prefer to work this way but it also serves to loosen up  outcomes, also producing the overall painterly aesthetic I am aiming for. Large work has the advantage of having a far better reproduction quality when in print. I recently rediscovered the illustrator Jim Kay, the main illustrator of the Harry Potter publications, who paints large works for the effect of clear detailed reproductions. Jims approach to illustration has been a marker for the type of imagery I wished for my own work, not for the subject matter, but the naturalistic type of approach, ie, figurative, semi realist, and painterly. Below are the three new works that illustrate a start to my new body of work. As  self initiated work,  I have not relied upon an author's text as inspiration and guidance.  The subject matter of each work is a reflection of my sensibilities/opinions, and expression. I enjoy metaphor as a vehicle for explanation, I also enjoy ambiguity, however just enough for the viewer to spend the time reading the work. Changing  contexts is also of great interest and I enjoy utilising motifs and iconography of differing historical times including visions of the future. The work illustrates universal knowledge, for example the work entitled A Conscience, is a direct illustration of mans inhumanity to man. (history) the work entitled Cleansing, is a reflection/illustration of the Morals that may need to be reviewed.  the vanquishing of perceived universal sins, and the work entitled Seven, is an illustration concerning luck, and life chances.  The pictorial elements also serve to illustrate the subjects  of a style that can be achieved, and that I am happy to cover, although a true reflection of this will only become apparent after a full portfolio of work is accomplished.

A Conscience

The Cleansing

Lucky seven

My new works style is intended for adult fiction publications. I mention this because when I have achieved 8-12 pieces of work for my portfolio, I will reappraise my website incorporating both adult and childrens books illustration.  I believe at the present time that  the current approach to my work offers potential for development for the upper age groups of children/young teenage age groups.Obviously the subject matter requires a review, and the overall style, necessitates continual research and progressive development. Below are a few drawings that combined with the type of work above may be the answer for my progression. I may even produce finished drawings and tint them with watercolour and/or acrylic rather than opaque painting over the top. Where as before when I was painting digitally with a pen and tablet and colouring the work by digital means, alternatively I may after coloring by hand in the traditional way, finish off with some digital touches. I am as yet undecided. I will definitely reduce the size of my work and produce a lot of drawings, instead (as in the new work above) of painting as a drawing directly on to the canvas.  I love drawing there is nothing like approaching a new blank sheet of paper armed with a pencil and conjuring something up out of nothing. It would be great to be able to complete commissions/briefs for childrens story books.  The children's book illustration industry is a hard nut to crack as far as making it is concerned, I am not getting any younger, and I feel like this may be my last ditched  attempt to make my living from art. Here's hoping!

Two Boys

                                                                      The Listener

Girl Reading

Farmer and wife

Sunday, 14 January 2018


Here I am sitting and waiting for the gesso to dry, before starting a new painting. I thought I would share my ideas on the development of a painter. Most artists throughout history have shown a marked development in their work over their lifetime. I single out Picasso here as an example of the clear transitions he made in the development of his art. It is well documented that he started his painting career as a small boy, and by the time he was a teenager could draw like Raphael, in other words he was outstanding in his technical ability to be able to dry realistic representations like a great master twice his age. I read Picasso's biographies when I was a boy and realised then that I had to be able to draw realistically other wise people would not take me seriously. I believe this is a prerequisite for any  potential painter. It follows too that a certain technical accomplishment with  painted material  is also suggested to enable an awareness of the rudiments of paint and how best painting  skills can be utilised to fulfill future work. You have to learn to walk before you can run. As a young man I copied old master works, to gain valuable experience and accomplish technical skills, important to my development as a painter.  Below are two works I copied  by Caravaggio and Alan Ramsey:

Fruit basket (after Caravaggio) with added elements. Oil on panel 1998

Scotch Whiskey 1998 ( after Alan Ramsey ) with added elements

Picasso didn't  arrive at the painting below overnight, A number of periods of style change occurred throughout his development as an artist. These changes happened generally when influenced by other painters and movements of art to which he belonged or had known that where popular at particular periods of history. Picasso began painting in a realist manner later developing his own style. Within a 30 year time frame he went through certain  periods such as  his blue and rose periods: Here is a link to concise biography: https://www.widewalls.ch/artist/pablo-picasso/

                                                         Pablo Picasso – Algerian women (Delacroix) (detail), 1955

If there is a plan to a painters development, then it is realised through a determination to accomplish a goal, as Picasso puts it, "Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. there is no other route to success" Not all artists travel through to an end goal of course , some remain in the realist genre choosing to perfect to the highest degree technical wizardry. They stay in this position all their lives. Picasso has taught us that there is a whole lot more to painting than this. The present day where developments in technology and the world wide web has placed artists in a depth of knowledge that we cannot ignore,  like never before we have major influences of artistic development at our fingertips, everything from abstraction to conceptualism. There is an obvious history in the 20th century of conceptualism and abstraction that I haven't mentioned here. Suffice it to say that this blog is specifically about painting. Although I recognise that their are other methods that artists use to express themselves, I have at this moment in time no wish to pursue conceptual ideas as I believe there is so much more to say in painting, however, this may change in the future. my development has included a period of realist figurative work, and a slow but meaningful transition into a more deconstructed and abstracted means of expression, which I believe can be demonstrated through my website here: http://www.johnhoganartist.com

I am nearing my 49th birthday (this month) I have had major difficulties and obstructions in life in my goal to achieving a new and distinct style. My work has slowly developed and been deconstructed to such a degree that it is unrecognisable now to where I was initially at the start of my career. Within each period I realised there was so much more that I could and should of attained within each paradigm, and on occasion I side step back to a place where I once again test my hand. however, time waits for no man and there is so much to do. Of course I am only young, and hopefully lots of time under my belt still to accomplish my goals. At the present time my work is based upon my wish to realise a new way of representing the world, I remain a figurative painter, however the figures in my work are now deconstructed to such a degree that my work boarders on abstraction. I have experimented with pure abstraction, and in the future it may come to a more fruitful goal. below are 3 paintings from the last 3 months illustrating my steady progress and development, progress that is built upon a base of technical accomplishment and growth.

                                                   Tramp. 2017 Oil and acrylic on panel

W10. 2017 Oil and acrylic

9N7PZ1 2017/18 Oil and acrylic

 I aim to push my current aesthetic further. I want to embed my work in a new futurist ideology. One that places the work in a new context other than the world we inhabit. There is no need for titles any longer, as I wish to impart a new meaning to the work, the numbers and letters are both an indication of the time, place and sentiment, a short hand, a reflection of the ever more influential aspects of modern living, namely technological, and  scientific, development. I am aiming to produce work of this time, that fits into this time, along with a look to the future, I do not wish to merely illustrate  science fiction, rather I wish to envelop the iconography, ideology and aesthetic of living in the 20th century. An expression of our time. 

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Style and Art opinion

I have a couple of issues on my mind that I would like to share. Firstly, The term artist, and what it means to me. Recently, I heard an interview with  Tracy Emin on radio 2 , what struck me more than anything was her  reference to being an artist, " I knew what I didn't want to be, I wanted to be an artist" let me say that, An artist is born not made, a person is genetically predisposed to becoming an artist, there is a distinction between creativity and what constitutes an artist. Creativity is within us all, we need it , its a part of being and living, we may use more or less of it in our daily lives, the more you have at any one moment or time span will enable pronounced creative practice. The artist, has a heightened amount of creativity that never diminishes. Creativity that does not suggest, it shouts. An artist has to make time and a place to accomplish the work forced on by creativity. And so when Tracy emin says she wanted to be an artist, well, artists don't have a choice, you are born that way. I would also like to say that a university doesn't make you an artist either, some artists like David hockney who went to the RCA is an artist, and although he was guided and influenced  by the lecturers they didn't make him. He personally  developed. Tracy emin attended the RA. If an individual attends one of the more prestigious art colleges the only time they are made is when they qualify, because these establishments are part of the art elite, and they have networks to establish an artist to such a degree that when they leave,  they have a high prevalence of  notoriety and even fame,  for just attending the university, far more than from any other lesser university. The art world is fuelled by elitism, a select number of artists make it in life, those are not necessarily the most talented. Who gauges what a level of talent is ? is it the lecturers, critics, the layman, or other artists. I have respect for Peter Doig I enjoy his work. But his use of photography, found images and tracing images surprises me all these methods are akin to old style illustration methods, I thought ANY reference to illustration was outdated and frowned upon in the art world! obviously not ..surely,

Peter Doig in his studio 2013

 the artist who imagines a work from start to finish without any extra visual cues is using far more skill, ability and talent, than someone who uses found images (readymades) its easier! Ifs its not the level of skill and talent that counts as to how successful you are then is it purely the aesthetics of the produced work that sways vast amounts of peoples free will. No, it is like anything in society, it is being in the right place at the right time with the right people behind you, backing you financially and logistically, its about power and influence. Its literally forced upon us, Tracy Emin's recent interview on radio 2 has been ceaselessly advertised almost hourly for 10 days prior to the event. If that was done for ANY artist, they too would be held in high notoriety.

 Now to the question a of style. My own work has gone through a number of directions over time, on occasion a particular style has remained for years, to me this is a normal process, not necessarily anything to do with development,  but rather an exploration of a means of expression that made sense at the time. Personally I believe that a true artist will by default, continue to realise and reorganise their mode of representing the complexities of the world and of living, by which ever means. Being creative is a constant re evaluation of self, time and personal practice, its in constant evolution. I had little sleep last night as I came to a realisation that once again my mind had shifted. The painting I am in the process of at the present time will be the last in my current style, you wont see the style again. I am full of the next big thing and all my attention will be towards a new style. I acknowledge that to others it may appear that i am lost in my direction, however, as I have said its a natural occurrence for me and I have to go where the creative drive takes me. I will be painting over most of my work from 2017 and as a new start for 2018 my work will focus mainly on a return to using oil paint as the main medium, rather than acrylic. If its common practice and has no repercussions as to an artists merit, then I may begin using some of the same easy methods myself rather than completely imaginary work.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018


I have a system in the way I generally work on a painting from start to finish that I would like to share. My process may also give others ideas as to the methods they employ. There are of course many different practical ways to create a painting, some are tried and tested by artists throughout history, other methods, especially material techniques have evolved with technological advancement.The surface I prefer to work on is hardboard, this is exterior grade wood which is basically a sandwich of thin layers of wood glued together in the factory and compressed to make one piece. There are a number of thicknesses, from 9mm to 24 +. Through experience I found a size that was thick enough to maintain its rigidity when at a larger size, that is manageable when moving around and ultimately practical when and if the work is eventually hung on a wall.  I always use 18mm thickness. The size of the panels is slightly restrictive in that they are only available in 8'x 4' sheets. When I order my wood from a timber merchant. I ask them to cut each panel down to my required size, I usually like to work at 5'x4', they also supply the off cut which can be used for another smaller painting. Using a wooden panel as a painting support is a personal choice of mine, canvas is the traditional medium although wooden panels have been used by artists as supports throughout history . I have used both wood and canvas, although I prefer wood over canvas because I prefer the rigidity of wood, when painting on canvas even when its stretched rigorously it tends to still move when painted upon. I generally paint 3-5 paintings a month usually 3 large panelled works. I work for 9 hours a day, excluding breaks for meals. I prefer to work late morning and often work until 9 pm or longer when the lighter nights arrive. I do also have a daylight simulation light when in the dark winter months. I work everyday including weekends. My studio is actually my flat (rented), it is a large victorian building and so it has high ceilings and large windows, I chose this particular flat because it had a large south facing bay window, perfect for the even  light source necessary to produce a painting. The flat has plenty of room for working and storage. Ideally I would of course like a a large separate studio, saying that I do like to have my work on view even when I am engaged in other things. My bed is in the same room, and I have a small separate kitchen and bathroom. It is pretty ideal, although eventually of course I will have to look for alternative storage space. I rolled up the supplied carpets and moved them to under my bed and sofa. this gives me a wide floor space area that I don't have to worry about spilling paint on.  Firstly, I lay the panel down flat upon the floor. I then coat the panel in 2 coats of white gesso primer. The primer I use is high quality but is economical as I use quite a lot of it on a monthly basis. I use Windsor and Newton acrylic Galeria medium. It comes in 1 ltr and 2ltr.

tubs. I use a  household 3" wide brush to apply the gesso. I work across the panel  form side to side in one direction, I then wait until it dries (in a round 4 hrs) and then I work in the opposite direction onto of the first dry layer with a slightly thicker layer, always trying to keep a unity of depth and minimal brush marks, and minimise the inevitable bits of material that seem to appear from nowhere. You really only need 2 coats (recommended) however you may apply as many as you like, There is no need to size the wood before applying the primer. I paint the edges also sealing it all in. When both layers are thoroughly dry its time to lay down the planning drawing. Of course some artists don't start with a drawing, prefering to draw directly with the paint some preferring to let chance and action dictate how the work happens. I prefer to map out where I want things to go , however the painting always evolves, sometimes drastically from the original drawing. I tend to formulate my ideas with small sketches, before I work on the panel. The small ideas drawings are very loose, and often achieved quickly as I usually have the image in my minds eye and its just a case of formulating what the composition and perspective will generally be along with the sizing of objects I want to include. The image below is the rough drawing I completed with a view to it being the final work on the panel above. 

When I am happy with the concept the final drawing upon the panel can begin. I generally start with an area and expand out, I am upscaling the drawing on paper which is just under A3 to the full size of the panel 5'x4' I don't use any measurement techniques, I tend to just go by eye. This is of course when things can alter from the original drawing idea, however it doesn't matter as it adds to the spontaneity and enjoyment of composing the small idea on a large scale. Happy accidents are a wonderful thing, from this stage on the painting is produced with a final image in mind, but the colouring, tone, line and forms evolve and may end up far different that the initial concept drawing. I the upscaled drawing is drawn with a weak Burnt sienna oil colour, mixed with a fast drying medium (liquin) and a small amount of turpentine. I prefer this colour I have tried others in my career to lay out the drawing but I have found this colour works best for me, I like it as the base colour, and it lends itself to being used in itself when areas are left within the final work. It can take up to a day to draw it all out, to the way I want it. I use a lot of turps and rags to put on and rub off to adjust line and order as I go, often stepping right back about 3 meters away (at the other end of my kitchen) to view intermittently to make sure all is going well. Because the work is quite large it is helpful to see how the work may eventually work on a prospective wall. Below is the finished drawing on the panel. (day 2-3) I tend to work between 3-5 paintings at the same time depending upon the size, they are all at different stages of development (interspersed with new drawings and idea formulation) although I usually carry one through to full realisation, so that when i've finished one i'm ahead with the rest in the production line. Some of course never make it, this can happen at any stage, this is why the initial concept drawing idea has to work, but there are lots of reasons for me to disregard and start again. occasionally it can even be finished and I just cant live with it and it has to go (either overpainted or put out of site to be looked at again with fresh eyes later). mostly, however, the initial concept is enough to see it through to completion. But I generally don't like what I paint and at pains to show it to the world, but then I think well thats what ive done good and or bad so there it is. Below is the scaled up drawing completed for this painting.(TRSC8) As you can see the work has developed somewhat from the initial concept  sketch. 

Next is the painting stage. in which the work will change dramatically with the advent of colour, at the painting stage new changes to the overall concept will develop. I see the whole colouration in my minds eye, I tend to work quickly, mixing oils and acrylics, not necessarily together, but each in places where they may be best suited, oils dry slowly even when using Liquin the fast drying medium they dry slower than acrylics, and so  I use oils where i know they wont be touched for a while they dry. I use many techniques to apply the paint, nowadays my work is mainly fairly abstract so there are lots of flat areas of colour, I may splash, drip, scumble, or use wet in wet, I may place colours on top of others without mixing ( or straight from the tube) I mix as I progress, deciding quite quickly where they will go and how they will work best when next to each other. Balance of colour is very important for the composition to work as a whole. Primaries and secondaries are observed and either used to accentuate or diminish effects. Its not unlike a game of chess, in that it all has to sing as one, something is either right or not so right. learned experience comes into play a lot, however, rules are constantly broken, in an effort to push the work in a certain direction, and overall aesthetic. The complexities of my style are of themselves, and have generally been born of a desire to accomplish a certain vision, and mostly concocted through creative abilities which I cannot fully explain, I do tend to use a majority of white, some areas are painted white others are left with the underground surface showing through. In my current work I am aiming to imbue an ephemeral light into the work, to keep things fresh and to retain dynamism, paint is thick and thin a light wash or thick impasto. (I occasionally put the dried up paint from the top of the tubes, into a wet piece of paint to stick it) I mostly use the original colour I have thought of on the hoof so to speak, and put that down, I don't overpaint most areas. my brushwork is loose, with a loaded brush I will draw a long stroke, I will paint a colour in short dabs in areas to accent the under colour (usually discordant colours) to disrupt, or complement colours to reinforce an area big or small.  Painting is an immersive almost  spiritual experience, I loose myself in the process, often coming round after a few hours, my feet aching. Those are the periods when  creativity takes over and you get lost in the exhilaration of it all, I will often come around and say to myself did I do that, its like being on autopilot. funny.. I haven't yet found a more pleasurable experience, one that involves all the senses, I don't care to do anything else in life. 

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Ideas and philosophy

The universe, and the philosophy of our existence within it, are integral to  human life. You may or may not be totally aware of the big questions, the precedence of a philosophical mind may be hindered by the mundane and banality of work and everyday life, swayed by wealth and notoriety, or repositioned by poverty and hardship. The truth is, most of us get on with existing, in a kind of  happy ignorance of bliss, reminded only when the rat race, complications and practicalities of societal living, give us a reason to dwell on the greater scheme of things. Organised Religion is a mass philosophical  bias and belief in an ultimate creator and existence quantification. If this is you, then that is your prerogative,  ultimately enabling  a reason for it all which is necessary for spiritual happiness, indeed anything that offers this support is absolutely part of being human. The meaning of life  is open for debate as yet no one truly knows. In the mean time, the media in all its guises offers the masses conjecture and promise, huge organisations proliferate vision, guidance and emotional security. Technology enables mass support within its unity of communication. The bottom line is we are all unique and whether we know it or not, we are special, with each their purpose. Collectively we are a wondrous part of a beautiful planet, if we can only mange our deficits and assist each other and the planet we can sustain an environment where true greatness can proliferate , magical things have already happened, made possible by those that have passed and the subsequent guidance from history should assist us to grow intellectually and spiritually. As we strive for goodness and a better future for our offspring we will enjoy the fruits of our labour. As a human race we are destined for great things.

               The arts offer a catalyst for clarity and discourse, a place to find ourselves and make sense of things. As an artist I am fully immersed within a world of intrigue, as a small boy I wondered at my existence and what it was all for, as soon as I could communicate my inner self to the world in order to quantify myself and share ideas, I understood that, it was the most difficult of things.There are many ways to achieve vast communication. For me,  Painting offered a vehicle for expression, that I felt most comfortable with, however, my chosen path, was fraught with potential difficulties.Presented with a vast art history and millions of artists before me inventing and reinventing the course of art was almost  overwhelming. Where could I go how would I accomplish a way of seeing and presenting my ideas that would offer a fresh way without apportioning myself and my style towards that which had been done before? I would say, in today's world that is near impossible. I knew however, that to be able to make a contribution I firstly had to learn the craft, as millions of others had done before me. That is how I began, copying old master works. Later I made my own work within the old master, realist genre. I also produced many self portraits to find myself and question my existence. Through my journey as a painter I have produced many styles reminiscent of other artists and art movements in the past, This was necessary to enable an understanding of technique, but also to place  myself  within a parameter relevant to my own style, by informing my own work it enabled a thorough synthesis of artifacts and notions, the what, how and reason of painting. It was not easy, the road to where I am now with my work was fraught with  disillusionment, angst and disappointment, I destroyed a lot of work (and still do) Those that survive are not given freely, I am never truly happy with anything I produce. However, I continue to push on, I don't know exactly where I will end up stylistically. However, I have  many ideas that need to be realised before I leave this world myself. Ideas come from a multitude of sources. Creativity is both an wonder and a deficit, a need to produce can be overridden by living practicalities, and the nuances of personality traits loom ever constant, some of which are anti work biased and they are sometimes hard to dispel. My ideas are generally generated by observation, both directly and indirectly, I may be driving and be aware of a certain light reflected on the windscreen which may trigger a new strand of thinking. The shape of a leaf or the breath of a breeze, ideas stem from an inquisitive mind and a creative view of the world. Sights, sounds, and people watching, wherever, and whenever  they materialise, it is always exciting. I have sketchbooks, or rather ideas books, where i may just write a word or little diagram, mostly my ideas are within my mind, I keep them there in a place of order to realisation, I say to myself that has to be done before that to make that more sense, or, I will do that by then, then that will lead to maybe that, it is a constant process, I am luckily able to sustain, creativity is a wonderful thing, but it is also burdensome. When inspiration appears it is all consuming, to the exclusion of everything else, the work has to be done, and it is extremely harrowing when life gets in the way and prevents a smooth realisation. My current work is born of much development and a synthesis of hundreds of ideas. My current work is an attempt to accomplish an aesthetic all encompassing of a technological age, that is, not merely a representation  of science fiction but rather an acknowledgement that modern painting should seek to look to the future, in this regard I am aiming to realise a  body of work that addresses the big philosophical questions of what is the nature of existence, why are we here, and what is it all for, pursued through the vehicle of the  human condition and the nature of being. Below is an example of a recent painting entitled W10. A couple intermingle in an embrace, of this world in the sense that copulation and intimacy are observed, but not of this world, or not as yet, Mine is a future world that may already exist in our minds eye. A spiritual place. an extra dimension, of fulfilment , luminosity, and inner enlightenment.  www.johnhoganartist.com